Tea Has Charms to Sooth the Savage Breast

October 2, 2015 § Leave a comment


East Asian tea ceremonies. Chai in India. Iced tea in the US. North African mint tea. Tea time in the UK.

Tea is a cherished part of cultures around the globe. But why?

One reason is its standing as a stress reliever.

“Would you like to join me for a cup of tea?” Just the invitation itself sounds soothing. Though science can’t explain all the whys, researchers have been able to bolster tea’s reputation as a cure for stress.

One study, published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2006 shows the effects of black tea on stress. In it, researchers from University College London removed tea, coffee, and caffeinated beverages from the diets of 75 men. They then gave them caffeinated fruit mixtures to drink four times a day for six weeks. For some, the drink was a placebo, but for others, it contained the active ingredients of black tea.

After subjecting the groups to stress-inducing situations, the researchers found that the “tea” drinking group, when compared to the placebo group, had lower levels of the stress-hormone cortisol. Those participants also reported higher levels of relaxation during the recovery period and showed lower levels of blood platelet activation, which is associated with the risk of heart attacks.

Andrew Steptoe of UCL says,

We do not know what ingredients of tea were responsible for these effects on stress recovery and relaxation. Tea is chemically very complex, with many different ingredients. Ingredients such as catechins, polyphenols, flavonoids and amino acids have been found to have effects on neurotransmitters in the brain, but we cannot tell from this research which ones produced the differences.

Nevertheless, our study suggests that drinking black tea may speed up our recovery from the daily stresses in life. Although it does not appear to reduce the actual levels of stress we experience, tea does seem to have a greater effect in bringing stress hormone levels back to normal. This has important health implications, because slow recovery following acute stress has been associated with a greater risk of chronic illnesses such as coronary heart disease.

Nada Milosavljevic, of the Harvard Medical School, writing at The Daily Tea, describes two possible ingredients that could lead to stress reduction. One is L-theanine, an amino acid found only in tea, which can decrease one’s heart rate and lessen the sympathetic response to stressors. It also increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin.

And there are polyphenol antioxidant catechins. Polyphenols, Milosavljevic writes, “positively affect neurotransmitters in the brain, making it easier to maintain mental balance.”

Psychologists Malcolm Cross and Rita Michaels, of City University London, say that tea’s calming effects are not just chemical, but cultural as well. In their study, commissioned by Direct Line insurance, they gave 42 individuals a stress-inducing task, then served half of them a cup of tea and half of them a glass of water. While the water group reported elevated stress levels, the tea group’s levels of stress were even lower than before the stress activity.

Some in the tea group said that they saw drinking the tea as something relaxing that marked a break from their anxiety. Some reported feeling “cared for” by those who prepared the tea for them. And the group as a whole conversed with the tea maker and fellow tea drinkers—while the water group drank in silence.

Cross tells The Telegraph,

This study shows that the social psychological aspects of tea enhance the effects of its chemical make-up on our bodies and brains. It’s possible that this culturally rooted, symbiotic function between mind and body explains why Britons instinctively turn to tea in times of need.

Put simply, the findings illustrate what most mothers would tell us: if you’re stressed, anxious or just feeling blue, make yourself a nice calming brew.

(Andrew Steptoe, et al., “The Effects of Tea on Psychophysiological Stress Responsivity and Post-Stress Recovery: A randomized Double-Blind Trial,” Psychopharmacology, January 2007; “Black Tea Soothes Away Stress,” University College London, July 16, 2010; Nada Milosavljevic, “An Antidote to Stress: Calming Teas & Tisanes,” The Daily Tea, August 5 2014; Malcolm Cross and Rita Michaels, “The Social Psychological Effects of Tea Consumption on Stress: Executive Summary,” 2009; Richard Alleyne, “A Cup of Tea Really Can Help Reduce Stress at Times of Crisis, Claim Scientists,” The Telegraph, August 13, 2009)

[photo: “Tea Time,” by Taidoh, used under a Creative Commons license]

Telling Stories of Perseverance from Afghanistan and Kilimanjaro

September 25, 2015 § Leave a comment


Mt. Kilimanjaro

My alma mater, the University of Missouri, is known for its School of Journalism. And the School of Journalism is known for the quality of work done by its graduates.

Two of those graduates have been featured this year in Mizzou Magazine for their international-themed documentaries, in which people courageously face the challenges before them.

Afghanistan: No One Should Be Forgotten

In the winter issue, Mo Scarpelli talks about her motivation for making documentaries. “The stories I’m interested in,” she says, “inform and provoke people to learn about something or start questioning things in their world.” It is this mindset that led her, and fellow director/producer Alexandria Bombach, to film Frame by Frame, which follows four photojournalists in post-Taliban Afghanistan.

One of those four is Massoud Hossaini, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012 for his photo showing the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Kabul.

When the Taliban were overthrown, taking photos became legal again. But with the withdrawal of US troops, Hossaini and others are concerned that their rights will once again be lost. “This is a big possibility that the world . . . I mean . . . forget us again,” Houssaini says in the documentary. He doesn’t believe that anyone should be forgotten:

The world now is like one body, so all the member of this body should know that one member has a pain. And they should feel this, and they should know, and they should find out.

Kilimanjaro: More than a Hike

Steve Remich, another MU alum, is the videographer and co-editor behind Life in Motion: Kilimanjaro 2014. The short documentary shows Alex D’Jamoos, a young man without legs, and others climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Their trek was sponsored by the Happy Families International Center (HFIC), a non-profit that helps disabled children in orphanages get the medical care they need.

In Mizzou Magazine‘s fall issue, Remich says his hope in the documentary is to show something larger than just a climb up Kilimanjaro:

With the video, I really wanted to tell a short story that was about more than a hike. Sure it’s physically difficult and you wonder if you can make it to the top, but the entire point of hiking the highest mountain in Africa on prosthetic legs is about the symbolism of the act. Alex said something very powerful in one of our interviews, essentially that walking—for him—is not about mobility but about being normal. That really stuck with me, and I did my best to build a story around that idea.

D’Jamoos came to the US for surgery when he was 15 and was adopted by a family in Dallas soon after. He’s now a student at the University of Texas, planning to become an international lawyer.

“Even now, it’s surreal to me that I am a UT student,” D’Jamoos tells The Alcalde, the alumni magazine of The University of Texas. “It sounds a bit crazy. You know, ‘disabled Russian orphan comes to America, goes to college, climbs Kilimanjaro?’ Well, yeah.”

(Kelsey Allen, “Frame by Frame,” Mizzou Magazine, November 11, 2014; “Life in Motion,” Mizzou Magazine, August 19, 2015; Rose Cahalan, “The Climb,” The Alcalde, Jan/Feb 2015)

[photo: “Kili 56,” by Sam Haley, used under a Creative Commons license]

That One Safe Friend

September 18, 2015 § Leave a comment


Here’s the intro to my post today at A Life Overseas

Do you have that one safe friend?

When I went overseas, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even know I needed one.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of friends, good friends, but I didn’t have one particular person who was committed to the role of being that one safe friend. Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that all missionaries—and other cross-cultural workers—need someone whom they trust to be devoted to them because of who they are, not because of what they do, someone who will reach out to them consistently, someone who will encourage them, comfort them, laugh with them, and weep with them.

It’s not that there won’t be several people who could do this for you, but without someone specific to take on that responsibility, you may find yourself with no one. When you have your home church, your sending agency, your family, your coworkers, and your supporters behind you, it’s easy for each individual to think that you’re more than taken care of. At a Parents of Missionaries gathering I recently attended, Dr. Dorris Schulz, director for missionary care for Missions Resource Network, said that if she’s ever drowning, she hopes there’s only one person around. That’s because people in a crowd too often do nothing, assuming that someone else will step in.

Being that one safe friend, doesn’t take an exotic skill set. It’s not someone who has all the answers. And it doesn’t need to be someone with experience living abroad. But it does need to be someone who is a good listener, someone who is caring and empathetic, someone who understands you and understands the core challenges of life, regardless of the setting. It’s not an exotic skill set, but neither is it common to everyone.

You’ll need to be proactive in asking someone to be that friend. Don’t assume that people will come knocking, maybe because they doubt your need or their ability. So if you’re looking, what should you look for? What should you expect from that friend? Here are some suggestions:

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

[Photo by Magnus Wrenninge, used under a Creative Commons license]

How about a Families of Missionaries Sunday?

September 10, 2015 § 4 Comments


Last week I shared Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz’s tips on how to start a local Parents of Missionaries group. This week, here’s something else you can do to honor and encourage parents—and other family members—of missionaries whom you know.

Why not set aside a day each year as Families of Missionaries Sunday?

On that day your church could recognize those living Stateside who have sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, sisters and brothers, and mothers and fathers who are serving abroad. It would be a time to honor them, show your appreciation for their sacrifices, pray for them, and give legitimacy to the grief and concern that naturally comes with having family members live far away, sometimes in non-secure areas.

Not only would this be a time set aside for FOMs in your congregation, but you could also acknowledge family members of missionaries whom you support, regardless of where those families live. And with only a little tweaking, you could include the families of other cross-cultural workers and those of military personnel serving overseas, too.

So what could you do beyond recognition and prayer? Give them a copy of Savageau and Stortz’s Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected When Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally. Give them gift certificates for a nice meal out. Help them put together and ship care packages for their family members abroad. Give grandparents recordable books to send to grandchildren (and cover the shipping, too). Have a card shower for them. (Get the children’s Sunday-school classes involved in this one.) Invite the missionaries to send notes of appreciation that you can present, or have them share by video chat. Sponsor their attendance to a POM retreat, such as the one organized by the Missions Resource Network, or hold your own retreat. Bring in a guest speaker to encourage them and educate others on what they’re experiencing.

The rest is up to your imagination, but I would offer one caveat: Don’t put the family members on stage (or on a pedestal) to share wonderful stories of faith and joy. This is a day to bless them, not the other way around. FOMs already deal with the weight of unrealistic expectations—from others and from themselves— of how they should deal with their emotions. This is not a time to add to that pressure.

And finally, I even have a suggestion for when to have Families of Missionaries Sunday. How about next month? October is Clergy Appreciation Month, and while FOMs aren’t necessarily clergy, that wouldn’t be a bad fit, especially when you understand that honoring their families honors the missionaries, as well . October also presents a great opportunity to rally around FOMs before the arrival of the holidays, a time that can be extremely difficult for them. That’s why Savageau and Stortz include a chapter in their book titled “Happy Holidays? Coping with Holiday Stress.”

Of course, October is just around the corner and maybe you need more time to prepare. Not a problem. The when isn’t so important. The how isn’t so important either. What is important is the who and the why.

(Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2008)

[photo: “Eiffel Thanks,” by Lauren Manning, used under a Creative Commons license]

DIY Groups for Parents of Missionaries: Advice from the Experts

September 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

It is easy for Parents of Missionaries to feel isolated. Not only are they separated physically from their children, but they also can feel separated emotionally from those around them. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. One great source of fellowship for them is other Parents of Missionaries.

Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz, authors of Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected When Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally, have produced a list of guidelines to help start a POM group. I’m reproducing it here, and the pair are happy for you to do the same. They just ask that you include the copyright line at the end.


Ten Steps to Starting a Local POM Group

1. Ask God to bless and guide your effort as you set out to build a local group. Talk personally to the POMs you know, even if it’s only a few, about your idea for a new group. Invite them to help you get a group going.

2. Set a specific direction for your group. It’s fine to talk about your missionaries, but the purpose of the group is to provide fellowship, support, and education for POMS themselves.

3. Find a professional Christian counselor who understands both family dynamics and the necessity of acknowledging grief as a key component of adjusting to new situations. If the counselor has any missions background or interest, so much the better. Ask the counselor to read Parents of Missionaries and volunteer to help you begin the group and moderate group meetings, especially in the beginning.

4. Introduce your idea to the local church and missions leaders you know to enlist their support and learn of other POMs in your area who might benefit from joining the group.

5. Contact other churches in your area. Mail or e-mail a letter that introduces your idea to church and missions leaders you don’t know and state that you will make follow-up contact in a week. Make follow-up phone calls to letter recipients, asking if they know of POMs who might benefit from joining the group. Ask for help in making contact with those parents.

6. Choose a date, place, and time for the first meeting six weeks in advance and arrange for a meal (either potluck or catered for an affordable fee per person).

7. Contact all the POMs on your list to introduce yourself and the group idea. Invite them to attend the first meeting and bring either a covered dish or the fee for the meal, depending on your plan.

8. Facilitate the meeting by providing name tags and cheerfully set tables. Plan short opening remarks and serve dinner. Allow approximately 45 minutes to an hour for dinner, dessert, and conversation.

9. After dinner, ask POMs to arrange their chairs in a circle without tables or other barriers in the middle. Let POMs introduce themselves and tell in just a few sentences about their missionary children and grandchildren.

10. Lead a discussion on a topic of interest to POMs. Use chapters in the book Parents of Missionaries as a guide. We especially suggest discussing these topics (one per meeting): dealing with grief, learning to use technology, coping with the holidays, staying connected with grandchildren, building strong relationships with young adult children.

© 2008, 2014 Cheryl Savageau and Diane Stortz

Study Prep: Getting Your Kids Ready for College back in the US

August 26, 2015 § Leave a comment


Now that your kids’ school year has started, it’s time to take in a big breath, let it out slowly . . . and start thinking about graduation. Ready or not, college is just around the corner.

Hear that sound? Listen closely. It’s the sound of time marching by.

While we can’t slow down the passage of time, we can prepare ourselves, and our children for what lies ahead. And if going to college in the US is part of your child’s future, then take a look at these tips for getting ready. They’re based on my experience sending two children back to the States for college while we were overseas, putting two into high school in the US (after home schooling and having them attend school abroad), and working in a university admissions office. Do you have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Academics
    Before your child begins high school (or as soon as possible thereafter), find out the college-prep requirements and recommendations for the state in which she plans to continue her education. Each state will have its own list of required coursework for entrance into its public institutions, with courses in English, math, science, social studies, and fine arts. The list may also include classes in such areas as foreign language or personal finance. You’ll also want to check with individual colleges, public and private, to find out what additions or exceptions their requirements might have in comparison to the state’s core curriculum.
  2. Homeschoolers
    Most colleges welcome the addition of home-schooled students to their campuses, but homeschoolers will want to find out what documentation is needed and any hoops that they might need to jump through for admission. Students with diplomas from unaccredited high schools may have additional requirements, as well. Also, if students will be transferring to a Stateside high school before graduating, make sure you know the school’s policy on what courses they will give credit for towards graduation.
  3. AP
    For students taking AP (Advanced Placement) courses, check with potential colleges to see what level of test scores they accept. Also, find out if successful completion of an AP course will earn advanced placement (taking the place of a college-level course), credit (hours toward graduation), or both. While you’re at it, see if the school will allow a bilingual child to test out of foreign-language courses. This may or may not be part of CLEP (College Level Examination Program) testing. Testing out of classes not only can help meet degree requirements but can also be an easy way to add a minor.
    Students can take the PSAT/NMSQT (Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test), during their junior year. The test, from the College Board, is used for awarding National Merit Scholarships. High-scoring students who receive semifinalist status can apply to be finalists. Interested students outside the US will need to find a local school that is administering the test. To help with this, the College Board offers a PSAT school search form.
  5. SAT and ACT
    While some institutions don’t require SAT or ACT scores, the majority do. But which one should your child take? There are differences between the two exams. For instance, the SAT emphasizes vocabulary more than the ACT, and the ACT has a science section while the SAT does not. Other differences are more subtle. For a helpful comparison of the tests, see “The SAT vs. the ACT,” from The Princeton Review. You can find international test centers for the SAT here, and ACT’s international sites here. Contact your target schools to see if they “superscore.” Superscoring combines section subscores from two or more test dates, using the highest from each section instead of using only the scores from one date.
  6. Deadlines
    Don’t forget to keep track of deadlines: deadlines for submitting university and scholarship applications, for filling out housing contracts, for making payments or setting up payment plans, etc. Check early, as some will be much sooner than you might think.
  7. FAFSA
    Another big deadline is for filing out the FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid), found at fafsa.ed.gov. The FAFSA is used to determine how much a family is expected to contribute to a student’s college education and, thus, how much will be offered in financial aid and loans. Results are reported to up to 10 colleges at a time. The application period opens January 1 for the following school year, but each state has its own deadline, found here. Individual colleges may have earlier deadlines, as well. Tax data is necessary for completing the form, but updated information can be supplied later by amending the application. Even if students know that their family won’t qualify for federal or state financial aid, they should submit the FAFSA anyway, as it is often used for scholarship selection. It is important to remember that filling out the FAFSA is free, so if a site asks for payment, it’s not the official FAFSA.
  8. Scholarships
    When it comes to scholarships, there are those offered by individual colleges, and there are many, many more out there that are looking for qualified recipients. Some students treat scholarship application as if it were a job, and it can pay very well, with funds adding up well beyond the cost of school. For reviews on five top scholarship websites, take a look at Blake Sander’s article at MoneySavingPro. Remember that any scholarship or grant money that goes beyond paying qualified education expenses (tuition, fees, and books, but not room and board) is considered taxable.
  9. Transcripts
    Students will need to submit high-school transcripts to colleges as part of the admission process. For most schools, the transcripts will need to arrive in a sealed envelope from the high school in order to be considered official. Some will accept faxed copies from the high school. Foreign transcripts that are not from US accredited schools will need to be evaluated for authenticity, for diploma validation, and for determining a US GPA equivalent. Some colleges will do this in house, while others will require you to send the transcript to a third-party evaluation agency. If the transcript isn’t in English, it may be necessary to have it translated, as well.
  10. Campus visits
    Many colleges offer online virtual tours to help you get a good feel for their campus. Look at the institution’s web site, but you’ll also find a number of schools represented at YouVisit’s college site. If you’re in the States, it’s beneficial to have an in-person visit. If you give a school enough notice before you arrive, they should be able to arrange a tour for you.
  11. In-state tuition
    Back to finances: One of the biggest concerns for out-of-country parents is the issue of in-state tuition for public schools. Even if you’ve previously lived in a state your whole life, the fact that you don’t now means that your child will have to prove he deserves in-state status. The final decision will come from the university, and it will depend on such things as parents’ owning a house there (though that by itself is not enough), living there for a number of years, having ties to the state and other factors that show a probability the student will remain there after graduation, filing state income tax, registering a vehicle, registering to vote, having a library card, etc. Schools have widely varying rules on how students can gain in-state status on their own, such as living in the state as a financially independent adult for a period of time. Some schools offer in-state rates to children of alums or to residents of neighboring states or states with regional student exchanges. Words such as dependentresident, home, and domicile are important to define. (Hint: They may not mean what you think they mean.)
  12. Admissions office
    Make a friend in the admissions office of the colleges you’re serious about, someone you can email, or call, to get answers to your questions. You might get in touch with someone in international admissions, as well, for help with issues that are unique to students living outside the US.
  13. FERPA
    Understand that even if you want to stay in control of your child’s education, you will be limited in the information you can get from the school. Under FERPA (Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act), the college cannot give you such things as grades, class schedule, or billing information without the students written consent—even if you’re the one paying the bills.
  14. Orientation
    Make plans for your child to arrive in the US in time for student orientation. The earlier she enrolls, the more classes will be available for filling out her schedule. Orientation is a good time for parents, if you’re able to come, to hear first-hand the details of college life. It’s also good time for releasing your child toward independence. (That’s why you’ll probably be sent to a different room while your child picks classes.)
  15. On campus
    You’ll want your children to find community when they relocate. Some campuses will have a residence hall set aside for honors students or a floor designated for students with common educational interests. You can contact local churches and campus ministries (some of which will offer housing). Maybe there’s a Mu Kappa chapter (for missionary kids) on campus. Or maybe the school has a recognized group for Third Culture Kids (TCKs). International student clubs may offer a good fit as well.
  16. Transition
    Our two sons who came back to the US for college while we were overseas attended reentry programs. These were very valuable in helping them understand the transitions they were facing and giving them practical advice for acclimating to US culture. The two seminars we used are sponsored by Barnabas International (they also offer one in partnership with the Narramore Christian Foundation) and Interaction International. For help in understanding the TCK mindset and how to navigate cultural changes, get a copy of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds (by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken) or The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition (by Tina Quick).

The kids really are growing up. It’s never too early to get ready. Hear that sound?

[photo: “Graduation Cake Guy,” by David Goehring, used under a Creative Commons license]

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy

August 19, 2015 § 2 Comments

5389355486_8ae3459399_oIn 2012 I wrote “Can Grief and Joy Coexist?” In light of our own recent sadness, I’ve adapted it and posted it at A Life Overseas. Go there to read it all (and to hear the song at the end.)

Let me add my voice to those who are praising Pixar’s Inside Out as a great movie for the cross-cultural community. I think we’ll be showing clips of it to expats, repats, and TCKs for a long time to come. (If you’ve not seen it and don’t know what it’s about, I suggest you read Kay Bruner’s discussion of the movie, from a counselor’s point of view.)

I hope that someday Inside Out is made into a Broadway musical. I’d like to hear Sadness and Joy sing a duet at the end.

Dealing with Loss

My wife and son and I saw the film in the theater a few weeks ago. It was rather cathartic, as the past several months have been a time for us, like Riley in the movie, to deal with our emotions—while our emotions learn how to deal with each other. It’s been an especially difficult time for my wife. Her father died in March, and then a brother died last month.

Those events have brought back memories of difficulties we faced while we lived overseas. During our time outside our passport country, we experienced the deaths of my wife’s mother and another brother and of my father.

When you lose loved ones, it can trigger so much emotional confusion. When you live far away from them, a whole other set of complications come into play.

It’s not just losing someone we love, it’s often losing the opportunity to say Goodbye or the ability to grieve together when traveling with the whole family isn’t possible.

When should we go back? Who should make the trip? How long should we stay? What if we don’t meet others’ expectations? What are the rules?

And when sadness comes into the life of the missionary, it is so easy to ask, “Where is my joy?”

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “Golden Hearts on Blue,” by Lea Wiertel, used under a Creative Commons license]


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