Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mary's cross-cultural experience

During the summer of 2002, I had the opportunity to travel to Europe for a study abroad program, personal travel, and internship. For two months I lived in France with a small study abroad group sponsored by Brigham Young University. One of the most memorable moments during this period was befriending the locals in Paris and getting to know the city as they did. They showed me a unique side to the city, which I would have missed completely while on my own. I learned to experience and love Paris as a native parisienne.

At the culmination of my study abroad program, I took off on a whirlwind tour of some major cities in 10 different countries. With two other girls from my program and only a small backpack, I hit as many cities as I could in a two-week period. We didn’t have the time to dig deeply, but I will always remember the sights and sounds of the diverse people who surrounded us.

Following this experience, I headed to Belgium in July. My experiences there taught me the most about adaptation and flexibility. During my two-month stay, I held an internship as an English instructor at a private children’s language school. I was required to coordinate and plan lessons and activities as well as supervise children in various settings. They gave me ample independence and creativity in fulfilling these responsibilities.

At first this independence made me fairly miserable. I had been excited to start my new position, but soon felt very alone and disheartened. Each week I had a new group, each with a wide range of ages and skills. I had to quickly adapt each week to my students needs with what I saw as no support from those around me. Everyone in this new city seemed cold and harsh.

I tried my best to plunge into teaching. During my first week, my morning class had a 9-year-old French girl who understood Shakespeare better than I, an 18-year-old Italian boy who had never attempted to speak English, and a variety of other children with assorted skill levels. That same week I had a 3-year-old girl from Sweden in my preschool class. She tried to communicate with me in extremely broken French as I attempted to teach her English. After going home to cry in self-pity for several days, I decided I was quickly getting nowhere. To regain sanity, I opened up to as many people as I could. I got to know the other staff, pestered my cranky manager, sought advice from the elderly woman I lived with, and befriended several locals. Before I knew it, I was a part of the city and had a large network of support made up of people whom I had once seen as cold. I continued to face many struggles, but now had a wealth of resources. I took full advantage of the city not only to help me teach successfully, but to make lasting friends and memories.

Dan's Cross-Cultural Experience

In 1998 after my freshman year in college I submitted my application to serve a two-year proselytizing mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Upon receiving my assignment to serve in southern France, I pictured a rural community. Having never left North America, I was naive about the rest of the world. I had a preconceived notion that the Bordeaux region was less modern. All I could expect was something different and a lot of cheese and wine.

The hardest part at first was learning the language. But conversing and writing in French soon became second nature. I love the idea that speaking two languages opens the door to communicating with millions of new people and being a part of all their diverse places and cultures.

My volunteer experience in France opened my eyes to a different world. It made me realize how big the world is. While there, I intimately got to know the people who had different perspectives about religion, politics and social norms. I always enjoyed learning about and discussing those differences. Because France is a rather diverse nation, I was able to befriend people from Burkina Faso, Laos, Algeria, and many other countries. I had a natural desire to get to know each of their unique traditions and backgrounds, but it was difficult at first to leave my comfort zone. By the time I left however, I felt much more bold and confident as I integrated myself in the community.

I had adapted to France and it had become my home. French had become the language I spoke the most. Coming back to the States after two years was quite a shock. I had to learn to do everything in English again and return to the American lifestyle. My experiences gave me an appreciation for all of the opportunities I have in my own country to choose my own path. After my service in France I was eager to get back to my education. I had learned hard work and diligence while away which gave me a newfound determination and self-discipline that I hadn’t had before. Living in France gave me a fresh perspective and I went forward with no fear.

Recently I was able to go back to France for one month. I was eager to visit my old friends and speak French with them. I looked forward to immersing myself in their way of life for a second time. As soon as I stepped off the plane, the pride of European culture surrounded me. I remembered the period in my life when I was truly a part of it. It was rather surreal to take the train back into the heart of Paris. Many things were the same but some things had changed – or at least were different than I remembered. Nevertheless, it was refreshing once again to escape my little bubble and encounter something different. Nothing can replace personal experience when learning about and learning to love the world.

Mary's Motivation Statement

Many people ask why I want to join the Peace Corps. What is it? The adventure? The change of perspective? The chance to meet new people and experience new cultures? The escape from typical American society? Yes. But there is more. John F. Kennedy said, “one person can make a difference and every person should try.” The world needs more people who can look beyond themselves at the bigger picture. Why do I want to join the Peace Corps? I can make a difference. I might not cause sweeping change let alone touch many lives, especially on my own, but I can still try, even if I only end up changing myself.

I have a tremendous amount of autonomy in my current job. This has given me an added drive. While it isn’t what I pictured doing with my International Studies degree, I have learned to adapt and take a strong ownership of what I do. I always want to be proud of what I present of myself. My program represents me. Due to uncontrollable circumstances, a few months ago I had to change program locations. This meant I had to leave behind everything I had worked so hard at achieving within my program, all the relationships I had built, and the foundation I had poured my soul into. It was a sad transition to be forced to leave a part of me behind and start from scratch, but it has taught me countless lessons. Sometimes things don’t work as planned. I’m not afraid of going back to the drawing board, analyzing the situation, jumping back in, and getting the job done right. I’m excited to use this dedication to jump into something new in my field of interest and pour my soul into it.

For several years I have been a member of a Youth Service Committee, which plans and coordinates service projects and character education for approximately 1800 area youth. I have always had a desire for service and helping others grow. I know that the Peace Corps can use my talents in these areas and stretch my abilities to new limits. Whatever work I undertake when I return from the Peace Corps, the lessons I learn will improve me in ways I cannot imagine now. I’m excited to face new challenges, solve new problems, and live side by side those people I’m trying to help.

My husband and I are currently in the planning stages of starting our own business. After our tenure with the Peace Corps, I know we will have added insight on the best ways to achieve success with our ideas. We will learn how to adapt to new situations, find creative ways to solve problems, work with limited resources, and work with a mixture of people, cultures, and ideas. We are at a point in our lives where the doors are wide open. We want to grab this chance to look outside of ourselves and go into our future with no regrets.

Dan's Motivation Statement

Why would I want to join the Peace Corps when I have so much going for me in my life? Why would I give up over two years to serve in a third-world country? Many people, including my family, think that my wife and I are crazy to join the Peace Corps. Yes, it will indeed be a sacrifice to give up our comfortable American lifestyle, but I want to break out of the American mold and alleviate in some small way the suffering in our world. My life goal is to serve others without thought to self. I want to have that spirit of selflessness in my family life. I want to be able to use the opportunity of the Peace Corps to go outside my comfort zone and do something that many people only dream about.

The best way to learn about people is to live with them and be there during their trials and triumphs. One of my life’s pursuits is to tell people’s stories. This experience will help me gather some of those amazing stories and share them with others. I see telling stories as a way of teaching and learning. Hearing stories of people’s travels and also natives speaking about their countries only increases my desire to capture some of the diversity in this vast world.

Having the freedom to go anywhere and do anything at this point in our lives, we are intent on not letting this chance pass us by. There’s a refreshing appeal to dropping everything and leaving our clutter behind. Americans have a tendency to focus on wealth. It would be gratifying to get away from this focus and volunteer my time and talents for the good of another people. Through them, I hope to learn what is truly important in life and bring back a unique selfless perspective.

The Peace Corps will be very different from my mission experience in France, but I look forward to putting some of the skills I learned there to use and discovering the challenges of the volunteer setting in Africa. I’ve already had a similar experience that I can build upon. This time though, I can work side by side with my spouse. The opportunity to grow together and work together will benefit our family some day. It will be a unifying experience in which we will need to rely on and lift each other daily. We will be stretched in all aspects of our lives, but it is through struggle that one grows strong. The Peace Corps provides that environment.

Serving in the Peace Corps will be something I never regret. I see it increasing my confidence as I reach my potential. It will be something that will change my life and hopefully change the lives of those I work with. It will be a positive life experience that will be invaluable as my wife and I become parents in our own home and leaders in our community.

Monday, October 02, 2006

goals for the future

  1. Join the Peace Corps
  2. Find jobs that relate to our education (film/international studies)
  3. Form a band ("look at us... we formed a band")
  4. Go to Thailand
  5. Start our own film production business
  6. Go back to school
  7. Go back to Europe
  8. Make babies
  9. Have babies (just babies...)
  10. Write screenplay
  11. Make documentary
  12. Eat ice cream and peanut butter cups
  13. Run a marathon (or a 5K.... either one is close enough...)
  14. Stop living out of boxes
  15. Have our own food storage
  16. Do our genealogy
  17. Figure out what our goals for the future are

trying to write....

so here we are.... writing in our blog. yay for us.

um. so dan, what do you have to say?

"um. *silence* I don't know. (laughter.)

dictate what i'm saying. (more laughter.)

yours (laughter) my wife is silly (and wonderfully attractive)"