The Voyage in Recap: Reliving the Last Nine Months

Luang Prabang, Laos - Mekong River Sunset

Luang Prabang, Laos – Mekong River Sunset

Act 1: August 26 – December 6, 2012

On August 26, 2012, I sat in my childhood room and panicked that I hadn’t packed everything I needed for my year-long Voyage. In a few hours, I would be leaving for Portland, new home of my best friend and first port of call in what would be an extensive list of cities, but I knew I could always come back home if and when I felt that I’d had enough of traveling. I appreciated having a back-up plan, but as I do, I rarely rely on my back-ups; I find a way to make my first choice happen, or I reassess and reroute my expectations so that I achieve something, lest it not be what I had wanted originally.

I believed then that “back-up” meant failure, and I don’t fail. Or so I thought.

But some indescribable current flowed deep beneath my anxiety, both pushing me to accelerate my departure into the World and pulling me back into the comfortable arms of my family and the Bay. I asked myself why I was leaving, when everything I wanted was already within reach. Was it the arrogance of privilege that propelled me to want more, to take advantage of my social position and wander the world like the Pocket Gypsy I guess I’ve always been? I was split, excited to go but already missing what I was leaving behind.

Portland, Oregon - Friendliest Police Officer

Portland, Oregon – The Friendliest Police Officer in the World!

Once I left though, the tears dried almost immediately and the months passed quickly. Though I found myself in a slight panic once or twice, upon missing a train or losing a ticket, everything worked out with minimal damage and I learnt how generous and kind people can be when you put down your defenses and allow them to help you. I was lucky enough to meet some of the most phenomenal people, to learn about their world views and follow them around their interesting lives and to understand what brought them to think the way they do. I benefitted from their wisdom and their passions, and they propelled me to keep believing in the world and its fascinating colors and textures. Europeans have a different and more aware way of approaching the world, derivative possibly from their immersion in the EU-style political tradition, but also from their long history and their strong relationships. I met some incredibly intelligent and inquisitive individuals, and I met some extremely compassionate and caring souls, but more times than not, these were the exact same people.

[Between flying out from San Jose, California on August 26 and flying back from Madrid, Spain on December 6, I visited 11 countries and 21 cities.
Country list: United States, England, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, France, Italy, and Spain.
City list: Portland, Seattle, New York, London, Galway, Dublin, Copenhagen, Stockholm, a small lake town on the outskirts of Stockholm whose name I still forget, Bergen, Oslo, Berlin, Tubingen, Prague, Paris, Versailles, Milan, Bergamo, Como, Barcelona, and San Sebastian (excluding miscellaneous day-trips).
]

Home - Me, My Mom, and Michal

Home – Me, My Mom, and Michal

First Intermission: December 6, 2012 – January 15, 2013

On November 26, 2012, a friend and I realized that we were more than friends, that we had wanted to be more than friends for a few years, but were separated by an ocean and a school year and the veil of ignorance. Finally, in the same place, we decided to rush into the big bad world together, and I returned to the States on December 6, 2012 to the wonderful arms of who soon officially became my boyfriend and travel partner. Unfortunately, he lived in Spain, so I spent virtually half of my month at home on Skype, planning and fantasizing about the next stage of the trip: India, Southeast Asia, and the European summer. I saw a few friends, but spent most of my social time with my mother and my other best friend, almost worrisomely excited to retreat into my home and wear pajamas all day and watch reruns of MASH and Golden Girls for hours on end.

Chennai - Family Portrait

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India – Partial Family Portrait

Act 2: January 15 – May 28, 2013

I left for India on January 15, 2013, again unprepared for the next few months and frantically fitting last-minute items into my backpack as my father drove us to SFO. My cousins picked me up from the Bangalore airport and whisked me off to my aunt’s house, where I was reminded of why I love coming to India. Amidst the exclamations that I lost too much weight and that I was as bizarre and unpredictable as ever, my elder relatives showered me with Indian-sized portions of love and affection and lots of delicious food, while my cousins took time off work to show me around their cities and go on scenic road trips with me. My Telugu skills had improved astronomically, though I still can’t speak fluently, and I amused my grandparents and aunts with butchered Telugu comments – some of which were jokes, and some of which were legitimate attempts to communicate. I also moonlit briefly at a nonprofit working to train disabled young people, though through this experience learnt some very important lessons about what kind of business climate I am comfortable in and which do not work well with my temperament.

Hoi An, Vietnam - Me and Jens on the River

Hoi An, Vietnam – Me and Jens on the River

On March 2, 2013, I met my boyfriend at the Bangkok airport, after which we explored Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, some of Laos and then some of Thailand together. It was an amazing experience filled with extreme ups and downs, and ultimately filled me with a love for the Southeast Asian people and their individual political struggles and their unrelenting kindness and their bizarre practices. Laos captured my heart, as I was told it would, both with its amazingly open people and with its gorgeously lush scenery. Thailand was a close second, with Chiang Mai and Koh Tao epitomizing the beauty in both city and island life. Cambodia and Vietnam were incredible as well – don’t get me wrong – but the last half of my trip in Southeast Asia truly made me appreciate the tenacity and grace of Buddhist culture, particularly in the face of some personal suffering.

My experiences in Southeast Asia have not only made me more dedicated to working for environmental sustainability and social justice, but also have increased my interest in studying Buddhist literature and making peace with myself and others. Particularly in contrast with the well-established recycling programs, environmental protections, and UN oversight of the Western world, there is an enormous need for awareness as to how irresponsible practices – both personal and public – affect unprotected regions and less-developed countries. I’ve always been environmentally minded, but this year has made me more determined to pursue a graduate degree in environmental policy, either as a subset of public policy or as a separate degree altogether.

[Between flying out from San Francisco, California on January 15 and flying to London, England on May 28, I visited 6 countries and 26 cities.
Country list: Singapore, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos.
City list: Singapore, Bangalore, Mysore, Coimbatore, Chennai, Pondicherry, Hyderabad, Bangkok, Koh Chang, Siem Reap, Kampot, Sihanoukville, Koh Rong, Kep, Saigon, Da Lat, Hoi An, Phong Nga, Hanoi, Halong Bay, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Chiang Mai, Pai, Koh Tao, Koh Phangan (excluding miscellaneous day-trips).
]

Vietnam-Lao Border

Vietnam-Lao Border

Second Intermission: May 28, 2013 – present

It’s May 31, 2013 now, and I’m sitting in the common room at Sidney-Sussex, the University of Cambridge college my good friend Sanna belongs to. I was a student at Pembroke two summers ago, so I remember the streets and the pubs and the windchill that perpetually accompanies the English “summer.” Today it’s a bit warmer, and the marketplace is alive with street performers and flower salesmen and buskers, but we’re inside, Sanna working on her Ph.D. and me applying to any jobs and internships that would allow me to support the last few months of this trip. I flew back here on May 28, 2013, disoriented from the culture shock and eager to settle down in one place for a while. I recognize that landing in England signified, for a great part, the end of my travels, but somehow that understanding doesn’t fill me with the same dread that it would have had this been a few months earlier. My main intention in staying in Europe this summer is to attend Soundwave, this amazing music festival in Croatia that Bonobo (live) will be headlining, accompanied by MF Doom, DJ Shadow, Submotion Orchestra, and Shigeto, the sleeper hit opener for Emancipator’s Yoshi’s set. After that, my only plan is to visit San Sebastian in August for Semana Grande, which might well serve as the conclusion of this year-long Voyage.

Of course, in order to stay in Europe, I have to plan ahead and determine whether I’m even allowed to stay in either the UK or the Schengen area, considering my previous three months split between the Commonwealth countries, Scandinavia, and the rest of the EU. This might require obtaining a work visa, which would require a sponsorship from a company, which would require me to get a job in the first place. But those obstacles are merely learning experiences, and if all works out, I’ll be equipped with the knowledge of applying to and obtaining a job in Europe, a story that can work to my advantage in many ways. To name a few: language fluency (if I move to Spain) or learning (if I move anywhere but the UK); foreign work experience; adjusting to a international work environment; adaptability; soft skills; knowledge of visa application processes; knowledge of applying for foreign housing; and, to put it crudely, learning how to become an adult with no support system. 

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos

Epilogue

It’s been nine months, and even with a month-long break between December and January, I feel like I’m ready to settle down in one place. Whether that’s in the States or Europe or somewhere else, I’m not sure. But I do know that I want to be in Europe this summer, and if it’s going to happen, I will have to figure out a way to sustain that dream. Luckily, this doesn’t seem like that crazy of an idea, despite the thousands of naysayers who argue that it’s impossible and that I should just return to the easiest option. The way I think about it, I’m planning to return to California in August anyway, so what’s the big rush now? And what difference will a few months make?

While it might not be the best decision in terms of furthering my career, there’s no denying that I’m gaining a global education from all of the soft skills and experiences and things that help me understand where someone is coming from because I at some point felt that way or did that thing or felt that same passion for something. When I go back to a permanent job, I want to be certain about what I’m doing, and be excited about what work I’m advancing. With my mind geared more towards environmental research and policy, I feel more and more confident that what I’m doing is exactly what I should be doing, if not for any reason than because I’m an adult and should be making my own decisions, good or bad, because I’m the only one living with the repercussions of those actions. As I said, becoming more Buddhist and contemplative will hopefully improve my practical wisdom, but I have to find a life path that allows me to express that without resentment and without feeling the anxiety that temporary placements instill.

In a way, I feel like I failed my original plan. I was supposed to be in India now, and instead I’m in the next best thing: England. But life isn’t about wallowing over failures – it’s about finding a way to reinvent oneself so such “failures” turn into opportunities for growth in different directions. I’ve wallowed enough, and it’s time to start moving. I don’t know what I’m doing or where I’m moving to, but I think I’m on the right path. If not, I will do something else. But for now, I’m looking forward to whatever comes next.

Kampot, Cambodia

Kampot, Cambodia

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