Friday, December 30, 2011

It's done!

It's done! Well..kind of..most of it at least.
This past Monday was a good milestone for me as it marked the day in which I wrote the final sentence for the book I have been working on over the past ten or eleven months. If you are unaware of exactly what I am talking about you can check out my blog from October 20, 2011 or by following this link http://www.tommybfa.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html (I hope the link works).
While I have officially finished the writing I recognize the work is far from over. The next weeks and months will include editing and finalizing all the fine details. I feel blessed to have a few different people looking over my writings and offering their insight and expertise. My goal still remains to have everything finished by March 5, which is the official start of our BFA soccer season. For my own sanity I wish to have the book completely finished so I can devote my efforts toward soccer. I would hate to feel torn and be giving either of those less than my best. Therefore the next two months will be spent re-reading and re-writing what I have already done.
However, for now, it is time to celebrate. I have not touched anything pertaining to the project since Monday, and will keep it put away for another 24 hours or so. Over the weekend I plan on pulling the chapters out and getting back to work. But for now...it is done, and I am really enjoying that feeling.

Thank you for all of your encouragement and help along the way.
Lastly, I have still yet to settle on a title so if you are feeling creative I would love to entertain different ideas.

Tommy

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Welcome Back

I apologize for not putting up a post last week. Thursday was the last day of the semester and things were a bit hectic in closing out the semester and getting ready for break. Starting Saturday night I began my 29 hour journey back to the States where I currently am. It is great to be here and to be with family. I left rain and cold and arrived in beautiful warm sunshine. Not a bad trade off!
As I was traveling home I was trying to come up with a creative blog topic. I had the idea of making my own version of "The 12 days of Christmas" but I couldn't think of a general topic where I could list 12 different things. However after letting that idea roll around in my head a little bit I began observing some of the things I was doing. I found myself acting as if I were in Germany - when in fact I was no where near Germany. Perhaps it is a bit of culture shock, maybe a bit of jetlag, or most likely stupidity. I like to think it is a bit of all three. Regardless, I hope you enjoy reading some of the things I have done that have helped me realize I am no longer in Germany. I apologize if some do not make complete sense, but hopefully you get the idea.
1. While walking down the street I greeted someone by saying, "Guten Morgen"
2. After drinking a bottle of water I searched the bottle for a Pfand (refund for recycling) and after not finding one, looked around the kitchen for the Gelbe Sac (recycling bin). I didn't find one of those either.
3. While at the grocery store after letting the cashier scan everything I quickly bagged everything up. After getting a surprised "thank you" from the cashier I later asked my dad, "do they bag your groceries for you here?"
4. While searching for items in the grocery store I found myself muttering, "Wo ist..." (Where is...)
5. While at a restaurant I made a special effort to point to the menu as I was ordering, a habit of mine in Germany. In case the waiter cannot understand what I am trying to say I point to the menu to ensure I order what I want.
6. At the restaurant I drank sparingly forgetting there were free refills.
7. While on the road I got frightened by the fact a Mini Cooper no longer looks to be the normal size of cars on the road, but is in fact mini.
8. Accustomed to driving stick-shift, I won't even mention what happened as I stepped behind the wheel of an automatic.
9. Prior to driving I was wearing flip-flops and went back to my room to change, only to realize Americans don't have a law about that. (In Germany it is a law you have shoes/sandals with back straps on while driving)
10. In the grocery store the man in front of me was purchasing alcohol and got carded. I was taken back as he clearly seemed to be over 16 and could obviously see over the counter. So why the need to see an ID?
11. There is basketball, football and hockey on TV, but no soccer.
12. I got to take a long shower. (Water is really expensive in Germany so most people shower extremely quick)


So, there you have it 12 ways I realized I was no longer in Germany. I hope you all have a Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

One thing I have learned

Throughout the year I have had a continual learning curve. Every time I feel as though I have my job figured out something new pops up and I am reminded of how little I really know. Just today I was in a situation and somebody asked me a question and all I could do was look straight back at him and honestly say, "This is the first time I have ever done this and I have no idea what to do or what to expect." Every day there is something to learn. Thankfully there are things I have previously learned that can be applied to my role as a guidance counselor, and I honestly believe it is something that every person could and should learn: people want to be listened to.
We walk around with a lot on our minds. There are a lot of things that can make a heart heavy, or full of joy. Often we fail to learn about these things in other people simply because we fail to take the time to listen. Listening is not hearing the words coming out of someone's mouth and instantly queuing up your next thought - all the while ignoring everything else the person is saying. Listening is intently and carefully listening to what is being said. But it can go further than that. Not only is it hearing the words that are spoken, it is listening to the way in which they are spoken. Listening takes time. It takes focus and effort. It takes patience.

I feel blessed because in my role I have the opportunity to sit and listen to people. I have always told my students, co-workers and friends my door is open and they are welcome to come in and talk about whatever, whenever. I truly feel blessed when people come in and feel comfortable sharing things. And it is not always "big deep secrets" we need to share. Sometimes we have successes we want to share. We have an experience we want others to know about, or awkward situations that are simply too funny to keep quiet about. People want to be listened to.
I have one student in particular who comes in fairly regularly. Often when he comes in I can see the frustration in his demeanor. Something has happened and he needs to let it all out. So he sits and talks, while I listen. Sometimes you have to ask specific questions to get specific answers, but there is always something inside that desperately wants to be heard. When he leaves he will often say, "Thanks Tommy" and walk out. I always find that a bit odd, because more often than not I'm just sitting there. But I listen and that's what he needs and that is what he wants.

I want to encourage you to make the time to truly listen to someone. Be willing to be patient, quiet, and listen. It sounds so simple because we hear so much noise all around us. We hear the radio, we hear the TV, we hear the phone ringing and the people talking. But who are we really listening to?

I found the following thought online from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and thought it would be applicable to close with...

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas Banquet

It is crazy to think that Christmas Banquet has already come and gone. This year continues to fly by. I am not entirely sure why but this semester seems to be going at a faster rate than any previous. The students leave two weeks from tomorrow to go home for Christmas break. Crazy how fast it has gone by!
For some the countdown to break has been going on for quite a while, for everyone else it seems as though Christmas Banquet begins the time at which you can start counting down to break. So, with Christmas Banquet happening this past weekend it is officially time to start the countdown.
Christmas Banquet is a great evening put on by Student Council. The guys have the opportunity to ask a girl to banquet (which is often done in a very elaborate way). The whole night is a very formal evening. Guys in ties, jackets, dress shoes, and most of them wearing dress socks. Of course it wouldn't be a formal high school function without those few guys who forget to wear dress socks, or they forget to wear socks all together. The girls get all dolled up in their dresses, with their hair done in fancy and creative ways.


After the students arrive they sit down for a wonderful dinner. Throughout the dinner there are several performances by students, as well MCs leading a program. This is the second year where we have had ballroom dancing as a part of the program. After dinner the students had the option to go to the gym and learn how to waltz. I was simply a spectator, and absolutely loved my position in the peanut gallery.




Also interspersed throughout the evening are what we call, "granting of Christmas wishes." About six weeks ago students had the opportunity to write down their own "Christmas wish." The members of student council collected all the wishes and decided which ones they would 'grant.' Throughout the night different students would get called to the stage and be presented with their wish. Some wishes included; having hot chocolate served to the student body one day, allowing everyone to wear their pajamas to school, having a teacher sing a song during Christmas Banquet, etc.

To my surprise I got to be a part of a Christmas wish this year. One of the seniors at Sonne made the wish that CB and I (we are both former RAs from Sonne) would come up to the dorm and be subs next semester. It was exciting to be a part of that wish and to see those guys excited knowing we would come back to the dorm for a weekend.


This year's Christmas Banquet was exceptionally well done. Everything from the food to the decorations and performances was phenomenal. I have heard nothing but positive things from staff and students. Now that it is behind us the students have only one thing on their mind, Christmas Break.


I know this is kind of unfortunate but I couldn't help but take this picture and post it as the stereotypical group of guys watching everyone else dance. It was too perfect.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Here for a reason









I apologize that I did not have the opportunity to post last week. I was out of the country all week for a conference and while away did not have internet access. So after a week of not posting, I am at it again...

"You are here for a reason." Those are the words my pastor spoke as he looked at the four high school students who were about to be baptized. As he spoke those words to the students I could not help but feel as though they held more than one meaning. Our pastor was encouraging them and reminding them of the reason for their existence and their importance to God. He was celebrating with them as they were publicly declaring their faith for all to see.
Without intending to, I felt as though he was speaking to me and reminding me that I am here (in Germany) for a reason. One of the main reasons for me being here is to help the high school students I interact with grow closer in their personal relationship with Jesus.
On November 13 there were four students who were baptized. As part of the way baptisms are conducted here, the individual being baptized has the opportunity to ask a few family/friends/mentors to stand with them on stage, and pray over them. When David decided he wanted to be baptized, I was blown away and honored as he asked me to be a part of his baptism. It truly was one of the greatest moments of my time here at BFA. It was something I will always cherish and something I will never forget.

David, a senior this year, is a phenomenal young man of; faith, integrity, joy, compassion, and character. He grew up on the field in China, but shortly after starting junior-high he lost his father. The tragic loss of his father created a sadness within his heart he did not understand nor could he figure out how to fill. Unbeknown to his mother David turned to alcohol thinking this would fill the void. However the empty bottle was no match for an empty heart. Something inside of him knew he had to change, and he knew he wanted to change. But in order for that to happen he needed a change of scenery.
So David came to Germany in his Sophomore year, and he landed on my hall. He needed a change of scenery. A new school. New friends. A new David. At first he was quiet, reserved, and hesitant. I could tell there was a lot going on inside of him, he was just hiding it. Over time he slowly started to open up and slowly started to break. It took close to 18 months, but I still remember the day he told me his story. He didn't leave out any details. He talked of the pain, talked of his decisions, and where he was now headed with his life, and the role he wanted God to play in his life. He had changed.
Now if I were to describe David as quiet, reserved and hesitant, everyone would laugh. He is lively. Full of energy, laughter, constantly smiling. He has a huge smile, but also has a goofy little grin that is, well, it is absolutely precious and adorable.
Last year David was needing a little education about the NFL. So I took it upon myself to educate him. He wanted to know a good player to follow and to be a fan of. I chose Clay Matthews. Numerous times we would sit down and watch highlights of Clay destroying the opposition. This turned into a "trademark hug" between David and me. If you have ever seen Clay Matthews get a sack, you may have noticed him flexing his biceps afterward. Whenever I see David, I raise my arms and flex my biceps (which are almost as big as Clay's), as does David, sometimes we'll each do a little grunt and then I give him a big hug.
Last year David began dating a girl here. I know her sister, so the sister sent me an email wanting to get information about "this David guy" wanting to know whether or not he was a quality guy for her sister to date. I responded and simply said, "If there is one guy at the school you want your sister to date, it is David. He is such a quality man that will do nothing but treat her well." I fully believe and meant what I said. David is such an incredible guy.
I consider myself to be a better person because I have had the opportunity to rub shoulders with him. His compassion has touched my heart. The comfort he received during his loss has enabled him to pour out comfort on those when they are dealing with loss, myself among the privileged. He walks into a room and you cannot help but smiling and feel a breeze of joy come in with him.
David, thank you for letting me a part of this journey with you. Thank you for what you have taught me. I am proud of you for the proclamation you made. I am grateful to have been there to stand with you and pray over you.
You're a stud. Don't you ever forget that!

Friday, November 11, 2011

College Fair

With a big sigh of relief I can report that our College Fair has come and gone.
This past Wednesday we held a College Fair on our campus with the hope of exposing our students to various post-secondary education opportunities, as well as giving those institutions a chance to meet our students. Throughout the entire day everything seemed to be clicking just right, and everyone involved had a really positive experience.
Over the past two months the College Fair has been a project of mine that I was slowly chipping away at. In the past there has been an organization that contacts interested Colleges and plans a European trip for them. However, shortly after the school year started we were informed the organization had canceled the trip. Our guidance department was left with two options; cancel our college fair, or do what we could and organize it on our own. We chose the latter, which proved to be a lot of work, but well worth it.
One of my primary roles was to contact the colleges/universities and be the liaison that connected them to our school. Daily I was sending out emails to any and every college admission representative I could find hoping they would visit our campus. This past Wednesday we had seven different individuals representing schools, which may not seem like a whole lot to some, yet considering we are located in Europe and to visit would require a Trans-Atlantic flight, we were ecstatic about this number.
Knowing our real college representatives would be smaller than ideal we tapped into the community and offered staff and parents the opportunity to represent their Alma Mater. With these two groups of individuals we had over 30 different schools represented!
After determining the schools that would be represented, we then had to supply them with literature and other materials to display to the students. Thus, more emails and communication with the schools. By the time Wednesday rolled around my office looked like Santa's workshop, as I had boxes all over the place, filled with brochures, T-shirts, pennants, pens, and other college memorabilia.

On the actual day of the fair we had a slightly different schedule than normal. For the first two and a half hours of the day, the students attending different grade appropriate seminars that would help prepare them for college. The seminar speakers ranged from those within our community, as well as the college admission representatives. I had the privilege of speaking to the Freshmen class as well as the Sophomore class. I spoke on the topic, "How to prepare for college while in high school." Considering I started preparing my 40 minute presentation at 10.30pm the night before, I would say it went extremely well. Of course I did a little research and found some GREAT jokes to tell the students. My first session was with half the Sophomore class and apparently it was too early for humor. The next session was for the Freshmen, and they laughed, and laughed at my jokes. My final session was with the other half of Sophomores, and they proved to be a rough audience as well. Oh well. At least I was laughing.
In the afternoon the students had abbreviated classes, but at one point in the day each student came to the gym where the "fair" was being held. We had over 20 tables set up for the schools represented and students walked from table to table gathering information and asking questions. It was great for our students to be exposed to the different schools and to hear about the differences between them. As many of our students do not live in the States, this may prove to be the best way for them to have a "campus visit."

Above all I was thrilled to see the way in which the guidance department took on different responsibilities to make the day go as smoothly as it did. The following day my supervisor said, "I knew I only had to worry about my thing, and not the whole thing." We each had different tasks and roles, and we all came together to put on a terrific fair for the students.
Throughout the fair, a few times I found myself stepping back and looking at all the work of the past two months. I couldn't help but smile and be proud of what we had put together.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

A full week

There seem to be some weeks where I come to my computer on Thursday evening and I say, "what should I blog about?" Then there are other days where I come to my computer and I say, "of the multiple events from this past week, which do I want to blog about?" Tonight would definitely be the latter of the two. This past week we had two major events; on Monday our entire student body invaded the city of Basel for the annual fair, "Herbtsmesse" and then on Tuesday we had our third annual 3on3 basketball tournament.
Herbstemesse:
Every fall the Swiss city of Basel puts on a fair (Herbst translates to fall/autumn and messe translates to fair/party.) It isn't quite the size of a state fair, but is larger than your local town fair. Every year our school takes the entire student body down for Herbstemesse and we walk around the city enjoying the rides, food, and atmosphere.
This year as we turned the corner entering Herbstemesse we found a ride called "maximum." A few brave students bought a ticket and immediately hopped on. I was walking with students and we too stopped, and stared. The ride looked insane. Two guys I was with started trying to convince others to go with them. For some unknown reason I gave in and decided to go on with them. So after a few minutes four of us got strapped in and went on one crazy ride! The ride lasted for five minutes, but it felt like thirty. I am glad I went on the ride with the students, but am fairly certain I will pass next year. I came off with shaky hands, light-headed, and an uneasy stomach.
Clearly the best part of the night is when our school takes over the bumper cars. Close to 300 people meet at the bumper cars at 7.30 and for the next hour it is chaos. As I stood on the outside watching I thoroughly enjoyed the community. Looking around everyone was smiling, laughing, having fun and enjoying being together. Teachers were riding with students, dorm parents were crashing into students, coaches were bumping into anyone and everyone. I cannot fully explain it, but it was a magical time.





At the beginning of the year I was delegated the task of organizing and running this year's 3on3 tournament. Always up for an adventure I took on the task. About two weeks ago I started working on the tournament daily; setting up the rules, contacting adults to be refs, getting team rosters out, and collecting them, setting up the bracket, etc. Thankfully all went smooth and there were no major setbacks on Tuesday.
The tournament was specifically planned for the day after Herbstmesse, because it is a German national holiday. Therefore we did not have school. It was a little strange going to school on Monday, and then having Tuesday off. Monday night felt like a Friday night, and now... I just don't even know what day of the week it is. I guess that is part of the journey of being an international school.
Even though I was in charge, I was still able to put together a team. For the third year in a row I was a part of team, "Zimties." We made it to the semi-finals before finally losing and being eliminated. We eventually took 3rd place.
Overall we had 12 teams sign up with close to 50 people playing. Adults were allowed to play, so it was once again another unique opportunity for staff and students to come together and have fun. That is definitely something I have continually enjoyed being a part of here at BFA. While we will inevitably have our differences, we are a big community working together.





Needless to say after a long day on Monday, and a full day of basketball on Tuesday, I was a little tired.

Thanks for checking in on the blog. Next week I will post about the College Fair we are having on November 9.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Book

For those who read my blog last week, you might remember I gave an advertisement for today's blog. If you don't remember or didn't read last week's blog, go back and read my blog from last week!
Over the past ten months or so I have been working on a project. It has been quite challenging, enjoyable, discouraging, encouraging, insightful, and more all rolled into one. Since late January I have been trying to write a book and I hope to finish the initial writing stage in the next month and a half.
I have always enjoyed writing. In college I much rather preferred a paper to a test. Gathering the materials, doing the research and compiling it into a paper excited me. Additionally writing provides me a way to get out my emotions, and to organize my thoughts. As odd as it may sound writing is a way in which for me to express myself artistically. Put a paintbrush in my hand and I will struggle to make something that comes close to resembling a stick-figure. Give me a piece of paper and pen, and I feel as though I can paint my emotions using words. If you were to look through my room you would find numerous journals, all with their unique purpose, yet all containing my writing. At any given time I am writing in three or four different journals. Some, more often than others.
Throughout college I began getting the urge to write a book. I thought it would be a great challenge and something I would really enjoy. With my love of studying history I always envisioned I would write about a historical event/figure (I've always wanted to write about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor). After spending a few years in Germany I had a few people encouraging me to entertain the idea of writing a book about my journey here in Germany. The thought was exciting and I felt as though I would have plenty of material to go off of. However I felt as though one of the biggest requirements for writing a book was time. Something I had very little of. Therefore in my mind I kept saying to myself, "When I leave Germany I will have more time and at that point will sit down to write a book." I was excited writing a book was still in my vision, yet relieved I could push it off for a little bit.
Right before Christmas break last year (December 2010) I received a Christmas card from a former student. In previous conversations I had expressed my interest in writing, and she had always encouraged me to do so. Yet within those conversations I talked of how I felt time was an issue and later would be a more opportune time. Within her Christmas card she wrote to me, "You should write now. You will never be less busy. If you always think you will have more time somewhere down the line, you won't. Do it now or you never will." I really took those words to heart, and I decided to act on my desire to write.

With that as a long introduction, what is the book actually about?
The book is going to be a devotional based off of running a marathon. While there is a huge running emphasis, it is my hope the book will appeal to runners and non-runners alike.
It is my belief that running is such a phenomenal parallel to life. Many of the things you learn and experience while running (especially a marathon) easily parallel/translate to life.
So the basis of the book is a marathon, 26.2 miles long. Therefore the book is going to be 26.2 chapters long. Each chapter represents one mile in the race. I have chosen 26 words that I think accurately describe a specific mile of the race. For each mile I talk with a "running hat" talking about what that mile will look like, what to expect, how to train for it, etc. I take the "word of the chapter" and talk about how it applies to running. But I also talk about how that word translates from running into life. For each chapter I have chosen a biblical character who epitomizes that particular word/emotion. Using the biblical account of their life I show an individual who has lived out that word/emotion and I talk about how we can be encouraged and challenged to practically implement that word/emotion/characteristic into our own lives.
Words for my miles include; courage, discipline, patience, trust, pain, loneliness, worship, freedom.

As I mentioned above, I am hoping to have everything written by Christmas. I currently have 19 chapters completely written, so only a few more to go! After Christmas I hope to spend a few months editing the chapters, with the goal of having everything finished by March. The BFA soccer season starts March 5, so I am hoping to have everything finished and published by the start of soccer season.

Prior to this post there were a small handful of people who knew about the endeavor I am undertaking.
So why put a blog about it?
- I would appreciate your prayer as I continue to move forward. You obviously cannot pray for this project if you are unaware it is happening! I am unaware of how many eyes will actually read the book, but I am praying what is written will prove encouraging and beneficial to those who do read.
- Making a "public announcement" and openly talking about it now, adds some accountability. I have stated what I hope to do, and the time in which I hope to do it. I have personally had the goals for a while but now I invite you to share them with me, and keep me accountable to them. Feel free to check in on my progress, send encouragement, or send a slap in the back of the head if I am slacking.
- Recently as the depth of my schedule has increased my energy to write has decreased. I am hoping this will help jumpstart me again and give me the energy to write the final chapters.

When sharing my idea with those who have already heard about this project,, I have been asked a few of the same questions repeatedly; how are you publishing the book? Will you make money off the book? How many pages will the book be? What is the book going to be called?
1. I have a friend who might be able to give a manuscript to an editor at a publishing company. While that would be phenomenal, I am not holding my breath over it. My current plan is to self-publish via an online company.
2. Since I am self-publishing there is a cost for me to do so. Honestly, my goal is to have a minimal cost, or to simply break even. If I can break even I will be delighted, my ultimate goal in this has nothing to do with finances.
3. My original thought was to write 100-125 pages. I felt this was a respectable amount, and a good goal, especially for someone who has never attempted such a project before. After finishing the 18th chapter I have somewhere around 150 pages written, with seven more chapters to write! Knowing I will definitely edit a number of pages out, I think my sights are now between 150-200 pages.
4. I don't have any idea what the title will be. If you have any suggestions please feel free to share them. I would love for you to offer suggestions and to be involved with it.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to let me know. I would love to dialogue with you more about it if you want.
Thank you for your interest, and thank you for your prayers.

Tommy

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Why I do what I do

The other day I sat down to type a few more pages in a book I am in the process of writing. After letting what I wrote sit for a few days, I went back to it and felt as though it would make for a great blog.
If you read the first sentence of this blog and said, "Wait. What? He's doing what?" Check my blog out next week and I will post more about that project.
For now, I hope you enjoy, and I hope you are encouraged.

As I’ve mentioned I recently had an opportunity to take a trip with the junior class. It was an incredible trip. However throughout the journey I did not get much sleep – I failed to get comfortable on the bus and similarly did not find a cold tile floor to bring any more comfort. One night while trying to fall asleep I was reviewing the day I had just gone through. The highs, the lows, the positives, the frustrations. As I was thinking about the day I was struck by who I had spent time with. It was a bit weird looking back because I knew that while the day was going on there was no question or no hesitation on my part. I hung out with certain students and it felt natural, it felt like an easy decision. As I lay on the cold tile floor I began chuckling to myself and whispered, “Mom, I blame you.” Now I really do not blame her in a negative way – but I realize she was extremely influential in raising me in such a way that my eyes are continually open to those students who need a friend, who need someone to come alongside them, who do not easily fit in, or may seem to get lost in the crowd. I lay there blaming my mom, when in all reality I was realizing how blessed I was to have been raised and encouraged to act in such a way. Thankful for this realization I flipped over hoping a new position would bring with it some needed rest. The other side of the pillow might be cool, but the other side of a hard tile floor, is still a hard tile floor.
Still unable to fall asleep I asked myself two questions, “Why am I the way I am?” and “Why do I do what I do?” In pondering these questions I came up with some answers I felt compelled to share.
I realized because of my mom, I see the best in people. I have a heart that wants to love the unlovable. I strive to make others feel as though they are a part of a group, and that they belong – regardless of what their peers may think or say.
I refuse to give in. I refuse to give up. I choose to persevere and keep going. I do this because Whitney has modeled for me what it is to persevere. She has demonstrated an attitude that is unwilling to settle for what others may deem impossible, and make it possible. When others say, “you can’t” she says, “I can, and I will.”
I write notes in hope of being a blessing to others. Receiving a personal hand written note has the power to change an attitude, and take you from a point of frustration to a point of happiness. I know this because after an incredible journey from Maine to Florida I received a note from Croce as we sat in the Jacksonville airport. That note has given me more strength than I can write about, as it has stayed in my wallet since the day I first read it.
I persist in wanting to truly know how people are doing, growing unsatisfied with surface level answers that do not honestly answer the question, “how are you doing?” Why do I do this? Jack. For an entire soccer season he refused my initial response to ‘how are you feeling?’ until I took off the mask I was hiding behind, and let my superman cape fall to the ground. He persisted with me – and now I do the same with others.
I grow facial hair now, because for four straight years I received ridicule from Ross because I couldn’t. Of course, it didn’t help he could daily produce a furry rug of hair – on his face, chest and back.
I seek adventure, and feel the strength to stand up for what I believe in knowing I have a brother who will always have my back regardless of where I go, or what I do.
I no longer dread saying good-bye as I once did, after seeing my friendship with Free be maintained and even strengthened, despite great distances and even greater time between being in the presence of one another.
I have chosen to make cinnamon rolls for a dorm, after waking up on many Saturday mornings after a sleepover, with the scent of bubble bread spreading throughout the house. With each bite my taste buds were awakened, causing them to dance and rejoice over the cinnamon goodness.
I have come to realize and enjoy going super deep in conversations as a result of rubbing shoulders with AJ. At the same time coming to an understanding that it is okay to go deep, especially when you have huge muscles.
I laugh and use my humor to enrich and liven situations after watching my dad use humor when skies were gray and smiles were hard to come by. Wisdom, strength, and laughter infiltrate my actions resulting from being his son.
When I play soccer I think back to playing with Bear, and the white hot rage – knowing that it is simply the only way to play.
I enjoy studying the Scriptures after having conversations with Manny and seeing the direct and powerful impact it has had on his daily life, and everyone with whom he interacts.
I enjoy meeting new people after having a random freshmen roommate who turned into a life long friend. The start of a friendship can prove to be extremely entertaining and full of adventure if your friend suddenly has a violent reaction to poison ivy within the first month of living together.
Now, the season of Fall is upon us and nothing signals Fall to me more than a soft snicker-doodle washed down by a hot glass of apple cider. This combination will always bring a smile as I remember the miles my grandparents traveled every fall in order to watch me play soccer. Along with great conversation and fellowship they brought a jug of apple cider and a coffee tin full of snicker-doodles. I plan on making these treats for some students with the hope they will be filled with love and joy – in the same way my grandparents filled me.

As I lay on the cold tile floor I got a better understanding of why I do what I do, and why I am the way I am. So many of the things I do are a direct result of what you have done in my life. The way in which Christ has shaped you and changed you, has changed me. When Christ pours out of your life, He pours into my life. For the things mentioned, both serious and entertaining, I thank you.
I stand where I am today looking back at different chapters of my life. For those who I have been with in previous chapters, your influence is just now being made evident. I am still writing the BFA chapter. I know for certain in a few years from now I will look back at those individuals with whom I am currently rubbing shoulders with, and be thankful for the way in which you have poured into my life and changed me.
Thank you.
On behalf of my friends who receive notes because of what you have written to me, thank you. For those who will roll their eyes at my jokes, and enjoy a fresh batch of snicker-doodles, thank you. You have helped shape me, mold me, and change me. I plan on passing on what you have taught to those around me.
Thank you.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Extra extra read all about it...


Normally I blog every Thursday but I figured this was worthy of a random post. I wanted to tell you about what I saw when I walked into my office this morning.
Yesterday (Sunday) afternoon a few of my colleagues and a few of the guys from Sonne worked their way into my office and decided to leave me a little birthday present. Rather than giving me one or two random things to unwrap - they decided it would be great if I had to unwrap MY ENTIRE OFFICE. As you can see in the pictures everything, and I mean absolutely everything was wrapped in newspaper. My computer mouse? Covered, including the wire. My keyboard? smothered. My clocks? Wrapped with fun messages written on the newspaper. My Green Bay Packers football I throw around in my office? Wrapped. My chairs, my fan, my bookcase, all wrapped in newspaper. They even took newspaper and put it on the inside of my pictures! Apparently a few were worried I would get upset they covered up my pictures, but I actually found that to be one of the more entertaining things they did. I ended up leaving the newspaper in the picture frames all day. They went all out - including wrapping the door stop.
It was an extremely entertaining morning and I enjoyed having different co-workers come into my office at the start of the day wondering what had happened. It was also extremely entertaining waiting and watching the different students slowly approach my door throughout the day. Unaware of how I was going to react they were a bit hesitant. During the first period I knew one of the guys had a study hall, so I went to his study hall room and upon seeing him burst into laughter, gave him a big hug, and was smiling from ear to ear. He came back to my office and we hung out for a bit...until the smell of newspaper started to give me a headache, so we cleaned it up.
Scattered around the room were random notes written on the newspaper wishing me a happy birthday. My favorite was a note written on my "keyboard" saying, "we love you Tommy." By the handwriting I knew who it was - and very much appreciated it. It was definitely an entertaining start to the week, and something I truly enjoyed.
To those who helped...well done. I loved it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Normandy Trip



As mentioned in last week's post over the weekend I traveled with our Junior class on their field trip to Normandy, France. Simply put, it was phenomenal. Everything went smoothly, everything went according to plan, the weather was unbelievable and the students had a great time. There is a lot I could say about the trip but I will try to choose a few different aspects that in my opinion highlight the trip.
- The Experience -
We stayed at a campground that was literally less than a five minute walk to Utah Beach, one of the five beaches invaded on June 6, 1944. So when I say we were "right there" I literally mean we were right where everything happened. On Saturday morning I woke up at 6.30 to walk to the beach to see the sunrise (well, technically I woke up around 4.30 but that is a different story). It was refreshing and enjoyable to be on the beach watching the sunrise, yet it was an unreal experience to be on the beach knowing I was standing right where the invasion of Europe took place. There were still a few pieces of the Atlantic Wall still standing - so I walked around those while the sun was rising. The Allies landed at first light - the time at which I was walking on the beach.
In addition to Utah, we were able to visit Juno Beach (a beach invaded by troops primarily from Canada) as well as Omaha Beach. With every beach we visited we took time to be silent and reflect on where we were and what happened there a little over 65 years ago.

- The Education -
One of the main purposes of the trip was educationally based. The students were filling out a packet that led them through each stop, and informed them of the significance of where we were. We had the honor of visiting a Canadian cemetery, a German cemetery and the American cemetery. We also visited museums at Utah and Omaha beach, as well as museums dedicated to the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. There were a lot of artifacts within the museums that were great to witness. Within one of the museums we were able to walk through a glider that was used to drop the paratroopers, and at several sites we toured German bunkers.

- The Bonding -
After traveling a decent distance, going on little sleep (I got 16 hours of sleep in 4 days), and being very busy you are probably going to walk away having one of two reactions; extremely disliking those you are with, or bonding with them. Thankfully the class chose the latter. Plain and simple the students had fun together. They were rowdy on the bus, laughing, singing, talking, and having a good time. They were hanging out sharing stories, and helping each other whenever possible.
One of the unique ways we were able to bond was a direct result of the amazing weather we had. The first night we were there, some students asked if it would be possible to sleep outside under the stars. After a few sponsors agreed to be outside with the students (including yours truly) we allowed a group of about 25 brave individuals to sleep outside. Nobody thought to bring a tent, so they threw their sleeping bags down on the grass and went to sleep. That night/morning I woke up around 4.30 because I was absolutely freezing. I had brought layers for my upper body, but did not really bring much for my legs. Additionally, I was not planning on sleeping outside so I brought the smallest/lightest sleeping bag I have. After trying to get warm for an hour or so, around 5.30 I found a few other guys and plopped down in between them, thinking I could use them to help protect me from the wind, and create a little more body heat. I awoke one of the guys who wasn't too happy with me, but later in the day he told me it was simply because he had no idea who I was as he didn't have his glasses on.

- The Friendships -
As I mentioned in my blog prior to going my main objective was to get to know the students better and spend time with them. Through the bus rides, the free time, the museums and everything else I definitely feel as though I accomplished this goal. Each adult had a "sponsor group" of about 10 students. Any time we traveled somewhere the students were responsible for checking in with their sponsor group. It was a quick and easy way to ensure we had all 67 students. The night we left my group decided they wanted a group name, and they came up with the name, Shakira. Additionally we decided every time they checked in they would have to perform some kind of act. At first they had to kiss "my lucky egg" aka a boiled egg I grabbed from our breakfast. After that, they had to touch "my lucky hat." Stupid? Yes. Silly? Of course. Memorable? Absolutely. The students had a great time with it.
Another great aspect to the sponsor groups was the way they were set up. Though completely random, it could not have been put together any better. As a guidance counselor my case load is divided up alphabetically - and it just so happened the 10 students in my group, were all within my alphabet range. There were definitely a few I did not know extremely well prior to the trip, but now I feel as though whenever I pass them in the hall we can stop and talk (which has actually happened since being back.)

As you can see overall it was a great trip. There are a lot of entertaining stories to share, but there just isn't space to write them all out. I have attempted to include a slideshow of pictures along with this blog post. I am awful with technology so I am not certain it will work - I hope it does. If you are having trouble viewing some of the pictures please email me and I can send them to you as an attachment.
Thanks for continually checking my blog! I really appreciate it.

Tommy

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Amazing experiences

There are days where I am truly blown away by where I am. Even though I have been here for three full years, it still amazes me. Yesterday I was driving out of a shopping center down by the Rhine river and at the exit it had three separate lanes. Lane one was for those wishing to go to France. Lane two was for those wishing to go to Switzerland. Lane three was for those remaining in Germany. One exit, with three different country options.
However, the amazing experience I wanted to write about has not happened yet, but is one that is moments away. Tomorrow night at 9pm (3pm est) I will board a bus with the entire Junior class (about 68 kids) and a handful of chaperons. We will drive through the night arriving in Carentan, France around 8.00am. From there we will spend the weekend touring the various museums, cemeteries and memorials dedicated to the troops that landed on those beaches over 65 years ago as a part of Operation Overlord. Every year for the past 12 years our school's Junior class has ventured out to Normandy for this amazing historical experience. I was thrilled to be a chaperon on the trip two years ago, and am very excited to be going back again.

Over the past month I have been reading a book by Stephen Ambrose which has proven extremely beneficial in providing me with great historical insight into the invasion and the events surrounding the invasion. Ambrose is the author of the book, "Band of Brothers" which spurred the HBO TV series by the same name. Ambrose also served as the historical authority for the movie, "Saving Private Ryan." As a class, we will watch clips of both Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers throughout the trip. Our campsite is actually within one of the landing zones of the Airborne Division - so it is quite an incredible feeling to watch the clips knowing you are sitting exactly where it happened.

I am extremely excited about this trip for two reasons; history and quality time. I will not deny my love for studying history. I absolutely love learning about history, especially World War II history. As a self-proclaimed history nerd, I am headed toward one of the most historically significant places of the 20th Century. Walking the beaches, seeing the remains of the Atlantic Wall, walking the grass of the cemeteries will be incredible.
As a side note: if you are aware of any World War II veterans who served in Europe and are willing to talk about their experience, I would love to hear their stories.
While I will no doubt enjoy the history, I am also thrilled about the opportunity to spend time with the students. Over the next five days I will be surrounded with students. The long bus trips will be great avenues for conversations, laughter and memories. Walking through the city will provide opportunities to experience the history with the students. I know a good amount of the Juniors, but do not know all of them. There are some guys within the class who I am going to be extremely intentional about getting to know. While I love history, I know experiencing the history comes secondary in order of importance to spending time with the students.

I will post next week with pictures and stories from the trip. It will no doubt be an amazing trip, but also an exhausting trip. We will drive through the night twice sleeping on the bus, and sleep in a makeshift camp site the other two nights.
Lots of history. Lots of students. Lots of memories. Little sleep. Sounds like the recipe for an amazing experience!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

History lesson

Over the weekend I heard this story and I found it quite interesting and wanted to pass it along. Going off of last week's post about Budenfest this is another little cultural moment.
For those who do not know, pretzels are absolutely HUGE over here. It seems wherever you go, you can find them, especially this time of year. Right now out in Munich the Germans are celebrating "Oktoberfest" originally a wedding celebration that has turned into a huge beer festival that attracts over 6 million people in a three week stretch, where over 7 million liters of beer are sold. After reading the history about the pretzel it seems a little odd for the pretzel to be so common at Oktoberfest. But pretzels along with cookies in the shape of a heart are everywhere you look. I am still looking into the history of the cookies. Until I figure it out, enjoy the history of the pretzel:
According to legend, a young monk in the early 600s in Germany was preparing a special Lenten bread of water, flour and salt. To remind his brother monks that Lent was a time of prayer, he rolled the bread dough in strips and then shaped each strip in the form of crossed arms, mimicking the then popular prayer position of folding one’s arms over each other on the chest. The bread was then baked as a soft bread, just like the big soft pretzels one can find today. (To be fair, some traditions date the story to even the 300s.)

Because these breads were shaped into the form of crossed arms, they were called bracellae, the Latin word for "little arms." From this word, the Germans derived the word bretzel which has since mutated to the familiar word pretzel.

Another possibility for the origins of the word pretzel is that the young monk gave these breads to children as a reward when they could recite their prayers. The Latin word pretiola means "little reward," from which pretzel could also be reasonably derived.

Apparently, this simple Lenten food became very popular. Pretzels were enjoyed by all people. They became a symbol of good luck, long life and prosperity. Interestingly, they were also a common food given to the poor and hungry. Not only were pretzels easy to give to someone in need, but also they were both a substantial food to satisfy the hunger and a spiritual reminder of God knowing a person’s needs and answering our prayers.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Budenfest



Each September all those in our village, as well as those in the surrounding villages come together for a non-stop three day festival called, "Budenfest." The fest somewhat loosely translates to "festival of booths" and is essentially an opportunity for local clubs to raise money. The local youth soccer team, wrestling team, accordion club, etc. set up booths in our blumenplatz and for three days they sell food and drinks. I have attended Budenfest the past three years but this year was quite different as it was literally right outside my window.
For two days prior to the actual start our road was blocked off as hundreds of individuals took to the small square to erect their buildings that would soon host hundreds of patrons. There was a lot of hammers pounding which soon became annoying - but at the same time it helped build excitement and anticipation.
The morning Budenfest officially started I had my window wide open and was in a trance as the smells of German grilling flooded my room. There is definitely something sensational about a good old American cook-out with a charcoal grill and burgers, but I think the Germans take it to another level. I didn't know exactly what I was smelling, all I know is that it was amazing.
That night I went out for a bit and walked around and enjoyed the sights and sounds. The different booths were selling a variety of food items. Of course there is traditional wurst. Some were selling pizzas (though quite different than American pizza), others had pretzels, french fries, and even a version of funnel cakes. While I loved being in a big crowd I absolutely loved sitting down and saying to those with me, "This IS Germany." There was absolutely no denying it that we were in the heart of Germany, embracing and enjoying the German culture. It was phenomenal.
Naturally our enjoyment of the night ended around midnight or so - but the Germans kept going. I woke up at 3.00am to loud music still blaring. My first thought was, "why are they still playing music at 3.00am?" My second thought, "of all the music to be playing at 3.00am, why on earth did they choose this song?" German radio is easily one of the most random things you will ever listen to. After multiple years of listening to music on German radio I am still baffled by the songs they choose to play.
Anyway, Budenfest was a cultural event that was a lot of fun to participate in and once again experience. It is easy to quickly be consumed in the "BFA culture" that you lose sight of the German culture so prevalent around you. Through the sights, sounds, and smells Budenfest brought that reality home.






Thursday, September 8, 2011

Listening

As I have settled into my new role I seem to have quite a few people asking me questions. While I don't mind questions, the annoying aspect is that they are pretty much the same two questions over and over again; How is it not being in the dorm? Or, What background/formal training do you have to be a guidance counselor?

The first question has an answer that is not yet fully developed. I am still learning my role and learning all the ins and outs of what it looks like to be living a "civilian life" as a good friend calls it. My cop-out answer so far is along the lines of, "It is bittersweet and very different. Different is different. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, just different." Perhaps in the coming weeks or months I will be able to better answer that question, but for the time being I am satisfied with that.
The second question has a clear cut answer, NONE. I do not have any degrees in counseling, or anything remotely close. I have never been a guidance counselor before. I have never even read the book, "Guidance Counseling for dummies." In fact, I don't know if such a book exists.
I can be honest and say I hate being asked that question. The question drives home fear of feeling inadequate and unprepared. Being asked that question seems to give the devil a foothold to whisper, "you're useless. you can't be productive here. you don't know what you're doing." After being asked I sheepishly smile, avoid eye contact and try to change the subject of conversation.
However as I get more plugged in to work I have realized the thing I do most is something you don't need any training in. It is an easy thing to do, yet so few seem to be able to do it. The task? Listening.
In reading a Chuck Swindoll book the other day I was greatly challenged and encouraged. He had this to say on the topic, "Listening. I don't mean just hearing. Not simply smiling and nodding while somebody's mouth is moving. Not merely staying quiet until it's "your turn" to say something...Check out Christ with the woman at the well (John 4) He could have blown her away with an endless barrage of verbal artillery. He didn't. He genuinely listened when she spoke; He "listened slowly." He read the lines of anxiety on her face and felt the weight of guilt in her heart. As she talked, He peered deeply into the well of her soul. It wasn't long before she found herself completely open, yet not once did she feel forced or needlessly embarrassed. His secret? He listened. He studied every word, each expression. Even the tone of her voice...Two ears. Two eyes. Only one mouth. Maybe that should tell us something."
I have taken these words to heart. In my job I spend a lot of time listening to the students, and I love it. I listen to their dreams, their desires for higher education, their struggles with academics, their funny stories. By now I know how to change a class schedule, look up grades, and inform parents their children are doing poorly in class (never a fun one). But above all as the students continually come into my office I hope to be someone who will genuinely and sincerely listen to them. That is something I don't have a degree in, and I am absolutely fine with that.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

They're back!

Everywhere you look...there they are - and I have absolutely no complaints. The students have made it back to campus as school started up this past week. On Monday campus was flooded with new students and their parents, while the returning students joined them on Tuesday for our opening ceremonies.

Monday proved to be quite a busy and hectic day for me and my fellow guidance counselors. I showed up to work shortly after 8.00 to make sure I had everything in order and was ready for the big day. There were a few random tasks here and there to take care of in the morning, but mainly it was prep time for the afternoon. Starting around 11.30 I had a few students trickle into my office wanting to make changes to their schedule. Before I had the chance to breathe it was 6.30pm and we had finally changed the last schedule of the day! At that point I went home and quickly made dinner, only to return to school an hour later for an "open house" in which parents had the opportunity to walk through their child's schedule and meet the teachers. Naturally a few parents drifted up to our offices and we once again worked on schedules. Finally around 9.30 I walked through the door, home at last. It was a really busy day, but a lot of fun. I got to meet a lot of students, and finally put a face to the schedules I had been working on.

Tuesday we had our traditional opening ceremonies. One of my favorite days of the year. The day begins with the seniors parading into the auditorium, each carrying a flag of a country that is represented by students and families of our school. Following a "charge" to the senior class, residence life staff, and faculty staff, we have the "roll call of nations." One individual calls out all the nations represented by students/families and then the students stand up as their nation is called. This year we have 53 different nations represented. It is moving, inspiring, and encouraging to realize how many different countries are represented, and how many different areas of the world people are working to spread The Good News.

Wednesday and Thursday brought a little normalcy to school as students started to settle in. The guidance department remained busy patching up a few schedules and rearranging a few classes. I had a few students come in this morning with tears in their eyes stating, "I lost my schedule and don't know what class I'm supposed to be in. Can you tell me?" So I quickly printed them a new schedule and pointed them in the right direction. The school is not massive, but it is a good reminder of what a huge step this is for so many students. New country, new dorm, new school, new teachers, new classes.

Throughout the week I have been blessed to have so many of my Sonne guys stop in the office just to hang out. On the first day of school every single senior stopped in at one point or another to sit and talk and catch up. I had to laugh at one of them because it was the first day of classes, and he was already asking me if I could write him a pass because he was late for class. I wrote a note, and got him excused, but don't worry it was legitimate!

It has been extremely hot here this past week - so we have been doing everything possible to stay cool. Sunday-Wednesday it was above (33c) 90+F every day. Thankfully last night a storm blew in and brought with it some cooler temperatures. Of course, it is still in the mid 80s, but it feels nice. German weather is so bizarre.

Hope you enjoy some pictures from the opening ceremonies. I admit, I did not take any of these, I am borrowing them from friends. So thanks to all you who posted them on facebook for me to take!

Tommy




Thursday, August 18, 2011

As mentioned in my previous post I am no longer living in the dorm and am living in an apartment in town. It is definitely a bit different than the dorm but I am learning to enjoy and appreciate the differences. I have continually told people that the transition is, bittersweet. There are things I desperately miss - though I have occasionally found myself saying, "I am glad I don't have to do that anymore."
With the permission of my roommate I figured I would give you a little "tour" of the place. Our Haus is about a 7 minute walk to the school - which is amazing. So every morning I have been enjoying the few minutes, and the brief exercise on my daily commute. I had to laugh the other day, because as I was walking down the main street there were more pedestrians than normal - so I chose an alternate way to avoid the "morning rush." A 7 minute commute is a huge blessing.

This is a picture of the outside of our building. I live on the 3rd floor - so we are at the very top. From this angle you can see our sky-lights. The one that is open, is right above me as I type. I have my computer under this window to get some fresh air while at my computer.



Here you can see half of our kitchen. Our table isn't huge, but it will seat a few students who are looking for a good home-cooked meal during the week.


And this is the other half of the kitchen...(notice the magnet on the fridge!)


We also have a nice living room - a futon that will certainly see a few guests throughout the year and a nice little couch on the opposite side of the room...



I have enjoyed being able to put up pictures throughout the apartment. A lot of the pictures on the walls are pictures I have taken - which is enjoyable for me to have displayed. While the apartment is not huge, it suffices. It is comfortable and enjoyable. We share a bathroom yet have our own bedrooms. There is not a ton of space but we envision having people over often, whether students or coworkers.

This is a picture of my room. You should all be proud - I did NOT clean my room, or make my bed just for the picture. This is what it looks like most of the time! I cannot stand a messy room, so I am pretty meticulous with it. Though not completely visible with this picture, I have A LOT of pictures of friends and family on my walls. It is important for me to display my friends and to be able to visibly remind myself of good memories, and people I truly love.


Lastly, a view from my bedroom window down the street. I felt this would give a good idea of the German streets (small and skinny), as well as my immediate surroundings , and the typical German weather (overcast).


And finally - some may think that two males living in an apartment rely on frozen pizzas, paper plates, and cereal. While I am not quite ready to host my own cooking show - I enjoy cooking and can handle my own in the kitchen. Over the weekend I had some chicken and was pondering what to use to compliment the chicken. After some thought I had an idea, walked to the grocery store and an hour later was pulling my chicken enchiladas out of the oven. I made enough for dinner one night, and lunch the following day. They were very tasty, in fact some would even be bold enough to say they were deee lish.



There is always a place for you to stay if you want to come and visit!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hi-ho Hi-ho it's off to work we go...

The students are not back yet, but there is still plenty of work to be done before they come. The Residence Life staff have been back for close to two weeks and are furiously working to make sure everything is in order. Meanwhile the teaching staff (of which I am now a part of) are busy at school making sure all the I's are dotted and the T's crossed.
While I am preparing for my fourth year here in Germany this year has proven to be very different in that I am in a new role. I have been caught off guard a bit because I am back in a village that is familiar yet at the same time it feels more foreign than it did when I left. I am living in an apartment in the heart of "downtown" Kandern (I will blog about my apartment in a week or two.) and am enjoying the thrills of getting that set up and setting a foundation.
I had a few days here before I went into my new office so each day I took on one task. Though it may seem odd to have only one task on the "to do list" when operating in a foreign country one is enough. One day was all about groceries, one day was banking, one transportation, one for the apartment, etc. Thankfully I was quite successful with my adventures and feel as though I have been productive and taken care of all the odds and ends.
As soon as I felt good with that, it was time to tackle the job. This year I am moving to the academic side of life here, and will be one of three guidance counselors. My role will be varied and will look different every single day. Some days I will be bunkered at my computer emailing parents and fixing student's schedules. Other days I will not touch my computer and will have students coming in looking for help with their applications, recommendation forms, class schedules, etc. This year I might even have the opportunity to enter the classroom every now and then as a "guest speaker" on a variety of topics.
Regardless of what the day holds - I am in that role with the intention of being an advocate/mentor/friend/brother to the students. I am excited to be in the role and feel as though it will be a very good fit. My office is in a great locations, where I can see everyone who walks down the hall. Therefore my door will be wide open and always welcoming to any passerby looking for a conversation, or a small piece of candy.
So far this week I have been doing my best in acclimating to the new and different demands of the job. Each morning I sit down with my supervisor and we talk for an hour or so and discuss certain "issues" I may face on a daily basis. After our conversation he releases me to my office, where I go and work on what we just talked about. So far I have learned how to check graduation requirements, class schedules, and four-year plans. Today I was adjusting schedules and hoping to make them mirror the student's request. I have had fun moving the classes around and have viewed it as a puzzle, or as some may understand; a game of Rummikub. I sit there and say, "Okay if I move Algebra 2 to 4th period I can move Chemistry to 5th, but then need a place to put US History..." It was quite enjoyable, but after doing that for the entire freshmen and sophomore classes, my head was hurting a little bit.
Of course, right now it is not all work, there is a little time for fun and games. I have joined a local soccer team and am training with them a few times a week and hoping to play in the games over the weekend. We are still trying to figure out how to get a German player's card, but hopefully that will come soon. Perhaps a longer blog about this experience will come in the future.

For now, I am going to work on putting together some home-made posters for my office. Right now the walls are ghostly white. It's pathetic. I simply don't have anything to put up. I found a few of my favorite Winston Churchill quotes, as well as some classic strips from the comic, "Calvin and Hobbes." While on my way to soccer tonight I had the thought of putting up a "question of the week" for students to answer. An example might be; "Who was the first person to break the four minute mile?" If you have any good trivia questions, or fun facts for this portion of my wall please email me.
Of course, I am working on getting a big Green Bay Packers flag to hang above my desk. I need to make sure everyone is reminded of who won the Super Bowl last year!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Safe arrival

I am happy to say I have arrived back in Germany in one piece. To be perfectly honest, it was a pretty smooth and harmless journey back. My total travel time was just over 15 hours, but that is not too bad. Thankfully all of my luggage arrived and the lady at the check-in counter did not charge me extra even though my suitcase was over the weight limit by a few pounds!
I have spent close to 5 hours this evening unpacking and moving in to my new apartment. It is taking a lot of work, but it is looking good. I am definitely one of those people that needs to get everything arranged and organized before I feel at peace. However, the Church bells from across the street just chimed, (as they do every hour!) telling me it is midnight here. So I am going to call it a night and head to bed.
Thanks for everything! I will write more next Thursday, if not over the weekend.

Tommy

Friday, July 29, 2011

A few days away

I feel as though I should have a lot to write about - but I honestly don't have too much. Life has been fairly normal and the same since I last posted. I have been spending time with family and friends, hopped on another plane and went to a wedding, and have been getting random tasks taken care of when possible.
Next Wednesday evening I will board a plane for the 9th time in six weeks and head back to Germany. I am arriving a little earlier than I need to, in order to give myself some time to get situated in my new apartment and all that comes along with that.
Upon returning to Germany I plan on blogging once a week again, rather than the every other week routine I adopted over the summer.
Thanks for continuing to keep up with the blog!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer time

It feels good to stop, rest and relax. Since my whirlwind traveling tour that saw me spend over 26 hours in a plane and 24 hours in a car throughout a three week span - I have been able to slow down and catch my breath. I have thoroughly enjoyed being back on the east coast and spending time with my family and friends in the area. The days have been nice to spend time with my family, whether on the golf course, on walks, or playing Wii. I must give a lot of credit to Whitney, as she has absolutely dominated me in Wii bowling throughout the summer. I get competitive and hate to lose, but she is good...and me... well, I'm not very good.
I will spend a little over two more weeks here before I head back to Germany. It is hard to imagine that my summer is almost over - as it seems it just started. But I know I am very excited and anxious to begin a new school year, and a new role.
Having a little more free time has enabled me to dabble with some new hobbies I have picked up. Through a program online I put together a book that includes every one of my blog posts from the time I graduated college, to the most recent BFA graduation. It is pretty special to be able to flip through the pages and see the different posts that were put up, and the pictures that went along with them.
I have also put together a photo album of pictures I took throughout the past three years. While traveling I found it entertaining to take pictures of lampposts in the different countries and cities I was in (I honestly have no idea how I came up with the idea) This book has over 30 pages of pictures from 16 different countries.

If anyone is interested in obtaining a copy I can provide you with the information you need.

I have also put together a DVD that sums up the past school year. The DVD includes a ten minute video about dorm life, a separate video from our mission trip to Moldova, and a third video from the soccer season.
I sent out a few of these in the mail. If you have not received one yet but would like to, please contact me and provide me with your mailing address. I would be more than happy to put one in the mail for you.

Lastly, it has been phenomenal being able to watch the Women's World Cup!! I am crushed I didn't stay in Germany and go to a game - but I have been glued to the TV every time the USA plays. As I'm sure was the case for a lot of people, I was going crazy when Wambach put in the header against Brazil. Such a great game. I hope they do well in the final!

Thanks for checking in, and keeping up with my blog.

Tommy

Friday, July 8, 2011

Happy Birthday




Happy birthday to the greatest sister in the world!
She is absolutely beautiful and provides me with so much love, energy, laughter, and joy.

Happy Birthday! I love you.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Three nights and you're out!

Considering baseball is America's great pastime, I figured I would use a phrase from the sport to name this blog. Though I took the liberty to tweak it slightly to make it a little more fitting for me personally.
I have been traveling a lot lately. It seems as though as soon as I unpack it is time to once again pack up. Within the first twelve days of being back I have spent a night in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Lancaster Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Philadelphia. In just a few short hours I will leave for Seattle.

Thus the reason behind my lack of posting and lack of emailing. I apologize - but hope you understand.
Though traveling can be tiring, it has been phenomenal to reconnect with a lot of family and friends. It has been tremendous catching up face to face and talking.
For those I haven't seen yet... I hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Graduation




As I briefly mentioned last week we held our graduation ceremony this past Friday. There were 6o seniors in total who walked across the stage, diploma in hand, ready to take the next step. It is quite difficult to put into words the significance of graduation here. While in many ways it is similar to any other high school graduation, I believe it is vastly different, and far more significant.



Similar to all other high schools the students needed to pass certain requirements in order to be given a diploma. Homework had to be turned in, tests taken and passed, lockers cleaned out, etc. From the outside perspective things look normal. Students complete their years of high school, exit the door and enter the world. Yet the majority of the 60 graduates did not spend their entire high school career here. In fact, there were five seniors who spent only their senior year with us. When this class were Juniors, they welcomed 20 new students. At least 25 of the 60 graduates spent two years or less at BFA. Only one student out of 60 completed first through twelfth grade at BFA. While the majority of our graduates will further their education at a collegiate level, the location of that next institute is spread across the world. Here in my dorm we have a "sign out board" for the students to indicate where they are going during the day. As they left for the summer we wrote down where they would spend the next two months (or college). These are the countries listed on our board; Poland, Germany, Switzerland, China, S. Korea, Mongolia, USA, Canada, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Afghanistan, England, Ukraine, Australia. In a dorm of 21 guys, we have 14 different countries listed!


The most difficult thing about graduation is the emotional aspect of it. Students come here for however many years, not knowing if they will return or if they will ever see their friends again. For an average American high school graduate they can anticipate seeing friends during breaks. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, or summer break. Though not constant nor consistent, they share a 'home-base' with their classmates. That is not the case with my students. For them, Germany is a home away from home. It serves as the home to their high school, but not the home they will visit. When they come across summer break, most likely they will not return to Germany, but somewhere else in the world. Graduation represents the last time they will all be together. It signifies the end of a journey traveled together, and the start of a new beginning.

With that in mind the students soak it all in. They cherished the remaining moments they had. Knowing this is my final year as an RA, I too have found myself cherishing every opportunity with this senior class. As I have written before, and told many others, across the entire student body I am closer with this senior class than any other class. I feel blessed because I felt as though I could wander into any one of our dorms and feel as though there is at least one student there who I have a solid, personal, encouraging relationship with. I have invested in this class and poured into them so much. Tears poured from my eyes in the days prior to graduation, knowing what was ahead. I woke up early to get in one last run with a student, went to bed late to squeeze in one final heart-felt conversation, wrote one last note to hopefully once again communicate the message I am here to deliver, "God loves you. I love you." Watching them graduate was one of the most bittersweet events. I am so proud of them, so excited for them, so happy for them. Yet, there is a void that has been left by their absence.
They have left the school, the country, the continent. I am confident they are going to do marvelous things. They are the greatest students in the world.



On a different note: I will be returning to the States for about 6 weeks starting tomorrow. I will be traveling a lot spending time in: Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Washington. I would love to see as many people as possible, so if I am coming anywhere near you, please let me know. Even if I'm not, let me know where you are and I'll see if I can swing by!