Welcome to Another Year of Crazy

I had intended to write this before the new year rolled in, but here it is mid-January and I’m finally getting around to it. Last year was weird. I mean, there were some great things and some not so great things, as usually happens. But last year was particularly weird, and I feel the need to tell you about it!


Farewell from my Art Institute co-workers Jan. 2017.

In January, I quit my job at the Art Institute of Chicago to accept a job as the Educator at the Confederate Reunion Grounds State Historic Site in Mexia, Texas, a town of 7500 people. It sounds like an odd choice, but I saw it as a career opportunity. From my journal, January 11th, 2017: “God has blessed me with what I asked for (a job), but I’m sure he also has many things to teach me through this next season of my life.” Oh, how could I have known everything that was in store for me this year!


Mom and Dad visit for the Civil War reenactment, and my birthday April 2017.

By February I was moved down to Texas, started my new job, and was hit with a wave of culture shock! As I slowly settled in, I had my first visitors come to stay, and started to explore more of Texas, going to San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and College Station. In April I conquered my first major event at work, a Civil War reenactment and living history weekend, which Mom and Dad came down for. I also celebrated my 30th birthday with the lovely ladies from my Sunday School class at church, who have been such a blessing to me. In May, I wrote this in my journal: “I believe the Lord is leading me on a great journey, a big part of which was my rock-bottom days of last year, and my shifting attitudes, and my leap of faith to my new life here in Texas. And this Sunday school class has been a part of it too! To know that I keep failing because I try to do it all on my own! Now to learn what it is to abide in Christ.”

At the end of July, I had the awful and humiliating shock of being fired from my new job. Two days afterwards, I wrote this: “I can’t sum up what has happened this week, and I don’t even want to. I have been rudely and unfairly fired from my job, had all kinds of negative things said about me, and no one was willing to stick their neck out for me. I was doing a good job, and anyone I’ve heard from has said so. My boss just didn’t like me and was looking for reasons or opportunities to fire me. But WHY?”

In August I struggled with my new circumstances and started looking for another job, but also took time to get away. I went camping in the Texas hill country, and spent time on the beach at North Padre Island, only weeks before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas. In fact, I traveled a ton. In September I went to London and Paris, and spent a week with my good friend Esme. In October my brother came down to visit, and we had fun spending time together and exploring Dallas and Waco. In November, I flew to Florida, to spend a week with my cousin Bonnie and her family, and got to spend some more time on the beach! Finally, I became “Aunt Rachel” on November 24th, when Brian and Jessica welcomed baby Fiona into the world. What a blessing!


Holding my adorable niece Fiona!

I went home for the Christmas holidays, and treasured seeing many friends and family. But the new year saw me packing up all my belongings (somewhat un-enthusiastically), and heading on another adventure. I’ve accepted a position as a Collections and Interpretation Intern for the Fort Bend History Association in Richmond, Texas, which includes the Fort Bend Museum, and the George Ranch Historical Park. While I’m still praying for a full-time job, this gives me a place to live, a new region to explore, and more museum experience to gain. Now, instead of 1000 miles from home, I am 1117 miles away! Not that it makes much of a difference (except in the weather – wheeee).

I was going to say something slightly cheesy about all the lessons I’ve learned in the past year, but I won’t, for two reasons. For one, it should go without saying that you learn more when things are hard than when things are easy. And two, I wouldn’t say the hard is nearly over – my unemployment benefits have just been revoked, and I discovered what it’s like to have all your pipes freeze in a south Texas ice storm! But this past year has made me far more resilient, and I’m sure that will serve me well in the future.


Checking out the new area at Brazos Bend State Park.

CS Knowledge Exchange


CS Knowledge Exchange
Posted January 15th, 2010 – 4:27 pm

by Rachel Smith

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When you first created your CS profile, what did you put under Teach, Learn and Share? This information helps make CouchSurfing more than finding a place to rest your head. Everyone has the chance to be a student or a teacher, and events are ideal opportunities for knowledge exchange.

What can you teach, learn, or share? Popular ideas to get you started:
Arts & Crafts (origami, knitting)
Travel Advice & Experience
Exercise (yoga, hiking, martial arts)
Music & Instruments
Science & Philosophy
CS 101

Teach, Learn, and Share Events

In Europe:

In Manchester, England, CouchSurfers meet monthly at a low-key bar in town to practice origami, knitting, poker and languages such as French, Turkish, Italian, and Spanish. Janis, the event organizer, firmly believes that everyone has something to share. “People who say, ‘I don’t have anything anyone would want to learn,’ are often surprised to find that something they undervalue can be really interesting to another person.”

The folks of Lisbon, Portugal, organized their first Knowledge Exchange Meeting this past December. The event had workshops on topics as diverse as self-defense, Austrian cooking, Pilates, Tui-Na massage, laptop recovery, and using Google Sites.

In North and South America:

A small group in Florida, United States, meets to share their common interest in travel writing. Freelance journalist and author Kerry facilitates the workshop, passing on what she knows about the writing industry.

In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, CouchSurfers met twice this January for a discussion of modern physics, moderated by philosopher and engineer Márcio Galvão and by physicist Lucas Savi. “Pleasant afternoons spent in the company of educated people,” was how an attendee, Paula Paz, described these meetings.

Language Lessons

A Dutch game lesson
photo by Liza

For over a year, the Weekly Dutch lessons in Utrecht, Netherlands, have brought CouchSurfers together for casual evenings of education and fun.

The lessons have given expats such as Jim Hart and Graham Wright the opportunity to make friends with locals and experience the Dutch culture. “It surprises me how detached most foreigners can be from the local language and culture,” says Jim. Graham credits his new friends for the extra motivation to attend classes. “I made some of my best CS friends through these lessons because there is a stronger bond between people who go through something difficult, like learning Dutch, together.”

Travel Advice

As CouchSurfers, there’s one thing we all know a lot about: travel. Montreal’s CS travel conference “gave CouchSurfers an overview of China, from the big metropolitan cities to the countryside,” says Carlos, who presented with Stephanie Wang.

In San Francisco, United States, How to Get Lost featured presentations by CouchSurfers who taught English in Chile, researched flora in Indonesia and traveled solo in Iran.

CS 101

Events designed to turn inexperienced members into savvy CouchSurfers are also popular. Mario, Ambassador for Heredio Centro, Costa Rica, believes New Member Meetings “encourage members to become more active and empower them to make CouchSurfing safer for everyone.”

Derek Wallace has organized New Member Orientation events in the United States which, he claims, have turned CS newbies into “kung-fu masters” — in terms of CS knowledge, that is.

Martine, Ambassador for Brugge, Belgium, taught workshops at the Independent Women’s Meeting and the Utrecht Midsummernight. She says, “it’s a wonderful feeling when you notice that one of the CouchSurfers you ‘trained’ ends up an experienced member who helps others.”

Ready to organize a teach, learn, and share event?  Here are Janis‘ tips:

1. Recruit several core members in your area to help organize the event.

2. Find a friendly, welcoming venue that supports your group.

3. Choose a visible location. Greet newcomers!

4. Match skills and interests beforehand.

5. Keep tabs on the event attendance list, and encourage new people to come.

6. Create areas for different interests as groups begin to form.

7. Hand out name tags. Have people write their names and what they want to teach/learn.