So I think I’ve made a good decision. The more I prepare for this trip, as the departure date continues to draw near (34 days and counting), my excitement grows.
Nothing against DC, but I was so done with the city; chewed up and spit out again. “Nothing horrible happened,” my mother said, “though nothing great happened either.” Maybe it’s the pains of being freshly out of college (though at 20 months can that still be my excuse?). In that time I have interned as a research assistant in a psych lab, written for a newspaper in Argentina, worked as a Communications Research Assistant at an economics-focused nonprofit, taken a Masters writing course at Johns Hopkins, and waited tables in two restaurants in DC. I have plenty of friends still attempting to find their ways, find their careers, their passions, friends, boyfriends and girlfriends, but man does it feel like a rollercoaster. I loved my time at Amherst, but completing a liberal arts degree, while rewarding in its diversity, has left me with very little trajectory besides the reiterated: “succeed.” Well, ok…in what?
The idea to venture out to Southeast Asia began on a visit to the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art with my mom and sister this past summer, where they had an exhibit called “Gods of Angkor.” It highlighted works by the Khmer, incorporating Buddhist and Hindu imagery and symbols into the Cambodian sculptures, drawing from Cambodian as well as Indian and Chinese culture. Walking through the gallery I was intrigued by the sculptures themselves as well as the stories they represented; the way a Buddha holds a cup or a woman places a hand on her thigh give meaning to the piece. Every detail represents something.
With that experience, the wheels began to turn. Did I love being a waitress? It was fine, had its moments, the part of me interested in social psychology was endlessly entertained, but I decided that if there ever was a time to go to the place where these sculptures originated, this was it. I began my research.
After months of looking for travel buddies and scoping out different programs, I settled on Travel-to-Teach, a program based out of Nongkhai, Thailand. I opted to spend four weeks with them in Thailand and four weeks in Indonesia, leaving three weeks open in between for travel (also, luckily enough, overlapping with Thailand’s New Year festival). Thailand’s population is 95% Buddhist, while the island of Bali is almost exclusively Hindu. (Indonesia as a whole is 90% Muslim, the largest Muslim country in the world). I thought these two locations would give me time to study each religion, observe the traditions and cultures derived out of each belief system. Moreover, one of my biggest takeaways from my time in DC is my involvement in yoga. When all else seemed to go awry, I always had my yoga practice. (I can actually do push ups now. Who knew I had biceps?). I hope to learn variations of yoga practices while abroad.
Lastly, the food. You all know I love to eat, cook, smell, serve, drink. Apparently, so do the Indonesians and Thai (yay). They’re even known for fabulous cooking classes in Chiang Mai (double yay).
Two days ago I met with a guy named Greg who had just returned from a three-month backpacking trip through Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. He was nice enough to share some stories and advice with me. A few of the things he accomplished: planting rice with a Cambodian family, harvesting coffee, swimming with elephants and learning how to ride a moto. Needless to say our conversation left me indescribably excited.
I have no idea what to expect. While I have been lucky enough to do quite a bit of traveling (I’ve touched South America, Europe, North America and the Middle East in the last 18 months), I have absolutely no experience in this part of the world. I am somewhat terrified but also looking forward to everything before me.