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

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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

 

 

 

Our kids of China

It’s been an emotional couple days having to say goodbye to these 100 kids who have filled our hearts these last few months. Derek and I are so proud of all of them and knowing that we won’t ever see them again breaks our hearts.

These kids are so smart. They attend school 12 hours a day, six days a week. They have taught us so much, and even know they probably don’t realize it, we look up to them in more ways than one.

They will always have a special place in our hearts.

 

Heaven on Earth in Zhangjiajie

The fact that we will be on our way back home this time next week seems crazy to me. Derek and I both feel as if we are completely different people than who we were just four short months ago.Our time in China has changed our lives. We have grown so much as individuals and as a couple and we both agree that this experience is the best thing we have ever done. When I think back to our time in China, I can’t help but feel extremely satisfied with what we’ve done in this short amount of time. The views we’ve seen, the people we’ve met, and the life changing moments and memories we’ve created.When we decided to come to China, we heard about Zhangjiajie National Forest. This place is also called the “Avatar mountains” since these are the mountains that inspired the movie Avatar.

This place is also the home to the tallest glass walkway, the tallest outdoor elevator in the world, and also home to hundreds of wild monkeys, who loved to be social and interact with all of the tourists.

Walking through the all of the trees that were covered in wild monkeys alone made me realize that our China experience has been filled with a bunch of little moments that make me think “Are we seriously doing this right now?!” “I can’t believe this is actually real life!”From photos and research, Derek and I knew that this place was beautiful, but the amount of breath taking views and beauty this place holds was unexpected. We were absolutely blown away and we both agree that this is our favorite thing we have done in China. In fact, we both think it’s our favorite thing we have ever done. (Next to falling in love with each other.)

 

 

Since we had one more four day vacation before we head home, we planned our trip to Zhangjiajie back a few weeks ago. Five of our friends decided to join us, and being all girls, Derek put up with us very well. 😉All five of our friends agreed that this place was at the top of their “favorite places in China list” and being able to experience this incredible place with them made us bond closer than we were before.As we were all riding up to the top of Tianmen mountain in a cable car, we couldn’t help but have a moment of silence for this beautiful place that we were actually in. We were all taken back, and could not even comprehend that we were actually there.For a second, I thought that I died and had entered heaven because I could not believe that this place was actually real, and that I was actually in this little cable car with people who I now call friends, completely surrounded by these breath taking views. I wish words and photos could do justice, but I will never be able to show or explain how incredible that life changing moment was.I am sad to leave these beautiful people, this beautiful place and this beautiful chapter of our lives behind, but I am so thankful for these memories and these photos that will fill a huge place in my heart forever.

I will most likely be blogging and posting about China for a while and I can’t promise you that I will ever stop. But next time I post, I will most likely be in in the US, snuggled in my own bed, enjoying american food, with my Harvey boy on my lap and I can’t tell you how excited I am for that.

Onto the next adventure, Wren

 

Beautiful little moments in Yangshuo

When I think back to our time in China in a few weeks, I know that Yangshuo will be towards the top of my favorite memories list. We experienced so many beautiful moments that weekend and got to spend a lot of time with the other volunteers here, who have become such great friends.

Not intentionally, sixteen out of the thirty of us went to Yangshuo on the same weekend. We all had little groups that we planned our travels and our hostels with, but we ended up all hanging out since we had the same activities that we wanted to do. These people have become our “China fam” and I am so sad to be leaving them in just 14 days.If you have watched my Yangshuo video, you know that we had a fantastic time in this beautiful little city of southern China. The weather was 80 degrees all weekend which made it perfect for hiking the rice terraces, riding bamboo rafts, and bike riding. It was such a nice little vacation to spend time in the sunshine and get away from our colder city in the month of November.

We rented mopeds both of the days. On the first day, it hit me that we are actually here in China. With my arms above my head and my husband’s back in front of me, flying down West Street and through the Dr. Suess mountains with these beautiful new friends next to me, I felt a complete sense of happiness.I realized that I am actually seeing the world with my best friend, I am doing everything that I always hoped and dreamed that I would do. We had been in China for quite a while by this time, but while riding those mopeds I had the realization of where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with, and out of nowhere it finally hit me.I would tell you that that certain little moment was beautiful, and that it was just that, a beautiful little moment, but the truth is that feeling has lasted much longer than just that little moment. It lasted the rest of the time that we spent in Yangshuo; playing in the mud caves, riding down the river on bamboo rafts, and watching the sunset from the top of the highest mountain.

It lasted the week after we were back in Changzhou. It lasted the whole time I spent teaching my little students. It lasted on all of our little weekend trips, and it has lasted every day since. Ever since I finally came to the realization that we are actually in this place with this people, I have had a sense of complete happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know that our time is limited here, but I know that Derek and I have each grown so much and our happiness has been at a much higher level than we ever anticipated. In just two weeks we will be heading back “home” and I only hope that I hold onto that feeling of that beautiful little moment forever.If you haven’t watched our Yangshuo video, or if you’re interested in watching it again, it is under the video tab at the top of this page.

Onto the next adventure, Wren