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Goodbye SE Asia!!

MAY 10, 2017 | Southeast Asia

We sit on a bus heading back to Hanoi with mixed emotions- something like a bowl of sadness mixed with a lump of gratitude, relief and excitement. After almost twelve full weeks of traveling, living, working, and learning together as a group, today we are heading off on our separate paths once again. Luke will be headed back to Bethesda, Maryland. Nitnoi (Taylor Little) will be headed to California and beyond for some more adventure and discovery. Malit (Taylor Schutt) will meet her mother and aunt in Thailand and act as their expert guide through the country. Martin and Brenden will return to their homes in Portland, and Cooper will be continuing his journeys onward to the South Pacific.

And although we will be returning to familiar places and people, we might arrive with unfamiliar feelings. Three months traveling in foreign lands, speaking different languages, eating different foods, smelling unfamiliar smells, meeting all sorts of curious souls, and opening ourselves up to new ways of living, to different stories being enacted in the world – of how to relate to our neighbors or the land on which we live – has impacted us on some level. We do not return home the same people. We each now carry these new stories with us. Learning how to incorporate them into the old identities that people hold of us and we had held ourselves will be the challenging next step.

We bring with us the joys and triumphs of living in an intimate group for 3 months- the sense of community, care and closeness- along with the growth and learning from the challenges and discomfort that comes with being required to share such close space with new family members you did not choose. Even with all of the life-changing experiences of traveling in SE Asia for 3 months, our time together in these experiences have been some of the most impactful.

It is a time of transition for us all, but an especially big transition for you all, our beloved students. You have asked big questions of yourselves and the world over the past three months – Who am I really? What is my own definition of success? What do I want out of life? Where is the world going? The answers to these questions, as much as you’ve been able to reason and feel them out over the past months, will no doubt guides your next steps. We hope that this time together has in some way given you the wisdom and courage to make those next steps with a new sense of independence and confidence in yourself, new perspectives, and with much hope for the future.

We leave you all with warmth and love in our hearts, and an immense sense of gratitude for each of you in joining us in our journey together and bringing your light, wisdom, curiosity and silliness to this group.

Lasting Impressions

MAY 9, 2017 | India: Shanti 

We’ve just received word that the Mighty Shanti is off! Two students are staying on to explore India; one is heading back to Australia; and the rest are currently boarding their flight back to San Francisco. Much gratitude to all for the support over these last months, and please enjoy this final reflection from our extraordinary Overseas Educators

Twelve weeks ago, we were sitting in a circle in Raj Ghat park sharing our first impressions of India. It was crowded, loud and colorful. It was full of contradictions and we were experiencing sensory overload.

What had drawn us all to come to India? What motivated each of us to be apart from our friends, families, and the conveniences of home for three months? Do I even like these people I’m with, can I trust them?

We took out our shuttlecock to kick around the park and we were scolded by the Indian officer. “No games,” he warned us.

Then, a stranger invited us to check out a D.I.Y. Shiva temple on the other side of the park. We slipped off our shoes and lit incense and experienced a sliver of what we would continue to experience for the rest of the trip: with an open mind, a community to share experiences with, and a patient and compassionate attitude, everyday can be rewarding in its own way.

Time passed. We gained new family members in Jaipur and lucked into a private rooftop Sitar and Tabla concert as the sun set over the city. We experienced the Taj and Red Fort in Agra, and the Burning Ghats in Varanasi. Camel ride and leaf plates and lassis (so many lassis). We meditated and chanted at holy Buddhist sites, and slid across crocodile and tiger swamps in the Sunderbans.

In Rishikesh, we really stretched. 5:30 am meditations and 108 “om treyambakam”s. We laughed and sang, sometimes because we felt like it and other times because we were forced to during laughing yoga.

The trek with the Colonel was a highlight. We began with 11 members and a few guides and somehow managed to finish with 6 new four-legged friends with names like Dosa, Kulfi, and Aloo. We learned more about one another by sharing life stories and realized that even though we came from different backgrounds, the passions and morals we share make us all similar.

Although we’ve all returned to different places in this world, we’re always going to share a common bond. Each one of you approached this trip with an open mind, and we were impressed with your commitment to learn the tangible lessons like Hindi and the more obscure art of closing your eyes, sticking fingers in your ears and making the sounds like a bee.

Thank you all for putting your hearts into this experience. It was your enthusiasm, initiative and curiosity that made this journey as fantastic as it was.

Don’t forget to move and e- stretch when you’re back home. Shout Main Hoon every so often, even if it really doesn’t mean anything. Take time to roll out chapati. And treat everyone you meet with compassion. Live life the way you approached our time in India: same practice, ‘nother side.

And remember…
We thank you thank you thank you, we thank you thank you thank you, we thank you thank you thank you from our hearts,

We miss you miss you miss you, we miss you miss you miss you, we miss you miss you miss you from our hearts,

We love you love you love you, we love you love you love you, we love you love you love you from our hearts.

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Kifaru is Homeward Bound!

MAY 8, 2017 | East Africa: Kifaru

We’ve just received word that the Kifaru crew is all checked into airport security and, after 3 wonderful months together, are parting ways. A huge asante sana (thank you!) to everyone who has supported the journey along the way, from our incredible contacts and hosts in East Africa to friends and families back home. An especially big thank you to our rockstar Overseas Educators, Kelsi and Chris, and to all of the Kifaru students for all of the heart and energy they’ve put into this semester!

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Happiness

MAY 8, 2017 | India: Shanti

I think the main thing that I learned from my time in India is what being happy really means.

Before going on this trip I felt lost and not sure what I wanted to do with my life. Although I didn’t find a dream career or a job I know I want to do for the rest of my life while traveling in India, I now have a direction.Through going to places like the Buddhist retreat center in Bodhgaya, the ashram in Rishikesh, and an institute for compassionate living called Dharmalaya, I learned that happiness is not always what society tells us it is. I learned that I don’t have to get a job that will make tons of money to be happy. The people that I met in these places had nothing when it comes to a capitalist society. The monks and nuns at the Root Institute had no income. The people from Dharmalaya were living in a secluded community in the Himalayas in a mud house. But what these people did have was happiness. The Buddhists were the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever met. They were always so happy knowing that they were being this compassionate. Dharmalaya was combating climate change trying to create a zero waste community. The founder, Mark, was filled with so much joy with his hope for a cleaner tomorrow.

The most beautiful thing about this trip is that I can see and feel myself growing to be more like these mentors and as I do this I grow more happy and compassionate.

Zanzibar

MAY 5, 2017 | East Africa: Kifaru

Greetings from Zanzibar, friends. We have recently spent the last week exploring paradise! After an hour and half voyage on a crowded ferry, we finally made it to Stone Town. There we found ourselves greeted by our guide. He showed us to our home stay. We spent six days staying with Muslim families in the heart of Stone Town. Each day we would explore a different place in town. Some of us worked in a workshop and learned how to make and carve things out of wood. The rest of us did workshops in a spa, and learned how to make various scrubs and miscellaneous remedies.

Each of our families had unique things they did. Mine and George’s family made homemade ice cream. Nanci, Moreh and Nina’s family owns their own little convenient store. Kevin and Jack’s family seem to have their own little bed and breakfast. Overall we all had a great experience and got a good taste of Muslim life. Islam is truly beautiful. We learned a lot about the similarities and differences between Islam & Christianity. Stone town is a cute tourist town – it’s still a great place!

Now we are posted up at a beach hotel on the eastern side of the island, right on the Indian Ocean! We have spent the past few days learning to scuba dive! Some of us are snorkeling as well. We’ve seen a ton of fish as well as turtles, eels, and even dolphins. We are having the nautical experience that dreams are made of! Sad that this amazing trip is coming to an end 

Tortuga Time!

MAY 3, 2017 | Central America: Maya

Welcome to sunny Costa Rica where we’ve been staying at a turtle conservation project for the last week. Apparently we came in the low season which was a disappointment because we’ve all been looking forward to seeing turtles for the last 11 weeks. 3 of us did actually end up seeing a turtle on the beach the very first night but no more after that. The beach was beyond and the water was super clear. Snorkeling was a common activity of the week and a few of us kept going out to see the tide pools. There was a small island, accessible during low tide, which some of us ended up climbing. At night we would patrol the beaches in search of turtle nests. Let me tell you, there is nothing like walking on a Costa Rican beach in the middle of the night. Incomparable. Towards the end of the week the rain came in. It was only the second rain that year but there, when it rains… it pours. The last night of turtle hunting we got caught in a lightning storm and had to turn around because we could see actual lighting bolts striking the water in front of us. It was spine chilling. After the turtle farm we went to Alajuela and stayed at a nice hotel there for a night. We all went to catch new movies out in English and get some delicious dinner at the mall which was within walking distance. It looked like a shopping center you could find in America, it was super nice. After that we left to get on a plane to Roatan at 3 in the AM where we will learn SCUBA and spend our very last week!

Student Directed Travel!

MAY 1, 2017 | Central America: Maya

Nicaragua has been a dream. We started off the week leaving Bona Fide which just about everyone was excited for. Getting up before the sunrise was hard for most but we managed to make it to the bus stop in time. The day was full of a lot of ‘playing it by ear’, running to catch the next bus and being squished by random Nicaraguans. We eventually managed to make it to Granada in one piece. Granada is a lot like a Nicaraguan Antigua. We stayed at the Panda Lodge and thoroughly enjoyed not having to wake up at 5:30 AM to work. (Although the lack of AC made it almost impossible to sleep through the night anyway.) That night we all made our way over to the active Masaya volcano to look at the lava in the dark. It flowed bright red and I swear it was like we were looking through the gates of hell. The next day we all went back to Masaya after shopping around Granada and enjoying Kathy’s delicious Waffle House, this time to check out the artisan market we had heard so much about. Overall it was a relaxed day of shopping and soccer game watching. The next day, we left Granada and headed off to San Juan del Sur! We were back at the beach and everyone was all the happier for it, especially with the promise of Chase’s return so soon the next day. A lot of us spent time on the beach and meandering around town. The majority of us finally got a room with AC and a good nights sleep. We stayed at the Casa del Oro (House of Gold) and all the rooms are so beautiful. The following day was a lazy day full of shopping, strolling around town, and just generally chilling out. It was sunny and hot and the beach was to die for. Later that night, we finally got to welcome Chase back after 2 long weeks! Our group is whole again! The next day was full of activities like paint balling and hiking up to see Jesus, a huge statue overlooking the bay. We mostly relaxed for what was left of the day, enjoying our time with our long lost brother. Our last day was the laziest day to end the lazy days. We spent most of our time soaking up every last drop of San Juan del Sur that we could before we left for Costa Rica the next morning. We only have 2 more weeks left until we come back home. We miss our families and our phones. Our hearts go out to Chase’s family.

Mr Him

MAY 1, 2017 | Southeast Asia: Sabai

Nestled on the southern coast of Cambodia lies the town of Kampot, a short walk through the town will find you more english text than Khmer script as foreign run bars and burger joints dominate the center of town. Stationed along the beautiful Kampot river that has provided the town with a steady supply of fish markets and seafood restaurants, it has also provided a living to the countless fisherman who make their homes along the small villages that line the river. Head twenty minutes along the river to find a small Cham muslim community who have fished this river for generations. Despite looking so similar in appearance to so many of the other towns here behind the tin roof houses and salt flats is hidden the eco lodge, a small community dedicated to preserving the mangrove wildlife of the Kampot river.

The leader of this community is a man by the name of Mr. Him, behind his cigarette smoke and wrinkled face lies a man with a commanding presence and a story to share. Mr. Him originally fished the land like so many of his family, until he noticed so many of his village needing to leave to the neighboring waters of vietnam. The Kampot could no longer supply the fish that the fishers needed to fend for their families. Development taking over one of the river banks placed a major strain on the rivers mangrove ecosystem, which housed so many of the fish and small aquatic animals that keep the river ecosystem alive. So Mr. Him and his group went against the development of the river and started a nursery for mangroves in order to replant them back into the ecosystem of the river. His results speak for themselves as he has been able to nearly double the salary of the fishermen on the river and nearly prevent all of the village needing to leave to find better waters. However despite all his effort and success he faces much backlash from an even stronger presence who would like to commercialize and develop along the river.

He was once offered $50,000 USD if he would leave and allow his village to be developed on. Mr. him refused the money. He claims he is on nearly every black list in the country and has multiple arrest warrants out for him in addition to being in constant threat of violence from his opposition. We were able to offer Mr. Him a $400 USD donation for his work in the hope that he can continue to protect the land he loves.

Dharmalaya!

APRIL 24, 2017 | India - Shanti

“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek” -Dalai Lama XIV

Namaskar Family and friends!

It has been an exciting week spent on the organic farm of Dharmalaya. We are up on the Himalayan mountains where we are learning about earth building, agriculture and rain water harvesting, covering the basics of how important it is to live in a healthy environment and to have compassion for all that share this planet. When working outdoors we try our best to be mindful not to step on any small insects, same goes for the big spiders in the bathrooms. We gently pick them up with a bowl and put them outside. It has definitely been a week full of surprises and challenges.

The group has been awesome at engaging in group activities/discussion. Our first three days, we helped “pug” mud for a mud house, working together with a larger group of people from all over the world. With this diversity we are able to work together harmoniously as a group and with nature. After that we had to make bricks out of the mud and learned the traditional way of brick-making in the villages up above Dharmalaya.

We’ve not only learned how to make mud houses but we’ve also learned how to plant fruits such as eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes. With these types of fruits and a wide variety of vegetables we are able to make delicious food. Yesterday, everyone in the group got the chance to help out with a traditional Indian dish for lunch. For dinner, we as a group suggested some international food that we would like to make. We then started to make them and as soon as the clock stuck 7 we all lined up with our plates and started getting food. With such a delicious meal everyone left to their room/tent full and ready for bed.

This past week I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to make chapati (flat round Indian bread) with the local ladies who work in the kitchen. Diane and I have taken the job of chapati making for our “karma yoga,” where we spent hours laughing and trying to communicating in hindi with the these two amazing local ladies while making lunch for everyone.

One day, we had an architect student join us for chapati rolling and she was translating to us the questions the ladies would ask us. One of them asked Diane, who is from New York, about the percentage of arranged marriages that happen in New York. We looked at each other and started laughing and both said zero. That night we wrote in our journals something that we are grateful for and we both wrote we are grateful for not having arranged marriage in the US.

These past 2 months and a half, the Shanti group has been exposed to a beautiful culture and we truly appreciate our time here. Before I came to India my older sister wrote me a letter saying ” you may encounter people on your trip who may not have all that the western culture declares as wealth, but always remember that what you will learn and experience is worth far more that any other types of wealth” and this has been true for me coming into a beautiful place. The hospitality and care that the people here have is amazing.