Arrival to Jeju Island, South Korea

Today is the first day of my vacay in Korea.  Let the fun begin!

Nanbeihu 2012

This past week I travelled for three hours to Nanbeihu in Zhejiang Province, China with the fifth grade classes.  We were blessed with warm sunshine, blue skies, happy students and no major injuries! :)

I was the leader of the "Orange Octupus" group, and the "Red Tomato" group.  The "Orange Octupus" group was at camp from Monday through Wednesday, and then the "Red Tomato" group was at camp from Wednesday through Friday.

It was a week filled with non-stop adventure and action, as the students participated in events such as the leap of faith, rock climbing, rappelling, high ropes, kayaking and orienteering.  It was a great week of team spirit, making friends, and overcoming challenges.  At night the students enjoyed a BBQ dinner, complete with s'mores and campfire songs and skits.  The "Red Tomato" group made my night when they performed the "Miss Fitz" version of the "boom chicka boom" song.  They had the whole camp dancing and doing a "boogie".  I tried to catch their performance on video, but my camera died halfway through.  :(

Compliments to the hotel and camping site, as both were well maintained and very clean (no squattie potties, and real showers! woowhoo!).  The adventure staff were also very competent in providing a safe and enjoyable experience for all of the students.  Overall, it was a great experience to watch the students step outside their comfort zones, and support one another with compassion and respect. I'm so glad I went on this trip, and had the opportunity to get to know my fifth grade students better.

Below are some pictures from Nanbeihu.  Enjoy! :)

Pooped out on the bus ride home!  So cute!  :)

Don't forget to exercise this weekend, wherever you are in this beautiful world!  paz.amor.felicidad <3

Speeding away from it all...

When I was in Naples over the summer, it struck me how the Neapolitanos live under the heat of the Mafia without so much as a blink of the eye.  They live amongst garbage in the streets, prostitutes, government corruption, etc.  It's accepted as a way of life there.  But how could that be??

I'm always embarrassed to tell European friends that I have student loan debt, as the conversation inevitably turns into them lecturing me about how messed up American government is, and how our leaders do not protect the most vulnerable members of society, between our lack of universal health care, lack of affordable education, etc. etc.

Although it's an annoying lecture to listen to, I can't say I don't marvel at the irony of it all.  In fact, I shouldn't have been so surprised to see so many people living under corruption in Naples, since I am part of the demographic currently BURIED under student loan debt in the US, controlled by the for-profit Mafia, better known as Sallie Mae.

Mafia tactics/exploitation/manipulation used by Sallie Mae:

*Retracting on previous agreements, and reporting accounts incorrectly on credit bureaus, and refusing to fix them, even though loans are now paid in full!
*Acknowledging that incorrect information will hinder my ability to obtain credit in the future.
*They are anti-American!  SLM has taken jobs away from Americans, and pays cheap labor in the Philippines to insult/threaten/demean their college-educated clients.
*You can never truly make a principal-only payment because they take their sweet time (5-6 days), and allow the daily interest to accrue on the account before posting the payment. My per diem rate is approximately $4.93! So no matter what, $30 goes into their pockets every time I try to make a principal-only payment.
*They will not re-negotiate or offer a new program to me with a locked-in, lower interest rate if I pay off my loans in 18 months versus their crazy terms of 10-15 years!  This really irks me, because they love to offer me deferment, forbearance, hardship terms, etc. because the interest just keeps pilling up, but for those of us who can pay faster, and want to get on with life as quickly as possible, CAN'T!

What is wrong with our country and our values??? How is it that I can buy a brand new BMW for 0.9% interest for 36 months, 1.9% for 48 months, or 2.9% for 60 months, but I can't finance my education for less than 4% (which is what I'm paying on the federal loans. Private loan rates are variable, and have been as high as 14%!!!!! That hurts my heart just to write the number!)?  No, it's not just because the manufacturer has subsidized the buy rate for the loan on the BMW.  Sallie Mae is also borrowing the money for pennies on the dollar, but charging astronomical rates because they could and they still can.  There are very few options when choosing private student loan providers, and the universities have their hands in the pot as well, benefiting from the number of students they enroll in certain loans and programs.

Why do we do business with banks who are not operating in students' interests, and settle for terms that are terrible?!?!?!  Lastly, if we normally don't settle for schools that are for-profit, for the conflict of interest,  why are we financing our education with companies who are FOR-PROFIT????  

I know I need to take their antics in stride, and pay off my student loans as fast as I can, and live la dolce vita in spite of the Mafia, just like the Italians.  Yet once a month I worry myself and stress out over the terms I signed up for when I was 18/19 years old; when I didn't really understand the ramifications of what I was getting myself into.  Once a month I go on an internet binge, looking up advice, articles and a way to feel better about the blatant robbery that is taking place over at Sallie Mae, but I end up feeling worse.  So I'm going to let the facts speak for themselves, and not let the Mafia bother me... until next month's payment!  Now where's my Vespa so I can go for a ride?! ;)

FACT # 1: The "necessity" of a college degree has watered-down the market and made Bachelor's degrees essentially equivalent to a HS diploma; aka dime a dozen.

FACT #2: Banks and universities exploited students by adding origination fees, variable rates, quid-pro-quo favors, administrative fees, technology fees, SGA fees, unnecessary genEd courses, etc etc etc.  Banks and universities acted together against the best interests of the students.

FACT # 3: I borrowed during the most risky and irresponsible time in private student loan history! (2004-08); aka: I was duped and am still suffering the consequences!

FACT # 4: The Department of Education continued the foolishness!  They spent a billion dollars last year on collection agencies to collect from students who had defaulted on their loans.  A BILLION DOLLARS!! Here's an idea, reinvest the tax payer's money on the taxpayers who are going to school! Provide help and offer more repayment options to those struggling to pay private loans, equal to the help students receive on federal loans!  CROOKS!!

One day at a time, one dollar at a time, I am slightly closer to the light at the end of this very dark tunnel! I plan to have a BIG PARTY when I am finally done with my student loans!  With a piƱata in the shape of SLM!

PE team social @ the park

The ES/MS/HS Phys Ed. team had beautiful weather, yummy food and great company yesterday at the park. Some local Chinese neighbors even showed up to inspect our picnic and do a little dance! :)

It was nice to relax, catch up and play with the growing group of cute children belonging to my coworkers.  Exhibit A:

I made a fruit salad that was simply peaches, oranges, apples with a little bit of sugar and pecans--not too bad for last minute preparation.  

Next time I will make baked ziti.. can you believe that my mid-western coworkers have never had this NY/Italian classic?!? Cooking for other people makes me nervous, but you know what they say.. practice makes perfect!  

The weather is sunny and fall-like here in Shanghai today.  Hope it's nice wherever you are!