Sunday, March 13, 2011

January to March

For we are HIS workmanship created in HIM to do
good works which HE prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:10
Neehow howpon yo! - Hello good friends!

January was COLD, but the warm visit from my mom brightened it up.
She came for two week at the beginning of the Chinese New Year Holiday. We showed her around Xining and introduced her to the strange happenings of our little city and to the wonderful friends we have made. After, we ventured off to Xian to see the Terracotta Warriors and then Beijing to explore the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. It was such a joy to have my mom here; she lifted our spirits with her presence. Before she left she said with a tear in her eye, “Do you want to know what I think kiddos?...I think you should/could stay another year.”


Xian-Terracotta Warriors

The Great Wall

Fun with me mum!

February was loud with the Chinese celebration of the Lantern Festival, yet it was quiet and peaceful in our hearts were a new decision had been made.
The Chinese invented fireworks, so you can imagine what their New Years is like…loud and bright! After New Years day, they put up lanterns all over the city. On the 15th day they all celebrate again by going out at night with lanterns and, of course, set off fireworks. During this time there was no school and most people vacationed to Thailand. This gave Jeff and me ample time to THINK about what we should do. As we THOUGHT and talked we noticed that we kept saying things like, “Next year we will get this for our classroom.” Or “Next year we will help the school do this.” With this realization a peace came in our hearts of what we were to do next year…stay in China to help this school. Wow, what a feeling this is, to have our minds and your bodies saying, “oh, how it would be nice to go back home” but to have it all trumped by this HIM given peace in our hearts…a peace that helps us breathe and know that HE IS and we are HIS wherever we are in the world.

Lantern Festival

Jeff playing a lantern drum

It’s the year of the rabbit

Cute Chinese kids

Our street and some Lanterns

March is marching forward with a changed view of the future.
Jeff and I are keeping busy busy busy with school. We are having a blast teaching our students. This month we are showing our Alaskan pride by teaching the K-6th graders about the Iditarod! Each kiddo is participating in the IditaREAD, they read enough books to get through all 24 check points to Nome and learn cool Alaskan history/tidbits along the way. It is such a blessing to see each student grow as a learner and as a Child of HIM. Jeff and I are not only teaching, but also spending a good chunk of our time creating and initiating ways to further/better the school. For example, we have been helping with budget ideas, implementing school rules and conflict resolution programs, training others how to do class meetings to create positive learning environments, and firming up the standards and connected assessments to cohere with the curriculum across grades so students can scaffold their knowledge and we as teachers are all on the same page. There is A LOT of work to be done! Jeff and I are passionate about these things, as we know that HE gave us gifts in these areas as teachers. Most of all we truly value the education and lives of all 100 students at XIA and yarp that our work here will make a positive impact on each of them as well as future students.

Jeff reading to his class and mine.

The 100th day of school celebration.

K-6th buddy read.

Dr. Seuss birthday- Jeff’s and my classes.

We press on! Working hard, knowing that we are here for HIS children and the M’s of China. Thank you for your THOUGHTS and support, they are felt and needed daily. You give us joy knowing that you are there cheering us on. Thank you! Thank you!
Jeff and Kristine Hole

Yarps needed:
It is known that people can get sick often their first year here. Jeff is such a person. Please yarp for his health. He often gets really bad colds/ sinus infections and lately bad stomach problems. (He does a Nettie Pot weekly to avoid sinus infections). I/we could use wisdom, a gentle tongue, patience, and knowledge to better understand the Chinese culture, Korean culture, M culture, and MK culture so I/we may better teach and reach. (We are currently reading a few books that help, but yarps are good).

A note from Kristine:
Yesterday I was at a “like minded” woman’s meeting for expats. At one point in time we went around the room sharing verses. The first voice was that of a Filipino, the next was low gruff voice of an old English woman, then two Koreans shared, from the corner a came a large voice of a Mongolian woman, then a sing song voice of a Texan, followed by a few thick German accents, then a chiming in of a Scottish woman and her Irish friend, and finally a few steady American voices. I closed my eyes and soaked in the international beauty of these women and thanked HIM for bringing then and me here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“I lift my eyes up to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip.”
Psalm 121: 1-3a

Happy Holidays!
Thanks giving, Christmas, New Years, and Chinese New Year (hopefully this reaches you before Easter!)

I sit here gazing into the shimmers of our green tinsel Christmas tree taped to the wall, and think, “for every season, there is a reason.” This year for us there has had MANY seasons.

It began with a season of peace and comfort:
January 2010
Kristine was a long term substitute teacher for first grade and Jeff was a Para Professional (working with special needs children in the classroom). We were renting a wonderful little house nestled in the heart of Sitka, AK. The coffee shop was just down the street, the ocean could be seen from our window, and our door was always open to our loving friends and family. Life seemed to flow like a gentle brook…but I could tell that there was something in the wind; some season of change would soon come to rustle up our time of contentment.

Winds blew the door shut into a season of upset and confusion:
May 2010
Kristine and Jeff were denied full time teaching positions in their little town of Sitka. Oh, did it hurt! It is even embarrassing to say it now. We kept asking, “Why?” but the only answer that seemed to come was, “When a door shuts, look for the window that opens”. Well, it is hard to see a small window when your eyes are full of tears of confusion. Luckily, we have you…you wonderful friends, family, and teachers that held us up with support and love. Thank you.

A window, a season of walking towards the unknown:
June 2010
On a visit to see family in Anchorage, AK we were blessed to see Jeff’s sister’s husband’s parents, Tom and Wendy Liesener. Randomly they asked, “Would you like to come and teach in China with us?” And because of the season we were in, I immediately said, “Yes”. (And later had to convince Jeff that this is the reason for the season, this might be our window). In late June we had a Skype interview with the principal of Xining International Academy. We got the jobs, Kristine as the Kindergarten teacher and Jeff as the fourth grade teacher. Now we had one and a half months to get ALL of the necessary paper work completed.

A season of stepping forward with faith:
Summer 2010
When you are unsure of what lies ahead, and you know you can’t just sit around, the only thing to do is to move forward, to take a step of faith and just hope and pray that HE is there to catch you or to guide your footsteps. So, that is what we did. Not knowing if our paper work was complete, or would go through, or if we’d have enough to get to China, or even if we were “fit” to teach over there…we began to step forward. We sold our things, ended our lease, tied up loose ends, get shots, physicals, doctors notes, letters from and to the Chinese consulate/embassy, passports, etc. I will spare you the long long story of all the hassle it was to get each piece of paper work done. I will tell you this, however, there were tears, fears, and frustrations, but again it was you…you friends and family who helped us get through. Thank you. And a special thank you to Dad Swearingen who came to Sitka to help us tie up the last and important loose ends.

Here we go, a season of not “good bye” but “see you later”:
August 2010
We had the most wonderful send offs. In Sitka the weather shined for our BBQ and so many of our wonderful Sitka friends came to show their support and love. It was such a splendid feeling to look out on this crowd and see that we have so many friends from all different walks of life…it made me really love our home that we have made in Sitka over the last 8 years. In Anchorage Mom Swearingen opened up her house for us to eat GOOD FOOD and give hugs to our friends and family of Anchortown. To SEE and FEEL all this love and support, we can’t begin to tell you how grateful we are. The comfort you have given us we carry with us.

A season of Comfort Zone demolished
September 2010
The day our airplane was to leave for China, Kristine sat in her mother’s kitchen eating her aunts chocolate cake, hiding back tears, and saying, “This is comfortable. I like this. I know this. Why do we have to go? Can’t we stay here?” Then her best friend and husband kissed her forehead and said, “This is the season.”
Our flight and first encounter with China was quite, well, I’ll just say it was NOT in our comfort zone. You can read more about it on one of our first blog post at

A season of a honeymoon period of hardships:
September 2010
The first month here in Xining, China we fought some “spiritual warfare”: flea bites, moving three times, no water, no electricity, not speaking the language, adjusting to the cultural differences…and so on. Truthfully, through all of this, within the first month, we seemed to keep a smile about us and be o.k. with it all…it was like the honeymoon period to our hardships. However, you can only smile so long while your foot is getting stepped on…soon the complaining will begin.

“Stop pushing me!” A season of growing pains:
October and November 2010
Yes, we’ll admit there was a time that our attitudes were not so pretty, that all the hardships were really starting to wear on us. Not knowing when or if our apartment or school would have heat, water, or electricity was getting old. The lack of supplies, curriculum, set up structure of our work place was becoming tiring. The stares from the locals were starting to pierce (and boy do they stare…not a quick glance…a STARE, which sometimes cannot be deterred by a smile). The pushing and lack of personal space was becoming insulting (there is no such thing as a line here, if you want on the bus you’d better push. And watch out for the old ladies and their sharp elbows!). The smoking, spiting, peeing and pooping in public, the selfish-crazy driving, being ripped off in the market because we’re white, the pollution burning our noses…you name it we felt it times 10. Oh, the pain. Then one day Mom Swearingen says, “These are growing pains. Put on your spiritual armor so these things cannot pierce you (Ephesians 6). Then you will be able to keep your fire inside burning and show them love. You are on a great adventure, have fun and grow.”

This is the season
December 2010
As they say on the Muppets Christmas Carol:
“Life is like a journey, who knows when it ends. If you need to know the measure of a man, you simply count his friends. Stop and look around you, the glory that you see is born again each day, don’t let it slip away, how precious life can be.
With a loving guarantee, that even if we part, we will hold you close in with a grateful prayer and a thankful heart.”

The reason for these seasons is growth.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Is Here Too

Hello from China!
Wow! Time has been just flying so fast this last month. Jeff and I are keeping so busy with teaching and learning. After having to move three times, we are finally in our own apartment. It is on the sixth floor (that’s a fun trek). The location is just a 20 minute walk away from the school, which makes a good morning and afternoon walk and opportunities to create good neighbors. Our apartment is rather nice…it even has a disco ball (yeah for Chinese bling and karaoke). The ex-pats here have been very helpful and such a blessing! They have helped us find/buy things to furnish our apartment. We have begun to make good friends. We have been to many homes for dinners, good times, yarps, and spiritual support with our Father. I have joined two different international woman’s groups to aid in Growth and reaching out. Our international Fellowship here needed helpers for Sunday snack and tea…it was a familiar story…so Jeff and I stepped in there too.
Last week we had a week off for the Chinese “full moon harvest” holiday, so Jeff and I have finally had some time to explore more of Xining. It is a big city. 80% of the people live in poverty, 10% in lower class, and a few live well off. The weather is dry and getting colder. The markets are full of apples and the streets sprinkled with yellow leaves. Sweaters are coming out of the closets. People’s smiling cheeks are rosy with the autumn breeze. Fall anywhere in the world can be beautiful. The other day we took a bus and went for an adventure, purposefully getting lost at times, and discovering markets. One of our favorite things to do here is go to markets and practice what little Chinese we know and buy some cool trinkets and crazy/interesting good food.
The other day we were able to visit the Tibetan Monastery. It was spiritually dark, yet it was very educational and helped us better understand some of the people we interact with.
School is going well. We are working really hard to help support the existing curriculum as well as continue to adjust and strength/create the curriculum where needed Six of my students are English as second language learners, two of the six speak NO English (French), and three of the six are working through their “silent phase” of language learning (they are Korean). It is quite a challenge! Jeff’s fourth grade class has six students; three are English as second language learners (two Korean, one French). No matter what they speak they are all Third Culture Kids (TCK’s are kids that have spent most of their lives as ex-pats), thus they have different cultural norms that we are not used to teaching (English speaking or not). Jeff and I are reading a book written by David C. Pollock to aid us in this educational journey. (: Pollock was an internationally known authority on TCK’s, their transitions and internationally mobile families.
Jeff and I continue to read/teach the verse on love in first Corinthians 13 “Love is patient, love is kind….” Because no matter what language speak or what culture you are from, HIS love and showing love is universal.
We miss you all.
Blessings, Jeff and Kristine Hole
p.s. we could use yarps* for our principal and his family.

* “Pray” backwards. They have to be careful not to be too religious over their so they use different words.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Life is up and running...sort of.

Hey there!
It is 2:45pm on Thursday the 23rd here.
I don't have an art class right now so I'm going to stop lesson planning and write you.
I have tried to write you in the past from the school's internet, but sometimes it doesn't work, and as you know, we don't have internet at home. EVERYTHING is harder here. LOL
We had to find a company to hire to move all our things from 5 different places and then up 6 flights of stairs! Finally they moved our things. Then we had to find someone to hire to clean our new apt. After a long story it was kind of cleaned...but good enough.
We finally got into our new apt on the 18th, only to find out there is no hot water! So, on Saturday the 19th we waited ALL day for a plumber to fix our hot water...yeah, all day. But, by the end, we had hot water in the shower and kitchen sink (that's it). We don't have any water in the room where our washer is hooked up...We are trying to get that fixed. UG! Guess I'll do it the ol' fashion way for now. Blah! Next: the internet. Supposedly someone is going to come tonight to just look at what they can hook up and get our info. Then, we have to wait another week before they hook up the internet. YES....EVERYTHING IS HARDER IN CHINA!!!!! And it's not like I can get this all done myself. NO! I don't speak Chinese (other than to say "Hello. How are you? Very good. Thank you. I don't know. How much? I'm sorry/excuse me." and some other things (we a have Chinese class every Thursday for 45min)) No. I have to rely on others to make these phone calls and talk to these people to get all these little things done.
It is crazy to say that Jeff and I have been here a month and we are just getting moved in. It's also crazy just to say that Jeff and I have been here a month. Period!
I now have 10 students. Six of them are not English speakers. Two of the six speak NO English. Three of the six speak VERY LITTLE English. And one of the six is actually ok. Then, I have 4 English speakers. It is SOOOOO hard to find a balance teaching this mix. For the ESL kiddos I have to go slow and for the English speakers I need to speed it up. So…I am doing my best. And this weekend I will have an individual plan for EACH student and have a parent helper come in twice or three times a week to work one-on-one with each kiddo. Also, I have a Chinese helper named Ms. Judy.
Humph. And just a thought…how do you get 6 students to do as you ask and obey when they don’t understand what you are saying!?!?! NOT EASY! But you can bet that when I come back to the states I will be an expert in acting out charades!!!!!! LOL.
But hey, it’s REALLY a good thing that teaching is my job and my calling in life…otherwise I’d be outta here! LOL. And it’s an even better thing that Jeff and I have HIM on our side!
It makes me think, “Who do people yarp to, or look to, or trust in when life is this tough? And who do they praise or thank when the load lifts?”
Jeff has 6 students 3 of which are ESL students. Jeff is working REALLY hard as this is his first year teaching and his background is in Kinder and 1st. We help each other out a lot with ideas (: I mainly give him classroom management and lesson ideas…and he reminds me to have fun…which, believe me, I need those reminders (:
I don’t mean to complain…please don’t think that is my tone. It is just tough being “molded”…but I’m smiling, knowing that Jeff and I are going to be wonderful “pots” when it’s done.
We have an October holiday coming up the first week of October. Jeff and I might be going to Yushu (where the bad earthquake happened recently). It is another 1,000 or so feet up. We will stay in tents and have no running water. It is a one day bus ride there. It won’t be glamorous, but we will be able to see another part of China, and help out people (: It’ll be like camping for 4 days…silly.
Well, there is much more to say, and many more stories. But I have to go. I am going to be part of a woman’s group here in Xining to help support other ex-pats like myself. I figure when I reach out, there will be others to take my hand and we can help each other (:
Kristine and Jeff Hole

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

School has begun!

Yes, it has been too long since we wrote. Our internet has been out at the apt that we are staying at. So i makes it hard to write or Skype. Right now I am in my classroom trying to think about the work I should be getting done, but I can't because my mind keeps thinking of my wonderful family and friends. I really really miss you, 'nough of tears now...anyway...
Today I introduced Callie the Cat to my class (my Folkmannis puppet) It is our class "pet". The kids LOVED it (especially the girls) (: Also, they love playing with the Wedgits and Zoobs. I use my big finger-pointer every day for calendar time (and now the first grade teacher wants one )
I also use my “Music Maker”/little harp everyday. It’s my sound to have the children stop and listen. Also, my art students LOVE to play songs on it. I had a girl today ask if she could buy one…I told her dad to look up OverThe Rainbow Toy store (:

I have 9 students now, 5 ESL (English as a Second Language) and 4 English speakers. They are all pretty sweet, yet quite a handful. But I'm tough, so I'm whipping them into shape (:

Jeff likes his students. He has 7 now (I think) half are ESL. All his students like him! They are all so happy to have a male teacher that is funny and cares about them.

I am also the art teacher for the 1st-6th graders as well. One of my classes is the 1st and 2nd graders together (that's 25 students!) It's not my favorite, but I'm learning (:

This week and last week I taught the color wheel (primary, secondary, and complementary colors).

This school is pretty nice...but I'm really one for routine, structure, and rules. So at the first staff meeting I brought up areas where I saw that things are needed...needless to say they all agreed...but who do you think is the one that had to spear head it all? Yes, me. That's ok though, my wonderful husband helped. And the teachers say they see how the changes are good, and that these rules and routines are good for the students and school. So now they are all starting to enforce these things in their classrooms as well. I told the kids that I'm not trying to be mean; that ,in fact, I'd rather play and have fun too...but to play and have fun, you must first have firm roots in rules and structure! Silly (:

Tomorrow some of Xining’s police are coming to look at our school and to do some interviews on TV. Then on Friday (either this or next) the Vise Governor of Xining is coming to look at our school. China is all about "gwanshee" (that's not how you spell it, but that's how you say it) roughly it means "relations". So this is really good for our school to have these high-ups coming to see us! Hopefully we make a good impression!

Jeff and I have not moved into our new apt yet. But we did see it...and let me tell is Chinese bling...we even have a small disco ball!!!! and FOUR rooms...I don't really like the place, but I'll work to make it our own...That and we will have a guest room!!!!

We have not moved in yet...hopefully this week's SO hard because I don't know how to do anything in Chinese! We have to get some one to help us move our stuff, get a washer machine, internet, pay the electricity....and so on and so on....We are buying a nice bed and couch from a couple that is moving. We haven't seen these things, but we hear they are nice and from IKEA (: (and we already have a guest bed!!!)

Jeff and I are doing pretty good. We are making friends/connections. In fact last week Friday we were invited over to the Jones (their daughter is in my class) for BBQ chicken! It was nice. The expat community is really nice and good to us. We are so thankful for that!

Oh goodness, I really need to go…but I’ll try write again, sooner rather than later (: However the rest of this week is going to be FULL!

Thank your for all your support and prayers.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

We have only been here a week and I already have stories that have filled pages in my journal. I'll just tell you one quick story of our adventure to get here.
The flights/journey here was quite a challenge; from Sitka to Anchorage to Minneapolis to Seattle (were we got to hang out with Grandpa and Grandma Phylis and Kristian and Kiana), to Beijing, and finally to Xining. The most interesting stint was our 12 hours in the Beijing airport. We got to Beijing at 12:00am and our hotel reservations had been candled. What to do? There was 5 of us (the Leisener family; Tom, Wendy, their 5th grader Zoe, Jeff, and me) and 500 plus lb of luggage. Wendy and I ran into a guy in the airport that showed us a broacher of a nice hotel and a good price, so we jumped on the deal. Well, as they say, "if it seems too good to be true, it probably is". A "hotel shuttle" (a rickety old van) came to pick us up. We piled our 500lb of luggage and all 5 of us in. And there, at 1am in Beijing, we learned how they/Chinese drive. HOLY MOLY! Was I praying ever SO hard as the horns honked, the van smoked, the tires lifted on sharp FAST turns. But that wasn't the worst part. As he drove us away from city lights and through a back alley and stopped in front of what I can only call a hallway with rooms and doors, I knew this wasn't going to be good. They started yelling in Chinese to each other as they unloaded our bags and a guy from a beaded doorway came with a hand full of card keys and started swiping them in any door until one opened. We looked in the room. There was a bed and a toilet in the corner...Wendy and I locked eyes, this was NOT like the broacher! We did NOT feel safe! Where were we? Who were these men? Where was that dog that kept barking? We told the driver to take us back to the air port. He said, "NO!" Oh crap! In the end we paid him 100RMB (15bucks) to take us back. And there, in the Beijing air port, on a bench, we spent the next 12 restless hours.
The next day we arrived in Xining. Jeff and I are staying with a couple in an apt they are renting from someone else. Our apt will be open on Sep 1st. We will have to buy EVERYTHING, as it's an empty shell. Luckily the school will help us buy some of the things (like a bed, stove, and fridge).
Here's a kicker for ya...the people that lived here last had a dog...that dog had friends...those friends lived in my bed after he left...and now they are feeding on me! Yup! FLEAS! I have NEVER had flea problems so I thought they were other bug bits, but after getting over 20 every night, we decided what the source of they bites were and now Jeff and I are sleeping in the living room.
This week Jeff and I have been at the school from 8am to 8pm getting stuff ready and doing training. It has been very tricky and quite a growing experience to start with an empty shell of a room and turn it into a classroom with little money and hardly any resources. But we are foraging ahead knowing that we are gonna be some KICK BUTT teachers after this year!
Welp, if it wasn't hard, we wouldn't know how good we got it later on...
Gosh it's weird to say it's only been a week. And I still have MORE stories...I'll have to share those next time (:
Love you all and thank you for your prayers and support!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Lean forward so far, untill you are about to fall, keep's a bit scary right? Jeff and I are doing just that...leaning with faith that God is going to catch us. As you are leaning, what is the first thing you do as you are about to fall? Step forward to catch yourself. Jeff and I will be doing just that...taking that step forward...and growing.
We don't have our work visas yet. We are waiting for the letter from China saying we can teach over there. Then we have to mail that letter in to get our visas. Theeeennnnn we are on our way!
So, we wait...but while we wait and hope and pray that this will all come to be, we are moving forward: selling our things, packing up, looking into health insurance over there, getting caught up on our shots, and so on!
Some might say, "Hum, that sounds a little risky...moving forward with out much solid logic to stand on". Welp, you might be right...but we are growing, learning, loving, and living. Have faith and what is ment to be will be. So, we are going to China...heading out the 15th of August.
We'll let you know when we have the Visas (: