The Midwest Tour and more

I’m not entirely sure how to capture our action-packed trip home to the US of A, but I’ll try. John made a valiant attempt last week in his blog, so there might be some overlap if you had the time to read his as well.

Everyone was incredibly generous with their time and hospitality. We did not allow time for jet lag because we wanted to soak up as much time as possible, so thank you all for your kindness when I had a blank stare or dazed look or was slightly hyper (but only slightly!), amped up from adrenaline, lack of sleep, and perhaps a nutella latte - yes, I somehow squeezed that in!

We book-ended our trip with John’s family, and I’m so incredibly grateful that we got to see his entire extended family at the annual Freund family picnic. We were able to watch his cousin’s children run around the park it was held at, as well as get in some much-needed hugs with Grandma while she is still 89 years young and other dear relatives that we have been thinking of regularly throughout the past year.

Even if we didn’t age at all the past year miraculously, all of the young ones definitely reminded us of a year’s passing, with their added height. I got so many hugs from John’s nieces and nephews, and I can’t wait to see what updates in their lives are in store for me upon our return… I hope our time involves some board game playing with John’s eldest nephew - a little Settlers of Catan action.

The now grown tree of my childhood

I jumped on a Megabus to Detroit with my niece Molly, who made a big effort to see me and our family in town from Germany - yes, somehow it worked out that my sister and her family who live in Germany could be in the U.S. at the same time as us - and that was not even planned! 

Our dates in the Midwest also happened to align with my family’s annual camping trip on the west side of Michigan. There is nothing like the sun and the sand and Lake Michigan washing over me, while playing frisbee in the water with my nieces and nephews, siblings, cousins, and all sorts of relatives. I’m especially thankful to the relatives on my dad’s side who made a special effort to swing by - even if we only got to squeeze in a little time together.

But I am beyond grateful to both of our sets of parents. Not only have they supported us via the world of Skype and in so many other ways this past year, but they were often our home base while we were running our necessary yet annoying errands and catching up on some missed sleep - while graciously making us coffee and providing us with food, shelter, and support - and even helping us to host a picnic!

Thai apparel on Americans

And let me tell you about our friends. As anyone who attended our wedding almost 4 years ago knows, we have the best friends! They put us up in their homes, they changed their plans and found time to see us (often more than once!), they stayed up late on ‘school’ nights, they hosted get-togethers in their homes, they played music with me, they brought food to our picnic, they made sure we got Ubers or Lyfts, they donated again to GSV (and so did family members!), and the list goes on.

One of the hardest things for me when I first came to Thailand was mourning the loss of our support network back home. It’s not that they aren’t still there and of course we made the choice to leave, but I missed everyone horribly... Nonetheless, I would go back and do it all over again, because I see this past year as one of the most important in my life. Thankfully, we will see most everyone again in just half a year this time around.

At the end of our Midwest tour, we found ourselves at a friend’s wedding (who got engaged & set her wedding date in the time we were gone - yet another sign of all that can happen within a year!), so we could not believe that our dates home included their special day. Actually, it was more than a day - it was a wedding weekend in the beautiful Hocking Hills of Ohio. I had never been, but I would like to go back for some more hiking on future occasions. We were unbelievably grateful for a friend’s drive in their car to make it to Ohio with such convenience, and yet again pleasantly surprised at the generosity of one of the groom's friends who got us to the airport in time.

That's me on a rope!

We ended our whirlwind tour and hopped on a flight to NY/NJ for a week of orientation with GSV. This time was necessary for us to process the past year, get to know our new community members (Lauren and Melissa), and set the tone for our remaining months of volunteering. As John mentioned, one of our highlights was the stimulating and challenging session, Undoing Racism - as we both feel it is a necessary discussion. I also enjoyed the Trauma-Informed Care session for the second year in a row, which explores trauma both as a caregiver as well as a recipient. In general, I felt like I could truly hear and listen to more of the sessions this year as a ‘second’ year GSV - a testament to my growth in the past year, as many of the sessions were the same as the previous year - but this time around, I could more fully grasp the words and their meaning!

And so here we are, back in the wonderful community that is the Garden of Friendship and the nearby Hands of Hope. More news from this part of the world next week.