What happened?

In August 2018, I was crowned Ms. Maine American Women of Service. In February 2019, my crown was taken from me and everyone has been left to ask: what happened?

In pageantry, things happen. Bullying happens. When confronted with a bully, you have one of two options: keep quiet or speak up. I chose to speak up.

As a close personal friend, UNM Miss Maine (hereafter MM) taught body positivity and confidence in herself and others. She talked about how her family was so proud and supportive of her. She also shared her struggles and how she felt terrible after every conversation with the state and local directors and volunteering with other queens her age. MM was told she needed to lose weight, she needed to do this and that, and she was not supported by her local or state director.

MM thought long and hard about her decision to step down. It wasn’t something she took lightly. When she told the director, the director immediately posted it in the Local Pageant Director’s Facebook group- a group that I was in because my sisters and I discussed co-directing a pageant. The director and other local pageant directors started to pounce on the post as soon as it was up. They used hurtful and destructive language to talk about the ways in which MM failed the organization, failed their expectations, and failed in that she was not who they wanted her to be. I was taken aback at how these grown women were bashing a 19-year-old on Facebook behind her back.

I spoke up. I shared the posts with MM. Not long after, the director sent me a letter stripping me of my title.

Sharing the post, in the eyes of my director, is a breach of a contract that the director refuses to provide me. I’ve asked for the contract on three different occasions and am met with nothing.

Sharing the post, in the eyes of my director, is sharing confidential information. Confidential information would not have been on Facebook as Facebook is a public domain for the free exchange of ideas, per Facebook’s charter for incorporation.

Talking to my sister queens, in the eyes of my director, is defamation of character. I reached out to former queens to see how the state director had treated them, and they’ve been mistreated too! Several complaints have been filed with the national director. When the national director told the Maine director what was happening, the solution was the Maine director sending emails telling queens that they were banned and had no right to contact the national director with complaints about her.

My title was taken because I stood up for my friend and prevented her from being bullied further. Why did that happen when The Maine Academic Scholarship Pageant system, the USA National Miss system and the American Women of Service national platform is Crown C.A.R.E.S.- a platform that teaches kindness, respect, inclusion, love, cares, courage and friendship? This is a platform that sends its titleholders into the schools to read to children to help them understand bullying, to promote the awareness of bullying, and to teach kids how to stand up to bullying.

I sincerely don’t understand. Maybe you can help me! The American Women of Service national platform is on this website: https://www.americanwomenofservice.com/national-platform. The website states their national platform is The Crown C.A.R.E.S. (Creating A Respectful Environment in Society). This platform is an extension of the Crossroads Youth Program Crown C.A.R.E.S. (Creating A Respectful Environment in Schools). As we grow into adults we can take the same principles of the program – Kindness, Respect, Inclusion, Love, Care, Courage, and Friendship, and put them to use in various outlets of our lives. As adults we have the ability to influence our youth, teach our peers and set an example as the ultimate role model.”

The Maine American Women of Service Pageant is associated with the Maine Academic Scholarship Pageant (MASP). Their website it says, “It is our goal to provide girls and young women with the tools to enhance and develop communication, self-presentation and interview skills, allowing them to become resilient, community minded adults.” (Check it out here: https://www.crossroadsproductions.me/about-us)

In another section on the MASP website, it says that their platform is also Crown C.A.R.E.S. In addition, this website says, “each titleholder will spend their year visiting schools and promoting awareness, reading to children and help to understand how to stand up to bullying. MASP believes that community service is one of the most important ways to teach our children gratitude and respect. Join us in the fight against bullying.”

According to the New Oxford Dictionary, a bully is someone who seeks to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone else. Harmful language behind someone’s back is of no use to the conversation, and it inevitably hurts the person you’re talking about when they find out.

To the directors involved or associated, there are lessons to be learned here: one is about what confidentiality means, and the other is about living up to the expectations that you place on others. The letter that I received stripping me of my title was received at 11:30 on Sunday morning, but my aunt, dad and other community members were talking about it at church that morning at 10:30. “Oh, did you hear what happened to Katherine? Her crown was taken.” Information provided by one of the directors. To find out through conversations at church as opposed to from my letter is unacceptable considering the information being confidential. In addition, the expectation that you represent- “As adults, we have the ability to influence our youth, teach our peers, and set an example as the ultimate role model” -is not the influence that you’re making on your contestants and queens. You have the ability the make a positive influence on these women, please use that opportunity to make a positive impact instead of what has been happening.

To my fellow contestants, sister queens, and future queens, I am not writing this to keep you away from MASP or any other pageant system. I am writing this for your awareness, so you know the truth about why I am no longer Ms. Maine American Women of Service. Through my experience and service as Ms. Maine American Women of Service, I’ve found that this system is not for me because it isn’t what it’s made out to be. I wanted a pageant system that promoted kindness, respect, inclusion, love, care, courage and friendship. Unfortunately, through the organization’s actions, I’ve come to realize that they do not. I am not embarrassed or ashamed about what I did. I stood up against people who were bullying my friend.

 

Bullying happens, and when it does, you have two choices. The consequences might be painful, but it’s a beautiful thing to stand up for what’s right.

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What’s up next?

Can you believe the St. Croix Valley Pageant is in it’s 13th year?!  More than 10 years ago, I was a contestant for Teen Miss St. Croix Valley and this year I get to participate in a different capacity!

Young ladies and women will showcase their talents, public speaking, and community involvement. New friendships will be made and old friendships rekindled. Contestants come from Maine and New Brunswick, Canada to compete. All Maine Queens will go on to the USA National Miss Maine Pageant, while NB Queens ages 18 and above will have the opportunity to compete at the American Women of Service National Pageant. Proceeds from this event are donated to the Unite Against Bullying organization.

The deadline for registration has ended, but I’ll be sure to keep you up to date about  pageants in the future! If you find yourself in Woodland, Maine on September 29, 2018 from 6-8pm you should go! For more information, check out their Facebook page, Miss St Croix Valley Pageant.

Good luck to all the contestants, be true to yourself and the rest will follow! My hope is that each one of you leave the pageant thinking, I did something outside of my comfort zone and I don’t regret it! 

I’ll share about my experience shortly after the event, but in the meantime…

Look at these pictures by Mandy McQueen Photography! I’m loving them!

 

She believed she could, so she did! – R.S. Grey

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Ms. Maine American Women of Service 2019

I was going to title this “So I did a thing…” like I didn’t want to admit to winning a pageant or something.

I started competing in pageants when I was in 8th grade I think, but I NEVER won. I always told myself it’s because I was chubby. Everyone would always tell me how beautiful I was on the inside. Sometimes I won Miss Congeniality, but that didn’t come with the same title and crown as the Miss. St. Croix Valley or Miss. International won. I wanted to be beautiful on the outside too. I was embarrassed to tell people that I did pageants, because I wasn’t the typical pageant girl.

October 2017 I did the Maine Lobster Queen Pageant. It was fun! I was the only woman in my division. I didn’t tell many people I was the Maine Lobster Queen, I felt silly saying “oh yeah, I won a pageant..I was the only contestant.” Only contestant or not, I felt like I proudly rocked my $12 JCPenney gown that I bought the night before.

Then, almost a year later, I was off to States. Ms. Maine American Women of Service. I was going to be competing against women of all ages with different life experiences. I was nervous. I’d been out of pageantry for so long that I wasn’t sure about anything! Sometimes self-doubt would get the best of me and my mom and pageant director Michele would tell me, you have what it takes. You can do this. I began to meet the women in my division. Each and every one of them with a different story. Each one of them with a kind heart. The caliber of women in my division was unsurpassed. They made me feel at ease immediately. I loved chatting with them and getting to know them.

Sunday was pageant day, I probably got about 5 hours of sleep. I felt like one of those Disney commercials–I’m too excited to sleep! I was excited and nervous all at once. I had my hair and makeup done. I was interviewed by four of the most friendly faced judges I have ever stood before. I had photos taken. Hair and makeup done for stage. Then the pageant began at 1pm. We were all nervous. I WAS NERVOUS. about 30 minutes before the pageant I needed a pick me up. Thankfully my fiancé is an avid football fan, so he sent me some Nebraska Huskers Football tunnel walks. My mom told me to breathe and my nieces and sister told me “you’ve got this.” I psyched myself up. I got busy chatting with the girls and trying to pass the time. We did our opening number. Ran back to change into our runway, rocked it on stage and then into gown, and it was over just like that. We were all called back on stage.

The women in my division voted me as Miss Congeniality! I was pleasantly surprised as I had nominated another lovely woman! I loved chatting with them, it made the weekend that much better!

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Then they called the top four. I was in it! They called the winners, 4th runner up, 3rd runner up, and it was down to the last two. I WAS STILL THERE!

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Chan and I grabbed each others hands–like you might have seen on Miss America. Yes we had our moment too. The emcee announced that she would call the runner up name first. She called it and I was shocked! it wasn’t my name!

That meant, I WON! I really WON! I wanted to cry, instead I just keep saying thank you and smiling as I looked into the crowd, at the judges and to the women in my division.

Even though I was nervous and anxious, I got on that stage, had a good time and smiled! It took courage, love and support from my family and friends to get me there.

And look where it got me! I am Ms. Maine American Women of Service.

 

Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver. -Brené Brown

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Sunsets

It’s not often that I get to spend time watching sunsets at the ocean in Thailand. Often I see the sun set on my evening walks where the sun is bright red and setting slowly over acres of rice fields or rubber tree plantations. It’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it makes those oceanside sunsets that much more stunning.

The first two photos are from when I was camping on the ocean side with a friend. We camped at a National Park in Phang Nga. At the same location where the tsunami hit in 2004. It’s hard to imagine the devastation that was once there as the place is now quiet and peaceful. It was a new experience for me, camping on the ocean, both fun and a little scary. We were the only campers and there were often fishermen who would climb up and down the hill behind our tent to access the ocean at odd hours of the morning and evening.

The other two photos are from the beach near where I participated in a Brighter Thailand Foundation Camp. The memories from there are complex, comforting and full of emotion. I spent six days at the camp with youth ranging from 5th to 7th grade, Thai ambassadors (College aged students) and Global Ambassadors (Peace Corps Volunteers). It was a challenging, but rewarding week. The last night of camp, the Peace Corps Volunteers took a swim in the ocean and were amazed by the lights from the boats in the horizon and the clarity of the stars above us. We nicknamed it the Rayong lights.

I think that the ocean can be a symbol of my relationship with Peace Corps Thailand. With Peace Corps. With Thailand. The tide comes in and out, the water is still, the waves are huge. Nothing remains the same except for the fact that the ocean is ever changing–Just like my Peace Corps experience.

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Khao Lak-Lamru National Park, Phang Nga อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาหลัก-ลำรู่

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Khao Lak-Lamru National Park, Phang Nga อุทยานแห่งชาติเขาหลัก-ลำรู่

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Laem Son, Klaeng, Rayong Province หาดแหลมสน อ.แกลง จ.ระยอง

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Laem Son Beach, Klaeng, Rayong Province หาดแหลมสน อ.แกลง จ.ระยอง

 

 

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Jingle Bells

( I wrote this back in December..)

I wasn’t sure what to expect for Christmas this year. I’m back living with my host family and we have been talking for weeks about having a Christmas party at our house. A lot has changed-location, food, drink, games, gifts, people- since the first time we talked about it. It was drawing nearer and I was getting a little anxious about it.

I should have known better, to have faith that things would work out.

I woke up Christmas morning and my Aunt came by, she asked, what other things we needed for the party. I was really worried, because multiple people had asked if we were going to liang kao (make dinner). In all the plans we made we just talked about making a bunch of different snacks and getting cake. My Aunt said that we would have plenty to eat and not to worry about it (turns out she was right and all the children went home with leftovers).

After talking with my Aunt. I enjoyed some facetiming with my family in the states. My little sister is always awesome about facetiming me in for some part of the Christmas Eve celebration. This year I got to sing some carols. My Uncle came over to pick me up to run some errands, but I invited him to say hello to my family first. He ended up sitting with me for a while, listening to the carols, asking questions about Christmas and saying hello to my family.

After that, we were off. I spent most of the day running errands with my uncle to get ready for the party. We needed tables and chairs, lights and sound equipment. We needed to buy and prepare food. Decorate the house. Wrap presents and get ready for the children to come.

Later in the evening, the children showed up. First my cousin Gam. She was excited because on Christmas Eve she put her sock outside on the tree for Santa to come and when she woke up it was full of surprises…toothpaste and a toothbrush with a little note that told her not to forget to brush her teeth…and then a small bag of laundry detergent with a note reminding her to wash her smelly socks. She loved this and was so excited to share what Santa brought her!

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We played some balloon games and musical chairs. Each of them decorated a nose to play Pin-the-nose-on-the-reindeer. They each guessed how many pieces of candy were in the snowman jar. And then Santa showed up. (My host dad, wearing a Santa suit) The children sang Jingle Bells to welcome him to the party. Santa came and handed out Reindeer lollipops to each of the children.

After that, we did a gift swap. Here, everyone writes their name and puts it in a hat. We started with the oldest person (my Aunt) and she picked a name. My name. So she got my present, from there I picked another name and that’s the present I got, so on and so forth until all the names are picked and presents distributed. Get this, none of them ripped into the presents to see what was inside! They waited until they got home!

It started to get late so we needed to get the children home. We all piled into my Uncles truck to bring the children home starting with the child that lives the furthest away. Santa came along for the ride too. We sang Jingle bells the whole trip. The best part about it was that at the beginning–for the first 15 minutes of the trip, the children only knew “Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way……….hey!” and by about a half hour into the trip, they knew the words that came in between”oh what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh”

When they would get tired of singing, they would take a short break and then I would hear 1..2…3 Jingle bells Jingle bells…and they started again, singing their hearts out, for the whole community to hear!

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Something about water

What is it about water, being near it, in it, or on it has the ability to make me feel so comfortable, so carefree?

I was in a very cranky mood and not feeling well last Sunday. I was tired of sitting in the car. Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was go on another trip.  I was exhausted. I didn’t want to listen to what anyone had to say. I had helped my family sell popcorn at a big festival for the past two nights. That in and of itself was exhausting. There were hundreds of people and it was hot. The loud music and awful quality sound system wasn’t helping my headache. ha ha Needless to say I just wasn’t having it. I was in some serious need of alone time.

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But that wasn’t coming anytime soon, because we were on our way again. This time two cars packed full of family, heading to Kanchanaburi to stay in a raft house.

We got to the lake a few hours later and all my crankiness slipped away. The view was breath taking, the lake in the middle with mountains surrounding all sides. Raft houses filled the picture perfect lake. Looking to the left, there was a little village of raft houses complete with water toys and slides. Immediately in front of us raft houses were being ushered out onto the lake. On the right side and on the island, a handful of raft houses, secured along the shore.

 

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We loaded up the raft house with snacks, food and drinks. We had stuffed animals, pillows, guitars, etc. as if we were going for a week or two. We were ready for anything. We took in the beautiful view as we waited to be taken out to our spot on the lake.

After not too long, Dad and Yo started to play guitar. I watched in amazement. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar but never had anyone to teach me. So I convinced them to show me a few things and OH my fingers hurt and playing will definitely take some practice. But they taught me a few chords and I practiced for a good while.

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Anyway, back to the raft, It was huge! It had 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen, 2 generators, a little deck and a sitting area with stools, benches and a table. It was all we would need for our short trip. It took us about a half hour to get to our spot on the lake. The owner then tied us off to a few different boulders and said they’d be back to pick us up the following day around 11am. We didn’t waste much time to jump into the water. The air was cool, it felt like a perfect summer day in…wait for it…Maine. (All you Mainah’s can sigh now-I know how precious those days are!). I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to swim. I jumped in first and my fearless little cousin Gam was right behind me. The water was a beautiful green color, emerald would be the word that Thai’s would use to describe it. Can you picture it now?

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We swam for hours. It reminded me of when I was a kid, spending summers in Maine with my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, everyone. We would spend hours in the lake. And just like home, we were there, family, cousins, aunts, uncles swimming in the lake. I helped teach my little sister and niece how to swim. We would jump in, climb up on the raft only to immediately jump back into the water again. Floating in the lake, feeling so free and relaxed. Every stressed and tensed muscle in my body relaxed. My headache dissipated, my heart grew warmer and my crankiness was still no where to be found. We laughed and had a great time.

Later on in the night, after the sun went down we had dinner and settled in for a rowdy night of UNO! You know that game that families love? Well, my Thai family now loves it too! We played for what must have been 2 hours. At one point there were no more cards left to draw, so we had to start again. It was a blast. Before someone would lay down a skip, reverse, of +2, +4 card, they would apologize or say I love you to the next player hoping to soften the blow. ha ha.

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In the morning it was anything but quiet. Aunt Meow was making rice soup, my cousin Gam was playing, my grandfather was chillen, Mom and P’Kate were chatting. At around 8, my Aunt Krathai’s cat, Angelo decided to go off on an adventure. All of us took turns looking for Angelo. Dad, Yo and Namnan hiked up the mountain. Gam and Aunt Krathai looked all over the raft. Everyone took a break for a while, to have breakfast and to play in the water. A little while later, Yo and I swam to both the right and left of the raft in hopes that we would find Angelo. No such luck.

At around 10:45, the boat was on its way to pick us up. The energy on the raft was sad. The loss of Angelo really upset my Aunt. I’ve never been an animal person, but I have seen the love she has for her animals and I empathize with her. The boat pulled us away from the shore and everyone watched the mountain, hoping for one more sign. Angelo, if you’re out there I hope you know Aunt Krathai loves you!

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It was a quiet ride back to the shore. Sadness for Aunt Krathai. We were tired. And I was sad to be leaving the water, leaving this place that was so refreshing and relaxing. Something that I haven’t felt in Thailand for a long time. I was surrounded by loving family and on the water. It doesn’t get much better than that…well, except if both my families were together!

It’s alright. I’ll be back on or near the water again, feeling careless and free.

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New beginnings

Maybe you’ve heard through the grape vine that I have moved. It’s true. I’ve moved back to Suphanburi. Remember where I spent the first 9 weeks of training in Thailand?!  Yeah, that’s where I am!

I’m back with my host family, the Khammoonins!

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I am working at the same Sub-district Office where we had our training.

My primary role is to get the site ready for a 128 volunteer. That volunteer will move here the end of March. What does getting the site ready mean? Basically, I explain to all the places I work (office, schools, and community health center) what my role is as a Youth in Development volunteer. I will spend the next three months identifying potential counterparts and building a youth group for the future volunteer.

Let me tell you, starting over or well, beginning again in a new place is not exactly easiest or fun BUT at the same time it is. Are you still with me? Let me elaborate…

I went through what felt like one of the most painful events in my life last month, saying goodbye to my community in Phatthalung. I knew it would come at some point, I just didn’t realize how quick it would happen. Due to a safety and security incident, I was pulled from my community.

I had two choices, I could go home or move to a new site to finish my two years. I chose the latter, I wasn’t ready to go home. I hadn’t fulfilled my commitment.

Peace Corps then gave me two more choices, I could either go back and say goodbye and pack my things or another volunteer could go pack it up for me and Peace Corps would move it. It took me a few days to decide what to do. I was feeling so upset and angry about having to leave so suddenly. I was overwhelming myself with anticipation about what people in my community might think and say. I didn’t want to face it. But I needed to. I needed to say goodbye to them myself. I needed to thank them for everything they’ve done for me–even though I don’t think I could thank them nearly enough.

So on November 5th, only two days after my community was notified I was leaving, I flew to the south with the Peace Corps safety and security officer and packed up my one bedroom house. With the help of my co-workers, my whole house was packed in less than an hour and a half. After loading all my things into the Peace Corps van, we headed to lunch.

My Nayoke called together my community for a send off lunch. Many of my co-workers and friends were there. Some were not. There were many that I wish were there but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t possible. I was handed the microphone so I could say thank you. I imagined that when this time came, I would have prepared something really nice to say, but it ended up being short, choppy Thai sentences expressing my thanks for them sharing their lives and community with me. Thanking them for showing me what it’s like to live in Thailand. Thanking them for giving me an experience of a lifetime. It was full of tears. It was joyous. It was overwhelming. It was loving. It was emotional. It was beautiful.

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And while it was so hard to say goodbye, it wasn’t and still isn’t the end of the world. I really think this quote sums it up:New Beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. Lao Tzu

I’m saying hello to new and different opportunities that maybe I wouldn’t have had the chance to participate in if I were still in Phatthalung. I helped out with a friends Leadership Camp in Khon Kaen, went to Camp GLOW/BROS in Nakhon Nayoke, and co-facilitated a Get to Know Uncle Sam, US Embassy camp for college students in Chiang Mai.  

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

Camp GLOW/BROS

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

US Embassy Camp

On top of that, I’m now living in Central Thailand which is a new adventure. I’m back living with my family, which feels like real family most days. We disagree, we laugh, we cry, we hug.

 

Culture in central Thailand is different, there are a ton of festivals and temples. The food is different..so different that sometimes my Aunt Meow (who is from the South of Thailand) makes me southern curry! The pace of life here is slower, even the language is spoken slower. I’m living back in the country. The weather is cooler and less humid. The mosquitoes are OUT OF CONTROL when the sun goes down…so I have to hide under my net from about 6:30pm on. I’m getting to know my family better. I’m meeting new people, with fascinating stories.

It’s a little easier to begin this new journey because my language is better than it was 2 years ago, but it’s still challenging. I’m in a very different spot from my fellow 126ers. They’re all winding down, finding ways to say their goodbyes and pass on responsibilities. Meanwhile I’m building new relationships, creating a new schedule, and trying to stay motivated for the next 3 months. Thankfully, motivation comes easiest when I’m working with the youth. It’s then that I remember why I signed up for the Peace Corps in the first place. It’s then that I remember why I chose to stay to finish out the last few months of my service.

My first day here was Loi Krathong. It was a perfect day to start. I spent it at school making wreaths with the children. We made 200 of them to sell at the temple later that evening. The wreaths are made from many different local resources such as bread, banana trees, leaves, flowers, etc.

As we pinned the leaves and flowers together, the children sat quietly whilst the teachers engaged in conversation. Thai children are generally shy when meeting someone new for the first time…but as time went on, the children began to ask more and more questions–Where are you from? What’s Southern Thailand like? Do we have a funny accent? Do you miss home? What’s the weather like there? How many siblings do you have?

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Later that evening, I arrived at the temple with my family and within minutes was whisked away by five children from school. They grabbed me by the arm and brought me around the temple to look at the different booths, stages, food, and finally to pay respects to Buddha. Like I had never been to a temple before, they taught me all the important things about paying respects to Buddha.

Inside the temple, there is a cup full of sticks. The object is to get one of the sticks to fall out of the cup. On that stick there is a number and that number corresponds with a fortune. It took one of the children less than 30 seconds to get one out. Me on the other hand it felt like 30 minutes. At one point almost all the sticks fell out and I had to bring it back in. We all laughed and the children patiently waited until I got one to fall out. They quickly ran to get me my fortune and read it to me. After that we were on our way back out to help sell the wreaths we made earlier that day.

We continued to laugh and chit chat. That’s when I knew I’ll be just fine!

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One big happy family!

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