Uprooted

This piece is an excerpt from a journal when I traveled to Switzerland to teach English. It is about comparing the two cultures through the lens of a teacher.

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“Uprooted”

Things are good here in Switzerland. I love the culture, the people, the schools. How life has taken on a new energy and everything feels like the first time.  As if my life in the states was a different planet, a different life. But with all the good, there has been a emotional monster lurking. I can’t explain concretely or accurately. But with each breath, there’s fluttering in my chest, filling my insides with insecurity, anticipation. I have been trying to understand this feeling the entire time I’ve been here in Zurich. It attacks me at night full of energy, as if it’s been sleeping all day.

At night, I think about what I have learned from home and compare it to my experience here. I think about how different things are here. How different things are at home. How everything feels new,  but slightly familiar, slightly contradictory. Then I wonder is one way of doing things right or wrong? Do we always have to decide if there is a right and wrong way of doing things? Have I been learning the wrong things all along? Then, I think about how big the world is and how many other things there are to learn. These are just two cultures I am comparing. Maybe we are both wrong. I sink into a puddle of wine. If you can’t know anything to be true, is there anything worth learning?

I initially thought this anxiety of over-thinking was due to jet lag. Jet lag has always been synonymous with irrationality. I think we all agree on this.

But this goes beyond temperamental instability right now. I feel displaced not just physically, but mentally. Like my thoughts are a plant that have been growing and thriving have been suddenly dug out. The roots, her most vulnerable and most valuable parts, naked and dangling. Exposed.

I have spent the last few months learning and growing at home. Learning how a teacher teaches. Learning how students learn. The goal was to be replanted here in Switzerland and continue learning and growing. Build upon the foundation that was started at home, add some Swiss spice to diversify it.

But this process has been surprisingly painful. I find myself more often than not trying to make room for conflicting information. Like a tooth being pulled to make room for a new one. Or maybe, this is more like braces. An outside force moving things without my body’s consent.

To be honest, traveling to Switzerland has grown into something much different than what it was originally. I am learning things that go beyond a classroom. I am learning about societies. Communities. Relationships. Language.

I was sent here to teach and observe. And now I am here to see and understand my surroundings. I am trying to be objective. But being objective is weird and certainly not a natural human skill or instinct. To be truly objective, you have to set side aside your past experiences, assumptions and views. You have to make a judgement not based upon your own personal thoughts or experiences, but as some sort of empty vessel.

Objective (adj): not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts.

I am trying to keep this in the front of my mind as I am here in Switzerland. Be objective. Absorb as much as you can. Don’t let contradicting ideas scare you. But with this I am placing a pressure on myself to learn as much as possible, see things through a lens that is different than a tourist. Different than a visitor. Different than a traveler. And in this process, I see details that both disturb and amaze me. It’s exhausting.

When I come across a group of tourists, I always see the same things. Fingers pointing, phones out, cameras taking pictures. Smiles and dropped jaws. They are admiring. Falling in love. Absorbing everything. But, I am not sure if I am here to admire. I think I am here to just look. And I think this is why I am uncomfortable. Tourists come to stand in awe. But me, as an ambassador, a researcher, I’m not sure if it is my job to admire. And because of this, I am anxious. What will I find? Will it fit in nicely to my already built puzzle piece or destroy everything. More things to come.

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swiss mountains

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Sierra Leone

While living in Seattle I was doing a fair amount of photography for my friends. Odd jobs for engagements, weddings and head shots. My camera was always with me and I was posting a lot of photos on an old blog. During this time, I was lucky enough to connect with a few non-profits to do some photojournalism and branding with them. One of them being Schools for Salone. This non-profit has the absolute coolest team of ex-Peace Core workers who worked from as early as the 70’s to present day.

During the summer of 2010, I saved enough money to buy a plane ticket went to Bo, Sierra Leone to do photojournalism for one of their locally ran teachers workshops. I stayed in a two story building, went to the workshop every morning and walked to the internet cafe every afternoon to write and process photos. I loved it.

There are a handful of stories and letters I wrote home that I will publish in the next coming weeks. It was a transforming time for me personally as a writer and photographer, but really just my perspective on humanity. Before Sierra Leone I would like to think that I was worldly, but I wasn’t. All I knew about the world was from books and articles. My experience was limited and naive. Going to Sierra Leone launched me in a direction that I am still trying to navigate and gave me a purpose I am still trying to understand. It ultimately gave me a renewed appreciation for good education, good communication, good community and good journalism.

I’m hoping that the stories I share about this trip catalyze some sort of new thoughts for you. Stories are powerful.

Stay tuned.

Peace
Students from local village

Dublin Travel Guide

Dublin Travel Guide Written for The Falcon News Paper

I visited Ireland over the weekend. And if there was any doubt, Dublin, the land of the green, the ginger, the Guinness, was well, awesome.

Last Thursday, my English friend Emma and I took an early morning train from the Lake District in Northern England to Manchester Airport. We boarded a RyanAir plane for a 30-minute flight to Ireland. It goes without saying that RyanAir is most likely one safety code violation away from being grounded, but regardless, it is a smart and cheap way to fly abroad. Just remember not to check luggage if you are looking to save money. While tickets are roughly 20 pounds, checking luggage is about 150 pounds.

After roughly 5 hours of traveling we reached Dublin at 10 AM; Emma was ready for tea; I was ready for happy hour.  Fortunately for me and unfortunately for Emma, we were not able easily find our Hostel in the maze of unfamiliar cobblestone streets. We ended up chatting with some local Irish who funneled us right into the perfect pub, Kehoe’s. Kehoe’s is just off Graftons Street, next time you just so happen to be in Dublin and have a decent appetite–Kehoe’s is where you should go. It’s the place where the locals linger and has the best bacon and cabbage ever.

When both Emma and I were both finished eating, we managed to waddle down street and find our Hostel. For the weekend, we were staying at the Abigail’s Hostel, which resides right on the riverfront street and in the center of the city life. A perfect location for the walking tourist and poor college student—only 15 Euros a night, which translates to about 20 or so bucks. Abigail’s was not only clean and full of diverse travelers—ranging from young families to solo travelers—but provided you also with a continental breakfast and a fridge to store food in.  

Anxious to explore the city, we dropped off our luggage grabbed a map and headed to the nearest bus stop. Being in Dublin for only a few days is probably one of the best tests of self-control. There is so much to do, see and drink that it’s hard to not completely run a muck.

When looking at the map of Dublin, there are historic sites, beer factories, bookstores, art festivals, bike tours, and more pubs than clovers. The best way to maneuver your way around this is to treat it like how I treat an Ice cream store—taste test everything until you get kicked out.

However, Emma wasn’t so keen on my “we have to see everything” attitude and talked me into making a list limited to 5 places for the long weekend.

This was our list and our take on them:

First, the Kilmainham Gaol: This is the oldest and largest unused jail in Europe. This place gives creepy a whole new meaning. Kilmainham Gaol played an important role in Irish history during the first part of the 20th century by housing and executing some of the greatest Irish revolutionaries such as Maud Gonne, Y.B. Yeats former lover. I highly recommend going on the tour (only 4 Euros for students) and learning more about its haunted history. I promise you that it completely surpasses “Current Day Haunts” on Discovery Channel. Currently it has been converted into a Museum and pub, the perfect combination  for a thirsty-ghost enthusiast.

Emma n Jail
Emma in Kilmainham Gaol

Second, the Dublin Castle: It’s about three times older than the United States  and more regal than our very own bald eagle. Tours are a little spendy and depending on who your guide is, can actually be quite dry. But if you’ve never been in a castle before, this is worth trying to fit into your budget. The ornate decoration and grandeur rooms are breathtaking and incomparable to anything back home.  

Castle
Sneaking a photo in the Dublin Castle

 

Third, Guinness Factory: Need I say more? I don’t think I do. Just do it.

Fourth, Secret of Kells: If you’re like me and get your ya-ya’s from Illuminated manuscripts check out The Book of Kells at Dublin’s Trinity University. It’s the first illuminated manuscript ever and way cooler than what Google Images makes it out to be. Congrats on finally beating England to the punch in something, Ireland.

Last, Pick a pub, Any pub: Now, if you are not interested in any of the previous recommendations you must at least wander the streets until you hear drinking songs loud enough from the inside of pubs that they echo down the streets. Then you must go into that pub and order a pint. My most memorable experience was walking into The Audlin Dubliner to live music and a sea of drunk Irish. It was 8 pm and we were just hoping to burn some time before we were to see Breakfast at Tiffany’s at a local theater, (yes, they do have little theaters playing classic favorites year round). But what we got was so much more than that.

We pushed our way to the bar, ordered a drink and watched the music and the chaos unfold. There was only one man with a guitar but everyone was singing. Every song was introduced as an ”Irish Song”, even though they definitely were singing”La Bamba” and “American Pie.” 

Old Irish drinking songs were belted from beer filled bellies and as the sun went down, the lights dimmed and the space grew sparse. I don’t think I will ever find anywhere in America that will match Ireland’s standard of community. It truly was a like finding a four-leaf clover.