A Beautiful Job

It has been about six months since I have written an entry, and that can only mean that I was in school, limiting my traveling, and getting stuff done! I am now enjoying my summer in an exciting place that I’m falling in love with, particularly because of the beautiful people I’m meeting.

I’m currently living in Saint Louis and having the time of my life! Not only is this the first time I can enjoy my relationship with my boyfriend longer than a few days at a time, but I have THE best internship. I am currently volunteering at the International Institute of Saint Louis (IISTL) as an Employment Specialist and loving every minute of it. The IISTL is about 100 years old and works to provide immediate and crucial services to refugees, such as medical assistance, citizenship, English classes, and employment, my department. In the employment department, our main goal is to provide EVERY refugee that comes to the institute with a stable job. We train them by providing “Job Readiness” classes, interview practices, resume building, and completing their applications and paperwork for them. Some of the skills we provide them with even include “Housekeeping” skills. We have a mock-hotel room where we teach those who are interested in housekeeping positions how to clean and make beds the “American” way! This four-day class is actually a lot of fun! I’m improving my own cleaning skills 😉

Many of those who come to us have always lived in refugee camps, thus hold very few skills. However, they are capable of attaining jobs because of their incredible work ethic and invaluable hope in they hold in future. Some of our clients do have high education levels and were only refugees for a small period of time, but the hope they place in us is all the same. What makes a lot of our work easy is that the IISTL has a list of hundreds of employers with whom we partner with, and these companies are always willing to provide our clients with work.

I meet with several clients every day, helping them with whatever it is they need from me, whether it is an interview practice, resume building, or explaining to them Home Land Security laws and regulations. I decided to remain in the United States this summer because I can’t seem to figure out what I want to do with my life by constantly traveling the world; the world is coming to me now. Every hour at my desk, I meet with people from all over the globe: Nepal, the Congo, Syria, Cuba, Rwanda, Pakistan, Zimbabwe…these are just the few countries that I can think of at the top of my head. Granted, I do need to call a translator during most of my meetings, because I do not speak Arabic or Swahili, although I really wish I did. Nevertheless, simply meeting with these wonderful people, who were recently refugees of their own country, now sitting well groomed at my desk, smiling and waiting for me to give them the next step to their acculturation into our society, is an amazing feeling.

What rewards me most of my job is knowing how much we value individual lives. Despite the mess we’ve made of this world, God’s hand in helping us reprimand our wrongdoings and even improving upon our previous conditions, is spectacular to see each day at work. I’m very excited to see what else lands on my desk 🙂

Some of the great people I work with!

Some of the great people I work with!

Closing 2014

Complete my finals, move out, fly half-way across the world, get a haircut, prepare myself for Christmas in one day, “do” Christmas, see everyone I need to see, unpack, repack for a getaway week, and of course, blog. Check, check, and… getting there!

Life never seems to slow down, until right now. And wait, 2014 is almost over?! What did I miss?? 😉

I started my year in Guatemala, a week later I went to Costa Rica; in the Spring, I wrote a grant to go to the rainforest (Ecuador) in the summer while simultaneously applying to study abroad in Finland, where I traveled to Sweden and Ireland. And all of this is over… I’m still in disbelief! But what have I learned from this last year, you may ask? That’s a loaded question…

For starters, I have learned that I have a passion for development, specifically economic development and international affairs. I’m not sure what to make of these passions and interests, but something I’ve learned this last year is that I cannot know what steps I will be taking, let’s say a year from now, without having completed and “walked” the previous ones. But I will keep you posted on the career path I decide to follow 🙂

Another very important lesson that I have taken from this last year is just how small our world is. What I mean by this is in terms of accessibility, for many of us at least. It is HUGE in terms of diversion and beauty. Without a doubt, the world has made cruel revelations to me in the last twelve months, but I am so thankful for these revelations, for I am now able to understand people more, why they do what they do, and perhaps see plausible solutions to minimize their troubles. However, the world has also revealed to me that although it may seem big and dangerous at times, it is mostly a safe place and that most people around the world, despite what the media says, are doing okay and are even happy with their lives. I always tell my friends that we have to be smarter than the media and grasp a better sense of reality, which is not all that bad, especially when you have hope. As someone who is interested in development, I have to maintain a fearful yet optimistic idea of the world in order to continue to push forward with my interests.

To the people that I have met this last year all around the world, and to those back home that have kept up with me and all of my travels, I thank you for making me a better person; I raise my glass to you. I have countless role models in my life, young and older, and they each make up a tiny part of who I am; I carry them with me everywhere I go.

To think that 2014 is over, that all of the plans that were mere ideas one year ago are completed, is a little scary and exciting to me. 2014 has proven to me that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength, that I can accomplish every goal that is set in my heart and even excel if I let myself be taught by others. This to me is a little frightening, because some of the dreams that I have feel very unrealistic, immense, and overwhelming. But I now trust myself more, so I will continue to let myself dream.

I wish you all a very joyful start to the new year, and I wish you health, love, joy, laughter, good food, good company, travel, and hope in 2015 and beyond.

This November, “Choose to be optimistic (and thankful), it feels better,”

Three classes down, two to go; I’ve seen the sun once in the last two weeks; I met Santa Clause; I leave for Ireland tomorrow; Christmas is in a month; Thanksgiving is in two days… I’m reaching the end of my stay in Finland! WHAT! I JUST GOT HERE! I’ve completed most of the plans that were mere ideas not too long ago and that scares me. Soon, it will be summer and I don’t have an internship yet, I need to propose an idea for my senior thesis soon, and then I graduate!? Okay, maybe I’m jumping too many bridges, but the fast pace of time always scares me! Soon I’ll be thirty! Oops, did it again…

But I have finally found some time to pause time and write. Thanksgiving is in two days! This time of year is so exciting and special to me, and I am in the inevitable stage of reflection (as if I don’t do it enough). What am I thankful for? Is that even a question?! I’m in Finland having the time of my life, meeting incredible and inspiring people, and seeing so much beauty that my heart can barely take it! I am so thankful to be here in Europe, getting to know myself and the world around me better, and for the new people that are entering my life and changing it forever. I am also extremely thankful for the people in my life that have stayed a vital part of my life  even as I have constantly left the country in the last year. My family and friends have truly proven to me that distance does not affect the relationship that we have built in past years. Thinking of this overwhelms me with so much excitement and joy; I am sad to leave Finland, but I am incredibly eager to share my experience with those I love back home. I really have it all; it’s unbelievable and I am so so thankful!

There is something going on back home that has been bothering for the last couple of days, and I cannot shake this confused and melancholy feeling I have in the back of my mind as I think of St. Louis. I have been following the Ferguson versus Brown case very closely, mainly because someone I know lives in St. Louis and is in the midst of it all. This morning (the evening in The States), I woke up to a text that said read: Officer Wilson was not indicted… there have been a few gunshots. That text scared me, not because I believe the grand jury’s decision was wrong, but because we continue to live in a world where people use violence as a means to reach justice. Hmmm… Well, I understand that violence is the easiest and fastest way to express anger and frustration, but even as child growing up in my parents’ house, using violence (I never did use violence) when I disagreed with them has never proven to be a successful way of reaching compromise. I know all too well that this case in St. Louis is about far more than the grand jury’s decision, but I wonder why we don’t begin to focus on the bigger picture- perhaps inequality? And maybe also pay attention to the things each American can do to change the world that we live in, like following the Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. This rule does not come with any exceptions. If following this rule is not enough for some, write a powerful piece of writing that will shed light unto an issue, and spend your time (lots of it! Change doesn’t happen overnight) trying to change the problems that bother you in a reasonable way that can actually lead to progress. I am by no means an idealist, but it is during times like this that I rather be cautiously optimistic than fearfully pessimistic. I pray that something good and beautiful can come out of this time in The United States, and I refuse to underestimate the power of prayer.

As I approach the end of my time in Europe, I remain excited and happy to return to the only country that will always be my home. I am very proud to be American, even as I sometimes have to face negative stereotypes here in Europe, because we do have a history of coming together when trouble strikes. I hope that Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up soften people’s hearts, or at least fill their bellies up  just enough so that they can’t get off the couch for a while, and focus on loving those around them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Beautiful People

Have you ever experienced so much love transferred through family and friends that you feel like your heart will explode? It doesn’t sound like a good feeling, but trust me, it is! I have been spoiled and have felt this overwhelming feeling several times throughout my life- God is so good. But I underestimate Him and believe that I cannot have more people in my life who can give me more of this mind-bending type of love. Thankfully, I am proven wrong each time.

Before coming to Finland, I have mentioned before, I didn’t really have any expectations- I had no idea about what was awaiting for me here, so I didn’t think about it much. Prior to my arrival, I mainly focused on how much I would miss my friends back home and everything else I would be missing during my time abroad.  I, of so little faith, have been caught once again by surprise by the treasures I have found here, specifically one person.

I have very good friends back home. Since my blood family lives in Guatemala and I don’t actually know many of them, my friends in The States become my family. I love them very much, I try to remind them of that often, and even call one of them sissy- I can’t call her a friend because it doesn’t describe what she means to me. Anyways, because I experience so much overwhelming love from my friends at home, I don’t expect to find anyone else who would mean so much to me anywhere else. But I found a friend here in Finland who smothers me with so much love and kindness that I’m left speechless every day- saying kiitos (“thank you”) does not cut it, so I’m writing a blog about her 😉

My friend’s name is Henna (I hope she’s okay with me mentioning her name), she’s 27, and one of the most beautiful women I have ever met, inside and out. We met when she emailed me, asking to meet for lunch because she had some questions about Washington College, the school she will be attending for the Spring semester (I know, I’m unbelievably lucky to have her around for an additional semester). During that lunch we got to know each other, and we found out that we are actually neighbors. Since then, we have pretty much moved in together.

Henna and I do everything together- eat, go food shopping, travel, do our homework (we do not study the same subjects), cook, work-out, watch Netflix, be bored, laugh until we’re about to pee ourselves, teach each other different languages…we share our dreams, goals, expectations, fears, faith, testimonies, even money, with each other. Henna has saved me from every type of distress I would have faced if she wasn’t here. She has taught me so much, and it is people like her that help me become a better person. Henna is an angle and I can’t wait to experience more with her. I hope she knows that she is stuck with me, her annoying ‘little sister’ (I tease her more than I do my own brothers, hehe), for the rest of her life, no matter the distance.

friends quote

The Beauty in Quietness

I am at my three week mark, and time finally feels like it’s going at its normal pace for me- buying a bike definitely helped in making life go a little faster! At this point, I think I am settling into a routine: I am running most mornings on a (new) route along the Oulu River, I am biking to my lectures (all I need to do is take up swimming and I’ll be ready for a triathlon!), preparing my meals (okay, I’ve mostly been eating cereal, and peanut butter and bananas…Occasionally I’ll make an omelet), and having late-night girltalk with one of my flat mates over tea (did I just say “flat”?). I am happy with my routine and I feel like myself again, especially now that I am running again! I am thinking of signing up for a kick-boxing class next month, so watch out 😉

I have not had time to join the rest of the exchange students in weekly parties, which I believe has to do with the different level of classes I am taking. Most exchange students are not allowed to take Master’s, or advanced, classes; however, I am not allowed to take anything less than advanced classes because of the way credits transfer back to Washington College. It must have something to do with the type of contract my school has with the University. It appears that basic undergraduate classes are much “lighter” in terms of course work than what I am used to, which is probably why I’m not allowed to take them. A guy at the elevator asked me if I was going to a party (on a Wednesday night) and I said probably not because I have to write a report, and he was baffled and stunned at the fact that I had homework, haha. These graduate classes are kicking my butt! Because I lack basic background regarding econometrics and logistics (classes I am taking next semester…), I am playing catch-up and giving myself extra readings so that I can understand my professors. Anyways, I do love my classes, and I am learning a lot! I have met a few girls completing a master’s program in economics (like me?) and they helped me realized that graduate students don’t always have the time to party, so I feel a little better about myself. They have been lovely enough to invite me to private house parties, so I am having a little bit of fun. I’ve also met quite a few “townies” at local bars, so the entertaining conversations are still streaming in.

The temperature is starting to drop; last night I thought I was going to lose my toes I was so cold! My nose and my ears are starting to remain red for most of the day, which indicates for me that it’s getting cold out. BUT I have very exciting news that help warm the rest of my body– I just bought my plane ticket to Sweden!! I am visiting a friend in Stockholm during my fall break next month for a few days, and I can’t wait!! I am also looking to spend Thanksgiving in Ireland with another close friend, so I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed for it to work out!

I have to say, initially, I thought that traveling to Finland alone, knowing no one, was risky and I was afraid of perhaps feeling alone. However, although I do spend quite some time alone in cafes (my favorite one is called Hemmingway!) reading, studying, and writing reports, I don’t feel so alone. The language barrier between myself and many people makes me feel as if I can’t completely make this my home, but it’s not a bad thing because I am constantly out of my comfort zone, which only lets me get to know myself better. Additionally, I feel independent and I feel like I am doing all of this- the traveling, the studying- for myself, and myself only. Back at WAC, I am constantly with friends, whom I absolutely adore and can’t wait to get back to them, but I am always doing something for someone else, or working towards an award, or only focused on getting my work done to get to a meeting, or making plans with friends…I get dizzy thinking about it sometimes… My life at WAC is incredibly busy, which is how I prefer it there, but now that my life has slowed down here, I can hear myself better. For that I am very thankful. I had to come all the way to Oulu, Finland, to take care of myself, grow, and recharge for the craziness that awaits 😉 If you Google Oulu, you will see for yourself just how much you can learn about yourself when you’re caught in the middle of this scenery, the people, these sunsets, and these skies.my way to school

It hasn’t been a week?!

It has been almost a week since I arrived in Oulu, Finland, but it feels like a month!

This entire week has consisted of non-stop tedious, yet important, errands. My legs are still complaining as they get accustomed to the cycling and walking life. In the last 6 days (after a long and tiring journey here), I’ve toured the city and the university, registered for classes, collected my stipend, paid rent, went grocery shopping, furniture shopping, went to class, went to the doctor for a regular check up, have prepared my meals (calling it cooking would be a stretch…), set up my room, looked for kitchen supplies, struggled with the internet in my room (still don’t have any…) and so much more. All of this takes long to do considering I have yet to buy a bike, so I walk everywhere. Whew! Maybe I should stop writing about the boring errands. I’m tired all over again thinking about the last week!

Aside from the activity that life demands from all of us when we are setting up and trying to make a home for ourselves somewhere foreign, the world around us continues with its beauty and wonders; I am making the effort, even in the craziness, to make time for such things. Last weekend, I visited the local beach, whose beauty is absolutely breathtaking. It is a large and white sand beach, where the Baltic Sea kisses the shore continuously and the autumn air gives a slight cold, yet refreshing, breeze, literally calming every heart that lays eyes on it. Because it is still September, it is warm enough for many windsurfers and swimmers to enjoy the sea, and for me to walk along the shore with a light coat and feel comfortable. The view is incredible. On my early morning jog yesterday, I let myself get lost in the walking and bike tracks, and discovered several ways to enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. The wind millers and red-siding buildings add to my view. Last night, after a long and frustrating day, I went for a walk and watched the sunset over the sea while standing on a bridge- it sounds much more romantic than it was: My fingers were numb from the freezing breeze, I was a little snotty from the cold-winter allergies I usually get, afternoon joggers and bikers were annoyed with me for standing still, and my phone nearly fell into the water as I tried to take a picture of the scenery, but I did snap a picture 😉

I haven’t met many people yet, and I’ve kind of made the effort not to socialize much. I’ve been so tired the last 6 days that meeting people does not sound very appealing to me. However, those I have met are absolutely wonderful people and I am excited for my social life to pick up next week, when my life here is a little more in order.

Leaving to work on a group project for a class…Did I mention I’m taking Master classes instead of Bachelor? So much homework!

It hasn’t even been a week?!

It has been almost a week since I arrived in Oulu, Finland, but it feels like a month!

This entire week has consisted of non-stop tedious, yet important, errands. My legs are still complaining as they get accustomed to the cycling and walking life. In the last 6 days (after a long and tiring journey here), I’ve toured the city and the university, registered for classes, collected my stipend, paid rent, went grocery shopping, furniture shopping, went to class, went to the doctor for a regular check up, have prepared my meals (calling it cooking would be a stretch…), set up my room, looked for kitchen supplies, struggled with the internet in my room (still don’t have any…) and so much more. All of this takes long to do considering I have yet to buy a bike, so I walk everywhere. Whew! Maybe I should stop writing about the boring errands. I’m tired all over again thinking about the last week!

Aside from the activity that life demands from all of us when we are setting up and trying to make a home for ourselves somewhere foreign, the world around us continues with its beauty and wonders; I am making the effort, even in the craziness, to make time for such things. Last weekend, I visited the local beach, whose beauty is absolutely breathtaking. It is a large and white sand beach, where the Baltic Sea kisses the shore continuously and the autumn air gives a slight cold, yet refreshing, breeze, literally calming every heart that lays eyes on it. Because it is still September, it is warm enough for many windsurfers and swimmers to enjoy the sea, and for me to walk along the shore with a light coat and feel comfortable. The view is incredible. On my early morning jog yesterday, I let myself get lost in the walking and bike tracks, and discovered several ways to enjoy the view of the Baltic Sea. The wind millers and red-siding buildings add to my view. Last night, after a long and frustrating day, I went for a walk and watched the sunset over the sea while standing on a bridge- it sounds much more romantic than it was: My fingers were numb from the freezing breeze, I was a little snotty from the cold-winter allergies I usually get, afternoon joggers and bikers were annoyed with me for standing still, and my phone nearly fell into the water as I tried to take a picture of the scenery, but I did snap a picture 😉

I haven’t met many people yet, and I’ve kind of made the effort not to socialize much. I’ve been so tired the last 6 days that meeting people does not sound very appealing to me. However, those I have met are absolutely wonderful people and I am excited for my social life to pick up next week, when my life here is a little more in order.

Leaving to work on a group project for a class…Did I mention I’m taking Master classes instead of Bachelor? So much homework!