Showing posts with label O'Chungness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label O'Chungness. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Crossing Cultures

Who would have guessed that moving to Tanzania and back again was only the beginning of my international life?
In the Amsterdam airport, on my way to Kenya for the first time, in college, 2005
Chacos on my feet, camera in my backpack... I was off to capture the world (and learn a ton along the way!)
I never. Ever. EVER planned on or even conceived of meeting and marrying a Korean. Ever. Especially after living and teaching Kids from around the world in East Africa for four years! But God has a sense of timing, wisdom, and humour that I have yet to figure out.

And so, while I was once worried about coming back to the States and to no one who could understand my weird Christian world-perspective or grieve and rejoice with me about events around the world, I've found my life to be anything but. And while cross-cultural marriage has its challenges (much less than expected, to be honest, in the case of these two crazy world-travelers!!!), the perks of joining with another international for life, and of having an incredible multicultural community in part because of it, makes my life richer and more thankful. Who knew I would have the chance with my husband to touch and shine light in the lives of people from every continent* around the world without setting foot outside of good ol' Dutchland, West Michigan?

I get to tutor kids from overseas and whose parents are internationals. I think missionary and third culture kids are some of the coolest kids out there. We're surrounded by cross-cultural marriages in our church and at our dinner table. 

Who would have guessed our wedding party would have people representing every continent* without even realizing?

Our wedding 'guestmap' :)
And then there are the (completely regular) days when I sit at our dinner table as the only "American," among a Korean, a French man, and an Egyptian straight in from overseas. Or with a Korean, Bulgarian, a Nepelese man, and a Malaysian. 

Notice the continuing Korean theme? Yep, this guy's pretty much my favorite. :)

Picture taken by Samara, budding photographer, age 10.
I've tried more new foods since returning from the Land of Tanz than I did while there. I know what celebratory Chinese New Moon cakes taste like, what traditional red bean tteok treats look like for Korean thanksgiving, and that Bulgarians make the best cheesy bread and salad on the planet. I know that Malaysia knows how to make some seriously cute wall-hangings of monkeys for the upcoming Chinese New Year's "Year of the Monkey," that Koreans say "Kimchi!" instead of "Cheese!" when taking pictures, and that little girls from Bulgaria, Iran, Mexico, Uganda, and Australia all equally love to sing the "Let it go" song with the same exuberant gusto and sweeping elaborate gestures as their American counterparts.

There are the days when I connect with dear-to-my-heart missionary friends from the Land of Tanz and my heat aches for the people I got to serve with there. I still want my kids to grow up overseas, if even for a short time, and I wish the country we live in wasn't so bent on individualism that we'd get excited for a neighbor willing to trade ingredients and share household items when needed.

But I have no doubt that this is where I'm supposed to be. That God's crazy, out-of-this-world plans were established for me long long ago, and that they are better than I could ever have imagined. And so we set out on our knees with prayers for wisdom, grace for ourselves and each other, and a lot of thankfulness each day as we cross cultures in our home and beyond... and know that none of these opportunities, connections, or relationships would be possible without Him.


*(minus Antarctica, of course!)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Traditions

My husband, poor guy, is slowly but surely learning the importance of celebrating the Christmas season. Don’t get me wrong - he knows the importance of the season! But having lived as a bachelor for so many years on his own, he never got to experience the importance of traditions that (I think) make it even more special and memorable along the way.

Last year, when we were still just dating, and I was preparing to make the third of 5 moves in a year from one house to another, I lamented about not being able to decorate for Christmas. SM offered his place, at which point I was both ever-grateful for the offer and shocked he had never had a Christmas tree since coming to Holland (Michigan). How could that be?! Lucky for me, my new roommate asked me to come early to help decorate my new house with her tree, and I used my own small Christmas tree from years past to decorate with the man I would later marry.

It was fun. He loved having the ambiance of a tree, and his parents were more than impressed at this girl who brought Christmas cheer to his life, apparently. :)

Come this year, after navigating Thanksgiving across Indiana together, we’re now moving into the Christmas season as a married couple for the first time. I’m so thankful to be living in ONE PLACE for awhile ;) and to be establishing traditions together. What SM didn’t know, though, was the importance of said traditions. Putting up a Christmas tree? Yes. Candles? He’s learning ;). Christmas movies? This is a brand new thing.

I used to love watching Christmas movies on TV while making Christmas cookies at my parent’s house. Early in college, I decided to make this a tradition, and set out to acquire copies of my favorites. I didn’t realize at the time just how important this would be for my soon-to-be transient lifestyle, but I am forever thankful I did. Because Christmas. Became Christmas. When White Christmas, Elf, and Miracle on 34th Street hit the (laptop) screen. Later The Nativity Story got added to the mix, and housemates insisted on Home Alone’s presence in the lineup. In climates where Christmas falls in the hottest season of the year, and temps flux between 80 and 100 with 98% humidity and full sun, it was helpful to have little things in place that helped make the season feel a little more like, well, the holidays. We’d do things like make snowflakes out of A4 (printer) paper to put on the windows while eating fresh pineapple from the duka down the street, and watch the year-before’s downloaded Thanksgiving parade on the Saturday after Thanksgiving as we feasted on the biggest chicken we could find (since we didn’t have the day off). Or turn on the air conditioning full blast (though it didn’t really do much!) while watching white Christmas and let ourselves pretend we were in a place where things were “normal.”

But SM, poor guy, didn’t quite understand this before now. So when I mentioned watching some of the Christmas movies that we watched together last year AGAIN, just 12 months later… he was confused. “But we just watched that last year? You mean you watch them ALL EVERY year?”

Yep! I sure do!

Because when you live in places where it doesn’t “feel” like Christmas, such traditions become important.

Later, my favorite person, as he slowly accepted and adjusted to this idea of watching Christmas movies EVERY.Single.year. asked a few insightful questions.

1. Do any of the “traditional” Christmas movies have anyone of color in them?
Hmm. Ouch. Well, no. Unless you count the cook in Miracle on 34th Street, everyone is pretty much just… white. As a cross-cultural missionary and now in a cross-cultural marriage… this makes me cringe. They’ll still get watched every year… but my eyes have definitely been opened!

2. Aren’t there any GUY Christmas movies?
Again… hmm. Neither of us are huge fans of Home Alone. And I’ve never actually seen the Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation... so I don’t know if that counts. We rewatched Elf this year and he’s apparently decided that it’s a great guy movie, but we could still use some more. Someone recently suggested that Star Wars #5 has a desert/snow scene so that might work. Any other suggestions? Anyone?

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The O'Chungs


Once upon a time, when he was about 13, the man I get to be married to now moved to Seattle, Washington from Seoul, South Korea to do a study abroad with his older brother. Besides learning the all-important lesson that no middle-schooler in America thinks a proper “How do you do?” with a handshake is an acceptable greeting, he also learned that his Korean name of Sang Hoon might be a bit difficult for some people to connect with. So when his family officially immigrated to Canada a few years later, and it was time to pick a technical name, he started going by Sang Mark (slightly easier but still confusing for those Westerners who weren’t used to two first names!).

At the same time, their family had to choose a proper, English-based translation of their last (or sur-) name. Since the people translating their birth certificates were also a bit confused, they settled on one popular spelling of Chung. (Turns out, Jung would have been a lot more phonemically accurate… but who goes for accurate when there’s a new culture to assimilate into?) And so, his name became Sang Hoon Chung… or Sang Mark Chung for every-day Westerner life.

Fast forward past college in Canada, a masters in Sweden, and a job in Singapore, to where this incredibly talented designer landed a job in a little unknown town called Holland, Michigan. After about six years he met this crazy American girl on an unknown blind date… then promptly watched her leave for Africa and ignore him for a couple of years. Then she started emailing… and dating… and finally agreed (much to his relief) to spend the rest of her life with him.

About this time, said crazy girl’s mom had the chance to make her daughter a cool 3-D printed key chain with her up-and-coming new last name! And so, she did.

And all of the middle-schoolers who had heard about this crazy African-based but now in America daughter of their teacher looked at her and asked, “Her new last name will be O’Chung?!”

Upon hearing this story (and receiving the keychain), we laughed, and realized it was the perfect blend of Sang Hoon-Mark’s Korean heritage and Crystal’s European but almost non-existent Irish heritage. And it just seemed to stick. And so, with that, we became the O’Chungs. (On the non-official documents… like when we use Sang Mark. Names and filling out forms have gotten a bit more confusing these days!)


As an extension of this unique last-nickname, O'Chung fits the mix of cultures that I – and the man I love – and our marriage encompass. While neither of us have much Irish in us, we do have a fabulous mix of Tanzanian, Ugandan, Korean, Bulgarian, French, English (the British variety), Australian, American, and several other inter-continentally-confused influences pervading out perspectives. And as I we continue to transition into “oneness” and are challenged in our journeys of faith, these world influences will lend to the people, places, and perspectives we grow in Christ along the way.

Monday, April 6, 2015

"So, there's this guy..." (the continuing story)

(This post is the second in a 2-part series. For the back story, click here.)

After a long and somewhat treacherous furlough, I prepared to go back to Tanzania. About this time I drove up to Holland to see and say goodbyes to some good friends from college. We were getting together with some friends for an evening, and as we headed out the door, my girl friend mentioned, “By the way, there’s this single guy coming tonight…” Wait, WHAT? I don’t know what I replied, but I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was, leaving in a week for TWO YEARS... and my friends were setting me up with someone!?

But I have to say, after a walk downtown and time spent at our friend’s house, I was pretty intrigued with this guy. I’d never been interested in an Asian guy before – ever. But this guy was pretty cute. And way more important to me than his looks was his character. He paid attention, was totally respectful, and he really loved the Lord. We spent over an hour talking about our passion for the Word of God and how God speaks to us, and I came away realizing not only his commitment to the Lord and steadfast faith, but also that he really wanted to hear my thoughts and listen to me as well. I could joke about things international – like why in the world German McDonald's have amazing potato wedges but they don’t have them in America – and he got it. And we talked… and talked… and I kept thinking, “What in the world am I doing? I’m leaving the country for two years in less than a week!” But man, I was definitely intrigued!

So when he asked a couple of days later if we could get together again before I left, I politely but firmly declined (with legitimate reasons – I really had three days left to pack and get ready! – but I also didn’t want to lead him on when I was headed to another continent for a good while.) I figured that was the end of that. Great conversations, but too weird of timing. He’d be gone before I got back.

And then, soon after arriving in Tanzania, I got a Facebook message from Sang Mark. Several, in fact. Pretty much every holiday (real or otherwise) I would get a thoughtful “How’s it going?” message. He was friendly and supportive, and I greatly appreciated it. But I was working through some crazy situations with language school and then transitions in the school where I taught, dealing with sickness and amoeba and everything else, and couldn’t let myself think too far ahead to when and where I’d be back in the States (or considering what was next). I was physically in Musoma – I needed my mind to be fully there too. And so, as Sang Mark would say now, I hardly responded at all.

I was feeling more at home and settled in Musoma than I had ever felt in my life. And yet, I also felt like maybe this time in Musoma was the end – if not forever, at least for a long while, of my time of teaching overseas. God had continued to change my heart since furlough and had drawn me towards being back in the States and supporting missions from there, but I still struggled to consider leaving a place I loved and a community that had supported me and become family. How could I do this?

As I wrestled with this decision, I got yet another message from this guy I had liked (and still did) from two years back. This time I shared a bit about a recent break-in we’d experienced, and he responded with encouragement from Scripture that had helped him in the past. I talked to a few people, prayed about it, and decided 6 months until I left Tanzania might be an OK time to start chatting a bit.

And chat, we did. Our messages quickly got too long for Facebook messenger and moved to email. And then they got longer still. And despite differences in background culture, we kept discovering our values, our focus, what meant the most to us in our lives individually was more the same than I could ever have imagined. To be clear, in the midst of preparing to leave my life in Tanzania after five years, selling everything but three bags worth of stuff, and moving back to way too many unknowns back in the States, I had a few freak-out moments when I was sure I should just stop talking to Sang Mark before either of us got hurt. And I almost did, except for the wisdom of a couple of dear, much-wiser friends that encouraged me to wait till I got back to the States to make any final decisions on this guy. But here was a guy (I later found out) that was spending hours writing the longest emails of his life to me… who willingly drove down to Kalamazoo to take me out to dinner two days after I got back to the States, along with bringing me some of my favorite cereal I’d been missing the past two years and German chocolate he’d gotten me on a business trip the month before that I’d said I liked. The guy who has learned to listen while I process (and of course tries to fix everything for me, contrary to what I usually need…), who turns me toward the Lord when I’m needlessly worriing (yet again) and continues to teach me by example how to really rest and balance life well. A guy who has an incredible group of international friends here in Holland that welcomed me in with open arms... and who had me over for an amazing homemade dinner and watching Frozen for the first time when I moved up to Holland. Who was willing to talk through differences and listen and work through the hard stuff and pray and come to appreciate me through it – and I him.  Whose church I would choose for my own even if he wasn’t going there, and who let me decorate his apartment for Christmas in the middle of my own move so I could feel like I was home. Who I could talk art with – and enjoy hearing the processes he went through in his own creations – and realize we both got excited for many of the same things. And who has already turned me into a bit of a snob of inadequately-designed cars.

So, to answer a few of the questions I’ve been getting from people… No, I did not move back to the States, nor resign from Wycliffe, because of this guy. Those were separate decisions I made as I sought the Lord without knowing the outcome of this potential relationship. Yes, he’s been in the picture for awhile, but I really wasn’t sure what God was doing with it all. I’d come to terms with the fact that God might not have someone for me, and while that made me sad, I knew that I would continue to have joy and peace and everything I needed through my Savior. And that was ok, too. God has brought me families and kids, both blood-related and non, wherever I went, and while I had hoped I could do the same for other singles someday, I also knew I’d never be completely alone or without people to turn to.

Yes, we’ll be getting married this summer. (It still doesn't seem quite real - he proposed on the first day of spring just two weeks ago!) We’re both learning a lot about the wedding planning process and are thankful for any suggestions or ideas, help or wisdom you might have to offer!

Yes, my fiancĂ© goes by “Sang Mark.” It’s common for Koreans to have two first names. Yes, I’ve learned a whole lot more than I ever thought I’d know about Korean culture, and have oh so much more to learn. I'm thankful for an amazing teacher! :) No, I haven't learned a whole lot of Korean... yet. It's probably a good thing for this slow-language-learning girl that I have a lifetime to work on adding to my vocabulary! Yes, he lives in Holland, MI - he's been living here for 8 years now after living elsewhere in the States and around the world - and works as a designer of cars in a company while being a shining Light in the place where God's placed him.


No, I still don’t know what the future holds job-wise. I’m doing long-term subbing through the end of this school year and hoping to find something permanent for next fall, but we’ll see what God has planned. Because, when it comes down to it, though I’d love love love to know what’s coming, I absolutely have no doubt that what God has planned is better than I could ever imagine.

Through all the ups and downs and questions and peace, I have seen God’s hand in this story too many times to question whether I’ve made the right decision in starting the next chapter of my life with this guy. I’m excited for the path ahead and the story that will come with it, looking forward to learning to weather the storms I’m positive will come with this amazing guy God’s put beside me, and thankful for the ways He’s grown and changed me thus far along the way!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"So, there's this guy..."

I can’t tell you how many conversations and emails have started with these same words over the last year. But before I get to that, let me give you a bit of context for the story.

Once upon a time (about three years ago), I came home on furlough from Tanzania hoping and praying to go back. I’d been teaching at an international school, and was excited to fill a different need at a two-room school-house of sorts where 8 families were working with 9 language groups and needed a second teacher for their kids. (Things have changed a bit since then, but that was the idea!) I came home struggling with the beginnings of asthma from all the dust in Dar, to the point where a grad professor told me that if I went home and discovered I had TB, I should let her know and she’d extend my due dates for papers. Yep, I was coughing. A lot. I was pretty sure I knew what I was supposed to do (in going back to Musoma), but I had my doubts. I doubted as I went to NC and had plans for meetings with small groups and churches fall apart. And then I watched as God provided amazing communities for me to connect with anyway. I doubted as I got home after being on 4 continents in two months, and decided I could NEVER.MOVE. AGAIN. (haha… right.) I doubted as I tried to take 3 masters classes, substitute part time, AND raise support to go back… and didn’t see much of the support-raising thing happening! But the desire to go back was still strong in my heart, and I kept praying, and kept seeing little and big encouragements along the way that gave me hope. A family down the street that “adopted” me and encouraged me on my journey. An amazing connection with a family that was from Holland, MI that was headed to the same place as me in Musoma. Kids giving their missions’ box money to me to support me, and the chance to connect with kids at GraceSpring Church about missions. Watching said kids get excited and pray regularly for the language groups I’d soon (hopefully) be serving in Tanzania.

Throughout this time, we moved my “leave” date back a couple of times. Email conversations with my missions travel agent sounded something like, “Could we please change my ticket date again? I'd like to change it from the imaginary date of March 3 to another make-believe date of April 25... I don't care what airline you put me on for now since it's all going to change again anyway!"

Right. I’m sure they appreciated that. But then, I wasn’t overly thrilled at the situation either. I’d moved my leave date back three months already. And then about that time, my supervisor in America gave me an ultimatum. I had something like 5 weeks to raise the final $900/month I required to meet my budget, or I wouldn’t be able to get back to Tanzania in time for language school and starting to teach when they really needed me.

And that, as they say, was that. At least in my mind. I’d spent 9 months working hard trying to raise support and seeing almost nothing change. There was no way that I’d make it now. Maybe God was saying it was time to get a job in the States and stay here for a while. My mom can attest to the many drenching tears I shed on the couch the day I received the news, and the super-fast “walk” (she’d call it a jog) we took around the neighborhood a few times to help me de-stress. And through this time, I started to see God changing my heart. I was forced to open my eyes to new possibilities and what God might be doing in my life. I realized that helping kids at GraceSpring connect with missionary kids and life around the world had become just as dear to me as teaching kids overseas. I loved having opportunities to help kids see what they could be doing TODAY – not 25 years from now when they had a steady paycheck – to impact the Kingdom around the world. And then three weeks (or whatever the dates were) later, I sat at Panera watching text after text and email after email come in on the final date that my funds were due, all from people asking if they could still contribute to my ministry. At the beginning of the day, I was well-below what I needed. And by the end of the day, I had more than the minimum required! I was going!


…about which time I realized, I wasn’t sure I even WANTED to go back. (These are the things you can’t say, but oh so feel… I had spent so much time talking to people over the past year about how it seemed God was calling me back to Tanzania, and how I was needed there, that I hadn’t had time to let myself entertain any doubts myself. But when the support all came in, I suddenly realized that all the “funny” stories I’d shared about tarantulas on walls and jumping spiders, malaria and language issues were oh so much more funny when sitting in someone’s air-conditioned living room sipping on icy lemonade. It was a totally different story to live it, in hot, interesting but sometimes miserable places.
I think it was actually harder to go back to Tanzania the second time, in large part because I was “starting over” in a new place with a new community… so I didn’t have a support network to go back to. I didn’t know all the good things about the new place, but I did know about the hard stuff, the stresses, the exhaustion and sickness and spiders and everything else that I was sure were there waiting for me. I saw all of the negative, and none of the good. And I made my trips to Meijer to stock up on supplies, packed my suitcases, and prepared to go anyway.

(More to come... don't worry! It's hard to compact a three-year story into one blog post.
So just go get a drink, sit back down, and click here to learn more about "this guy"...)

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Jina Longu Ni Crysti (My name is Christy)

2 October 2010

Names in foreign countries always present an interesting problem.  They were made for one culture, one country, one language… and many don’t transfer well from one place to another.  Take David, for instance.  In German, it’s Daudi.  Which is fine.  Except when I’m talking to parents about their kid and realize that we’re both using different names for one person… and I wonder if I’ve been calling him the wrong name all along!

"Crystal" presents another interesting conundrum.  Most people here in Swahili-Land have never heard the word crystal before, even meaning a rock of great value.  So hearing this for the first time, they jump to the most obvious conclusion – Christo.  Yes, this does mean Christ, or Jesus, in Swahili.  So I introduce myself as Crystal, and they nod and laugh and acknowledge that they understand by pointing upward and saying, “ah, Christo!  Yesu! (Jesus).”  Hmm… not quite what I was going for.

Some people, like my roommate Marie, have had just as bad of luck.  Her name here is either pronounced Mary (as in the mother of Jesus), or Maria.  For a culture that loves to put the “ee” sound at the end of every word, it’s kind of funny that they can’t grasp this one.  But we once had a doctor give us our rabies vaccine here in Dar who laughed and laughed… his name was Joseph, and Marie’s name was Mary… Mary and Joseph!  Hahahaha! :(

In the end, I’ve come to the conclusion that I should change my name, at least a little, to make it more accessible for the average Tanzanian.  Makes sense, right?  If they’re going to get it wrong anyway, I may as well help them by giving them something they can say.  After some consideration, I tried dropping the “l” at the end… leaving me with “Crysta.”  Sometimes this works, but more often than not, they just look at me with a blank and confused expression and say “samahani?”  (excuse me?). 



So I decided another tactic was necessary.  Since Swahili-speakers love to put “ee” (spelled i) at the end of EVERYTHING – no joke – I decided the closest thing to Crystal was going to be Crysti.  Or Christi.  Or Christy.  It doesn’t matter how you spell it, as long as the person I’m talking to can say it! 

It was soon after this decision that I discovered another person with the same name… curiously, a character in a book.  Her name was Christy, and she, too, went away from home to a very different place to be a missions teacher.  And though she had little idea of what she would find when she arrived, she fell in love with the people and place.  I felt the name just might suit me.

I’m still not used to introducing myself as Christy, and I’m not sure it will ever really stick.  I certainly don’t turn around if someone calls me by that name!  On the other hand, I think the legacy of the character whose name I adopted gives me something to connect to here as a single missions teacher in a very different place from “home.”

Jina loko ni nani?  (What is YOUR name?)