From my Heart

As a child, I was fascinated with people not from Minnesota. World travel was not commonplace where I grew up and classmates from other countries were non existent until my high school years. It was exciting to meet my great uncle Larry who spoke Spanish as his native language and to hear his stories of childhood in Spain. He inspired me to learn Spanish at the age of 9. It was memorable to go to what was one of the first Mexican restaurants in Minnesota, “La Casa Coronado” and to enjoy my first tamales.

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These events sound commonplace, but there was a time in Minnesota when areas were more isolated due to less highways and little immigration. It was considered “ideal” to blend in and even dress alike. How exciting it was when our town had an influx of refugees from Vietnam during  my high school years!  Before then, our only Asian neighbors were restaurant owners from China.

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I remember sitting in the gym when a beautiful girl named Anh entered, carrying her tennis shoes and looking frightened. My heart melted seeing her fear and I greeted her. As I tried to explain  that she should wear her shoes, she politely nodded and said “thank you.”  This was a defining moment in my life, as I realized  my world was very small and needed expansion.

Fast forward to grade 12 where we had 2 exchange students: Elena from El Salvador and Erik from Belgium.  My new friends were the best education I received in my senior year! You see, at this point in time, the  only kids I had met not born in the USA were from Vietnam or Mexico.

From Elena I learned of poverty, political unrest, the importance of family, grace, dignity and gratitude.  She bore an incredible amount of  grace in meeting our stares of curiosity with her bright, wide smile. Elena was quick to educate us on her customs and we learned from her generous example to be more thankful and humble. We were pen pals after graduation for about five years. Occasionally I wonder if political unrest caused her letters to cease.

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I could write volumes about Erik!  We became very close and he called me his little sister.  For over 10 years, Erik and I corresponded.   Erik had an interesting perspective on Americans. From the television and movies, he thought our country was crawling with what he called “hippies.” In the spring, he went to a rock concert with me and he excitedly pointed out “hippies.”   Another endearing quality of Erik’s was he would correct our grammar! On the day of graduation, we embraced and cried.

Erik visited the USA 9 years later on business. It was not the meeting I would have preferred. About a dozen classmates met at a restaurant. At the time, my former husband accompanied us and his domineering, entertaining personality took over our time together. Nevertheless, it was wonderful to see my Belgium brother again!

We all have varying belief systems. My  belief system says things happen for a reason. Through career changes and life events, I found myself working in the same school district that educated me. What a blessing to end up educating international students in the ESL (English as a Second Language) program! The students taught me more than I could ever teach!

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My blessing of working with ESL students came to an end due to budget cuts. After a stint working with a wonderful company that did not align with my life purpose, I ended up with Council for Educational Travel USA!  We place and supervise international exchange students. It truly feels like life has become full circle!

With the advent of social media we are able to communicate more around the world. However, that does not replace the experience of spending time with others firsthand.  It is priceless witnessing “firsts” with our students:  the “Welcome to the USA” signs at the airport, the wonder of snowfall, homecoming, American food, Mall of America, Halloween and more!

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I think we may all agree that we are greatly influenced by images on media and may assume things that may or may not be true. For example, not all Minnesotans act like the characters in ‘Fargo.” Another example is not all Muslim women wear Hijab. By spending time with those brought up in other lands, we receive a valuable education not found elsewhere. That education can create a ripple and that ripple may extend around the world.

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I invite you to join me on CETUSA’s mission of: Reaching out to encourage a lifelong journey of global peace and understanding. You may do this as a host family or as a local coordinator, which is a rewarding part time endeavor!

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Inspiration. Tea and Travel

We already know coffee houses are the usual destination for tete a tetes, business deals or just hanging out. The welcoming atmosphere, free Wifi and delicious beverages are a plus, although we oftentimes lament the calories consumed. Many of us make the coffee house part of our daily routine. This routine may add up to more dollars than we care to think about, but a treat adds nicely to our day.sampleday

Tea is touted for its’ health benefits, but coffee drinkers may not know how to start a tea habit. They may begin with the bottled teas from the local gas station which are tasty, but may contain large amounts of sugar or preservatives. At a standard restaurant, when tea is ordered, it may be a black tea bag or an herbal infusion. (Herbal “tea” is not tea)  Thus, it may seem more desirable to keep drinking coffee or soda. Granted, coffee also has its’ health benefits, but most people do not care to consume such large quantities of caffeine throughout the day. Yes. there is decaf, but it never tastes as good!

The other day, I met with  friends to discuss some ideas at Tea Source.  Not only did we enjoy our wonderful green tea in a pleasant atmosphere, we became inspired. I won’t speak for the others, but I will share my  personal experience. Upon entering, I was struck by the tantalizing aromas. It no longer seemed like Minnesota, but a more exotic locale with the lighting, set up and bulk teas. There are dozens of types and flavors to choose from, all served authentically in Chinese pots. There was a dispenser with a tea sample to try and one can also request a taste of other teas before buying. 4315-Minnesota NIce-lg

It was refreshing to sit with friends after a long week of work and rejuvenate with a delicious beverage containing just enough caffeine to get my brain working again. The employees had a vast knowledge of all the different teas and it was pleasant to see them enjoying their job. A happy vibe was present. I noted with interest a poster explaining that Bill Waddington, owner of the three Tea Source locations, travels the world to hand select the teas sold in his stores! How many owners do that?   I don’t know about you, but I only hear of “middlemen” in business. This is mind blowing to me and inspiring!

Now, back to the conversation with my friends. We  were discussing the importance of following our passions in life and how to tie them in to a business or career we can thoroughly enjoy, authenticity and being true to ourselves. Obviously Bill Waddington followed his passions of tea and travel.  turning it into an amazing business. The three of us that were enjoying our tea have combined passions of helping others, creativity, the arts and travel. If one man took his love for tea and travel, turning it into a money making venture, three people can do the same by following their dreams to fruition! 20523423-travel-bags-with-earth-and-airplanes

I invite you to visit the Tea Source website, where you can educate yourself on tea. Then, visit one of the shops to enjoy the atmosphere, tea and a freshly made pastry,  or order online to create your own tea haven. Tea Source also offers a variety of classes, such as “Baking with Tea.”  You are also invited to contact me about how you can incorporate more fun, freedom and fulfillment into your life,  or to share what inspires you.