Frequently Asked Questions

Hello all!

I know it’s been quite awhile since I last updated you all, and it is my goal this new year to do better!

Many of you don’t know that I recently traveled home for about 8 days, for my older sister’s wedding. This is very uncommon in most YAGM’s year, as you’re not really encouraged to go home (for a multitude of reasons both logistically and experimentally), unless a sibling or parent is getting married. As a good sister and co-maid of honor (with my twin), I figured I should probably be home for the wedding.

As I knew before I arrived in the Holy Land that I would be going home almost halfway through my year, so many questions ran through my head of how going home would affect me. I knew that I would bombarded with questions, which I will go in depth more later in the blog.  

To say the least, it was weird. It was weird to be in such a modern and developed land. It was weird to see everything be familiar after four months of separation. It was weird to see so many fast food restaurants (although I loved it). It was weird to go through civil traffic on the road and not see so many taxis and hear honking all the time. It was weird, but joyful, to see snow! Which I’ve missed this holiday season. And as unexpected as it may sound, it was weird to see family. It was also amazing, wonderful, tearful, and heartwarming, but it was almost like I was dreaming. I saw my family in the flesh, and no longer through my laptop or smart phone screen.

It was surreal. It was hard.

I felt guilty, in a way. I got to see my family in person, and be in the US, in a familiar place. Home. I got to be home.

And although some other volunteers will have their families or friends visit them in their placements, both in the J/WB program, and other YAGM’s across the world, I got to be home. I’m lucky.

While I was home, I encountered many questions by friends and family. Here are some that stuck out or were frequently asked:

“Are there are Lutherans there?”

“Do you feel closer to God?”

“Are you around soldiers all the time?”

“Is it safe?” Or various forms of it.

“Have you met anyone?” This one I was not expecting so much. Maybe because it was a wedding setting.

And the most frequently asked question:

“Where are you, again?”

In the midst of these not so pleasant questions, I was touched with the questions about my work with my students, my wonderful hosts, my community in Beit Sahour, and the relationships and experiences that I’ve made and done. It was refreshing to interact with members of my home congregation and to hear all of their love and support. It was empowering and motivating to hear my family and friends encourage me to continue to be who I am and do what makes me happy. It is so easy to look over the small talk of explaining how the year is going, and exclude the hardships and challenges of being in a foreign place all that that country entails with culture, language, politics, and perspective.

But nothing is as easy as it sounds. So for anyone back home who is reading this, when someone you know spends a year abroad, pick your words carefully and more thoughtfully. Please.

I understand the curiosity about knowing about being safe, interfaith dynamic, and conflict here, but there are better ways to ask. And maybe the best thing for others is to wait. Wait till we bring up a story about our time away. Until something sparks our attention and we want to share. Being abroad, we could talk for hours about our time away.

So, maybe just wait. And when we’re ready, we’ll talk. And share. And tell you about the good stuff and not so good stuff. The hard stuff. Without you needing to ask.

Just be there. With open ears and open hearts. Because we’ll be more thankful for you just being there, than your questions.

Thank you taking the time to listen and read with your open ears.

Thank you for being there.

Until next time,



Advent Greetings from Bethlehem

This is a blog post that I originally wrote for the Saint Paul Area Synod. You can find the original here: Saint Paul Area Synod blog

Date posted: Monday 19 December 2016

Greetings from Bethlehem!

As the holiday season calls, all of the Christmas festivities are happening in and around Bethlehem, and it’s been a great time. I’ve been fortunate to be able to go to many Christmas concerts, events, and parades, which I could not be happier to experience here in Bethlehem. The spirit of Christmas is so alive and well, and I am so thankful to be able to experience the holiday season here.

With Renee and Tim, two other J/WB volunteers in the Bethlehem area, at the Bethlehem Christmas tree lighting, at the Church of Nativity. PC: Renee Celestain


The most wonderful sight was seeing the Christmas tree lighting in Bethlehem, in Manger Square, at the Church of Nativity. It was an incredible event, with hundreds of others, in the joy of the Christmas spirit. There were first various performances with different singing groups, followed by speeches, peace balloons, Manger Square being lit up, then the Christmas tree. Soon after the tree was lit, an array of fireworks were shot up into the sky, and cheers were heard all across Bethlehem. I’m glad I got to experience the whole ordeal with two other Jerusalem/West Bank volunteers, Tim and Renee, who are also placed in the Bethlehem area. It was a great time, and an experience I will never forget.

Back at the Lutheran school…

My 11th grade Humanities stream students.

My work at ELS (Evangelical Lutheran School) in Beit Sahour has been going very well. I’ve been assisting with the fifth through eighth grades and also the eleventh grade. Over the past three and a half months, I’ve started some beautiful and heartfelt connections with both my students and the teachers in the school community. I am so thankful to be in such a warm and caring community at the school. Seeing the students grow in their English and in their relationships with me, has been a joy to see.

With the YAGM program, we’ve been fortunate to be able to continue to explore other holy sites in and around the country, whether that be on retreat or in our monthly get together. In the last few months, we’ve gone hiking in Jericho, visited Nazareth, and toured around the Sea of Galilee. It’s been a privilege to be able to travel around and experience these holy sites, where Jesus walked on water and see the birthplace of Mary. And it’s always fun to be able to see these sights with the YAGM crew. I’m very grateful to be able to experience everything I’ve been able to see and do and I can’t imagine the year going any better than it already is. I am so happy here and I love what I’ve been able to do both in my work and socially in my community.

I continue to pray for us YAGM’s around the world, accompanying our communities and continuing to learn from those around us. While we are in the presence of those in our community, I hope that we can continue to be assured that we have a purpose for those we are with, and to continue to grow in the struggle and be content. We are called to be here, and here we are. Be with us as we continue to grow in Christ.

In peace,


Hello, world. Hope you’re listening.

I know it’s been quite a long time since my last blog post and I have so much to update you all on, but that will be the next post. Today, some thoughts.




“I’m used to it.”

I continuously keep saying this to both myself and other people. And while it eases off the initial reaction of concern, it still isn’t right. 

Brush it off like it’s no big deal.

But it is. And it always will be.

Being judged on pretty much a daily basis is exhausting.

It leaves me hyper aware of who I am and how I appear to be. And while it’s obvious because I’m living abroad and look visibly different, it doesn’t make those comments, questions, and assumptions any less hurtful.

Yet I understand.

Curiosity is normal. You can’t help it. I get it.

I’m Asian. You don’t know if I speak English. I get it.

You don’t see Asians everyday. I get it. 

I’m young and I look like it. I get it.

I’m an international. I get it.

I’m a volunteer. I get it.

I’m different. I get it.

It still hurts every time and it always will. 

You have every right to be angry, hurt, sad, and frustrated.

You only get stronger. And you stand up for what you believe in and for who you are.

You shouldn’t need to hide yourself in order to go about everyday life. That’s not living.

No matter what.

But you continue to wake up each day, ready to tackle on the world.

Because that’s all you can do.

So you take a deep breath.

And go.


PC: Carrie Sandstrom







Being a Student


I finally had my first day of work! Yesterday was my first day at ELS (Evangelical Lutheran School) in Beit Sahour, and it was quite the experience. I shadowed Mira, an English teacher, who teaches fifth through eighth grade students. The difference in grade levels gave me a nice flashback of my middle school years, which was both haunting and nostalgic. Middle school was a weird time for me. Awkwardness to the fullest and I don’t think I started speaking audible words until sixth grade. You could say I was pretty shy. Yeah, let’s leave the middle school talk for another time.


Classic first day of school pic.               PC: Kylie Cochran

Anyways, it was fun to see how Mira taught her classes and her the way she teaches in the classroom. She has a commanding presence that makes her students work, and work hard, from what I can tell. I’m specifically recalling her connection with her seventh graders, which is a fun sight to see. They really love her, and love learning from her. It’s beautiful.

Seeing what the students are learning about in English grammar brings me back to learning language in high school and college. And I think it’s safe to say that while it should be review of the English language for me, I found the material a little challenging. For example, it took me a solid minute(or five) to remember what present continuous and present simple means. Oh, yeah!

Example: I am walking to school.

That sentence is an example of present continuous. Mind. Blown. So much for 17 years of education and a college degree… in English(writing) and French. Languages, I tell ya. They’ll get you.. Oh, what’s that? How’s my Arabic?

Ana ma ba’raf. Ana bahki arabi swayye. Ma salame.

I don’t know. I know a little Arabic. Goodbye.

Pretty good, eh? Thanks.

In all seriousness, these students are learning three languages(English, German, and Arabic) with the rest of their classes, and that just deserves a little round of applause in my book. *applause* I am thoroughly impressed, and I wish I started to learn a language in Kindergarten and not ninth grade. Pretty cool. It was an enjoyable first day, and I am glad to finally start my connections and relationships with everyone at the ELS school.

Also, being called Ms.Sam is pretty cool. Never thought I would be called Ms.Sam so early in my life, but it makes me feel like an adult so that’s both cool and scary. I must say, although I am no longer a student(for now) in school, I miss that experience in the classroom of figuring something out and the visual growth of knowledge that happens. I say this, thinking about the seventh graders searching for the words in the dictionary, that I came up with Ms.Mira, such as “resolution” and “tissue.” The joy on the students faces finding the words with their wide smiles and celebratory fists in the air is enough for me know that this year will be quite fun being on the other side of learning.

This is only the start of my year in the Lutheran school, and so I’ll do my best to keep you posted on any new tenses and phrases I learn, in both Arabic, and in English because apparently I forgot everything.


Until the next one,


Kylie, another YAGM volunteer, David, a volunteer from Germany, and I with Deputy Principal, Salim of ELS.   PC: Colin Grangaard


I’ve been about two weeks since I’ve been in the Holy Land, and I am so full. Both literally and figuratively. I’ve adopted to eating copious amounts of food at mealtime, and indulging until I hurt, which is not new if you know me(shout out to my family who know what I’m talking about). Pita, hummus, falafel, cucumbers, shawarma, and all the fresh juices. And how could I forget the Arabic coffee?! Oh my word, so good.

Speaking of the Arabic coffee, it’s been much needed. Not the Nescafe, which is just so not good. With how full and informative in-country orientation has been going, days have been filled with tours, intentional conversations/discussion, and so much good food.

My 6 other YAGM colleagues and I are all very different, but somehow we have clicked so well that we already tease and lean on each other like brothers and sisters. And I hope that as we move into our respective placements, we continue to build those relationships and continue to make new ones in our communities. We’re not ready, but ready for what’s in store in our year.

Until the next one,


Top left: Shawarma, top right: Musakhan, bottom left: Maqloobeh, bottom right: Rice with almonds, roasted pork with potatoes and onions. Courtesy of my host family. ❤