Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What have we gotten ourselves into?!

I apologize to those of you who are looking to read about our Korean or Kenyan adventures . . . I guess this blog has temporarily turned into a pregnancy blog. Seth and I talked about him writing and possibly keeping up the Korea/Kenya entries, but he said, “I have nothing to say.” :)

Korea in and of itself has been challenging: culture shock, homesickness, etc. Preparing to be parents in Korea has been double challenging. We are facing completely different challenges in our preparations than we would have in the States. Obviously, God has a plan for our lives and He knew what He was doing when he got us pregnant, but sometimes I selfishly and regretfully ignore the significant and clear reasons why I am pregnant in Korea and indulge in self-pity.

I miss being close to my family and Seth’s family, especially at such a pivotal time in our lives. It would be so fun to go maternity and baby shopping with my sisters. It would be so exciting for everyone to get to witness the milestones of the baby’s growth and development in person.

I dream about starting the “nesting” process by preparing an adorable nursery for our little guy or gal adorned with cutesy baby things. I have been trying to let go of that dream since I figure it’s pretty much impossible seeing that we live in Korea, have no home of our own in the States, have no jobs, and have little time to purchase all the equipment necessary.

I continuously long for the delicious American food on my ever growing list! This list may seem bizarre, but some of these cravings are pregnancy cravings and others are just homesick cravings (what a great combination).

I want . . .
a carnitas burrito from Chipolte, avocado, limes, Mom's roast beef dinner, American garlic bread (no honey please), garlic pasta, dill pickle chips, salt and vinegar chips, McDonald's breakfast, orange juice, tuna (I don't usually like tuna), Spaghettios, cranberry juice, cheese balls, Cheetos, a 99cent hard shell taco from Taco Bell, Mom’s chicken and rice casserole, green bean casserole, normal American pizza (no ketchup, seafood, corn, or sweet potatoes thank you very much), potato soup, chili (that’s not sweet), Mom’s cabbage rolls, meatballs and gravy, ham and cheesy potatoes, Big Bowl Asian Kitchen, gravy and biscuits, corndogs (that aren’t sweet), cheese curds, bread sticks, a Panera bread bowl with french onion or chicken wild rice soup, Key’s Café, Olive Garden, sauerkraut, real bratwursts . . . I’m sure I’m forgetting something!

I wish I could have prenatal care in the States because I believe it would be more thorough, informative, and personal. I would have the ability and comfort of talking to my obstetrician or midwife about detailed personal pregnancy issues. I would know where, in what conditions, and with whom I will be delivering the baby. We will have approximately 1 1/2 months when we get back to get acquainted with a doctor/midwife and register for and take birthing classes.

I'm actaully quite nervouse about reverse culture shock. We are so excited and impatient to go home, but I've heard that reverse culture shock is much worse than culture shock.

Lastly, we wouldn’t have to worry about things like flying around the world at 33 weeks pregnant, not having insurance, etc.

That’s a lot of complaining I just did, but those are my feelings and struggles. Now, let me share with you how God is using those feelings and struggles to draw me closer to Him.

Although preparing to be parents in Korea has been double challenging, it has also been a double blessing. We are learning and growing in completely different ways than we would have in the States. God often makes it evident to me why I am pregnant in Korea and not the USA like I would prefer, and I can clearly see the ways in which this Korean pregnancy is glorifying God and helping Seth and I to understand God’s character and provision more.

I am learning to have faith and peace in the fact that God will provide a place for us to live and provisions for our baby no matter what shape or form they take. I am working on knowing that having our own home and nursery for our baby will in no way make his/her life and future better. What matters is not where we live but how we live. What matters is not our home on this earth but our home for eternity. I’m trying to remind myself that this is a temporary stay and that our real home is in Heaven living as heirs to God’s promise. I’m also so grateful that God has given us so much family who love us, want us home, and are eager to share their homes with us.

Like many people, the plan that Seth and I had/have for our future involved success and comfort. God is teaching us how to live for Him without all of the comforts that we desire and without the worldly success we both predicted we’d have before having children.

When I reflect on our trip to Kenya, I’m constantly reminded that so many women (in both the past and present) have had children in conditions much less comfortable then what my own will be.

God has also used our time in Korea to bless us financially. Although we don’t have much money in savings, we will have all of our debt paid off before we leave Korea that includes a car loan and student loans for two people!

We are blessed to have so much supportive family and so many supportive friends. People back home have been supportive in different ways. Some have shown their extreme excitement, others have shown their understanding of the challenges we will face, others have been constantly praying for us.

There are many decision to be made concerning our future after we return from Korea. Our prayer is that we will want what pleases God not what pleases ourselves or others. We pray that God will bring us to the location and situation in which we can best serve Him.

There have been a few changes in my pregnancy since the last entry. I will soon be halfway through my pregnancy! 20 weeks is nearing! I can’t even comprehend where the time has gone. Currently at 19 weeks, I have gained eight pounds and my belly is stretching more and more. It’s pretty obvious to friends, acquaintances, and maybe even strangers that I am pregnant. I can no longer wear my pre-pregnancy pants without a BellaBand. I’ve started having mild leg cramps and dizziness, but overall, I feel super!

We celebrated our four year anniversary last weekend by relaxing in a classy hotel near the beach in Busan. We enjoyed room service, breakfast in bed, sunbathing and reading on the beach, eating western food, and just talking. It was amazing to have no plans and to just do whatever we wanted together.

I was so shocked and excited to feel Baby Schuett moving around during our anniversary trip! I liken the feeling to someone flicking you from the inside. If the kick is strong enough, I can feel it when I rest my hands on my stomach. The baby has a pattern. When I lie down to go to sleep and switch from my side to my back, he usually moves around. We’ve attempted to get the baby to “perform” for Seth, and he thinks he may have felt him, but nothing to definitive yet. I tease Seth that Baby Schuett isn’t to sure of him yet :)

Feeling those gentle kicks for the first time brought on a whole new wave of emotions. The movement affirms that I have a precious life inside me and makes me increasingly excited to meet him/her. However, it also reminds me of the responsibility of having someone completely dependent on me for life.

This weekend my friends from Korea are throwing me a baby shower! I’m excited to just spend time with these ladies celebrating Baby Schuett. I’d like to give a big THANK YOU to Pam for blessing Baby Schuett and me in this way!

Love, Anna-Teacher

Monday, May 9, 2011

Pregnancy is like Puberty

My body went crazy during the first trimester, as expected from word-of-mouth and the three pregnancy books I purchased (What to Expect When You're Expecting, Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn, and Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy). I had a light bulb moment after the purchase that all three books probably say the exact same thing with a slightly different perspective; however, because of the very impersonal, "in and out as quickly as possible" style of medical care that Korea provides, the books have been my constant companions. There are things about going to the obstetrician in Korea that are great. For example, after the Korean War, the government encouraged families to have as many babies as possible, but they quickly had a surplus of people on a peninsula the size of Tennessee, so the government enforced a two child per family rule and then pushed for one child per family. Nowadays, the government is once again encouraging families to have children because of the decrease in population. In fact, each mother receives about $320 as a gift card to use at the obstetrician’s office. This may not sound like that much, but keep in mind that the last three times I have been to the doctor for a check up, including an ultrasound, it has cost approximately $30. There are also some things that are not so great. For example, I have been given little to no advice on how to take care of myself, I have been given very little information on my baby’s health and development, and I have been given no information on potential problems, how to avoid them, and what should be done if I encounter them.

I've heard through my mom and sister-in-law that usually, in the States, a woman doesn't go in for the first doctor's appointment until around 10-12 weeks. I went in at six weeks, had an ultrasound, got to hear that baby’s rapid heartbeat, and take home pictures of little Baby Schuett. After getting the first ultrasound, I understood why people refer to their babies as peanut. Baby Schuett really did look like a peanut, or, as others would say, a manatee or a gummy bear :)

Dealing with the anxiety that accompanies the thoughts of miscarriage is exhausting. I know and love many women who have struggled through the devastation of a miscarriage, and I’m sure that fearing it is nothing close to experiencing it. After going through some worrisome and seemingly abnormal symptoms, I called our Korean friend, Gook Shim, with concern. She only heightened my worry by saying, “Oh, I think it's a problem. You could have gone in to the emergency room!” Fortunately, after a rushed visit to the doctor, we discovered our baby was not only healthy but quite a bit bigger. We got to hear the racing heartbeat for a second time and got to take home another set of pictures. At this stage the bulbous head and minute body were clearly distinguishable :)

The third visit occurred just a week after my emergency check up. We got the results that everything was normal with the tests, and of course, we got to hear the heartbeat again and take home more pictures. Baby Schuett was so cute! His head was huge, and his body had tiny little arm buds. He looked like a little floating alien :)

Being pregnant is like going through puberty. During the first 14 weeks, my body was dealing with sudden, rapid, and unpredictable changes: vicious breakouts, extreme mood swings, sudden weight loss and then sudden weight gain, tenderness, bursts of energy, fatigue, irritability, frequent bathroom trips, neediness, and the list goes on . . .

This may sound strange, but early on I was excited to start “showing.” Despite all of the pregnancy symptoms, it didn't really feel like I was pregnant. I wished there was some way to routinely check up on my baby without having to go to the doctor. It’s a little weird not knowing what’s going on in the oven! I thought “showing” would give me some confirmation that things were progressing.

On April 6th Seth, Gook Shim, and I went to the obstetrician for my three month check-up. We were so surprised that even though I didn't have a baby bump yet, the doctor did a trans-abdominal ultrasound. To our amazement, Baby Schuett actually looked like a baby, not just a blob :) We could easily distinguish the head, nose, chin, spine, arms, and legs. He/she was also wiggling around so much that it seemed like the ultrasound was tickling him/her. To top it all off, our baby waved at us :) We could even see the heartbeat on the monitor. God is mysterious and creative. Ultrasounds give a beautiful glimpse into the life of an unborn baby. After seeing the miracle of life in the womb, I am struck by the fact that people claim embryos/fetuses are masses of cells, not human beings whose brains are already controlling their heartbeats, who can move, and who can feel pain.

I am currently in the “golden or honeymoon” of my pregnancy. Like the books said, almost as soon as my second trimester started, my body began changing again. Sometimes it's easy to forget that I'm pregnant. All nausea and digestions problems have subsided. The frequent bathroom trips have leveled off. My utter fatigue and exhaustion is gone. I have more consistent energy and sudden adrenaline rushes. I haven't noticed as many extreme mood swings. The reminders that I'm pregnant are my uncomfortably snug pants, increasing appetite, disappearing belly button, growing baby bump, and extra itchy skin.

Last week we returned for my four month check up. Baby Schuett was so much bigger! He/she looked quite crowded in there. I can't even imagine how snug it'll be later on . . . Once again, he was wiggling around during the entire ultrasound. It actually looked like he had the hiccups. He kept bouncing. Although I was tempted to find out Baby Schuett's gender, we told the doctor that we wanted to wait and have it be a surprise, but after leaving the appointment, Seth said, “I think it's a boy.” I still think he/she is a boy too, but you never know! It was amazing to see all the intricate body parts so clearly. The spine, ribs, fingers, toes, etc. are so distinguishable. I just wanted to sit there an keep looking at him :) I also had a QUAD screening done. This screening checks for hormonal imbalances that might indicate a chromosomal problem. Because I took malaria medicine while I was unknowingly pregnant, we were okay with having the screening done. It could help us to prepare for any special circumstances; however, if the screening indicates the possibility of a problem, we are going to leave it at that and do no further testing. God has given us the privilege of being parents, and we are going to embrace that through any circumstances.

In all honesty, I'm still excited to start “showing” more. My ideas may be unrealistic, but I think it's going to be fun to have a big round belly and show it off with cute summer shirts :) I'm 17 weeks pregnant and have gained three pounds. I wonder when I will really start putting on the weight???

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Surprise! It's a manatee!

How does one go about telling people she is pregnant? I still haven’t figure it out, so I sprung it on people at random unexpected moments. The shocked faces and disbelief were hilarious. Seth said he loved watching me tell people. I guess it was quite entertaining.

We received an assortment of reactions upon telling people that we are going to have a baby. We called my parents first. They were both out of the house visiting their parents for the evening. Being so anxious to finally start spreading the news, we called both of their cell phones. I've never called my mom's cell phone from Korea, so I thought she would be a little suspicious, but she didn't have a clue. I lied and told her that we needed to talk to them about our tax returns. She promised that she and Dad would Skype us when they got home. After coming up with some lame problem that we were having with our taxes, we finally (after a lot of dilly dallying on my mom’s part) got them to both sit in front of the web came. Instead of telling them, we held the ultrasound picture up to the screen. My dad had a grin on his face, and I knew that he instantly knew, but he was waiting for my mom to catch on. Silly mom! You'll never live this story down. We asked her if she knew what the picture was, and she said that it looked like the manatee that she had just seen on their vacation to the Florida Keys. Slowly, she processed what she was looking at and couldn't accept reality. Popping her mouth and eyes wide open, throwing her head back, and grabbing my dad's shoulder, she expressed her shock. They both had smiles plastered on their faces the rest of the conversation.

The instant we held the ultrasound up to the web cam Seth's Mom whispered into Dad Schuett's ear, “They're pregnant.” She started yelling out obscure baby names (that we’re probably gonna pass on, but thanks for the suggestions) and Seth's dad shed a few tears. They woke up the siblings, and we got to share the good news that they would be aunts and uncles and that Mom and Dad Schuett would be grandparents! We are going to give Shayla and Stacey what they have been bothering us for, a niece or nephew to spoil :)

I was getting extremely frustrated with the fact that Apryl was REFUSING to Skype us (maybe she wasn't refusing, but it felt that way . . . ) “We have plans that night.” “We're in bed.” “We just talked to you a week ago.” I knew she was getting suspicious because of our incessant calling. Finally, one evening while she was sitting in her robe hanging out with David, we were able to show them the ultrasound. Her reaction: weeping. Now, if you don't know my sister, you might call this a bad reaction to great news, but if you know my sister, you know that this was the most encouraging reaction we could have received. She explained that she was crying so much because she was soooooo soooooo happy that we were having a baby and sooooo sooooo sad that she couldn't be with me to help nurse me through all of the pregnancy quirks and to see the baby growing.

I think God gets a real kick out of surprising us. When Apryl was here to visit, she begged us to come back to the States. I told her that we were still thinking about staying for another year, but that if she and David had a baby, we would come home as soon as possible to be with them. God turned the tables and got us pregnant!

I had to inform my co-teachers of my pregnancy early on because I needed to take a morning off of work to see the doctor. The day after my doctor’s visit I was talking to one of my students in the hallway. My new, young, male co-teacher walked past and decided that he just had to know how the doctor’s visit went. Knowing what he was up to, I attempted to start a random, non-pregnancy related conversation. He didn’t get the hint, and asked the question I was dreading. How was your doctor’s appointment? Did you get to see your baby move? My student freaked out in the middle of the hallway by shouting, jumping up and down, and grabbing my arm. While this was taking place, my co-teacher crept off. Eventually, I got her to clam down and sternly told her, “It’s a secret, and if you tell any of the other students, you will be in big trouble.” After double checking that she understood, I began celebrating with her. She dropped by my office several times to chat about the secret. The very next day she brought me some very Korean Hello Kitty baby slippers :)

All of our co-teachers were both exhilarated and disappointed with the news. They are so excited that we are having a baby, but they understand that a baby means we will be leaving Korea soon. It’s great to know that they still want us here. During my commute, Mrs. Lee said, “I really hope that after your baby is one or two years old, you will come back to Korea.” I replied, “Oh yeah, I’d like to come back to visit.” “To visit!?” She repeated. Then I realized she wanted us to live in Korea again. Unless God decides to throw us for another loop, I highly doubt we will be back for good.

It was getting quite difficult to keep the secret, but we were determined to tell as many people as we could either in person or on Skype before revealing the news on Facebook. Finally, after nearly a two month wait, I surprised my students by showing them the ultrasound. The various reactions was so encouraging. Koreans are crazy for babies! They screamed, cheered, clapped, and sang. Some of the students asked the Korean English teacher if I was lying or joking. The Korean teacher explained that I am so slim that they didn’t believe I was pregnant. The students have said . . . “Teacher, you are so slim. It’s dangerous.” Teacher, you should be careful.” “Eat a lot for your baby.” “Listen to Mozart for your baby.” “Oh, teacher, don’t do that. Be careful.” One day after class, a group of about 10 students backed me into a wall and repeatedly rubbed and patted my stomach. The strangest part was that at this point, I didn’t have a baby bump, so they were just rubbing and patting my still flat stomach. Also, if they wanted to touch the baby, they would have had to touch uncomfortably low . . . I don’t think they realize that the baby is not where my stomach is :) One socially awkward student stayed after class, came uncomfortably close to my belly and tried to look inside it to see the baby. Her face was literally almost touching my stomach. I had to push her away and say no, no, no, you can’t see it . . . I can’t even imagine how many belly pattings/rubbings I’m going to get once I get a real baby bump . . . I might just start rubbing and patting people's bellies in return.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You're Pregnant Dummy: Some Obvious Misdiagnosed Symptoms

I spent one long, gruesome day in Kenya making circles between the bed and bathroom. I claimed food poisoning that somehow my sister-in-law, Laura, new to be a mis-diagnosis of my vomiting.

Although it's never happened in my entire life, I attributed my missed period to the stress, anxiety, and hectic schedule of the Kenya trip. That one was a stretch, but somehow I convinced myself it was an accurate diagnosis.

Cravings for garlic, orange juice, dill pickles, onion bagels, provolone cheese, tuna, and cranberry juice, pounced on me at sporadic moments. “I'm just really homesick and want some comfort foods from America.” Shouldn’t I have found it strange that a week later even the smells of those foods were making me nauseous? During a Costco run, I convinced Seth to let me buy a colossal jar of pickles, a big package of provolone cheese, two bags of onion bagels, and massive liters of cranberry juice. Now, two months later, the pickles and provolone are still chillin’ in our frig . . . sorry Seth :( Every time he attempts to eat the provolone, I am revolted by the smell.

I had severe nausea the entire three weeks after returning from Kenya. We were taking antimalarial medicine which can have strong side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, seizures, etc. (the list gets worse . . .) I was nauseous from the medicine of course!

Our friend, Whitney, asked us if we were having any hallucinations from the antimalarial medicine. I said no, but that I had been having very vivid dreams nightly. The vivid dreams have continued. Every morning I wake up with a bizarre story for Seth about my nighttime adventures.

Seth and I had truly convinced ourselves that I was just dealing with the physical after affects of a grueling trip, but just for reassurance, Seth finally convinced me to take a pregnancy test. I kept telling him that if I didn't take it, then I could just go on pretending I wasn't pregnant whether I was or not. I knew I was being foolish, but it was comforting to go on with life as “normal.” He finally convinced me that putting off taking the test wasn't going to change the outcome, so we ran to the pharmacy, looked up the Korean word for pregnant on our phone’s English/Korean dictionary, and finally got the point across that we wanted a pregnancy test. The pharmacist asked if we wanted two, but we were so positive that the result would be negative that we insisted we only needed one.

One line = negative, two lines = positive. The second line appeared before I had even finished the process. Squeezing my eyes tight, I stepped out of the bathroom and wailed, “I think I'm pregnant.” Seth instantly put his arms around me and said, “What’s wrong. This is a good thing.” After crying for a few minutes while he comforted me, I explained that I wasn't disappointed; I was just utterly shocked and scared. If it had been up to us, we most likely would have waited three more years to start having kids.

We double checked the pregnancy test with the directions, and beat ourselves over the head for not buying two tests. Feeling silly, we ran back to the pharmacy to buy another. The pharmacist laughed and tried to explain a different way to take the test that might lesson the probability of errors. On our way home to take the second test, we got celebration Cold Stone. Seth said he could see the stress in my wide, bloodshot eyes, and in my pacing, fidgeting, and blabbering. The second test glowed two double lines just as instantaneously as the first. With such overwhelming news, we “called in sick” to Bible study.

It's a baby!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Culture Shock: Just the Beginning

Before I get into describing the next phase of our trip, I wanted to comment on something I found simply incredible even before we reached any of our destinations: Customs! Based on childhood experience crossing the border into Canada or flying to Thailand/Australia, etc., I was led to believe that getting through immigration is an immense pain. Now, I have developed a new theory: American immigration is an immense pain! We went through Korean, UAE, Kenyan, and Tanzanian customs 8 times, and the total amount of time we spent talking to the officers was about 12 minutes (although we did have some difficulty in Tanzania, but that's a different story).

Anyway, when we arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport feeling dirty, tired, and a little sick to our stomachs, we spotted Maurice waiting for us directly by the exit. Receiving his warm welcome hug and seeing his bright white smile instantly lightened our mood. Knowing that he was there to guide us lifted a huge burden and stress from our shoulders.

We threw our luggage in the “boot” of the rickety rental car Maurice's friend had rented for us. Anna originally wrote “kindly rented,” but I changed it. Not because it wasn't kind of him to help us and Maurice out, but more because of the hardship it caused Maurice. When we opened the boot of the car, we realized it was held closed by a length of wire. At first, I didn't think much of this...

I think it is telling about what state we were in when, about 50 meters out of the airport parking lot, Maurice said, “Oh hey look, there's an Elephant,” and both Anna and I responded with “WHERE?!?” There was no Elephant. It was a sculpture on the side of the road. Maurice got a pretty good laugh out of that one, and I felt significantly like my gullible younger sister Stacey.

Anyway, first impressions: well, if you ever decide to go to Kenya, and you arrive after dark and have to drive any sort of distance, DO NOT base your first impressions on that drive! The combination of our circumstances did not create in me a stable state of mind.

Circumstance 1: It was night time. In Kenya there are few, if any streetlights, to which I am apparently too accustomed.

Circumstance 2: Kenya, particularly Nairobi, has earned itself a less then glowing reputation. Please see It's very interesting, and this article in particular influenced our outlook on the trip.

Notice the date: 12/28/2010. Less then one month before we arrived.

Circumstance 3: There were people everywhere! Pedestrians commonly walked in front of, beside, or behind moving cars in congested traffic while yelling at Maurice to fix his boot.

Circumstance 4: We didn't know what a Matatu was. Basically, they are shared taxis (in the form of a Nissan mini-bus) that really have no rules of the road to follow. The goal of Matatu operators is to cram as many people as possible into the vehicle as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon to fit almost 30 people into a space that, in America, would be designed for 8-10 people. There are known Matatu stops, at which point the Matatu's tend to swell out into traffic as they park anywhere to get people in their bus.

Circumstance 5: The traffic was intense.

Circumstance 6: The roads in Kenya are in terrible condition. If they are paved, they are littered with potholes. It is routine for cars to simply drive off the road to avoid the massive holes in the ground. Fortunately, the government has recognized this as a problem on at least one road, and has started to remedy it. That road happened to be the one to Maurice's house, and the remedy happened to include shutting down huge sections of pavement and redirecting traffic onto windy dirt bypasses. Also, the most common enforcers of traffic laws in Kenya are the enormous speed bumps.

So hopefully you can draw a picture of the situation in your mind using this information. After 25 hours of traveling, with approximately 9 hours of sleep between the 2 of us, we were bouncing along a windy road with no light but the headlights of oncoming traffic, surrounded by crowds of Matatu's and pedestrians who, at this point, we considered perfectly capable of taking our luggage out of the unlatched boot which bounced open higher and shut harder with every pothole and speed bump. I swear there were a few times I didn't know if we would survive that car ride. I'm sure I was completely disoriented, but it seemed like cars were driving straight at us and veering away at the last second.

Luckily, Maurice knew what he was doing. After about 1:30 of this, we picked up his brother and arrived safely at his parents house (thank you Jesus!).

Maurice's parents have a nice place in the country, far away from the crowds we drove through. We couldn't see much of the surrounding area, but the stars captured our attention immediately. It's hard to remember how many stars there actually are when you live in Korea, but Kenya doesn't have that problem.

Finally arriving at their house was a great relief: we were fed an excellent meal of Nyama Choma (goat ribs), Ugali (boiled flour and water), Chapati (flat bread), Mboga (cabbage), and Karanga (beef). It was great. We were served in the family room, the only room in the house with a light bulb. There was enough seating for about 15 people, which is good because so many of their neighbors wanted to come greet us.

We felt very welcomed, but we were excited to get cleaned up and go to sleep! There was no running water, so Maurice's sister Winny heated some water for us to sponge bath ourselves. Before nodding off, we commented to each other that the lack of electricity, running water, and outdoor pit latrine for a toilet gave it the feeling of camping, albeit with a bed and four walls. With that mindset, we slept soundly.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Seth-the-Stressed and Posh Dubai

After a full day of working with Ben at a Chojeon English camp, we rushed home, showered, tossed a few last items in our suitcases, locked the deadbolt of our cramped Korean apartment, and began our journey to Kenya not knowing what to expect. As we traveled with plenty of time to the Incheon Airport, we learned a little bit more about each other.

While I basked in the joy of being done with work and the knowledge that we were leaving Korea for the first time in a year, Seth double, triple, and quadruple checked our flight itinerary, our progress on the public transportation, and how many spare minutes we would have. His mind was consumed with worrying about all the bumps and glitches that we might face before arriving in Kenya. Because of our previous travel experiences together, I did know that he often travels like this, but I think his stress was amplified by the fact that we were traveling to Africa and not simply around America or Korea. Annoyed at himself, he explained that his family always flies standby because his dad is a pilot for United Airlines. His conclusion was that because things are never guaranteed with standby, there was always a high level of stress when traveling as a kid, and that has shaped how he travels today. Of course, in Anna-fashion, I did tease Seth quite a bit, but in reality, I was and always am glad that he takes care of the worrying while we travel. If he didn't, I'm sure I would take on that role, and I'd rather not.

We should have known that this trip was going to be challenging simply because of the way it started. Because of the popularity of Emirates and the time of year, the plane was completely sold out, and we didn't do an online check-in. Therefore, we were forced to sit apart during our 10hr. flight to Dubai. This and the fact that I hadn't eaten since lunch did not go over well. I sat stoic in my seat surrounded by Korean ajummas as Seth looked back at me with a sympathetic smile. Although I was uber-crabby at the time, I have to admit that after having some food and reflecting on how good the circumstances actually were, I was fine. I was reassured by the fact that family and friends in Korea, Kenya, the United States, and Canada were praying for our safety and protection. This was a comfort, and as the instant airline beef and noodles digested, I realized that everything was not only good but great.

Emirates is by far the best airline I have ever flown on. We had the privilege of traveling on the biggest plane in the world: the A380. The whole upper deck is first and business class; they are provided with two showers and a personal bar. Even in economy class each person has a personal touch screen TV with endless options such as Friends, Fringe, Lie to Me, Glee, etc. detailed information about tourist activities in Dubai, frequent news updates, an abundance of film options like Avatar, The American, Inception, The Other Guys, etc. They also provided each person with a personal blanket, pillow, toothbrush and toothpaste, and eye mask. I was completely taken aback when the intercom announced the vast array of languages the flight attendants spoke: Arabic, French, Korean, Mandarin, English, Tagalog, Spanish, Hungarian, Swahili, Japanese, and the list went on. The entire staff was very professional and friendly.

We were both surprised and relieved to be surrounded by so much diversity the instant we got off the plane and entered the Dubai International Airport. Korea is 98% homogeneous. We relished hearing so many different languages and seeing so many different nationalities.

While doing some quick research on my touch screen on the flight, I learned that Dubai has virtually no middle class. The increasing foreign population is slowly reviving a middle class, but as we spent the day wandering around our first Middle Eastern country, we were struck by the disparity between the lower and upper class. The residential area that we first wandered through was cramped with rundown apartment complexes and local markets; whereas, the business and tourist district was posh and meticulously clean. The airport and subway themselves were overdone. There was literally a gold shop in the airport directly across from a Rolex store.

At 7:00am in Dubai, I felt like a complete alien. 95% of people on the streets were men dressed in traditional Arabic clothing. We found a little cafeteria near the river and ate some snacks, but I couldn't quite relax and enjoy it while being the only female in sight.

Getting increasingly exhausted, we summoned enough energy to be typical tourists and take our picture by the tallest building in the world: The Burj Khalifa towering an impressive 2,717 ft. in the air. Seth rightly said it looks like something from a fantasy or sci-fi movie. For some reason, I think it belongs in Batman's city: Gotham. Always in the Burj Khalifa's shadow, we wandered around the Dubai mall. The people, buildings, and merchandise screaming, “Look at how much I'm worth!” We quickly and strongly felt our American middle class-ness. The in-mall aquarium hosts sharks, sting-rays, and other sea life that has given itself a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.

With Seth pretty much dragging me, we made it back to the airport. Although still flying Emirates, this plane wasn't quite up to the same standards as the last. On our way to Nairobi, we were joined by a potent odor of B.O. and fussy children, but we also got to sit together and had extra time to sleep before experiencing Africa.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear."

Brace yourselves. This is one long and random blog, but I figure that since I haven't written in three months, I am allowed long and random :)

Seth visited my private, all girls' school in October. My girls told him he was handsome multiple times, and one student insisted that he looks like Winnie the Pooh. What they really wanted to know from him was . . . "Do you like Anna?" "Do you love Anna?" "Do you think Anna is beautiful?" "What are Anna's best personality traits?" "When did you first kiss?" "When did you last kiss?" "When will you have a baby?" But the question that topped them all was, "If you were born again, would you love Anna?" And the statement that topped them all was, "Anna your husband is getting more handsome." It's been about six weeks since he visited, and they are still asking me where he is and why he isn't at our school.

Seth with my girls

The mountains are a sea of brown in the fall. I didn't find the colors to be nearly as striking as they are in Minnesota, but a few trees are brilliant reds and yellows.

Seongju Girls' High School


"We are the best EPIKers!" This was the slogan for the EPIK trip we were selected to attend because of good performance. My memory of the trip is tainted with limited images of a bus.

Except for this stunning temple hidden in the mountains amongst stone towers, the bus is really all I remember.

Miasan Temple

Maurice made an outstanding Kenyan dinner for a huge group of friends this October. We were all very impressed with his cooking skills.

Maurice's Kenyan dinner . . . yummy . . .

This gorgeous summit of Gayasan graces our humble work town of Seongju. We spent a Saturday hiking it with our American friends, Ben and Lilli. This hike made me realize how out of shape I am . . . I really miss those 5k races.

at the summit of Gayasan

My girls performed so well during the school festival. They displayed artwork, sold handmade crafts, cooked snacks, and had a choir contest.

two of my middle school 3rd grade students wearing traditional Korean clothing - Hanbok

We celebrated Thanksgiving in Andong with our American friends, Danny and Katy. There were about 40 foreigners at this potluck. There wasn't a turkey, but there was ample amounts of other delicious food including mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie (for those of you who like that stuff).

Thanksgiving potluck

Seth celebrated his 25th birthday in Korea! It was an all day extravaganza. We had Maurice over for brunch, movies, and Wii. Then we met a group of 14 friends for dinner and games at the game club.

The sparklers make the cake!

Today is December 23rd, and so far we have had only one snowfall :( It was beautiful while it lasted, but it vanished quickly. The students went bonkers throwing snowballs. It rarely snows in our area of Korea. I can't believe we won't have a white Christmas . . .

I love snow!!!

Through changes and challenges in the past few months, I’ve learned three things in new ways. God is gracious. God gives abundant blessings. God has an excellent plan for our lives.

Note: At any point when I say “winter vacation,” I do not really mean vacation. I think vacation in Korea means “different schedule” because the students don’t actually get vacation. They simply have a different schedule during this time period. One of my co-teachers has to teacher 120 hours during his “vacation!”

Filled with apprehension, we tried to plan our winter vacation. If I haven’t already told you, it’s extremely hard to plan ahead in Korea. My sister-in-law, Laura, said that she assumed Koreans would be very structured and organized. The opposite is true. Things continually change at the last minute here. A whole class will randomly not show up, and a teacher will come in ten minutes late to tell you that the students have tests all day. At 4:30 in the afternoon, you will be told that all of the teachers are going to dinner together after work. You will be asked to sing on the spot; you will be told that it’s school picture day the second before the picture, you will be asked if you are going to sign another contract on the spot and an immediate decision is expected, etc.

Because of the lack of planning, it can be very stressful to try to plan a vacation. Nearly five times, different teachers attempted to get me to change my vacation days so that I could teach an English camp, but I put my foot down and did not give in to their pleadings. The outcome, after much fret and through God’s grace, is that my co-teacher gave me SEVEN WEEKS of vacation!! I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am! Compare that to the five DAYS I got for summer. This news has rejuvenated my spirit. I am still boggled that I will have so much time off!

We have been in Korea for 10 months, and previous to this winter break that we are expecting, we had five days of vacation. We have not gotten to travel like so many of our friends. I was feeling quite jealous of all of the unique experiences our friends have had traveling to China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, Turkey, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, etc. During the peak of my aggravation, God clearly showed me why we haven’t traveled yet. Instead of taking frequent small trips like we had originally planned, He had a far better trip in mind for us.

This winter we will be going on a two week vacation to Kenya with our friend Maurice! I am now so glad that we have not done any other traveling. Like many have told us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We could not have handpicked a better place to spend our vacation time.
We will get to spend two fun weeks with our
good friend. He will be there to guide us through his home territory. We will have the opportunity to experience a culture that is so different from American and Asian culture, and we will get to more countries than we had ever planned!

We have not set our itinerary in stone yet, but the hope is to have a layover in either Dubai or Istanbul. Some of the things on our “to experience list” are . . .

explore Tanzania, stop in Uganda, go on a safari, explore the Serengeti, hike around Mt. Kilimanjaro, venture into the 2nd biggest slum in the world, tour Nairobi, go to the coffee plantations at Thika in Maurice’s home town, meet Maurice’s family, friends, and home church, go to a Kenyan soccer or rugby game, tour a Kenyan school, sunbathe on the beaches of Mombasa, relax at Lake Victoria, see the Big Five of Africa, tease a baboon with a banana, eat fresh picked pineapple and bananas, tour mosques (I think there were a few other things on the list . . . ). Can we do it all in two weeks? Probably not but there's always room to dream. Our friendship with Maurice and this amazing opportunity are proof of God’s grace, blessings, and plan.

We have one other piece of big news to share with you . . . We just signed another teaching contract. We will stay in Korea until August 25, 2011, another eight months. We decided to stay because . . .

We have more to experience in Korea. We aren’t ready to leave yet.
We have great friends and great jobs.
We make good money.
We have a small ministry here.
We are growing in our relationship with each other and our relationship with Christ.
We could save a significant amount of money and get amazing opportunities to travel.
We desire to see our students English ability improve even more.
We aren’t sure what we will do when we go home.
Our families have more chances to visit us!
And so on . . .

Currently, it is two days ‘til Christmas! We’ve been using every means possible to get into the Christmas spirit, but it’s a little more challenging to summon it here in Korea. Why? The most important aspect of Christmas is obviously not the superficial things. The most important characteristic of Christmas is Christ’s birth, and that can and is celebrated across the world in all situations and circumstances. It’s silly that I miss the superficial things so much. This holiday season will be different in many ways this year.

Some things that I will miss . . .

family, snow, ample amounts of Christmas decorations, contagious Christmas spirit, traditional Christmas cookies, Christmas carols on every radio station, Christmas movies all over TV, and real Christmas trees.

These songs have given me many moments of nostalgia. Before I could only imagine how these lyrics truly resonated with others, but now, I empathize with every verse.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten, and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white"

These lyrics remind me of “Narnia” just outside our backdoor, taking the sled to Mom’s work on Christmas Eve while bellowing out Christmas carols on the snow covered road. Face washes from my brothers, snow angels, catching snowflakes on my tongue, the crunch of snow as I trample over it with my bulky winter boots, and Sandy leaping through the snow like a rabbit.

"When you're still waiting for the snow to fall
It doesn't really feel like Christmas at all
Those Christmas lights
Light up the street
Down where the sea and city meet
May all your troubles soon be gone
Oh, Christmas lights, keep shining on

Those Christmas lights Light up the street
Maybe they'll bring her back to me
Then all my troubles will soon be gone
Oh, Christmas lights, keep shining on
Those Christmas lights
Light up the street
Light up the fireworks in me
May all your troubles soon be gone
Those Christmas lights, keep shining on"

These lyrics remind me of our candle-light Christmas Eve services and singing Silent Night, the Holiday of Lights, fighting with my parents about putting up colored Christmas lights rather than plain white, decorating the Christmas tree and making sure that Sandy could see her Christmas bulb, sitting around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and reading the story of Christ’s birth, and the joy that the sparkling lights bring.

"I'll be home for Christmas
You can count on me
Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree
Christmas Eve will find me
Where the love-light gleams
I'll be home for Christmas
If only in my dreams"

This is a reminder to my family and friends to enjoy their time together, the snow, and the Christmas spirit for us! Even though I won’t physically be home for Christmas, my heart will be there.

Some things I that make it feel like Christmas in Korea . . .

family in Christ, friends, chocolate-covered peanut butter Ritz crackers (thanks Brittany! Although peanut butter and baking chocolate are ridiculously expensive, those Christmas "cookies" are one of the few things I can make without an oven. They have been a contributing factor to spreading the Christmas spirit), dollar store decorations, Christmas music, watching Elf with my students, Christmas Eve church service, getting to spend Christmas with my husband, the anticipation of Apryl coming to visit on December 27th!

Although I will be missing home, I am excited for our Christmas plans. We have to work on Christmas Eve; Christmas isn’t nearly as extravagant in Korea as it is in the good ol' U.S. of A. After work, we are going to the Christmas Eve service at our Korean church. I will recite Isaiah 53: 5-6, “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”

After the service we are having a Christmas Eve party in our itty-bitty apartment. We are going to eat Christmas “cookies," watch Christmas movies, and play games. Then Seth and I will spend Christmas day ALONE :) It's atypical of me to be excited about having no plans for Christmas, but we are endlessly hanging out with friends here (which we love). I want to wake up late, make brunch, open presents, read, play Super Mario Bros., read, play board games, watch a movie, and read. I don’t know if we will even leave the house!

The best Christmas gift I will receive this year is my sister coming to visit!!!!! I can’t wait to spend some quality girl time with her and to share our Korean life with her. I’ll definitely be writing a blog about her visit.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our beloved family and friends!

Love, Anna 애나