Saturday, November 14, 2015

Sometimes We Get Lonely

One thing I have noticed about returning to the US for an extended period of time is how incredibly lonely it is. I'm teaching full-time at the moment, visiting partner churches on weekends, and have spent more time with family than in the past four years combined, so the loneliness is not from lack of people. Rather, the loneliness is much like what many expats feel when they first move overseas. People everywhere, but an astounding lack of people who get us.

I haven't lived in the USA for twelve years. This is the longest stretch I have gone during this time without leaving the nation's borders. I'm the girl armed with the passport and visa (and I don't mean the credit card kind), who has no problem navigating airports and foreign public transit systems, is an expert at packing a suitcase, and has a thirst for adventure. I'm a missionary who strives to be salt and light, and wants the world to know the hope I possess that they so desperately need. I'm the teacher who loves that moment when students get it, wants to share my love of reading and learning, and is completely amazed that I get to share the love of Jesus with my students.

But I'm also the girl who no longer knows her passport country. There are cultural references I don't get, commercials I've never seen, poplar songs I have never heard. In many ways, because my world had been so expanded, I no longer share many of the values Americans (and southerners in my case) hold dear. I don't want the big house (I'd settle for a kitchen big enough for two people to cook in at the same time), the two cars (I utterly despise having to drive), or the white picket fence. I don't understand why people tell me to be safe in Prague, when they live in a country where you can't even go to a movie theater without fear of getting shot. I honestly could care less about guns and hunting and second amendment rights and the only football that interests me is the kind Americans call soccer. International experience causes me to disagree strongly with many about immigration reform and how to treat people who are different than us.

And I have stories that I long to share...but who has the time to listen? And when people do listen, the questions are always about what I miss from America. Very seldom has anyone asked what I miss about Prague. And honestly, I miss so much...I miss my family there, my job, my flatmates, my friends and co-workers, my church, my life. I haven't lived in this county for twelve years. There are not many friends left here.

And I can only imagine that other expats and missionaries feel the same way. All, while those of us who return to the States are glad to see those her (please don't think I'm not thrilled to see you), but sometimes we get lonely and just want someone who gets us.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teeth Brush and Finding Prince Charming

Sometimes, my kids write such cute stories, I just need to share them with everyone. Please keep in mind that both authors are still learning English. :) 

Teeth Brush
By: A Fourth Grader
       I know to brush teeth. It's easy. You brush the sides really fast and hard. Then you do it to the front of them and the back.
      My friend did not brush his teeth, and now he doesn't have teeth. He didn't brush his teeth everyday.
      My other friend washed his teeth really nicely and has really strong teeth. My mom's teeth are really good, because they are not broken. She did wash them.

Cinderella Finds Prince Charming
By: Another Fourth Grader
Once upon a time there were four people. Those four people were in a ballroom dancing, but then a cat came and took Prince Charming. No one knew what happened to him. Cinderella tried to find him. She asked all the people, but the people said, “no” always “no”.
               Then the king said to everybody, “Prince Charming is going to come on stage and tell us a story.” The king called Prince Charming, “Are you coming or not?” No one responded to the king. The king was waiting for five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes but he did not come.
               Then Cinderella asked the Fairy Godmother, “Can you please give me your wand. Because I can do magic with it. Because I have to find Prince Charming.”
               So Fairy Godmother said, “Ok, you may have my wand. They wanted and always do eight wishes.”
               So Cinderella said, “Ok. Thank you for the wand.”
               “Remember that when the eight wishes are gone, call me and I will be there.”
               So Cinderella said, “But what is the magic word? What is the magic word?” But at that time the fairy godmother had went away. She had to wonder for a little bit. And the guessed it and it was “Cinderella”.
               So she said, “I wish I could find where Prince Charming was.” The wand brought her to Prince Charming. Cinderella said, “The cat has got him.” Prince Charming was all with rope around him. Cinderella said to the cat, “Can I please have Prince Charming back?”
               But the cat said to Cinderella, “No.”
               So Cinderella said to the wand, “I wish the cat was frozen and the rope was not tied.” So then everything was back to normal. So they danced and Prince Charming told the story.


Friday, April 24, 2015

College Courses I Never Had But Probably Should Have

In a moment of frustration, I may have said that I never had to take "Recess Conflict Resolution and Management" while I was in college. Which got me to thinking--what are some courses that I probably should have had in college to prepare me for my career as an international school teacher? I was an education major with a cross cultural minor, so really, somewhere some of these thing should have been covered!

1) The aforementioned "Recess Conflict Resolution and Management 101"

Some days I think if I have to hear the words, "But he cheated" one more time I'm going to curl up in the fetal position and scream. And then cry. This should probably be added to every education program ever.

2) Charades 101

For some reason I never had a course on charades in my cross cultural classes. This would have been a handy tool to have in my pocket when I first moved overseas. Thankfully, I've gotten rather good at charades, but I still think this should be added to the program.

3) Visa, Paperwork, and Other Redtape Issues 302

Really, a course on what it take to get a visa in different countries would have been useful. For the final exam we could have practiced filling out forms in block letters in blue ink. While running around to six different classes to finish it. Because heaven forbid that all paperwork be filed at once in one location or at one time. For even more fun, we could have then waited for months before finding out whether or not we passed the course.

4) Field Trip Planning 101

While I recognize that field trip procedures differ from school to school, a course on planning a field trip might have been useful. On the required list of supplies--a giant bottle of ibuprofen for when the trip is finally over.

5) Computer Maintenance 101

This isn't such an issue anymore (because the only computer in my classroom is normally my laptop), but when I was in Guatemala whenever the classroom computer wasn't working the first words out of my students' mouths were always, "Miss Miller! Fix it!" Right--because I can totally do that.

I'm sure if I spent long enough thinking, I could probably think of even more courses that would have been useful. But all I can say is that the one thing I have learned in my (almost) seven years of teaching--most days I'm still not sure I know what I'm doing. I think many time I'm learning even more than my students--about the subjects I teach, about them, about myself, and most importantly, learning and growing so much in my faith and learning what it means to be Jesus to a room of fourth graders.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Absolute Official Ranking of the 10 Best European Cities, Part 2

A few months ago I created a list of what I consider to be the top five best European cities. (Read it here.) As a review they are: Prague, Budapest, Verona, Paris, and Venice. So, here is my long awaited part 2.

Number 6: Lucerne
My second year in Prague, we attended an educators' conference in Germany. One afternoon, there were several different excursion options that we could sign up to attend. I chose to go to Lucerne, Switzerland. Think quaint, fairytale-ish. And since it's Switzerland, definitely think chocolate. Even though it was a cold, snowy day, this city definitely makes my top ten.

What to see: The Lion Monument, Stroll the streets and explore
What to eat: CHOCOLATE (It is Switzerland)--although, get it from a grocery store--it's cheaper than the tourist locations.

Number 7: Salzburg
Last spring break, my roommate deserted me to go to Turkey for a conference. I decided to adventure out on my on and go someplace I had always wanted to visit, and by "always" I mean since the first time I watched "The Sound of Music". I skipped the "Sound of Music" tour and decided to find the places on their own. One thing I recommend if you are planning on visiting quite a few places in any city--look into getting the city's card. Often times it can be a great value, because you will get free admission or discounts. If you are planning to go enough places, it really ends up paying for itself. And most of them also include public transit. Bonus!

What to see: Are you a classical music person or a musical fan? If you are a "Sound of Music" fanatic, check out the many sights from the film. If you love classical music, you can visit Mozart's birthplace, as well as another house where he lived. I was also recommend Helbrunn Palace. Take the tour of the Trick Fountains, but also be prepared to get very wet!

Number 8: Rome
Rome was a wonderful Thanksgiving Get Away where partook in very non-traditional Thanksgiving meals of pizza and pasta. And gelato, of course. It would be hard for me to really choose a favorite part of Rome. I found the Colosseum fascinating, as was the Roman Forum. One of the most striking parts for me was the Arch of Titus, which was built to commemorate the Siege of Jerusalem. Well, that and the Sistine Chapel, which holds my all time favorite painting, "The Creation of Adam".

What to eat: My favorie gelato place in the world is located in Rome: Il Gelato di San Crispino. SO GOOD! We also enjoyed Trattoria Gioia Mia Pisciapiano and Bar del Cappuccino.

What to See: The Colosseum, The Vatican, The Roman Forum, The Pantheon, The Spanish Steps, The Trevi Fountain...I could go on...maybe it would be easier to make a "What not to See" list.

Number 9: Nice
There was this one time when I spent spring break in the French Riviera. Take that all you Florida and Cancun-ers! We had heard mixed reviews before we went, but I ended up liking it. We were right in the middle of Old Town. Really close to Monaco (Princess Grace was one of my favorite actresses!). Right on the Mediterranean.

What to eat: Nice is really close to Italy, so enjoy Italian food. Also, there is quite a bit of sea food, as well.

What to see: If you are a Grace Kelly fanatic like me, enjoy a visit to Monaco. In Nice, Castle Hill was once of our favorite spots--sweeping views of the city and sea. Also, stroll along the Promenade des Anglais.

Number 10: Milan
I really debated over what my number 10 city was. Milan is typically a love it or hate it city. I don't LOVE it, but I don't HATE it. That being said, I would go back to Milan in a heart beat. Why?

What to eat: MY NUMBER 1 REASON FOR WANTING TO RETURN TO MILAN: Luini's Panzerotti. Think hot pocket only not a gross and a million times better!

What to see: Well, there is the obvious: shopping. However, my second reason for loving Milan is that it is home to one of my favorite paintings: The Last Supper. The third reason: the Duomo di Milano--the cathedral. It is beautiful. Although, personally, I think you could skip the inside and just go explore the roof, which was one of my favorite things that we did. The final reason I love Milan--it's a gateway to so many other parts of Italy. Go to Cinque Terre (I want to go there) or Lake Como (another place I want to go) or Verona (featured previously on the list). Enjoy beautiful Italia.

I'm sure as I explore other places, this list will evolve and change. But for right now, this has been my top ten favorite. (Honorable mention to London--I was only able to explore for about 4 1/2 hours while on a layover, but I would love to go back!)


Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Three Little Pigs: The Wolf's Story

We have been doing a unit study on "The Three Little Pigs". We've compared different versions of the story, and read the story from several different viewpoints. One of my kiddos' assignments was to write the story from the wolf's view, telling why it was not their fault. I thought they were too cute not to share. :)

"I will tell you why it is not my fault. Once upon a time, there were three little pigs. The first little pig made his house out of chalk. The second little pig made his house out of glue and pepper. The third little pig made his house out of bricks. So, then I was walking and I smelled chalk, so I sneezed. Then I walked again, and I smelled a house out of glue and pepper that made me sneeze. Then I finally walked again, and I did not smell anymore smell of pepper or chalk. So, it was not my fault. Next time, have a better idea."

"Once upon a time there were three little pigs building their own houses. The first pig is building a straw house. The second pig is building a house out of sticks, and the third one is building one out of bricks. They were next to each other. Then the wolf heard about the three little pigs. He went to the first house. He needed medicine. He said, "Can I come inside?" The wolf the blew the house down. The pig wasn't even there. The he went to the second pig's house. The wolf said, "Can I come inside?" Then he blew it down. The second pig wasn't there. The three pigs were in the third little pig's house. He went and asked"Can I have medicine?" (note:I'm not sure what happens next. It's a cliff hanger. Does the wolf get his medicine? Is he left out in the cold? Who knows...)


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Absolute Official Ranking of the 10 Best European Cities, Part 1

One of my absolute favorite things about living in Europe is the chance I have to visit other cities and countries. I also can't resist comparing them and ranking them as I visit. So, without further ado, here are my favorite European cities (note: I have not visited ALL European cities. So if your favorite is missing, it could be because I haven't gone there...yet):

1) Prague

 This one is completely and unshamedly biased. I LOVE Prague--the history, the architecture, the beauty. This is my home, and I love it! No competition in this one!

What to see: Vysehrad, Namesti Miru, Charles Bridge, Mala Strana, the view from Prague Castle at night, the view from Letna Park

What to eat: trdelnik, hot chocolate from the Louvre Cafe, svíčková

2) Budapest

This one is a recent addition (since this past weekend, actually). But I officially LOVE Budapest. Not as much as Prague, but it is a beautiful city. (I also might be a little biased since I have friends who lived here and may have once almost applied to teach at a school there.)

What to see: Fisherman's Bastion, the Citadella, ride the yellow metro line

What to Eat: Gelato from Gelarto Rosa (located near Saint Stephen's basilica),
Lángos (try the one from the Lángos stand in the Central Market Hall)

3) Verona, Italy
Maybe it was because we were vitamin D deprived, and Verona was sunny, but I fell in love with this city when I visited my first year in Europe. Roman ruins, Shakespeare, and Italian charm without some of the crowds of other European cities.

What to see: Walk the streets--it's pretty! Or if you feel super touristy, check out Juliet's house. You can stand on the balcony and quote Shakespeare.

What to eat: It's Italy. Do I even need to answer this question?

 4) Paris, France

 I also fell in love with Paris when I visited my first year. My flatmate and I enjoyed just walking around and soaking up the city. I was only there for a weekend, but I would love to go back.

What to eat: Crepes, baguettes, cheese, croissants, macaroons

What to see: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, just wander beside the Seine

5) Venice, Italy
Venice was my first European adventure, and the first city that I traveled to by myself. I went in December, when there were not that many tourists, the city was decorated for Christmas, and it was too cold for the canals to smell. (Evidently they stink during the summer months.)

What to eat: I'm pretty sure I could live off of gelato and pizza.

What to see: Get lost. Explore the beautiful streets.

Coming Soon: Cities 6-10! (I know you all will be sitting on the edge of your seats waiting for my rankings.)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Salt and Light: Don't Forget the Mission

Don't forget the mission...

Was I starting Bible studies with Czechs or building meaningful relationships with my neighbors and was I fluent in Czech yet...

The questions caught me off guard and then the conversation finished with "Don't forget the mission." In answer to the questions, no, no (that would require seeing my neighbors and we all seem to keep very different schedules), working on it, and I haven't. I haven't forgotten the mission at all.

I remember why I am here every morning as I walk into my classroom. I'm reminded as we meet for devotions or prayer times as a staff and implore God to send us more students. I'm reminded as I've had students talk about how they know their teachers care because we do a job where we don't get paid.

And every time I see the brokenness around me, I have to fight to remind myself the reason. I see the darkness that engulfs this city, hear the statistics of how the Czech Republic is the 3rd worst slave state in Europe. I walk past people shooting heroin on the way to work and witness the man passed out on the tram, an empty wine box at his feet. And my heart breaks again. And again I have to fight to remind myself why I am here.

Because I'm not here to plant churches. As much as I want to fight human trafficking, that is not my primary reason for being here. I'm not in this country to start Bible studies with Czechs or to mentor my neighbors. Does that mean I don't want to be a part of these things? No, these are good things, noble things, honorable and right. But I am not the one God has called for that. (Not to say I would reject the chance to do any of those things if they come up, but they aren't ministries I seek out.)

Saying I'm a missionary to the Czech Republic is not necessarily the best terminology. Perhaps it is better to say I am a missionary IN the Czech Republic.

Because the people group I work with are not Czech. It is also equally right to say they are not Americans or Canadians or Korean or Italian or Polish. They are a crazy mix of cultures...a people group where conversations are effortlessly carried on in a mixture of languages (when I coached middle school volleyball, half of my practice was in Korean because a majority of my team was Korean and they would get so excited about things that they would start talking Korean). They love peanut butter just as much as they love trdelnik or Kimbop or fresh tortillas. They speak with authority on the best airports and airlines and carry on conversations with topics ranging from "when I lived in ______ country" to "when my family was visiting _______ country". They know their way around jet lag better than most adults. They are adaptable...and always, always facing change.

And I'm in this country for THEM. They are Third Culture Kids (TCKs) or Global Nomads, as some prefer to be called. Kids who have spent significant amounts of time outside their passport countries (which is probably not their "home" even if mom and dad call it home). Some of them are multi-ethnic, with parents from one or more countries. Some have spent most of their life in their passport country. Some have only left their passport countries in the past few years. Some have never even lived there at all.

They are incredible and amazing. And I'm here for them. To be a stable person in a very unstable world.

I'm here to be Jesus to them. By the light switch in our staff bathroom, someone posted "Be salt. Be light." That's what I am. Salt and light. I'm here to be the person who is here for my missionary kids--someone who is called specifically for them. To be Jesus to them, while their parents are doing what God has called them to do. And I love being a partner in ministry with them.

But I'm also here to be salt and light for my kids who do not come from families that know Jesus. And I have fallen in love with this role as well. I have had students walk into my room who knew nothing about how much God loves them, and I've gotten to tell them! For the first time. As much as I love the light that comes on when a student understand an academic concept (I am a teacher after all), I love even more when I see the light come on about a spiritual idea. Remembering when one of my students told me as she was leaving, "Don't be sad, Miss Miller. I know now God will be with me at my new school." And I got to be the first one to tell her that.

Salt and light. I remember why I'm here. Salt and light. I'm their salt and light in a busy world, a dark world. I'm here for them. Salt and light. 

I haven't forgotten the mission after all.