stepping off the edge together

I’m currently in Bangkok, Thailand and will be on a plane to Delhi, India this afternoon. I’ll be India for the next four months, three of those during which I’ll be working as an instructor for Where There Be Dragon’s Visions of India semester abroad. My students arrive tomorrow and we head immediately to the Himalayas for a few weeks of trekking and rural homestays – so until I return from the mountains, I will not be able to post or reply to emails. In the meantime, I’ve posted my letter of introduction to my students. I’ll be with back with wordy expansions on all my simple interactions and exchanges soon enough.

Namaste,
sol

p.s. For those who might have noticed, I have, with enormous excitment, upgraded to a digial SLR – the Canon Rebel Xti. *!*

“When you step off the edge of the unknown, you will either find solid ground, or learn to fly.”

Namaste! (Hindi greeting which means, “recognizing the divine in you”)

I’m sure a few of you are starting to get nervous with anticipation. (Hold onto that feeling by the way, it’s an essential and fleeting part of the fun.) And I just want to congratulate you on your courage for already taking the first steps of our travels. I know you haven’t gotten on the plane yet, but just making the decision to step into an unknown world, with eyes and mind open, ready and willing to challenge, define, and redefine your personal reality, takes enormous bravery. I know, from a few years experience leading experiential semester programs abroad, that an itinerary like ours draws the most unique, passionate and adventurous of individuals together.

So I’d like to tell you a little about my own life path (which has had its fair share of both graceful and blundering moments) so that you may see how it has led to a convergence with yours.

After I received my degree from Santa Clara University in the Silicon Valley of California, I moved to San Diego, found a job in an office tower and put nothing less than every drop of my passion into it. I worked 80-hour weeks, slept under my desk on weekends, and quickly became one of the highest paid employees in the company. But after two years of this life, I sat up from my computer one day and realized this; I had a successful job with prestige, an apartment by the beach, a nice car and an income greater than that of my parents combined…and it wasn’t enough. Or rather it was enough. It was too much. I was grasping at the wrong dream, desperately clenching onto the airy and materialistic notions of a magazine dream instead of picking myself up and pursuing my own. And that’s when I learned that sometimes we spend a lot of lives learning not what we want to do, but what we do not want to do. And that’s okay. It’s not important how many mistakes we make, only that we learn from those we do.

So where was I to go? I had no idea. But on an intuitive whim, I caught a clue as to where I could go to find MY dream. So I sold everything I owned, strapped on a backpack and moved abroad…

I spent the first year trekking, chicken-bussing, volunteering and salsa-dancing my way through Central America and the next four years traversing some six continents and forty-something countries: working with the children living in the squatter community in the dumpster of Guatemala, building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Fijian villages, strolling the beaches of Costa Rica at midnight keeping the eggs of Leatherback turtles safe from poachers, fighting off Lantana from overtaking the native plant species of Eastern Australia, giving massages to the crippled limbs of those left at the Mother Teresa House of the Destitute in India, preparing the gardens for feeding an orphanage in the Himalayas, teaching English to refugee monks who escaped from Tibet, planting trees in a reforestation effort in Coastal Ecuador, living with an “adopted family” in Colombia and, most recently, finishing the second segment of a 1,700-mile walking pilgrimage across France, Spain and Portugal.

Over the course of those years, attending the prestigious “University of Life,” I found my path and my passion in “service learning” and in what Dragons calls in its mission statement, “experiential education,” which simply means — using the world as our living classroom and our real experiences and interactions within it as the lesson plan.

So having found my own life-driving inspiration abroad, I quickly realized that the only thing that matched my excitement in making my own reality-quaking revelations was watching, guiding, and sharing that process of “travel-induced-enlightenments” with others — specifically, with young, enthusiastic and inspired people like you!

I’ve now lead five experiential semesters abroad: one through the South Pacific (Australia, New Zealand and Fiji), one through Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica), one through Northern India and most recently, Dragon’s Himalayan Studies and Guatemala Semesters. Each of these semesters (and more specifically, each of the students) has re-confirmed that this is exactly where I love to put my life energy. I can tell you what my favorite thing is about leading these trips without hesitation: Because of the fifty students I have led on these adventures, every one of the has since told me, “my semester abroad was the most influential, inspiring and life-changing experience of my life.” And I’m just so thankful and excited to have the opportunity to play part in such transformative experiences.

You know that feeling when you look up into the night sky and fall dizzy in questions of our place in that space? We’ll I’ve personally dedicated my life to seeking and understanding that mystery of being. I don’t fancy finding answers. I find my fancy in the questions themselves. And I want to reassure you, that unlike the formal classroom, this journey is much more about the questions (yours, mine, ours) than the answers. Of all the things on the packing list, the most important thing you can remember to bring with you on this trip — is your sense of Wonder.

This trip to India will be my fifth; of all the countries I’ve travelled, none has ever held my captivation, intrigue, respect or love like the one within which we’ll be adventuring together in only a few short weeks. When people ask me why I love India so much, I often answer, “because it’s like walking on the moon.” Saturated in color and culture, I have yet to find a country more intense, shocking or mysterious. Had you asked me, four years ago, “What is it that calls you to India?” I could only have shrugged, having no words to describe my desire to visit a place I knew nothing about. The “call” to “go to India” is usually indefinable, based heavily on intuition and an unexplainable “urge” to experience a world that you’re certain will turn yours upside down. So if this is what you’re feeling and just the word, “India” sparks your curiosity or makes your heart leap for unknown reasons, then you’re not alone.

A whole new world is about to open up to you, and along with it, an entire spectrum of emotions and experiences. Travelling in India is not an easy or comfortable experience. There will be times when you’ll be nervous, and times when you’ll be thrilled, times when you’ll be freezing cold, and times when you’ll be melting hot, times when you’ll be in awe, and times when you’ll be in disgust, times when you’ll be homesick, and times when you’ll forget where you came from, times when you’ll be angry, and times when you’ll practice compassion, times when you’ll feel lonely, and times when you’ll feel you’re part of a new family, times when you’ll be exhausted, and times when you’ve never felt so alive. It’s best not to go with our first inclination to label these experiences as “good” or “bad” but simply recognize each experience for what it is — an experience. For ironically enough, it’s rarely the memory of a comfortable couch that we treasure, but exactly those experiences that push us out of zones of comfort and put us on cold and sharp ledges, that transform our lives and perception of it. And don’t worry, for a lot of our trip will be spent supporting each other through these rollercoasters of experience and emotions we’ll ride together.

“When you’re wandering, you bump into experiences and people. Nothing is routine. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is standing out on its own, because everything is a possibility, everything is a clue, everything is talking to you.” – Joseph Campbell

And so, along with your headlamps, journals and hats, please remember to bring your open mind, curiosity and rhetorical questions. I’m eager and excited to meet each of you in person!

*****

Late Note: I’m struggling with my new camera (it’s a high learning curve from program to manual modes!)….but I have a few new India pictures to share.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Martha March 28, 2010 at 12:48 am

    Hi,

    My best friend forwarded your blog to me, which was featured in another blog of a friend. Sadly, that friend (Ben Mok) recently died in a tragic accident in Singapore – he was cycling when he was run over by a suspected drunk driver. Ben’s blogsite was filled with lots of insightful memoirs; of his solo travels with his bike in the US and other parts of Asia.

    Your article has made me realise that life is short and fleeting; that I have spent a good part of my life chasing other people’s dreams and aspirations; I forgot about ME.

    Thanks for sharing on your blog, and I hope I will re-start my own experiential learning.

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