Monday, January 2, 2012

The dreaded GRE...

I know I have been a complete slacker on posting on my blog ever since I got back from Thailand. This is in part due to the fact that I was attempting (key word) to focus on studying for the GRE and my graduate school search. Sadly, it was more due to the fact that what I have been spending my time on is not very interesting.

Let's be honest--how many people want to read about my days spent researching master's programs, studying vocabulary and math, and completing very tedious (and often dreadful) Econ assignments? Yeah, didn't think so.

But now that most of that is over with, I can share what might be of interest to some of you. It pertains to my experience with Graduate Records Exam (GRE). As some of you know, the test was dramatically changed in August 2011. The scoring system is different, as is much of the material they test you on (for more information click here). I won't go into the particulars, but for those of you thinking about going to graduate school and taking the GRE, here are some tips that I found in my time preparing for and then taking the test:

1. Don't study too much or too little. Remember 2 things to help you strike a balance between overdoing it and being a little too lazy. One- this is JUST a test! Two- This is a test that could change your life.
I studied for a little over 2 months. For me, this was the perfect amount of time to completely relearn algebra, geometry, statistics, etc, and brush up on advanced vocabulary.

2. Study to eliminate weaknesses and build on existing strengths. Math is my weakness. English and writing are my strengths. I spent 85+ percent of my time studying for the quantitative section. I spent zero time studying for the analytical, as I always found that studying how to write well is a waste of time. And I spent all my verbal studying time on vocabulary.

3. Don't underestimate the power of PRACTICE. Seriously this is the best tip I can give you. Take practice tests AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE. I wish I would have done this more. Practice the things you are studying over and over again. If you don't, you'll just forget them come test time.

4. Accept that the GRE is a standardized test, and as such is supposed to test your knowledge AND your natural abilities. As much as I studied for math, I didn't get close to a perfect score. And this is because I can't make myself brilliant at math in 2 months. I probably can't do it in 6 months. The GRE has too many potential things it could ask you, which is why you must rely on your accumulated knowledge. This, I believe, particularly applies to the Verbal section, since reading comprehension is not something one can study, but something that is built up over time.

5.  Buy or use resources that you won't dread studying from, then set a study schedule and stick to it. I  bought or borrowed numerous books, some of which I hated (and so barely used). Others I loved because they were user friendly.

My hated book(s)/resources: Barron huge GRE book. The math study guide by ETS.
Books/resources I found helpful: Barron's Essential Words for the GRE, Kaplan's free practice tests online, the free practice test by ETS, and any free test I found in borrowed books.
My favorite GRE study book: Cliffnotes Math Review for Standardized Tests

And a few things to keep in mind about testing day
  • The test is long. I mean REALLY long. If you aren't used to sitting in one place for 4 hours straight, you will be in trouble if you don't take enough practice tests in actual testing conditions. I took about 4 practice tests, none of which I completed in test-like conditions. Big mistake. Around section 4 of 6 I reached my tolerance point for reading yet another endless passage. This induced me to guess more, and care less. 
  • Remember the difference between a square and a circle. Some questions require just one response, others allow you to choose more than one. The shape of the button you click on will indicate which type of question you are dealing with. 
  • Pay attention to the clock. During practice tests I had no problem completing the verbal sections with time left over, but on actual testing day I spent more time on each question, and found myself having to guess on the last few per section. So look at the clock!
And that's it. While I won't post my scores on my blog (sorry people), I can report that I did very well on the verbal, did exactly how I expected on the math, and was slightly disappointed with my analytical score. 

All in all, I feel content. We'll see if that changes once I get responses back from my potential graduate programs. Wish me luck! 

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Kids ARE alright!

In my haze of GRE studying, I forgot to tell you about some exciting news. I heard back from DEPDC about the packages. They received the school supplies that were generously donated by so many. My class also received my letter and the little gifts I included for each of the children.

Below is Alinda, the Director at DEPDC reading my letter to the class.

The entire class. I am worried that so many of them are missing. But as we all experienced, the kids have frequent absences, especially during seasons of crop planting and harvesting. I also noticed two new additions, including the little girl in the middle.

It feels like I just left Thailand, and that I have been away forever, all at the same time. Needless to say, it appears not much has changed at DEPDC. Our class is much the same, and from the pictures, look to be doing well.

What a relief, to finally have proof of their continued existence! And to know that my dreams of late were once my daily reality. With these pictures I remembered, if only for a fleeting moment, how it was, who I was, and what we did.

It is a thing I hope never to forget.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

My Surprise of School Supplies

While I was in Thailand, I had an idea of how to help DEPDC with their funding problems. It was simple really. One of DEPDC's main projects is their Half-Day School, where I worked teaching level 1 English classes. And what do schools need? School supplies of course!

Me and a few others set off to try to get donations from people back in the States. The idea was that people would be more willing to donate supplies than money. Well, this plan had a bit of a flaw. Our email sent out was too complicated, and looking back, asked too much. We didn't get much of a response.

When I got home to the States in September, my mom let me know that after she had received my email, she had made an announcement at church to the women about it. One announcement. That is it. They put a small box in an area of the church, for any supplies to be added to. She asked me if I would be willing to announce the drive to the women as well, which I did, briefly.

Before you, is the response we received. And this does not include the cash donations, which were put towards shipping costs.

Since I took these pictures, much more has been donated, and we are planning on sending a second box in the next few weeks.

I couldn't resist adding little presents for my class in the first box. Since the box got there after the children had left for a month-long fall break, I will have to wait to see what the response is at DEPDC. They have promised to send pictures! 

I can't wait to see the kids' reactions. I am thinking it is going to be something like this. :)

And a parting thought: 
If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.  ~Mother Teresa

Saturday, October 8, 2011

These are the Best Days of my Life

I never blogged about my favorite day at DEPDC. One of my favorite's, because there are many. It also happened to be my last day there.

August 23, 2011. It started out much as every day in Thailand, with a long bus ride to the border town, Mae Sai. We had our entire group (well, those of us who were left), there that day. Me, Aub, Dave, Courtney, Andy, and Mitch. On the bus we hauled as many bags as we could carry full of clothes and toiletries to donate to both DEPDC and the orphanage. I'm sure we all looked quite strange, all these farangs with trash bags.

It was a little strange going up with everyone, as I was used to only the regulars being with me. I know one of my weaknesses while in Thailand was that I was a bit too possessive of the kids. I only wanted people going up to DEPDC who genuinely cared, worked hard, and who wanted to be there.

Despite this, I am glad they headed up, as Andy was so nice to take pictures of the day (I was usually too busy to take any pictures with me and the kids), and Dave so sweet to translate. 

We started out class with Dave and I letting the kids know that it was our last day at DEPDC. I swear, when I was talking and Dave translating, it was the quietest I saw the kids EVER. They listened attentively, with eyes wide. It was a calmness I had never felt from the kids. It was like they were telling me they were going to be okay, and that I would be okay too. 

Aub and I had scheduled the whole day out, as we did not want to waste a moment with the kids. Aub had the great idea of having the kids make cards for Sompop and Alinda, the founder and director at DEPDC. It was so cute. Without us even telling them, the kids decided to draw their hands on one of the cards, and hearts on the other. 

We made sure to get the kids back to the front with half the class time left, as we had a bit of a surprise for them. Aub, Lars, Jamie, Manasa, and I had made cards for each of the kids, with personalized messages in Thai and a picture of us with the class pasted inside. The cards were beautiful, and I was so excited to present them to the kids. Aub had also make bracelets for each of them, each unique in its own way.

We called each of the kids up individually, and I was so glad to be able to single each one out, and to be able to show each of them how much they meant to me and all of us. Most of the kids loved it, some were embarrassed, and some acted too cool for the whole thing. I was happy to see that we only had two kids missing that day, as most days we have more than that absent. 

At the very end of class we had the kids pick out a movie that we were going to watch together in the afternoon. While the kids were at lunch, Aub and I, through the help of key people at DEPDC, procured the large open auditorium to use their projector and projection screen. I was so excited for the kids to be able to watch a movie on the "big" screen.

The young guys at DEPDC were great, helping us set everything up for the movie. Aub and I had brought all kinds of treats for the kids, including popcorn. We bought about 20 bags of it at 7-eleven in Chiang Rai, and carried them all the way to Mae Sai. The things you have to do when there are no microwaves.

I had a great time during the movie just hanging out with the kids. They would feed me popcorn (literally put it in my mouth) and different kids kept coming up to me to give me cards. They were so sweet. Many of them had began making the cards right after I told them it was our last day, and spent the time during the movie making their little creations. Other of the kids were in full attention during the entire movie, as I am sure they had never seen a movie that large before. It was so cute to watch them.

After the movie, it was time to say our goodbyes. I was ready for the moment, and prepared myself to put on a happy face for the kids. Somehow, I caught each one of them, even those that usually hurry away. I was so thankful for the opportunity to say goodbye to them individually, and to be able to hug and whisper words of farewell and love to each of them.

I was particularly touched by one such goodbye. 

It was with Sisen (The boy above on the left), a child who is smart but who acts out constantly in class. He is my most distracting student, as he talks throughout lessons, and leads many of the younger boys to follow his example. But this day was different. During that day he would come up to me and give me hugs, or just shout "Kryssy" and give me sweet smilies. The kid, it short, surprised me. I didn't know he cared that much. Sisen gave me multiple hugs that day, and after the movie, as we were saying goodbye, he kissed me on the cheek and kept his little arms wrapped around my neck. He followed me as I was walking away, and would not leave my side. He was sweeter than I had ever seen him. 

He was the one, more than any other, who made me feel like, at the moment, it was all worth it. All those hard days, where the kids wouldn't listen, or be quiet, when they would fight or be angry or worse, were all nothing. I went to Thailand for him. For him to know that someone wanted him to succeed, that someone wanted him to grow and progress and become more than he though was possible. And he was there for me, to show me that sacrifice is a necessary part of life, that love comes in many forms, and that service, once given, is never forgotten. 

He'll be in my heart, as will all the other kids, forever. As I walked up the path away from the kids and DEPDC, I did finally loose it. I did not want to leave. Not for them, but for me. They made my life better, and I was happier with them in it. Thus, in my last moment, I cried selfishly. But what more can you do, when you know they have given you more than you could ever give back?

My last day in Thailand ends here, with a conviction that real service, when given, is the greatest gift you can bestow upon yourself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Volunteer Journey, In Video Form

Our group in Thailand decided to make a video that encompassed our journey in Thailand, and the people we met and worked with along the way. Here it is in its final form for your viewing pleasure.

I loved my experience. I hope this video can bring you into what was my world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Sad Song has no Ending

As I sit here writing this from my comfortable house in California, nice things surround me that I went without in Thailand. I now have a bed. And a mattress. I have a light near me I can turn on and off. I have nice clothes that don't get worn often, filling up a closest with plastic and metal hangers. I have a desk with which to do important type things and a bookshelf to keep important sounding books. Around the house is my car, which I am told is also nice.

All of these things are comfortable and nice. They are things I have not had in quite some time. Some are things I thought necessary. Others helped me feel important. None compare to what I had in Thailand.

I always hear authoritative-type people say "The heart grows fonder with time" (or is it "distance"). I hope this is not the case. Because I don't think my heart can handle anymore where Thailand is concerned. 'I apologize', I would say to my the feeling side of myself, 'but my heart is filled to capacity. There is no room.'

The room is taken up, as room usually is in the heart, by people. Specifically, by the little people I left behind.  You see, Thailand did something to me. I call it 'my obsession' but perhaps it is more aptly called 'my addiction'.

My obsession is like this: I love the kids at DEPDC.
                                        I love serving them.
                                        I love seeing their warm smiles.
                                        I love teaching them.
                                        I love waking up each morning knowing I have so much to look forward to. 
                                        I love the hugs. 
                                       And the laughter. 
                                       I even love the classroom noise. 

My heart breaks to know that they probably will not get the same chances I had.
It breaks more when I wonder what will happen to them.
Does the past truly determine our future? Will it for these kids?
They have already had hard lives. And they are so young.
Will this be their lot in life?

Most of the time I don't think about these things. It is just too dang hard. Instead, I reflect on the possibility of what might be, in the picture I create of their future lives.
I imagine them in charmed lives.
Lives filled with love, health, and safety.
They are graduates of school.
And fathers and mothers in their own right.
Who can provide for their family.
And teach their children.
And keep them safe.
And free from preventable diseases.

This is what I hope and pray for them.

I also pray that my disappearance will not cause them pain.
That they will get a new teacher (right now they don't have one).
That this teacher will understand what is at stake.
What is at stake?
Only a life.

Her life.

His life.

That's it, really.

The question is, what can we do for them? 
Happily, this is a question I have an answer for.

You can donate money. (this way is tax-deductible)

You can donate your time.

If you are interested in volunteering at DEPDC, contact me by email.
You could be their next teacher.

Help DEPDC help them. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

This VIDEO has the potential to CHANGE LIVES

Without further adieu, the video that we have been working so hard on. All about the non-profit DEPDC/GMS and the great work they are doing to prevent the trafficking of children.

Please watch. Please share. Please act. 

These kids have changed my life. Let us help them change theirs.