“I call my horses ‘divine mirrors’ – they reflect back the emotions you put in.  If you put in love and respect and kindness and curiosity, the animal will return that” – Allan Hamilton

“I call my horses ‘divine mirrors’ – they reflect back the emotions you put in.  If you put in love and respect and kindness and curiosity, the animal will return that” – Allan Hamilton

I saw this quote and immediately thought of our RYE students.  What they learn in their respective countries is directly related to what they put in.  The more they divulge themselves into the culture, the more they learn, grow, respect, and appreciate everything around them near and far.

In many cultures, people worship animals.  For example, in Korean folklore, the tiger is regarded as the guardian of the west and a divine spirit that symbolizes power and courage.  They bring good luck and wisdom.  Hinduism celebrates elephants because they have many positive traits such as serenity, strength, wisdom, and royalty.  In parts of India and Nepal, dogs are worshiped and believed to be messengers to god of demise and guard to heaven’s doors.

When I asked them their monthly question, they were curious.  I asked what they their favorite animal was and why.  What does this have to do with exchange?  Well, the traits they see in animals could very well imitate their own qualities.  Let’s see what they had to say…

Davíd: “My favorite animal is the dog.  I think as many people think that is one of the most loyal animals, they can be very beautiful, talented and good companions.  Also, I have a dog, and he definitely is this man’s best friend.  He makes me happy and calms me down.  I always want to hug him and make him happy.  It’s just like a son, a lover, a mom, a counselor, a pet, a brother, and a teddy bear, all in a single life being.”

Sofia: “I love cows. My grandparents live in upstate New York, across the road from a huge dairy farm, and last year I begged them to take me there so I could take some pictures and interact with the animals. I like cows because they're social creatures and friendly giants. Additionally, I enjoyed the discovery that, despite all cows looking really similar from a distance, if you see them up close you'll notice they each have specific features and unique personalities. I like their slow movements and methodical habits because, by observing them, I have come to believe that cows know how to take their time and enjoy themselves.”

Ruthie: “Ok, so my favorite animal is kind of boring, but it's the only animal I could think of that I had an actual explanation behind liking it other than "it's really cool." Anyway, my favorite animal is the cat. The first, basic reason why is because of how adorable and soft they are! The next reason is because of how they communicate and take in the world.

Cats are very expressive; however, if you don't focus on the subtleties or details in their face and body language you'll miss it all. A simple flick of the ears, positioning of the tail, dilation of the pupils, and other details can tell you just what a cat is thinking and feeling. If you pay enough attention, you'll notice cats are always communicating even if it appears that they're just sitting there. A big reason why too many people don't like cats, especially moody cats, is because of their inconspicuous communication methods though. Most times, cats are telling you how exactly they want you to pet them or what they feel about what you're doing, but the signs if they don't like something go unnoticed until the cat starts hissing or scratching. The need to be aware of even small changes in the cat's movements, makes me appreciate the fact that most communication, even with people, goes further than meets the eye.

Next, just like cats need you to be sensitive to their communications and reactions, they too are sensitive to the world. Their senses are heightened so the world comes at them at a higher intensity than it does us, which is why a cat can get easily frightened by a sudden sound or smell or object and why they are usually skittish of new environments. It also explains why some cats (but not all) don't appreciate certain animals or people. They don't like the overstimulation that certain animals, like dogs, or people, like young children or energetic people, can throw at them. Cats are also hypersensitive to our emotions. It's easy for them to figure out the mood we're in and, if they're comfortable with us, to settle down on or next to us to relax with us or comfort us. As a person that's also particularly sensitive to the world and the people around me, sometimes I feel like I can relate to cats in this aspect.

The last reason why I love cats has to do with how independent they are. Since they're naturally independent creatures, cats usually don't love their humans just for providing for them, and cats have shown that they're completely fine doing their own thing alone if they feel like it. This means when a cat actually does show you affection or makes it obvious that they wanna be with you, it feels more personal and more special. The cat is telling you it wants to be with you even though it doesn't have to be. It makes it feel extra heartwarming when a cat does purr up to you or sit on your lap or lay next to you or on you when you sleep.

I don't know if this makes any sense. Maybe I'm just crazy or looking to much into it, haha.

But yeah, that's all I gotta say about cats. Sorry it was long.”

Chawin: “My favorite animal is tiger.  Because it is graceful and strong.  The baby tiger is super cute.  Also they protects its lovers and family.  Do you know that tiger is the largest cat species.  It eats tons of food too.  They do not like cold weather.  They are hard to find in nature like me.  You can only find me in MS.”

Felice: “My favorite animal, if I absolutely had to pick, would be penguins. They look so pretty and graceful when they swim, but I also love watching them waddle around just a little awkwardly. They're adorable. Penguins are actually relatively sociable birds, with each other and with humans, because usually they do not fear coming near us. And we all know from Happy Feet that they are incredible dancers.”

Serena: “Although it might be kind of predictable, I would rather say that my favorite animal is the wolf.  I can see myself in that animal quite a lot; they are independent, but also family oriented; strong, dark, and Loyal especially to family.  Just like a wolf, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my family! I love them and they are a priority and they are in my every thought.  So it is the same for the people that I hold dear in my heart, my close friends as well as my family (families ??) are my pack and I will not let them down.”

So, am I right?  I can see qualities from each animal in our six students just through my monthly emails with them.  I’m beginning to know and understand their personalities.  There are many similarities between them and what they chose.  However, I also believe they can learn a lot about themselves through their chosen animal as well as the others.  Love fiercely like the dog; take time to enjoy life like the cow; be independent like the cat; protect the ones you love like the tiger; stay loyal like the wolf; and always remember it’s ok to be a little awkward like the penguin!  Until next month…     

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