One of my favorite authors of all time, Leo Babauta, the author of Zen Habits, recently created a video training program on "Turning Uncertainty to Find Mindful Openness" as a birthday gift to his readers. But, I'm sure he can explain it better than I can. I will be following along for the next 44 days of life, starting tomorrow. I'd love it if you would consider joining us :)
"What the heck is that? It’s a video training program that I’m offering for free, to help you:
Overcome uncertainty, anxiety, fear, discomfort and procrastination
Find peace, mindful openness, gratitude and joy
A few days ago, I was lucky enough to drive up from Seattle to Mount Rainier. When we left, it looked like it was going to be the only sunny day we had all trip, so we wanted to take advantage of it and get a close up view of the oft hidden peak. As someone who traditionally adores the sun, and will do anything possible to avoid getting wet in the rain, the chance to get out in the uncharacteristically pleasant weather was too much to pass up.
Yet as we drove the two hours to the mountain gray, billowy clouds overtook the once sparkling sun and by the time we stepped out of our rental car to go for a short hike, it had begun to rain, and further up the mountain we even encountered snow. But for some reason, weather which would usually keep me inside seemed to be making the woods through which we walked even more enjoyable. Instead of seeing the rain as something to be avoided before returning to the safety of indoors, the drizzle became an extra sensory experience.
Sometimes in life, it can be easy to see anything challenging as bad, and when we don't like something to wish it away. If we can come to view these aspects of existence with appreciation instead of contempt, life becomes a lot more enjoyable. Although this is not always easy, even reaching this point every so often offers more perspective than one might think.
Even though the next time it rains, I may very well sprint from my school to my car, I still look forward to that next walk where I can simply be at peace and have a nice walk in the rain.
Last year while catching up on some of my favorite blogs from the US, I stumbled across the site Wait But Why. While reading over this new blog, I came across a post called The Tail End. This post opened my eyes to the briefness of many things we take for granted in life. Among them, the two most significant were books and relationships. This post will focus mainly on what I learned about the books we all choose to read.
The premise of the post was to use cartoons to represent how little we have of something left. For books, the author (aged about 30) estimated he had only 300 books to read for the rest of his life! Although this seems like alot, when you stop and think about how many books are out there it is shockingly few.
Now that you realize you only have a few books left to read, choosing the remaining books becomes very important. Although this might seem like a daunting task, I'd like to make a suggestion. A few weeks after coming across this post, it just so happens I found a TED Talk on a similar subject. The talk is titled: My Year Reading a Book from Every Country in the World. The notion of the talk is that upon discovering her book shelf contained authors all from a small handful of the world's nations, Ann Morgan set out to read a book or memoir from every country in the world (using the UN list plus Taiwan).
Over the past year, I have become somewhat obsessed with the notion of travelling lightly. It all started when I read Tynan's 2016 Gear Post. The idea that someone could travel the world with nothing more than a 20L backpack was shocking to me. As someone who just brought multiple suitcases worth of stuff to study in Germany, the notion of only having to carry a single small backpack on my future travels seemed quite appealing.
A year later, I am finally doing just that. In a few hours, I will be on a plane headed to Amsterdam, where we will rent a car and drive back to my home in Hamburg. On the entirety of this 10 day trip, I will be living with only the items pictured above.
Here is my packing list:
Last year I had the honor of starting off my November at an international youth affairs conference in Strasbourg, France. The conference, From Trenches to Bridges brought together over 200 students of 43 nationalities to draft a Peace Charter for the European Parliament. The words of the charter are below:
We, the more than 200 students from 43 nationalities participating in the “From Trenches to Bridges” 2015 Youth Forum in Alsace, have been working together for a week on the history of World War I and the story of AFS, on learning to live together through intercultural learning, and on active citizenship. In intensive workshops, we have discussed the biggest challenges that we face in living together peacefully today, and what we, as active citizens and future leaders, can do to tackle these challenges. We are presenting our answers to you, the European Parliament, in the form of this multimedia Peace Charter.
The biggest challenge that we feel is keeping us from living together peacefully is the lack of understanding for others. Different understandings of the world can lead to disagreements and misunderstandings. However, the biggest factor for conflict lies in the lack of understanding of cultural and religious differences, giving way to stereotypes and racism. We experience a lack of empathy, which prevents us from seeing each other as fellow human beings.
Another big challenge that we see in the world is the ignorance about current events and global issues, and the lack of education regarding these topics. We are especially concerned about the lack of education regarding culture, religion, poverty, gender, racial and sexual inequality, as well as socioeconomic and environmental issues.
Last year in Hamburg, I didn't blog as consistently as I had hoped too. As a result, I still have many experiences to share. To inaugurate this series of recounted stories, I wanted to talk about my first Sunday in Deutschland.
After sleeping in till 10:00, I got up for breakfast. We had bread, fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, and all sorts of vegan spreads or Aufstrich. Then, I finished unpacking. Next, I biked with my host mom to the train station to purchase my public transport card. After finding the booth closed, we walked around Altona and ordered Currywurst (a German sausage covered in spicy curry ketchup and sprinkled with yellow curry powder) and Pommes (french fries) at a vegan food truck called Vincent vegan.
Later, I walked on the beach with my family. I saw an old cigarette machine that had been repurposed to dispense art. Sadly, it was sold out of the vegan keychain I wanted (my host sister was kind enough to call the artist and order it for me after months of my attempts to arrive after restocking but before it sold out once again). Finally, I had spaghetti and salad before getting ready for bed.
Although this might not sound all that exciting at first, I fondly remember this day. I think it is a thorough example of the most unique part of exchange: living the daily life of another culture, exploring a new area of the world, and most importantly, becoming part of a new family.
The first day of school at my high school was this past Wednesday, and with it came Masaki's first day of school in the US. To help him reflect on his first impressions and to share with us what school is like in Japan, I asked him some questions about the differences between our school systems.
1. What are some of the most notable differences between school in the U.S.A. and Japan?
We have 11 periods in the U.S. but in Japan, we have only 6 periods.
This Friday my family and I met the AFS student from Japan we will be hosting for the next 10 months. We have hosted before, for shorter periods, or last year when I was on exchange, but never for this long as a family of four.
We are all very excited and we hope we can provide Masaki a memorable experience here in the US. If you see him around, feel free to stop him in the halls and introduce yourself. I think he is very excited to learn about the US.
Some people talk about how beneficial an experience it is for a student to go abroad, but I think it can be easy to forget how much the student benefits his/her host community. With the modern news, it can be easy to only think of the political side of a country without remembering all the normal people living there. It might not always be easy to remember, but every single person in this world wants a safe place for their family, enough food to live and a sense of happiness.
Last summer in Russia, some of the other exchange students and I asked our friends there what they thought of Putin. Some liked him, some disliked him, but the most common response, was that they have enough food on their plates, a roof over their head, and they are living happily with their family. My host family in Russia was incredibly kind, and after only minutes of being there I had countless examples to dispel any doubts some people in the US had about going on exchange to Russia after Putin annexed Crimea.
It was my last Tuesday in Germany, and the time for my going away party in school had finally come. I was so excited to finally bake some vegan cake/pie for my entire class, that my friend from Japan and I had gone as far as to make a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake) and an apple crumble pie. The morning of our party came, and as the two of us were leaving for school (a bit late) I realized that neither dessert would fit into the basket of my bicycle. I had imagined this idyllic situation with both goods perfectly situated in the basket, but instead, we had to place the apple pie on an angle, and I carried the Torte on my left hand.
For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea to listen to music and carry my friend's bicycle lock in addition to what I was already transporting. As you can imagine, this didn't end well for anyone. About half way to school, I tried to switch the song I was listening to and in doing so, I momentarily had no hands on the handle bars. In this moment, the cake threw off my balance a bit, and I swerved into a brick wall next to me. I flew over the handlebars along with the cake and pie with everything ending up smashed onto someone's lawn.
The pie was completely in pieces, and I will always remember how my friend futilely tried to pick up all of the crumbled pieces and reassemble it in the pan. Thankfully, the carrying case for the cake held it together, even though it got completely smashed to one side.
Not only was it smashed, but we realized that someone had somehow added 2 cups of vinegar instead of one tablespoon to the cake batter, so it didn't even taste as delicious as I had hoped.