Sunday, December 19, 2010

Missing Out

Yesterday, I was sitting in the teachers' lounge as my friend Selena got the news that her family dog passed away. The dog wasn't sick, just old, and despite her age, her death was still unexpected. My heart went out to Selena, as I know how much she adores her family, dogs included.

This got me thinking about a question a student asked me a few months back- “Teacher, what is the hardest part about being away from home?” At the time, I answered quickly with some generic answer about missing friends and family. In truth, I thought it was a good question, one I hadn't thought of myself and honestly, I didn't really know the answer back then. Now, however, despite the fact that I'm not home yet, I think I'm starting to realize what's been the hardest part about being away from home...

it's the missing out.

Now, let me just say that there are few things I'd trade this experience for and as I am starting to get retrospective about all of it, I'm in awe of how much has been crammed in to half a year. So yeah, no regrets at all. Still, part of being away from home is missing home and missing out.

As I've caught up with people back home and been asking about what to expect, it turns out that I'm not returning to things the way I left them. Duh, right? Right. My loved ones are still healthy and happy...I think (knock on wood) and I don't have a dog, need to worry about that. But, some things have changed- good and bad...and sad. When I left, I ran over the fact that things would indeed change over and over in my head...but over time, when things don't change immediately and time passes in a way it's never passed before, it's easy to convince oneself that maybe it won't be so different and maybe, juuuuust maybe, I'll get to be the luckiest girl in the world- living in two different, spectacular countries, making new friends, realizing new capabilities and then, at the end of it, coming home to things the way I left them. It's foolish to think that I'd get everything I'd want this year, but it's been hard not to have certain expectations and wishes upon returning home. I still am returning home to a beautiful life, I think I just got a little greedy in the “hope” department.

So yeah, this is getting real. It's kinda trippy to think about sitting by a fire in Mount Prospect in 17 days. I'm currently sitting on my roof in shorts and a hoodie, surrounded by the Andes. (Yeah, I really shouldn't complain about much these days, huh?) I look forward to home, yet I'll miss this terribly, just as I loved this but at times, missed home. All in all, I need to realize that the next step is just another one in the whole scheme of it and it's sure to hold unexpected gems of its own.

And lest we not forget, I've changed too.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I'm Coming Hoooooome!

So, I'm in the home stretch now. Literally. I'll be home in LESS than one month. Things are starting to feel very surreal. I am sad to leave and nervous for what awaits me. (I can't help but have expectations about returning home, y'know?) But most of all I am SO excited to see my friends and family. As I've mentioned, this is the first time I've been gone this long, so I'm ready to see my people now!

Speeeeaking of, I had an awesome little surprise today when my two favorite boys presented me with TWO videos in my honor. Nate and Dustin took time out of their busy, fabulous lives to film this plea for me. They visited some of my favorite Chicago spots AND they even shot in front of my old apartment building. This is the best Christmas present I could ever hope for (well, next to that ticket home). How lucky am? Check out the vids below...

"Come Home" by Nate and Dustin:

Here's the blooper reel:

Friday, November 26, 2010


I spent yesterday prepping for upcoming quizzes and exams and recovering from a recent food poisoning and/or parasitic bout. So, y'know, a pretty standard Thursday in Cusco. However, it was pretty hard to miss the pouty little gringo faces around the building- it was kind of obvious that for one day, we'd all rather be back home, gnashin' on home cooked goodness and lovin' on our families. No one was sobbing into any pillows, but it was definitely a new feeling for me, as this is my first big holiday away. I did take a lot of comfort in the fact that I'll be seeing all my loved ones very soon, though. All of us teachers (and some Peruano friends) are getting together on Saturday to have our own little Cusco Thanksgiving. I'm looking forward to it, as I know it'll be a memorable holiday celebration.

The absolute highlight of yesterday, and probably my week, was skyping with my friends and family. I skyped with the Elfring family's Thanksgiving crowd and it was a blast- got to laugh with some of my good friends and their family and got to see smiling faces I haven't seen in ages. It was pretty great. THEN, I called over to the Sammon residence and got to chat with my cousins, aunts, uncles and of course, Mama Sammon. It was great to hear the familiar sounds of a Sammon Thanksgiving- laughing, shouting, confused bickering, AND little kids! Our little Declan is almost three and his new baby cousin, Zack, was celebrating his first Turkey Day. I loved hearing the sounds of little people in the background, as it's been us big kids for so long.

I'm thankful (as I should be) every year, but this year, this wonderful, beautiful, exciting, and challenging year, I can't help but feel exceedingly thankful. From the very start, 2010 has been a been a thrill. Even before heading to Latin America, it was a thrill.

I'm thankful for this experience- traveling, teaching, learning, culture, the epic natural beauty, and of course, new friends. AND I'm also thankful for home- my incredibly loving and supportive family, my hilarious, wonderful and oh-so-missable friends and the warmth they all provide. I am a lucky ducky, without a doubt.

Happy Black Friday...and by "happy" I mean, I hope you're not shopping because that is crazy...and sick...and CRAZY!

Campy Camping

I had my first South American camping experience last weekend and LOVED it. I thought I'd really be roughin' it, but turns out that the campsite in Pisac was part of the “Royal Inca Club”, across the street from the Royal Inca Hotel. I mean, yeah- I was still surrounded by dirt roads and mountains, but I imagined myself digging latrines and fighting off pumas. This was not the case. Me, along with five friends, stayed in a lovely little site, around the corner from the indoor bathrooms. We briefly considered just hauling off into the wilderness, but then we were sold when we saw the pool near our campsite. C'mon, who doesn't love a pool?!

Pisac is only about a 40 minute drive from Cusco, and as most drives in Peru, it is a beautiful one. Pisac itself is beautiful and tranquil. Cusco is no Chicago, but it is a city and it's nice to get away from its hustle and bustle sometimes.

When we arrived, we learned two things:

  1. We could not have a fire and could only cook with a stove, which we did not have.

  2. That we would be camping around a group of Catholic, 12 year old boys on a school trip, so we had to be on our best behavior.

Who knew Peruvian camping would have so many rules?

Turns out, neither of those things were a big deal- we made do with food and as the night went on, made friends with the 12 year olds. My friend Whintey taught them all how to make “S'mores”. They promptly fell in love with her and requested group photos. We all went to bed tired and happy...

...until I woke up and realized SOMETHING was missing. I was all ready to start my day at the pool, but WHERE was my bathing suit? I had left it out to dry overnight. After searching all around the site, and thinking it over and over, we came to the conclusion that my bikini had been STOLEN...most likely by our tricky little neighbors. There was no one else around. And who else besides 12 year-old boys want to steal a stupid old bikini anyway? So, yeah. I am now bikiniless. I'm okay, though. Me and my purple bikini had a lot of good times together, but it was time for us to part ways anyway. I just wish I'd been the one to decide when.

All in all, it was a great weekend. One of the best I've had here. We're thinking of trying to squeeze another trip in before I leave, but that all depends on schedules and of course, the rain. We were SO lucky to have a sunny and dry weekend. Apparently this is the dryest November they've had here in years, and after a very wet summer in Costa Rica, I am NOT complaining. Stay away as long as you can, rain! Oh,'s raining...right now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Lessons Learned

Some of you ask what my classes are like. Here are some highlights from some of last week's lessons:

1. In my Advanced II-2 class we read alllllll about Scientology. I did it to spark some conversation and debate AND to get them writing about something. Turns out, I ended up learning a lot more about Scientology than I thought I knew. Did you know that I have a Thetan inside of me? Neither did I.

2. In my Advanced II-3 class, we read "Letting Go", an anecdotal essay by David Sedaris. I was nervous about them not getting his humor, but they did and turns out, they love Sedaris now, just like Teacher! We also got some great vocab out of the reading.

3. On Friday, in my Pre-Intermediate and High Basic classes, I had them listen to and do a gap-fill exercise to "King of Wishful Thinking" from the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Latinos love 80's and early 90's music, so I thought it was a good call. It was a lot of fun and sparked some fun conversations about breaking up and moving on. I played it for three classes, three hours in a row, so while they listened, I watched the youtube video on repeat. Um, it's ridiculous and if I had to sit through it twelve times, you should experience it too. Click HERE to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Greetings from November!

I'm writing to y'all from my second week of my third month in Cusco. Yep. Two months down, two more to go. I can't believe how time has flown.

I'm lucky enough to have yet another killer schedule- 7-10 in the morning and 6-9 at night. That big break in the day is really nice. (Though, I do miss having evenings to myself- it kinda takes away from prime Skype time. Beggars can't be choosers, y'know?) I also have two more advanced classes and they're going well- I've decided to get a little more creative and so far, so good. In one class, we're reading about and discussing Scientology and in the other, we're reading David Sedaris (my fave). I get such a kick out of watching my students get a kick out of Sedaris.

I'm having a lot of fun and feeling at home, though I can't help but feel butterflies when I think of touching down at O'Hare in...wait, lemme count...55 days. Yowza! And to think that in that relatively short time I will miss the Franny Burger Bake-Off (family tradition), Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, but that also means I get to experience some pretty memorable holidays here.

When I first got really sick was when I first felt the real pangs of homesickness and since then (as I predicted), there's been an ebb and flow. I have not felt a horrible longing to get home, but there is always a quiet anticipation. I've mentioned before that this is the longest I've ever been away from home, so y'know, I'm pretty jazzed to see everyone again. I know the next time I go abroad I'll have a little more endurance.

So,yes I'm jazzed, but I'm also nervous...nervous to come back and have to get a job, nervous to return home with the memory of the high note from which I left...nervous to feel disappointment and discontentment. BUT! This is all part of the experience and I mean, I get to come home to the greatest family and the greatest friends in the world, and that's more than enough to look forward to.

In the meantime, I have parties, holidays and a trip to Lake Titicaca to look forward to. I also intend to embrace the time I have left with the wonderful friends I've made here. Let's just hope the parasites keep their distance...!

The Quillabamba Blog

I'm a naughty girl with a bad habit for not updating my blog as often as I should.

I went to Quillabamba two weeks ago. I did not go alone. Eleven of us went- ten teachers and one local, our friend Dillman. We took a combi, rather than a bus. Why? Because the roads are tricky and a combi is more mobile and compact. It's also a shorter ride. It was well worth the ten extra soles.

The ride there was one of the best parts of the trip. Cusco is not known for its customer service, but our driver catered to some pretty important needs, like music. He had this hilarious mix of hits from the last fifteen years. It was a literal mix- only about a minute of each song would play, so we'd be all jacked up on something like Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" and then, at the climax, we'd switch over to "What's Up?" by Four Non-Blondes. It was rad. I joked that he bought the CD from some combi wholesale place that distributes Gringo mixes and categorizes them by age, because these songs were specifically hits from our generation. Lots of throwbacks to Jr. High and high school fo sho. Nothing like sippin' on cerveza, singing at the top of your lungs in good company, and crusin' through the Andes.

We arrived later that night to our less-than-charming hostel. It was weird and the people that ran it were weird. I think it was the worst hostel I've stayed at these last five months, but whatever- it had beds and we were tired.

The next day was our only full day there and we headed out to Siete Tinajas- a waterfall in the jungle with seven bowls of water. We hiked up it, splashed around, and had some laughs. Being there made me realize how spoiled I've become- I've seen some pretty gorgeous nature in these last five months and although I liked this place, I couldn't help but think it was no Agua Azul. (Spoiled. Rotten.)

From there, we headed to a gen-u-ine Peruvian water park, which was a lot like and American one, but as far I could tell, they did not sell nachos with bright yellow cheese. Bummer. It was awesome and I wish we could have stayed longer. I don't remember the last time I went to a water park with friends. We raced down the slides, did hand-stands, and had splash wars, and of course, chicken fights. It was great. (So great, in fact, that I've already started planning a trip to an indoor water park back home. I'm not gonna let January get me down! Who's with me?!)

From there, we came home, got dinner, laid around in the plaza and headed back to the hostel for bedtime stories and nightcaps. We were spent after a lovely jungle day.

The ride home was less fun than the ride there, as we were without the "Gringo Mix 2010", but we made do. Latin American road trips tend to be incredibly gorgeous, but not incredibly safe- I wasn't a fan of seeing piles of fresh rocks on the road, next to the mountain from recent, small rock slides. And the lack of guard rails while literally driving through the clouds is also a little unnerving...but the views of snowcapped mountains kinda make up for it.

This was my second to last LA road trip, as I have one more left- to Lake Titicaca at the end of the month! Stay tuned!

((Check out more photos HERE!))