Highlights of China Video

Today marks one month since we’ve been back from China, and the fact that my days once looked like this still feel like a dream. Even though it’s been bittersweet readjusting back to reality, I know that I will always feel a sense of happiness and gratitude when I reflect on these life changing experiences, memories, and people who filled the most rewarding four months of my life.

Thanks for watching!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

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Lessons I Learned From Living Abroad-#3

 

UntitledAs you all know, I learned a lot of lessons while living on the other side of the world for a short period of time, but I think this is my favorite lesson I learned. I always heard people say this, and I always thought I knew exactly what they meant. But like most of the things I learned, I didn’t actually grasp the lesson and realize the truth behind it until I lived in China and got to witness other people’s opinions every single day.

Everyone’s outlook on everything is different and I mean extremely different.

Beauty:

In China, I was treated like a celebrity goddess just because I have curly blonde hair and blue eyes. The amount of heads turned, photos taken of me, and guys hitting their friends’ shoulder to point at me made me feel like I looked like Margot Robbie or Megan Fox.

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I would leave campus to go to the store, or travel and constantly see locals pointing and hear “ohhh piàoliang.”  (Which means beautiful.) We had a lady at the bargain market say to Derek “oh yes, I remember you two because your girlfriend is sooo beautiful, look at her, you are a lucky man” as she smiled at me. Mind you, she hadn’t seen us for a couple months. LIKE WHAT?! Apparently my appearance is above average on the attractive level in China. (Thank you kind Chinese people for a self confidence boost)

This was a hard thing to get used to when we first moved to China. I didn’t hate all of the attention, but I was so confused as to why I was getting so much. And then it hit me. I may be average looking in America. I may have blonde hair and blue eyes like 1 out of every 20 people here. But in China, my appearance was rare. And to them, I was so beautiful.

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Success:

Just like beauty, success is perceived differently by everyone. We got really close with the other 30 volunteers that we were with 24/7 (since they were the only people we could have conversations with for four months.) I learned a lot about them individually. We all came from different backgrounds, but we all had one thing in common; a passion for travel.

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A lot of them would talk about going home back to school, and work. Some of them would say things like “when I am successful” or “when I graduate from college and become successful” or “China was a great break, but I am excited to get home and work towards success and my goals.”

One day one of them asked Derek and I for help while signing up for her college classes. She said “you guys are very successful adults, will you help me?” I laughed and said “I am not the person to ask, I never went to college.” And she said “What really? Well you guys own a house and have a happy marriage, so you must be successful.” And then it hit me.

Most of the people we were with had a completely different definition of success than I had. In fact, the whole world has a different definition of success than anyone else has. Success to me is complete mental and physical happiness. That doesn’t mean I have to own a house, have a college degree, or even a steady income. Moving to China was the most successful thing I have ever done for myself.

It was always my dream to experience other cultures with the person I love, and I had finally reached that goal. To other volunteers or to anyone else, traveling might have been a break or a set back to them from their success, but to me it was my end goal, and I have never felt more successful.

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Beauty and success are only two examples of different outlooks, but they are the two that I realized the most while living in China. Since being home, I have noticed more that people are constantly talking about what is beautiful and what is successful. And that is fine, we should share our opinions, but we need to remember that is all that they are, opinions. And we should never compare our beauty or success to anyone else’s.

So here is a nice little reminder to myself and whoever needs it. Even if you feel like the least beautiful or least successful person in the world, remind yourself that you are “sooo” piàoliang” in China, or a “very successful adult” to a younger person. 

Here’s to being beautiful and successful, no matter what that means to you!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

How We Spent a Semester in China

I’ve had quite a few people reach out to me, while we were overseas, and especially since being home with a lot of different questions. Most people ask “How was it?” “Was it what you expected?” “How was the food?” etc. But a few people have said “I want to do something like that, so how did you do it?”

So hello adventurous dreamer who wants to experience the other side of the world. This post is for you.

I’ve been trying to leave this town since the day I graduated high school. I always felt like I needed to get out of here, and was constantly researching programs like nannying in New York, studying abroad in Italy, rebuilding homes in south America, etc. I was researching similar things one day, and I found the program ILP. (International language programs) After reading about who they were, what they did, and realizing that this program was based right out of my home state, I had an overwhelming feeling that I just had to apply.

I talked to Derek that night about this program, told him the details of what it was, how much it cost, and then told him…So….that’s what I am going to do next year, do you want to join me? Without hesitation and to my surprise, he said “of course.” We looked more into it together, researched a little about the countries we could choose from, and talked to a few of our friends who were previously part of the program. A month later, we were accepted into the program and looking forward to our next adventure.

So, how does ILP work?

ILP is a volunteer program based out of Provo, Utah. It is for young adults, ages 18-25, to experience another country and culture while teaching English to kids.

Do I have to know the local language to teach the kids English?

No, before going to China the only thing I knew how to say in mandarin was “hello.” We would teach the kids our lesson plans that we prepared for that week, but the kids were not allowed to speak Chinese to us, so we did not need to know any Chinese to teach our lessons. Our “English class” was an immersion program and the point of the program was for the students to communicate in English to native English speakers that don’t have accents.

How much did you get paid?

Since ILP is a volunteer program, we were just volunteers. Which means, no salary. Since we were not paid teachers, this means that no certification or teaching experience is needed. We actually paid ILP a fee to be in the program, and that fee included our visas, flights, house, and food for the semester.

If you don’t get paid, how do you afford it?

Everyone pays for and affords ILP differently. Some people are lucky with giving parents. Some people had garage sales, go fund mes, or bake sales to raise money before they left. And some people were saving their money and making monthly payments for a year in advance. Personally, Derek and I saved our money for nine months before we left. We also had income every month from renting our house out. AND since we went to China, the tuition was buy one get one free for married couples. (SCORE.)  For four months of housing, food, adventure, and an experience we will never forget, we paid $2500. We also had to pay for all of our travel, shopping, and going out to eat (and that number is different for everyone).

How do I sign up?

If you’re interested in learning more about ILP  or signing up, you can click this link.

http://www.ilp.org

And if you are still wondering about certain details or need answers to certain questions, go ahead and message me or leave a comment below. I am so happy for this amazing program and the opportunities it offers to young people who just want to see and experience more, while making a difference in the life of others. (The fact that they’re cute kids is just a bonus.)

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

Lessons I Learned From Living Abroad-#2

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of emotions. Most of them great, some of them anxious to get back on the track of life, and some of them nostalgic for the care free life we were living in China.

We’ve been doing our best to get back into the swing of things and back to our day to day routine but things around here still feel different. It’s because we’re different, and I love it.We had a Happy New Year, and I hope you all did as well. We made our way up to Zion on Saturday with Derek’s siblings. It was nice to enjoy the red rocks that we’ve missed so much, and to be able to breathe the clean air quality while we hiked our 8 miles. We met Derek’s parents for a late lunch in Springdale as well.

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with a few friends. A lot of our friends were out of town this year, so it wasn’t anything too exciting, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t special. Like I’ve said before; a holiday is for time spent with the people you love, and that’s exactly what we did.

Speaking of people I love, I am excited to share the second lesson I learned from living abroad.

Our happiness can not depend on other people, especially people who don’t value who we are.

I’ve always been a big believer in loving and accepting people for who they are, and to love them in any form and any way that they are. I’ve always loved to make the effort with my friends and reach out to them when I know that they need it, and even when they don’t. This quality of mine has resulted in me having many friends and very close family members with many different personalities. And I have always enjoyed it.

Leaving to China was hard for me. I knew I was going to miss the life I was currently living so much… My weekly dinners with my in laws, my girl nights with my mom and sisters, my coffee dates with Marie or Jamie. My dance parties with my boys, and my wine nights with my girls. My grandma’s cooking and my grandpa’s jokes, and of course my cuddle puddles with Harvey.I knew that all of these things were little parts of my life that contributed to my overall happiness. What I didn’t know is that I could be completely happy without them. When all of those things were temporarily taken away from my life, I had to learn how to be happy completely on my own and to put all of my focus on myself and my husband.

I didn’t realize how dependent my happiness was on the people I love, and how much effort and energy I was putting into these relationships, until I didn’t constantly have them around. I am not saying the energy I was putting towards these people was a bad thing, but I didn’t realize how much energy I wasn’t spending on myself until it was the only option I had. 

I have learned to love myself in a way I never thought I would. I am more in touch with my emotions, I enjoy alone time more than I ever have, and I have accepted who I am mentally. The highly sensitive, emotionally expressive person that I have always been. Even it comes off as weird, or “too deep” for others. 

With all of this, my connections with others have changed since being home. I now know that I am happier putting my energy towards myself and my alone time instead of putting that energy towards people who don’t value every part of me. I now know that no matter how far I leave, the people who I am connected to, will always be connected to me. My family and my best friends, who know every piece of me and who still love me. And to the people who don’t value every single piece of me, well I know now that I can be completely happy without them, so I am not wasting my time or energy anymore.

Sometimes it takes taking everything and everyone you have ever known away from you, to feel 100% complete genuine happiness. I know have a sense of happiness with myself that I have never had, and all of these people who I surround myself with are just a bonus.

Here’s to self love, self acceptance, self improvement, and complete happiness. And everyone who not only add to it, but accept and value it as well.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

Highlights of 2017

To say that this year was life changing and amazing would be an understatement. In 20 years, I know that I will look back to the good old days and think of this year and this time in our lives. 2017 was all about following dreams, spending time with the greatest people, adventure, change, growth and soaking in every little moment of these “good old days.”

Here’s to more new beginnings, more change, more growth and of course more adventure. I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Happy New year!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

No Place Like Home for the Holidays

This year Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. Maybe it’s because we didn’t get to decorate our house, or pull out our stockings and tree from storage. Maybe it’s because we didn’t make it to my grandma’s annual Christmas party or go to downtown Salt Lake to look at the lights. In fact now that I think about it, we didn’t look at any lights this year and we hardly listened to any Christmas music.

Maybe it’s because Derek and I didn’t buy each other a single gift and that we never really celebrated Thanksgiving or Black Friday. Maybe it’s because we were still getting through the culture shock and jet lag of being back home.There are a lot of reasons why Christmas didn’t feel like it usually does this year, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t celebrate and enjoy it. And even though it wasn’t filled with our usual traditions, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t just as magical. Christmas was special this year because it was the perfect excuse to make up for lost time with our families that we missed so much.

On Friday before Christmas, we celebrated one of our favorite traditions and attended our annual gingerbread house contest at Shara and Axel’s. We also indulged in delicious american food and treats that we missed terribly while we were in China.

Derek won the contest….no surprise there.

On Christmas Eve, we went to grandma and grandpa’s house to open gifts from them and gave them their gifts that we brought home from China. And of course, We also ate more delicious food. Derek and I agree that Christmas was the best time of year to come home since everything tastes and smells so good to us at the moment. After dinner, we came home to my mom’s and had our yearly tradition of watching the Grinch. This year, with Ali, Josh, and mom. —We are still living at my mom’s until the renters move out of our house in February!On Christmas morning, I woke up to the smell of coffee and snuggles from Derek, Harvey, and Luna. I told Derek, “this is the best day ever!” (I really missed my good coffee and my puppy snuggles). We opened presents with mom, Ali and Josh and missed having Whitney and the girls there since they didn’t make it town this year.We went to the Durstelers for breakfast (yay for more yummy food!) We exchanged gifts and enjoyed speding time with them, and especially Jake since he is in town. We even attempted to have a family photo shoot…Duke wasn’t too happy about it, but Derek and I were really happy that he was still alive when we got home, so we had to include him.—He is getting old, but he is still doing great!

 

That afternoon, we went to my dad’s with Ali and Josh. It was fun to catch up with him and tell him about our adventures from the last four months. We exchanged our gifts with him, and (surprise!) Indulged in even more food. I think all of the weight that we lost in China was gained back just on Christmas day.That night mom joined us and the Durstelers to go watch the new Star Wars in the VIP movie theater. I’ve never seen a Star Wars movie in my life, but spending time with family and being able to relax in a recliner was worth my confusion and boredom throughout the movie. (and yes that’s Derek’s finger..not mine.)Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas this year, but that is okay. It wasn’t about the usual traditions and gifts. It was about the time spent the people who matter most and the feeling of comfort and home that we didn’t feel for a long time, and that made it just as magical as any Christmas before.I hope you all had a happy holiday season with the ones you love most. Don’t ever take the time with your families or the feeling of being home for granted and have a happy new year!

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

 

 

 

Lessons learned from living abroad-#1


It’s only been one week since we packed up our tiny dorm in China, and returned back home to the US. Since we’ve made it through the culture shock, jet lag, and the Christmas season (Christmas blog will be up soon) I decided to sit down and write out the thoughts I’ve had in the last few days.

First, I want to say that moving across the world for a short amount of time and taking a break from our every day life, was by far the best thing I have ever done. I had more personal growth than I have ever experienced, I learned that’s okay every once in a while to only focus on myself and my happiness, and my love for my husband and my marriage grew more than I ever thought was possible.I know that everyday life is filled with routine, time spent with friends and family, and responsibility, but to take a step back and take a break from everything and everyone we knew at the time changed me in ways that I never expected. A lot of you might be thinking “Wren, you were only gone for four months, there is no way you could have completely changed.” But I am here to tell you that until you immerse yourself into uncomfortable situations everyday for a few months, you will never understand the growth I’ve personally gone through.

 

I wish I could sit here and give you all a philosophical lesson on the way I think now and explain the feelings and different perspective I’ve had, but since I am not a philosopher or an award winning author, I will tell you the top five lessons I personally learned from temporarily living abroad. And to save myself from boring you with even more reading, this post will only be the first lesson so here it goes…

Everything I thought I knew was, and is, most likely wrong.

I had very many expectations before we went to China. I knew that Chinese people had black hair and spoke mandarin. I knew that we would be eating a lot of rice and that our students would be quite a bit more educated than students in the US. I knew that China was beautiful and that we would be seeing a lot of pandas, Buddhas, dragons, and calligraphy.I also had a lot of new realizations that I did not expect. I had no idea that Chinese people would rather help someone else than be on time to their destination. I had no idea that the elderly people practiced dance in the middle of the street ALL over China to stay healthy and active or that their students go to school 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I never knew that the cities of China would be the most clean cities I’ve been to because they are all so particular about littering and trash. And I never knew how much the Chinese loved and respected Americans and thought of us like gods.

I am not saying that my expectations of China were all completely wrong, or that none of them were met. In fact, they were all met and then some. (a lot) I am saying that we truly don’t understand a culture, or a place, or really….anything until we experience it our self.

Immersing myself in a different culture made me realize that just because we have expectations of something doesn’t mean we know much about it. We can pick up textbooks and study, and watch the news or the media. But experiencing something for our self is the most rewarding way to educate ourselves about it.

This small lesson that I’ve learned doesn’t only apply to experiencing other cultures, or traveling the world. It applies to falling in love, working a certain career, having children of our own, having a certain type of lifestyle, or looking a certain type of way.

My mother always said “put yourself in their shoes” and my father always says “don’t ever judge a book by the cover.” I heard these my whole life and I thought I understood them, and knew them and applied them to my everyday life. But moving to China and having my expectations and judgement of things proven wrong every single day made me realize how little I knew about China, and how little I know about this world.

We can learn about, judge or admire certain things that we haven’t experienced, but until we see it and experience it, we truly don’t know anything about it. Next time you want to judge or admire someone’s lifestyle, habits, or way of living; remind yourself that just because you have certain expectations, or think you know much about what they’re going through, doesn’t mean you do. In fact, the only person who truly knows what you’re going through or can relate to your outlook on things is yourself. Here’s to new lessons, personal growth, and attempting to write out the thoughts that constantly fill my head. And here’s to being back to my comfort zone, back home, with a completely different outlook on life. Even though this beautiful chapter of my life is over, I know that I will carry these life changing experiences with me forever. Onto the next adventure, Wren