Exactly 7 Months in the USA…

7 months ago, we arrived all together in Boston and had our mutual orientation at the Pomfret School. I still remember the day when I went through the glass door at the airport in Germany and waved to my family the last time.

I also have not written any articles here in a long time, so I will give you an update about my winter term now.

During the winter term I have traveled around a lot and I have tried out new things which I have never done before. After Christmas I moved from my host family to a very good friend to Boston. However, on that day the news warned of a snow storm, so my friend, her family and me, we left the house and went on the highway in the direction to the White Mountains, NH at the same day. Even, on the way we have already seen a lot of snow. My friend Liana and me were very excited to go skiing together in the following days. I have never skiied before and that was why I was incredibly excited and a little fearful what skiing was like. On the next day we had 2 feets of snow there and the wind was blowing very strong, but we went to the ski slope and I signed up for a first time ski package. After the first day of skiing, I was able to ski the first slopes down and I was very pleased that I tried this sport. I had never thought I would love skiing. So the next 3 days I was skiing with my friend until we left our vacation home the day before New Year’s Eve.
It was very interesting to watch the ball-drop from New York on the television on New Years Eve. However, we started packing our stuff very soon because we were going to New York City. It was so awesome and my Christmas present from my friend’s family was a ticket for Wicked on Broadway. I was so happy I cannot describe this day.
“New York here I am coming!”

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(from the left: Kristina (my friends’s sister), Liana and me)

In the time in New York, I was visting the Metropolitain Museum of Arts, I enjoyed a great visibitlity from the Empire State Building and a walk through the Central Park. Then we visited Chelsea Market, Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, Fifth Avenue, Ground Zero and a lot of other things. I really enjoyed this trip and in my memories it was one of the best trips I have ever did with my very good friend! It was great to see the diversity of people in New York and also how tall the sky scrapers were in fact.

After the Christmas Break, we had Spirit week. Spirit Week was a week in February in which we were allowed to go to classes in costumes to special themes every day. The first day was Pyjama Day, after that I paticipated in the Spirit Day, the Color War in which every grade had their own color and needed to create a short sketch with this color. The last interesting day of our Spirit week was the Switch Gender Day through which my school became in one day a boys school. It was very interesting to see how some people dressed up themselves because this was our chance in which we could be out of dresscode.

66095_10200136058337013_1108529646_n( my host sister aned friend Brandi & me)

Moreover on Thursday, there was Valentines Day and my dance group supported through a flash mob at lunch the billion rising campaign which criticizes violance against women.
Valentines Day is in the US very different from the Valentines Day in Germany, but I appreciated to see the different way of celebration. In the community service, we created little thank you cards for the staff of Stoneleigh-Burnham School and in my advisory we decorated “Happy Valentine’s Cards” for friends. I even got some valentines presents which I did not think about – I was very suprised.
The end of our Spirit Week was crowned with the celebration of 100 nights until graduation. I could not believe that only 100 days were left until graduation for the seniors and the end of a year abroad for me.

I do not want to picture the day when I will leave the US again because I had such an enjoyable experience so far. I have been able to improve my English, my knowledge and skills culturally and socially, and also my sport and academic prowess. I have become acquainted with many great friends, teachers, house parents, coaches and other people who work here. However, I think it is much more important that I learned a lot about myself and that I got to know myself in a different way. A year abroad was, is, and will be a live changing experience which I will never forget for my entire life.

During the last weeks until the Spring Break my school had a very special week: EUROPE WEEK!!! In which every student from an european country could express its own and different culture. Thereby, each student prepared a Power-Point Presentation about their country for our House Meeting, cooked traditional European Food in one of the appartments of our Houseparents on the weekend or talked about their country on culutre tables at lunch in our dining hall. This was a great opportunity to express a little bit of my german culture in our small Girl’s Boarding School community.

After this week, our Pre-Season for our Spring Sports started and I had signed up for Lacrosse so that I can try out one new last thing in my time abroad. Also if the practice was/is a lot of work and exhausting, I enjoyed it more and more each day. I am very happy that I signed up for this and I hope I have a wonderful time in that big team.

All in all, I had another awesome term with a lot of different experiences. During this term I chose dance as my sport and I enjoyed it a lot. I learned so much in this course and I experienced through workshops so many new types of dance which I never tried before. I enjoyed going to every dance class and I remember that I always had a smile on my face. Our big dance presentation was before Christmas and for this performance we danced Momo.

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(Winter Dance Performance; Stoneleigh-Burnham School (picture: by Stoneleigh-Burnham))

Now I can finally start to relax after 2 really exhausting weeks with Pre-season, tests, the 3 final exams and packing all my stuff. In the afternoon on Friday, I left Stoneleigh-Burnham School and my host mother picked me up. Until now I have had a great time over break and on Wednesday my parents fly to the US to travel around through the US until the end of the break.
I am very happy to see them again, however it is very sad that less than 3 months are left!!!

The time runs too fast!!!

Janine – Stoneleigh-Burnham School

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Why I like living with the Mormons

Sorry guys, I have written quite a few drafts but have been too lazy to polish my writings and post them here. Yes, laziness. I really have no other better excuses.

Anyways, here is one that I finally take the time to turn into a complete piece of writing. These are just some thoughts of Mormonism (I’m in Utah) and religions in general. Please excuse the long post. I just can’t help myself!

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As soon as I knew a private school in Sandy, Utah admitted me through the ASSIST exchange program, I typed “utah” in the search bar. Listed in one of the search suggestions was the phrase “utah mormons”, which made the least sense to me and I soon forgot about it. But when my host dad emailed me later, saying “In case you are wondering, we are not Mormons.”, he brought back the intriguing mystery. Mormonism turns out to be a religion, and Utah seems to be quite a religious state. Coming from a country where spirituality and religion are often separated, I find my background beneficial in my journey of exploring the hub of Mormonism.

Excited as I was to arrive at Salt Lake City, I wondered how I would fit in this new community. At school, almost all of my friends (even the international ones) are Mormon. In my neighborhood, everyone knows each other well as they spend a large chunk of their time together in the local church. Considering the semi-Buddhist culture that I grew up in, this is a huge change. It is hard to believe what a religious community I have now become a part of. My zero knowledge on Mormonism made me feel uncomfortable, and so I contacted the missionaries to learn more about the religion.

During the weekly meetings I indeed learn a lot about Mormonism: my vocab now includes words such as “ward”, “priesthood”, and “tabernacle”. However, throughout my conversation with the missionaries, I find myself inquire them mostly about things such as their feelings when they pray or what going to church means to them. In short, the spiritual life is what I care most about rather than the sole theology.

While spirituality is often initiated by a certain religion, I believe that it is still possible to be spiritual without being religious. Although Vietnam can be seen as an atheist nation, we are by no mean unspiritual. We worship our ancestors and go to the pagoda monthly, even though more than eighty percent of the population do not have a religion. I do not have a religion myself, but I also visit the pagoda often to meditate and to pray to an anonymous God, who has gradually become an important part of my spiritual life.

The influence of spirituality on our everyday activities cannot be underestimated; in fact, it has the most power to make positive changes in our life. My interest for spirituality developed since I was a little girl, and my first exposure was through Roman Catholicism rather than Buddhism. My aunt, who lives in the U.S, visited my family and brought with her some Catholic magazines. I can still recall vividly how a beautiful picture of Mother Maria hypnotized me. The image touched my juvenile soul, and I have been keeping the picture ever since. Just like the transcendental feeling that nature often brings, the simple peacefulness and grace the painting evokes empower and motivate me. Gradually, I start to have faith in the power of spirituality to enrich our lives.

What I have observed in the Utahn Mormons further enhances the possibility to be spiritual as well as gain spiritual insights in a non-religious way. I sometimes join the local church’s activities or my neighbors’ family in worshiping, and I imagine such meetings to be full of discussion on religious theology which will likely alienate me. Indeed, such discussion contributes a large part in all these events; nevertheless, I am always able to find sympathy and understanding when people start to share their life experiences based on the scripture insights that they discuss earlier.

For example, I once attended a talk given by a newly-returned missionary from Tanzania who climbed mount Kilimanjaro and encountered people from all walks of life. The young missionary’s reflection of his journey enriched my experience as a Vietnamese exchange student in Salt Lake City. Indeed, he contributed more than just theological knowledge when he spoke about his struggle with Swahili or how he dealt with homesickness and cultural differences. “Great insights,” he said, his eyes filled with passion, “do not come only from sacred documents, but also from this eye-opening experience that I have been so blessed to be a part of.” He brought spiritual inspiration as he spoke, even to a non-Mormon like myself.

We tend to associate spirituality with religion, and as a result we often restrict ourselves from both acquiring and sharing our spiritual insights with people from other systems of belief. Nevertheless, anything related to spirituality should not be about being different or similar, right or wrong. I find Mormon doctrines greatly different from those of Buddhist and Catholic that I’m more familiar with; however, the differences cannot prevent me from enriching my spiritual life: they add more meanings to it.

Xuan – The Waterford School, Sandy, UT

College, at home or abroad?

Hey guys,

I do realize that it has been a while since my last post, but that’s gonna change from now on. For the last couple of weeks, I have been trying to answer a question if I want to study abroad or at home. I felt like on a roller coaster. At the beginning, I said to myself: “Alright, everybody around started to talk about colleges and the competition between St Mark’s students carried my away. Then I spoke to my parents. They fully supported my decisions, however, they didn’t seem to be very happy. So I started to think about it again. My friends in the Czech Republic immediately kept persuading me to study in Prague. Furthermore, I spoke to my grandma, and that was the absolute bottom of my roller coaster. After that conversation, I was not able to continue. However, after announcing my final verdict to my parents, it was my father (who doesn’t like America) who encouraged me to give it a try.

A new research began! I looked over a few colleges to where I would like to send my application. It turned out that by the end of this school year, I have to take TOEFL, SAT/ACT, 2 SAT Subject test and 4 AP exams in order to increase my chances for acceptance. After reading this information, almost fainted. After a deep breath, I scheduled this testing marathon, so that I have one test (counting all APs as one) per month starting with March.

This Friday, I am taking TOEFL, so please keep fingers crossed for me! Right now, I kind of feel like gambling. I am betting a ton of my free time, a few hundred dollars and huge amount of stress. The only thing that allays me is that if I don’t get a scholarship from a foundation in the Czech Republic and/or I am not accepted by the colleges, I will go and study in Prague at Czech institute of technology. After all, nobody guarantees that I would enjoy the one in Massachusetts more.

From now on, I keep updating my process and progress, so there will be at least some new posts at this blog 🙂