From the BK to the SK
So it's no secret that my life has taken a total 180. For as lucky as I am, I've definitely been dealt some pretty bad hands over the past six or seven years, and I've faced some pretty tough obstacles. There's a lot that's happened that could have easily defeated me, knocked me down and left me totally hopeless, but I guess I am not a person to give up so easily. Instead, I've taken the hand I've been dealt, and I've made it work. What's that quote from Randy Pausch - it's not the hand your dealt in life but how you play the game? A great book, a great man and a great writer, and a greater quote to live by.
Another thing he mentioned in his book is that experience is what you get when you don't get what you wanted. I can definitely say that I wouldn't have necessarily chosen for my life to play out the way it did, but at the same time I wouldn't change it for the world. I've seen a lot, good and bad, I've experience a lot, good and bad, I've overcome a lot, good and bad - it's all made me the person I am today. It's all made me understand and see life in a way that not many people my age, or many people in general for that matter, will ever know. (Though I will admit that financially, given some recent shopping sprees, I have the maturity of a 13 year old. My dad might agree.)
That's one of the reasons I love traveling. It keeps me grounded and helps me maintain my perspective on life, my insight on how the world works and how life works.
At school I was involved with the largest student run philanthropy in the world, called the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, a 46-hour no sit, no sleep marathon that raises money and awareness for the fight against pediatric cancer. I learned so much about life from these kids who are fighting for their lives every day, or these parents and siblings who watch their loved ones struggle day in and day out to beat cancer. And yet despite it all, these kids still manage to smile. They still manage to laugh. They still manage to stay positive, to enjoy life and inspire others around them in the process.
And so you see these kids, young and innocent and such inspirations of hope, and it's contagious. You remember that no matter how bad things seem, how tough things get - there is always a reason to smile. There is always a chance to laugh. There is always a moment to enjoy.
One of the things I miss most about Penn State is being involved with Thon, and when we first moved to Korea, the Ministry of Education said there were opportunities to volunteer at local orphanages in our different cities. I was incredibly excited and had every intention of making it my first priority, but then my life here started, and before I knew it, it was a new year.
I made a resolution to find a local orphanage and serve as a volunteer, and so this past week at school I googled a bunch of different things before finally coming across a list of places in my area. I had the school secretary call for me, and I was excited to start my work as a volunteer.
I sent out a message to my friends and the ever-important facebook post, and there were 8 of us total who met up yesterday afternoon to walk over to the children's home. (Note: I volunteer at a children's home, which is like a foster home in the U.S. Apparently orphanages and foster homes are called 'children's homes',)
While in my last semester of school, I produced a multimedia story about foster care in the U.S., specifically Pennsylvania, but I haven't had much exposure to the foster care system or adoption process other than working on this story. 
There were definitely some mixed feelings I had going into this experience. I like to think I am open minded, but I hate to say that I had my pre-conceived notions as to what kind of place this would be. I picture drab, dreary buildings and wooden benches (I think I got this image from Oliver Twist) and a terribly cold atmosphere.
There was an uphill driveway leading to the home, and the walls were decorated with graffiti, bubble-like art of all different images and drawings, which gave off a very innocent and young vibe.
Before going on Saturday, I met with one of the English speaking workers who told me that there were 37 children total in this home, ranging from the ages of 5 years old to 20 years old. My heart sank: 20 years old? It felt like 20 pounds weighing my heart down at that very moment. She told me that we could play with the elementary-aged kids, and that we could come by for about an hour or two every Saturday.
When we first arrived, it was a little bit awkward. We were led into the chapel, where they arranged two pews side by side for us all to sit facing the table that all the kids were gathered around. We introduced ourselves, and the kids went around and introduced themselves, too. We were a little confused at first, because the staff would say the children's ages after they introduced themselves. One girl stood up, and she looked about 10 years old, and the women said, "5".
We're like hmm...ok, this age thing is really weird in Korea. Next kid stands and looks like he is about 8 years old and they tell us, "2". Then my friends and I all start kind of laughing. We're like. "OK this can't be. He's huge!" We quickly caught on that they were telling us their grade levels and not their ages, haha, but it was funny in the moment.
They split the kids up among all of us so we were sitting in groups, and my friend Cat and I were talking with three kids that were in the 5th and 6th grade. They gave us some crayons and paper to draw with, and while all the little kids were having a blast, it was a bit of a struggle for us at first. These kids didn't want to be drawing, but we can't really communicate. Were there any other games?
That's when one of the kids said his favorite sport was soccer, and I quickly jumped at the chance to get a game going outside. There was an extremely small, dirt field with two rackety-goalie nets on each end, and so the five of us went outside and started playing a little game. One of the kids was really good, and soon his older brother came out to play, too. He was super good and must have been about 15 years old - and he was playing in sandals, mind you, with snow still on the ground.
It was a bit difficult to play in Uggs, but I managed to impress many of the workers and the kids with my soccer abilities and skills. I forgot how much I love playing. Aside from playing in the student-teacher game back in October,I haven't really played soccer in years. I've kept active and in shape by working out every day, but there is nothing in the world like playing soccer. It was just like this breath of fresh air that made my lungs swollen with excitement and my blood rich with adrenaline. I loved it.
And, before I knew it, all my friends and the kids had come out to join in on the fun. We had a huge game going on this field that was about the size of my apartment, so it got messy at times and there were a few kids who took some falls every now and again.
I couldn't have been happier. There would have been no better way to spend my Saturday afternoon than to be playing with all of these kids and some of my closest friends in a soccer game in the middle of January.
I learned that day that the name of the home was called House of Hope in English. Most of these children come from poor families, abusive families, single parent homes and divorced familes. Some of the kids have special needs. All of the kids have sad backgrounds, but all of the kids had smiles on their faces.
Maybe it was the excitement of having foreigners come visit. Maybe they were excited to be outside and playing soccer. Whatever it was that made them so happy, they were contagious, I haven't felt that good in a while. I thought that when we left I'd feel heartbroken, but I left feeling incredibly lifted. My friends and I prepared for sad tears, but we left laughing ourselves into oblivion.
It was without a doubt one of the most rewarding experiences yet, and I am proud of myself for doing what I did, but I'm even more proud of those kids for serving as inspirations despite all their difficulties. I am sure I'll never understand how much my visits mean to them, and they'll never understand how much their faces mean to me.

01/09/2011 10:34

You Alexandra are an amazing young lady. You were put on this earth for a very special reason and that being to spread your love all over the world. I admire you so much. Love You and Miss you but I know you are doing what you were meant to do.


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