We’re Moving! Plus Alumni Reflections Coming Soon

Hello all,

Happy July! While no Bonderman fellows are currently traveling, the Bonderman team has been spending some time working on things on the back end. First off, we are moving to a new site location: sites.lsa.umich.edu/bonderman. Make sure to pop over there and go follow us so you can continue to get updates and read new blogs as they come out.

Speaking of new content: This summer we asked our fellowship alumni to reflect on their experiences abroad and how the fellowship has impacted them in the years or months since they returned from their travels. Each Wednesday through the rest of the summer we will share a reflection from one of our alumni. We’ll start on July 8th with fellows from our first cohort in 2014 and end with fellows who just came home this spring! These alumni reflections will be posted only on the new site, so make sure to subscribe so you don’t miss them.

See you on the new site!
Bonderman Advising Team

Epilogue

From the living room, Grand Haven, Michigan, USA

I. Flying Home

I left off a couple months ago with an update from Argentina, where I passed the 8-month mark as a Bonderman fellow. At that point (given my plans to continue traveling), crossing the finish line for the fellowship didn’t coincide with a return home.

When you’ve been traveling internationally for the better part of a year, nothing really compares to the finality of coming home. Now that I’m settled in, I have one last update in closing: 

I spent two months after the fellowship traveling within South America. I gawked at Argentina’s Perito Moreno, a GiGaNtiC glacier that is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (which is itself visible from space). I trekked and camped my way through Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. I experienced the tail end of Brazilian Carnaval, and bought the second surfboard of my life along the way. I took my first ever kitesurfing lessons (basically wakeboarding + big kite for a tow rope), and can vouch that it requires more multi-tasking and coordination than any sport I’ve ever known. I improved my Portuguese with the help of some classes, returned to Florianópolis to revisit some amazing friends, and generally watched COVID-19 take over the world.

South America was one of the last places the virus spread, but it caught up to me eventually. The still-active fellows were given one week to return home; I moved my flights up per official recommendations. I flew home on nearly empty planes and passed through deserted airports, having missed the rush – with one exception.

My 10-hour flight out of Sao Paulo was full, thanks to a huge group of Mormon missionaries who were migrating en masse back to the US for the same reason as everyone else. 

My familiarity with the Mormon faith was roughly: Youtube-familiar with The Book of Mormon, the musical. So naturally, I had a lot of questions. 

I chatted with my seat neighbor, Sister Pierce, who was hours away from using her first name (Ella) again. She’d been a missionary in Brazil for 16 months, and was leaving early, despite having two more months to go. She was my age. Her Portuguese was fabulous (“they say if you preach the Book of Mormon in a foreign language, you’ll become fluent”). She told me about their disciplined lifestyle: waking early, exercising daily, sharing meals together, studying and spreading the holy scripture. She explained how they do all this without a personal cell phone, TV, or access to modern music. And, while abiding to a dress code as 19-26 year olds. 

This is one of my favorite things about travel – the never-ending stream of micro interactions. There’s always something to appreciate from someone else’s human experience. And I find it beautiful and freeing to have begun to realize how vast the realm of possibility really is.

II. Being Home 

To be honest, I’ve been most shocked by how un-shocked I’ve been settling in at home. After months where nearly every transition has been a transition into the unfamiliar, maybe I forgot that the comfort of home, of family, requires… no transition. 

Maybe I thought I would come home as this foreign, new person. 

Sure, I got rid of half my closet upon return, I have a laundry list of recipes from Hungary to Brazil to cook for my family, I feel weird driving a car, I love that I can drink water from the shower once more, and I’ve eaten about 2 hashbrowns per day in sheer ecstasy. 

But after the surface-level re-adjustments to the nuances of my native lifestyle, the reality is that I still feel very much myself. I still like to run in the mornings with my dad. I still haven’t fully converted into a vegetarian. I still goof around with my family. And even though I see the West Michigan community that I’ve grown up in a bit differently, I still love it. 

So, I think I had it backwards. 

Travel hasn’t changed me, past tense. I think it works in the other direction. The person I am today, with the accumulation of experiences I’ve had this year will continue to respond to situations, make decisions, and prioritize things in life that the Claire-before-Bonderman never would have. The impacts of traveling will continue to ripple out through my interactions with others too. I’m more understanding, less judgmental, a better listener, and more aware of my privilege. I’m more grateful, and even more motivated than ever to contribute to the good in the world I’ve gotten to know.

III. El fin, for real

There’s nothing else I can close with except, thank you. 

Thank you, to the Bonderman family, for making my, and other fellows’ life-changing experiences possible. 

Thank you, to the Bonderman administrative team, for seeing the potential in us, making this logistically possible, and being supportive throughout it all. 

Thank you, to my amazing friends, near and far, who have kept in touch with my sporadic whereabouts, welcomed me home, and inspired me with their successes and ever-evolving endeavors.

Thank you, to my endlessly supportive and all-to-hilarious family, for reminding me why a sense of humor is always the most important thing to pack.

And of course, thank you, to all the people that have welcomed me into their lives and showered me with kindness from Russia to Hungary to Greece to India to Brazil to Argentina and beyond. You will all always have a space in my heart and a space in my home, wherever it may be, waiting for you. 

***
CB

Life Is But A Dream

It’s been seven weeks, three countries and an entire global pandemic since I’ve last blogged. A lot has changed.

I have sat down again and again, for weeks, to write this final post. Usually, my fingertips can’t keep up with my thoughts, but I’m struggling this time. Part of the reason – I wasn’t ready to write this specific blog post yet. The one that wraps up the end of this fellowship, and recounts all the colorful ways in which this incredible experience has impacted me.
No, I had anticipated six more weeks to wrap my head around the reality of coming home.
Instead, I found myself wandering the buzzing night streets of Bangkok, Thailand in a daze as I let the message on my phone telling me I had one week to return home sink in. I looked up mesmerized at the cacophony of sounds, sights, and smells surrounding me, realizing all of this would be very far away in just a week.

One week. I held onto that stipulation with an iron grip. If I was given seven days, then seven days I shall take! So, because I had to leave Asia immediately, I booked the first ticket to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I flew out the next day. In hindsight, this wasn’t the most well thought out, and certainly not the most cost-effective plan of action. But I was sad, stubborn, and determined to see through this personal journey as faros I possibly could.

Weeks, no days, prior, I would have been bemoaning the 30+ hours of travel ahead of me. But perspective is a powerful thing – one of the many valuable lessons this fellowship has taught me. With the new knowledge that Brazil would be my final country, old annoyances evaporated. Tired routines like packing my backpack and haggling for a cab from the airport to my temporary home became sentimental overnight.

While flying to Rio, I had a layover in the very airport I flew to first after leaving the US- Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was seven months ago, and I had just missed my flight to South Africa. I remember being in that airport, physically sick from anxiety, asking myself, “what in the hell did you just get yourself into?!?! Why did you think you could do this???
I paused as I looked at the very spot I stood and called home frantically from, yearning for familiar comforts and company. It looked the same, but I wasn’t.

I smiled. A quiet calm resides within that simply didn’t exist for that girl seven months ago, stranded in Ethiopia. The Bonderman Fellowship gave me that.

Brazil was a treat, but ultimately cut shorter than the seven-day expiration it was already living under. As more countries began imposing closed borders, I left after three days.

Overlooking Rio from the top of Sugarloaf Mt.

Back home, flipping through my travel journal, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude. The myriad of ways in which this fellowship has affected me is near impossible to put into words, and something I’m still currently processing. I’ve learned so much these last seven months, yet I feel as though I know less than when I began this trip. The opportunity to view the world from such a diverse range of perspectives, like only travel allows, is immeasurable.

Northern Bali, Indonesia

Even more so, the kindness I was afforded on this trip by mere strangers is more than I could have hoped for. While ill in Nepal, a man walked me to a pharmacy and helped explain to the pharmacist what I needed. In India, a woman offered me her spare clothing when mine were stolen. On my birthday in Vietnam, hotel staff surprised me at my door with a cake and card. An entire blog post could be dedicated to all the times I was left inspired by someone else’s kindness.

My birthday celebrations in Vietnam

The surrealness of this experience was never lost. I think back to my time in Cairo, Egypt. I was attempting to cross the street, but Cairo traffic demands bravery. An old man was witnessing my struggle, and said, “Follow me!” and used his body to shield oncoming traffic as we crossed to the other side. We ended up sitting at his favorite traditional coffee shop. I remember distinctly looking into the busy street, as we sat outside on our little chairs thinking, is this real? Am I really in Cairo learning about Egyptian politics outside a coffee shop with a kind stranger in Cairo right now?
This interaction may sound trivial, but it was sweet serendipitous moments like this one that I will cherish.

Ultimately, it was the relationship I cultivated with myself on this journey that has been the most personal and rewarding of all. I feel so full reflecting on the growth that has taken place and feel invigorated moving forward.

Taj Mahal, India

Future Bonderman Fellows:

I feel so excited for each of you and I hope you all are as well. The courage it took to apply and agree to 8 months of solo travel is your first act of bravery on this journey. But I assure you, you will surprise yourselves over and over again the next 8 months with what you can do.
Relish the highs- those moments when you’ll have to pinch yourself to believe you are where you are. More importantly, stay curious during the lows. There will be times when you want to give up, or in the very least want to be home. During those moments, I urge you not to beat yourself up over feeling momentarily defeated. Those moments are challenging you to expand in one form or another. Lean into the discomfort, and watch things change. The beautiful sights you’re bound to see will pale in comparison to the quiet moments you’ll share with no one but you.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Finally, I want to say a monumental thank you. First, thank you to my family and loved ones back home. Your texts and calls, no matter how brief, meant the world to me, kept me grounded, and made me feel loved hundreds of miles away. Thank you to the generous Bonderman family for making this remarkable experience possible. Callie, Rachel, and Mike… these last seven months would not have been manageable without your support and guidance. To my fellow fellows, we did it! I’m so proud of us all and grateful for the friendships that grew during this journey. And thank you all, back home, for taking the time to read these posts. I genuinely enjoyed getting the chance to share my experiences with all of you.

This has been a dream and a privilege – thank you.

Atop Lion’s Head in Cape Town, South Africa

Till the next adventure!

Final(ly) post

3/21/19

Immediately after the fall, I opened my eyes and saw one of the meditation volunteers. I remembered what had happened, and assessed myself. Remembering each component of the Glasgow Coma Scale was beyond me at that time, but I wouldn’t have remembered it even if I didn’t have cerebrospinal fluid leaking out of my ear, as I suspected I did in that moment. I assessed my body from head to toe and found that I could walk fine. The most troubling pain originated from my left shoulder. Involuntary tears were streaming as I demanded an ambulance from the teachers after 15 minutes of everyone crowding around me. I hated that the crying was making everyone think I was being panicky and irrational, but the tears were a reflex to the unexpected injury. It hurt to breathe, and I hoped that didn’t mean I had a collapsed lung or broken rib or hemothorax.

Blood replaced the clear fluid coming out of my ear, but since my mental status and cognitive faculties remained intact, I moved onto other matters. They told me ambulances did not come this far out of the city, and they were arranging for someone to pick me up in their car. I asked them to tie me a sling with my scarf, but no one knew how. After half an hour or so, I asked where this car was, and this made everyone think I was being overdramatic. The main instructor advised me to meditate on it: “don’t be emotional, Chetali, focus on the sensation of pain.” Maybe if I was a seasoned meditator or lifelong monk, this would’ve been a constructive little nugget of a suggestion. But you don’t say that to someone who had meditated for exactly 10 days of her life before almost dying and who was also currently in tremendous agony. Talking in an indoor voice does not equal clarity and balance of the mind.

Buddha was right, you can’t blindly trust anyone, not even teachers.

3/29/19

The eight days directly after the accident seem to be punctuated by memorable vignettes:

Getting that coveted insider look into what healthcare was like in underserved, understaffed communities abroad…

Being scared to sneeze lest I blow out my eardrum and/or jostle my fractured collarbone.

Offering to start my own IV so I could get some damn antibiotics and painkillers. I later ended up with a line in my foot…

Driving 20+ hours to get to a renowned orthopedic surgeon in Mumbai since I couldn’t fly by plane due to the injuries. I wasn’t on any painkillers for the semi-bumpy journey.

Having hardware that physically stuck out of my body installed into my collarbone. The wires are to be removed about a month from now with pliers, without anesthesia. (Update 5/6/19: they did not let me keep the wires when I asked).

The thick needle they poked into my neck pre-op for ten minutes in order to block the nerves before chopping up my shoulder. Almost more painful than the actual breaking of my collarbone. The anesthesiologist kept saying, “stop crying, Chetali, or we’ll have to do it again.”

Bound to one place after almost a year of acting on my restlessness, my body weakened and dependent on help after being so strong and self-sufficient…

It is absolutely hellish, there won’t be any rose-color-glasses-ing that.

* * * * *

AFTERWORD, 4/8/20

I know it seems odd to have finished the blog for my Bonderman journey in the year after it “ended.” This past year has been extremely illuminating, and revisiting it in this post and the last sometimes felt like re-lacerating things that were already processed, healed, and moved on from — which might explain why it took so long to complete. One way or another, I wanted to finish what I started in this blog, and even though the timeline hasn’t been conventional, I think that’s kind of the point. I didn’t include a ton of material from that time because I think it is important not to be narcissistic about one’s pain, and because the fact that it was highly unsoothing comes across through what’s there.

This past year has been an exercise in resilience of the body and mind for me. I’m happy to report that I can resume normal activity, swim, climb, and do >15 push-ups once more — my ear is fine, too. Ernest Hemingway wrote that we are strong at the broken places. After being broken down and built back up, I feel the truth of those words in my bones.

Looking back now, I still don’t think it’s authentic to euphemize any of that period. It was an experience, possessed. Practically demonic in its hellacious-ness (there is a ‘however’ though). However, perhaps such a jarring juxtaposition of conditions was necessary to invoke the growth and understanding I was aiming for in myself. Of course, it is easy to say this with the perspective of being a year removed from the incident and with my health restored. The point is, there were silver linings to dispel the darkness of the nightmare.

I got a new family. My mom’s uncle and aunt in Mumbai opened their spacious and beautiful home to me, and I was able to spend the month of recovery there. They told me I could call them nani and nana which means grandma and grandpa since I don’t have living grandparents. I got to do the whole “grandparent” thing because of them which was cool and something I never thought I’d get to experience. Almost every day, my great aunt would bring up the fall/breaking my collarbone and make fun of me mercilessly which was refreshing. They also had a brilliant chef who would cook whatever I wanted including garlic naan and mango lassis and sabjis made from vegetables fresh from the farms my surrogate grandparents own. Their house is close to the beach, so I went for walks there when I was feeling up to it. I got close with my mom’s cousins and their kids, as well because they visited so often. I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten this extended family.

Getting to put substance behind my words. Prior to my Bonderman departure in 2018, I wrote this haiku for CGIS:

There is only now

Peaks or trenches, no flatlines

Don’t lose your passport

Well this was a trench, and I had to face that if I believed in my own words. After all, what’s the point if you’re not feeling to the fullest of your capabilities, giving everything moment-to-moment? I’m not recommending or wishing that anyone else has to go through something like this, but when or if vicissitude strikes, it’s not insurmountable and if you let it, it will make you better.

It’s like I was tested in extreme ways so I could not just say the things I say but actually live by them. I truly believe you have to experience things (whether it be thrilling changes or soul-crushing stagnancy) in order to really know. For example, saying that “nothing lasts forever” is different than understanding/accepting it. Experiences like this helped me understand this, feel it in my newly healed bones.

Love of my family. I’m so appreciative of my family and friends. Everyone who matters in my life was there for me. I got to see how loved I was, and I’m thankful for that.

Freedom. I’ve read that having “freedom” (no responsibilities) can be illuminating: can we be the person we want to be when nothing is stopping us? When there’s no external pressure, are we who we think we are? The cognitive dissonance that arises when there’s a mismatch can make it seem that freedom is revealing.

But I define it differently. Freedom isn’t the absence of obstacles or obligations; it isn’t a mirror. It’s the ability to be in control of your mind, be who you want to be, even when it seems impossible to do so. Freedom to me is being that person regardless of what’s happening around or inside you. It’s liberation from being swayed and controlled by your surroundings and circumstances, your external or internal environments.

Whether things are easy or hard, am I in control of my mind and my self? That to me marks true freedom. Going through what felt like total physical annihilation — and the stormy emotional climate it created — brought me closer to that level of equanimity. Life seems smaller, more manageable now. The world not so impossibly mysterious. It’s not this perfect sense of serenity, but it’s closer to it than I would’ve been if I had only had easy, non-painful experiences up till this point. I don’t feel as attached to the idea of perfection, guarantees, plans, or permanence anymore — and far from being sad, I find this to be a very soothing and healthy mindset. I’m sure there will be awful and amazing things down the road for me, but maybe I can handle it all better now.

Goodbye. I thank the Bonderman Fellowship with complete sincerity for all of it. Reflecting like this makes me consider what Bonderman isn’t: it’s not $20,000, or month 1 through month 8 of a fellowship, or pretty pictures and heartfelt captions posted on Instagram. Bonderman is a spirit with which you lead your life, through all the upheaval and upliftment alike.

Announcing the 2020-2021 Bonderman Fellows

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Four graduating University of Michigan Seniors from the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts have been selected as the 2020-2021 Bonderman Fellows. Christopher Posada, Andrea Tillotson, Charlie Bingham Jr., and Ella Lafata will be awarded  $20,000 to travel the world where they must travel to six countries in two regions of their choosing over the course of eight months, and are expected to immerse themselves in independent and enriching explorations. The idea behind this program is to give these graduating seniors an opportunity to engage with people from various cultures, which will allow them to see the world from a new perspective.

“The Bonderman Fellowship presents a unique challenge to the four LSA graduates who are awarded this honor each year, as recipients must travel independently (i.e. alone) and may not engage in structured activities such as classwork or internships,” CGIS Director Michael Jordan said. “This is by design an itinerant experience that requires Fellows to continually engage with the new and unknown. It does not offer the comfort, security and sense of belonging that come with the ability to stay in one place and set down roots; instead, it demands self-reliance, independence and resilience. The students who strike out on this fellowship every year always return profoundly changed, having spent eight months testing their own limits in ways that they never even imagined.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School in the 1960’s, David Bonderman traveled internationally as a Sheldon Fellow and that experience shaped the rest of his life. He created the Bonderman Travel Fellowship in 1995 to provide students with a similar opportunity.

In 2014, Bonderman’s daughter, LSA alumna Samantha Holloway (A.B. ’03), and her husband, Gregory (A.B. ’02), created the Bonderman Fellowship in LSA’s Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS). The University of Michigan is one of two schools, along with the University of Washington, to offer the Fellowship. Fellows make their own travel itineraries and, because this is meant to be an individual experience, cannot engage in formal study at a foreign university, conduct formal research, or travel with a guest or organized group.

“Bonderman has impacted the way that I see myself in the world,” 2019-2020 Bonderman Fellow Abigail Kennedy said. “There are so many diverse and beautiful places on this planet, and I am more driven than ever to participate in making it better. Most of all, the friendships and kindness I found along the way have shown me a new dimension of human compassion I didn’t know I needed to see.’”

Please note that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the departure window for the ’20-’21 Bonderman Fellows (typically May 1 – August 31) will be postponed until at least mid-August, possibly longer. Visit http://www.lsabonderman.com for further updates. 

Meet the 2020-2021 Bonderman Fellows

Center for Global and Intercultural Study (CGIS) is proud to announce Christopher Posada, Andrea Tillotson, Charlie Bingham Jr., and Ella Lafata as the 2020 Bonderman Fellows.

“The ability to travel the world for 8 months as a Bonderman Fellow offers the unique opportunity to digress from the academic, political, and societal pressures that are otherwise forced upon us following graduation. Personally, I want to use the Bonderman experience to take a step back from thinking about my future academic or professional aspirations and prematurely choosing a path that may not suit my true goals and personality,” Neuroscience major Christopher Posada said. “ My education has been very liberating, but also constricted to a traditional academic setting. Through Bonderman, I will be able to explore culture, religion, science, art and more in an authentic and raw global context. This will allow for a more diversified learning experience and personal insights that will guide me towards novel discoveries and an evolved personal identity.”

“During my time at Michigan, I feel like I have gained a lot from the different perspectives and people I have encountered,” Political Science major Andrea Tillotson said. “This is also true of my classes, where I have been able to expand my horizons in terms of learning about the world we live in and theorizing about how it works. Bonderman feels like a radical extension of this learning: an opportunity to be constantly immersed in new perspectives, ones beyond what I have even experienced here at Michigan. I was also attracted to Bonderman because it is an opportunity to encounter the world without any other commitment than to experience countries and cultures as genuinely as possible. By being alone and without an agenda, I hope to be freed from the things that have tied me up mentally over the majority of my life.”

“Seeing different ways of life, different ways of knowing, and different ways of doing. Well, not only seeing, but actively understanding and actively participating in these different facets of culture,” Political Science & American Culture major Charlie Bingham Jr. said. “As a lover of nature, I’m excited to see the different landscapes and geographic phenomena that the world has to offer. I am also excited to gain some perspective outside of the classroom. I had a short study abroad experience in Spain, but I still had the constraint of the classroom. Bonderman will be such an immersive experience.” 

“I want to pursue the Bonderman experience because I believe it is important to understand cultures besides your own,” Molecular, Cellular, & Developmental Biology major Ella Lafata said. “As a premedical student, I value this insight because I hope to respect and interact with people of all cultures in my future. What most excites me about Bonderman is the growth that I know it holds. I’m not too sure what that growth will manifest as, but I hope to reconnect with myself and to learn more about our world and the people living within it. I hope to gain a greater understanding about how culture shapes identity, health, and health practices. I’m also hoping to learn more about spirituality and how it can influence one’s life.” 

“It be like that sometimes…” – Final Post

As y’all might have known, all Bonderman fellows were sent home. Something do to with this new emerging virus. Have you heard of it? Coronasomething? Kidding, I have to make jokes or I get depressed. So anyway, I have been home for three weeks now. I was abroad total for 6 months and 20 days, visited 12 countries and 32 cities Isn’t it crazy? All I had was alone personal time for nearly 7 months and now I will be in Quarantine with my extroverted Arab family. Yesterday, I went to relieve myself in the bathroom (pooping). My brother made it his goal to stand by the bathroom and whisper “I can hear you” every time I made any noise. Turns out very few things actually change if you are gone for 7 months.

A past fellow said that the Bonderman Fellowship was about “admitting and identifying that you are probably wrong about a lot and that you want to fix that”. Before I left, I assumed they were talking about general knowledge about the world. Misconceptions of other cultures, other people, other countries, but, I found that I am mostly wrong about the person I thought I was. I can confidently say that backpacking has changed my life beyond recognition. 

The truth is, Pre-Bonderman I was a Type-A extrovert with a large social network that I depended on. I had a set routine that emphasized productivity and physical exercise. Social interactions were organized neatly in a calendar app with set bedtimes. It was a perfect little Westernized life of productivity and perceived accomplishment (Humble brag?). For me, backpacking means a challenge to test myself to get out of that routine. It is a way to identify weaknesses and work on a person that I didn’t know I was. 

Let me tell you, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. The Bonderman Fellowship has given me more real-life experience and confidence than any other opportunity. To have the ability to choose my life is difficult to explain. The first thought is that I live in the United States, isn’t it literally called the land of opportunity? But, being raised I was taught that the only opportunity you can actually pursue is higher education to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer (Shout out to they anal type A parents of the world). Through Bonderman, I have the skills to truly do anything I want in the world. If I was to say screw it all and leave the United States, that is something I have the skill set to do. More so, I have seen people continue to travel for years with no financial worries. With just a few thousand dollars I can backpack for a full year. 

For me, to backpack was to seek freedom, to test myself and conquer fears of independence. I think what I enjoyed the most and least went hand in hand. I enjoyed most the empowerment felt after the loneliest periods of backpacking. I felt alive while traveling like I was living a life worthwhile, but that comes with living that life alone. Everything I experienced while traveling was so singular that it became difficult to express that with friends/family back home. It was both rewarding and so incredibly lonely. Even accomplishments were difficult to explain. 

Accomplishments were defined on that day. Sometimes an accomplishment was finding a place to eat. The next day, it was defined as scaling the tallest mountain in South America. How do you explain the feeling of that to someone who hasn’t done it? The truth is, life goes on at home. People continue to have worries about their job, family, homelife. Not to say that my problems were bigger than theirs, they were just different. The scope of understanding is different. Growth is different. While in undergrad, all students fight through the same growth. Transition into university, surviving, adapting to the strain and mental health, proficiency of the process, then graduation. Of course, it’s not laid out that easily, but that is the required process and you do it all with a community around you. Growth is required for you to graduate. The degree is the tangible goal and potential career with income and benefits.

Backpacking requires individual growth in a way I did not understand before leaving. Growth for the sake of growth and nothing more. You don’t know what lies after the eight months. What tangible thing can you show from your accomplishment? You don’t have anything except for your experiences. In reality, those experiences rarely want to be heard when you get home. Yes, a funny story here and there, but no one wants to hear about the awful conditions Palestinians live in and how you witnessed that first hand. Or how your hostel was shot at because of an illegal Israeli settlement army training had stray bullets flying around (ya, I will leave that right there). Again, everyone has their own lives with goals and difficulties, it is hard to relate to someone who up and left the comfort of their life for months to backpack.  

Coming home is hard. Once you get a taste of the travel and the freedom associated with it, it’s really tough going back to a place where you have less independence. As much as I love a home-cooked meal or the company of my family, it comes with a cost of individuality. I am still working on a way to manage both the freedom of travel and the intense care of my family. A lot of plans have shifted too. I was planning to move out and begin a new part of my life, but for now its just recovery and re-planning time. Kelly (past Bonderman fellow) reminded me that I have a supportive network of past fellows standing by me.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for this opportunity. It was so incredibly hard and I wanted to quit so many times. If I was not a Fellow, I would have quit at the halfway point. Being a part of the Bonderman community was the only thing that allowed me to keep going. Talking to Bronte and just venting about all the good and the bad was the only way through. Having Callie checking in made me feel cared for and reminded me I was not alone. Fellows from years past messaging me out of the blue to offer advice and support meant the world to me. Being a Bonderman Fellow was the only thing that got me through the worst parts, and in exchange made the best parts that much better.

I’m not going to pretend I am some wise traveler. If anything traveling has made me aware of just how much I don’t know, but I will share this. If you want to travel, then just buy the damn ticket (wait till after Coronavirus please) . No, its not going to be the Instagram travel and it won’t be a vacation, but it will be the best thing you do.

Figured I would plug this great fundraiser to support struggling local businesses. All food purchased goes to hospitals to support front line healthcare workers. – https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/fuel-for-the-fight-against-covid-19

Two Weeks in Israel

There are a lot of emotions to unpack. Almost a month ago, I never imagined that the end would have come so soon, that I would be sitting in my bedroom at home only a week after receiving that disheartening “come home” message.

But sometimes good things end abruptly. I was checking into my hostel in Jerusalem when I found out. “Well,” I thought to myself, “you still have a little time to make the most of it.”

In Jerusalem, Laura and I explored the city even though it was cold and rainy. Our noses were running because of the weather and we thoroughly freaked out locals with our sniffling and the occasional cough (I never had trouble breathing or a fever so I probably did not have COVID-19). The sun came out in the afternoon and we saw a short window of sunshine.

The spiritual energy at the Western Wall is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Women and men pray on separate sides of a barricade, and even though it was Shabbat, there were worshipers from many different backgrounds. On Saturdays, though, the Dome of the Rock and most of the inner parts of the city are restricted and only Muslim people can enter. From over the adjacent stone buildings the call to prayer rang out eerily as I approached the wall. I didn’t have a specific prayer or psalm, so I just thought of my loved ones and wished the best for them, for a safe journey home, for clarity in the coming months. Everything was changing.

We wandered around the city and a man gave us a map for the Via Dolorosa, the street on which Christ carried the cross to his crucifixion. There were markets, carts with colorful pastries on them, and the best falafel I have ever had at a shop located just within the Old City walls.

I was told weeks before in Nicosia by a pair of young Palestinian refugees that Palestinian falafel is the best in the world. I asked them why and they just laughed at me, unable to put it into words. I understand now what they meant. It is literally just falafel, but so soft, so green, so flavorful. The bread was different. Instead of the common wrap-form that you might find in a Syrian falafel shop, Palestinians use a warm, round, soft pita. I told my mom over the phone that I didn’t know how I would ever appreciate the falafel at home again.

That afternoon we headed back to Tel Aviv. It was Shabbat, so the trains were not operating. We went to the bus station, walked up to a microbus driver and asked him how much for a ride to Tel Aviv. 24 Shekels. Deal. We got on and in less than 10 minutes we were hurling down a raining highway for the coast.

I thought back to the version of myself that existed before I got on that plane for Hong Kong. Walking up to a random bus driver and soliciting tickets would have been so unimaginable to her. It was in Vietnam that she tried it out for the first time. In Nepal, it was pretty much the only way to get around. Now, it’s almost a given that there will be some way to get home. Somewhere along the way, I stopped over-planning and trying to anticipate every little thing. I gained fluidity.

Tel Aviv has a special place in my heart. I’ve said this before about other places, but I really mean it this time. For two weeks I volunteered at Florentine Hostel. Shalev, the hostel manager, and Verena, the volunteer manager, made it feel like home instantly. Volunteering abroad is a fast track to forming a friend group, (saving money), meeting new people, and getting to know the local culture. We volunteers quickly bonded over sleeping together in the volunteer dorm, which was accurately called “the cave”, working those tedious 4-6 hour shifts, cooking for everyone, and experiencing all that Tel Aviv had to offer. Off the back side of the terrace where we hand the linens out to dry, there is a Banksy painting inconspicuously on the side of an apartment building. There was always some hidden treasure to discover.

Another volunteer commented that it must have been the landscape and the climate that made Israel a setting for so many religious writings. There is something in the air there that just makes you feel like you can understand anything, do anything, believe in anything. The hot sun beats down over a beige and dark green landscape. The wind is soft and blows past you as a reminder to take your time and enjoy the sunshine. There is a beautiful blue sea glittering off in the distance. I know that the terrain is diverse in different parts of the country. To me, that diversity is symbolic for the transformation that one can experience in such a place. Things are always changing.

I am so disappointed that I did not have the chance to see the desert, the Dead Sea, or cities north of Tel Aviv.

Most of all I am disappointed that I left the Middle East without visiting Palestine. It is easy to “buy into” life in Israel if you ignore the conflict. Everyone is happy, life is stable. There is this philosophy among communities about inclusion, communal living, hard work. It is easy to forget that there used to be people there that (to put it simply) can’t live there anymore, and that we, Americans, play a big part in the conflict itself.

I will be back in the Middle East soon. I learned that something that is complicated can also be beautiful.

* * *

There is so much to be said about how this fellowship has changed me. Some of the experiences that I’ve had are difficult to put into words, while I have tried over these past eight months to write them down for all of you. I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way who have shown me unquestioning generosity, hospitality, and kindness.

In my proposal essay for this fellowship I wrote:

“I do not want to be passive in this life. My academic experience at Michigan has sparked in me a newfound passion for human rights, ethics, and public interest law. However, I know that I’ve lived most of my life in the sheltered culture of the U.S., where I’ve been protected from the unknown and dangerous features of the world.
Growing up, my mother used to tell me that I should learn from other’s mistakes rather than live them myself. While this is valuable advice, I do not think it applies to all aspects of life. I’ve read through the blogs of the current fellowship recipients, in which they share some of the great lessons of their journeys. Their narratives inspire me to do the same. Some facts that I will learn about myself, and about the world, can only be learned the hard way. I’m ready to set aside the conservative approach of letting others forge the path ahead of me. Text books can give me an idea of what the world is like, but I cannot truly know the world until I experience it myself.”

I’ve learned that, yes, the world can be dangerous and unwelcoming. I’ve made countless mistakes trying to acclimate to the way things are run over there, and I’ve learned lessons about humility, prudence, and hope.

Wow, it is almost hard to believe how far I’ve come. I do have a sense of accomplishment about all the miles traveled and experiences that have come along the way. I think back fondly on those moments when I felt the happiest I have ever felt and the most in touch with myself:

  • Riding passenger on a motorcycle along the winding road that wrapped around a rock peninsula outside Da Nang city. Laughing with my new friends, running away from monkeys down a trail to the beach, and watching a rainstorm pass by less than 100 m away.
  • Walking uphill into a small, isolated village along the Annapurna circuit, where the landscape suddenly took on an autumn-like character, so proud of my legs for having carried me for miles, so optimistic about the road ahead.
  • Crossing my first land-border between Ukraine and Poland by train.
  • Stumbling into the bright, vibrant life of Cyprus on my first day in Nicosia, watching the wind blow oranges from the tree outside my hostel.
  • Trekking from the airport train station in Tel Aviv to our little hostel, in awe of the harmony of the city around me, unaware of the adventures I would have over the coming weeks.

I have loved every moment of this fellowship, I would not trade the experiences I’ve had for anything. Thank you to all of our advisors, the rest of my cohort, my friends and family, for all of your support over the past year.

I do feel empowered to enter my professional life, and to figure out what comes next. For now, I’m taking time to rest, reflect, and spend time with my family. COVID-19 has really made transition to home a 180-degree change from the dynamic life of traveling abroad, but I know its for the best. The world is changing right now, it will likely never be the same.

INDIA (1/2)

3/3/19

My uncle and aunt picked me up from the airport. I hadn’t seen them in a decade or so, even in pictures, but somehow their faces still stood out in the crowd.

I mainly came to India to do the Vipassana meditation retreat: 10 days of silence, no phones/reading/writing/technology/talking/meaningful eye contact. You wake up at 4am, meditate for 10-14 hours, go to bed before 10pm, and then do it all over again. The course is completely free and sustained by volunteers and donations. It has no religious component whatsoever. It seems fitting to learn about mindfulness in India, the birthplace of meditation and yoga. The 10-day course begins on March 10th near Jaipur, and I will be exploring Mumbai and Udaipur until then. After India, it’s on to Nepal, Everest, Base Camp. I cannot wait. This is probably the furthest ahead I’ve planned on Bonderman so far.

Presently, I am living out all my food dreams, and the only food regrets I have are for the foods I did not eat. Homemade garlic naan, vegetable pakoras, chole bhatura, chaat, pav bhaji, gobi parathas, fresh mango lassis and kulfi. And of course, masala chai.

3/4/19

I woke up thinking in Hindi…

It is very nice to be able to mostly understand what people are saying in Hindi around me and to be able to respond semi-competently in their language. A lot of times in other countries, I assumed that people loitering around the streets and yelling stuff towards me were saying unsavory things, but actually, now that I know what they’re saying, the talk mostly has nothing to do with me. It was pretty self-absorbed of me to think otherwise. I feel comforted.

3/5/19

We had dinner tonight at Mirchi & Mime, a restaurant that primarily hires people with disabilities; the entire staff knew sign language and the menu had diagrams to help people order dishes in sign language, too. It was a beautiful concept for a restaurant. I was with my aunt, uncle, and cousins and since they are all older than me, of course they began discussing what I was like as a kid and how I’ve changed over the years. They asked about my travels, what I wanted to do, and why I left home. My cousin was impressed by the logistics of it all. After dinner was over, she smirked and said “your dad raised you like a boy.” I know what she meant, and I smiled back.

3/6/19

Today, I visited the Gateway of India monument, an arched beacon for those landing from faraway seas. Nearby stands the Taj Mahal Hotel, one of the most elegant and upscale hotels I’ve ever been in. My aunt got me fresh pistachios from a vendor near the Gateway. We munched and watched throngs of people passing by as waves crashed and splashed towards them.

Hard to believe that eleven years earlier, this exact area was shaken by Pakistani terrorists who targeted such beautiful sites, sites that symbolized India’s democracy, freedom, prosperity, and culture. They hijacked a fishing boat and slit the captain’s throat before going on to kill around 164 people, including some American citizens. As I gazed at the majestic Taj Hotel, the grand archway, and the merriment all around me, I thought about all the vitality and vibrancy I’d experienced here already. I realized such extremists would never be able to crush a proud nation’s spirit, try as they might.

My time in Mumbai — the City of Dreams, where my mother grew up — is nearly over. Tomorrow, I fly to the City of Lakes, also known as Udaipur, to see the place where it all began for my dad.

3/8/19

I’m staying with my other aunt and uncle while here in Udaipur. Their home is very modern and spacious. I’ve also learned that you must say “stop” about 2 spoonfuls before you actually want your Indian relative to stop pouring the food onto your plate.

Gangaur Ghat on Lake Pichola

3/9/19

The relatives I am staying with are both doctors, so I decided it would be a great opportunity to witness what non-western medical care looks like.

The government hospital was very hard to see. There was an unbelievable amount of people waiting for care, wearing makeshift casts or dressings over their injuries. Overloaded providers working to help tend to the swell of patients, but the waiting rooms never seemed to thin. Literally crumbling facilities and a lack of infrastructure maintenance. I saw some private hospitals too, and they are like the ones I’ve been in in the U.S., but they are not as accessible. It’s deeply saddening how unevenly resources are distributed throughout the world. I can’t even imagine needing emergency care in a place like this…

My flight to Jaipur is tomorrow. I will have to take a cab to get to the meditation center which is far removed from the noises and distractions of the city. As I’m getting ready to leave, I’m thinking about how India has been strangely comforting:

• After 7 and a half months abroad, having a family with me (not just spontaneous friends) is so pleasant

• I don’t feel unwelcome or unusual or unexpected. My name, my face, nothing about me stands out here. Until I speak…

• Being able to mostly understand people even when they’re speaking a non-English language is always good

• Seeing through adult eyes where my parents grew up is powerful in a vague, yet fundamental way

Holy cow(s)

Jagdish Temple, a Hindu Temple in Udaipur

Me with a statue of hero horse, Chetak, at the Maharana Pratap Memorial. Maharana Pratap was a Rajput hero and King who defied invasion attempts of Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1500’s

Sunset over Fateh Sagar Lake

3/10/19

I have arrived at the Dhamma Thali Vipassana Meditation Center. It is extremely low-tech and dusty here, but very beautiful; the facility is one of the oldest ones, and there’s a sense of serenity that comes with the history of a place like this, one that has taught and helped so many people before me. The center comprises a collection of off-white buildings which function as dorms, dining hall, and meditation rooms, all of which are nestled amongst verdant hills. There is a brilliant pagoda with solitary rooms where we will get a chance to meditate later on in the course.

Because I arrived freakishly early for once (involuntarily of course; I had an early flight), I get my own room. The founders were definitely going for a more spartan look when decorating these spaces… My bed is a wood plank with a blanket on top. There are cobwebs and matching spiders in the corners. Besides for a wobbly old table to set my bag on, there is nothing else in the room. The prospect of the ancient attached bathroom frightens me, and I’m not ready to look at it yet. I had to surrender my phone, but I snuck in some contraband in the form of pen and papers. The way I see it, the reason they restrict reading, writing, talking, exercising, etc. is because you are supposed to be focusing and learning away from distractions. However, I learn and process through writing. Not to mention, Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha, always said to think for yourself, even if that means defying the status quo and established rules. So really, by illicitly writing about what I experience, I’m embodying the very spirit of the subject I’m trying to learn about? I will just go with that.

I already had a new and cathartic experience when I arrived and they took attendance. The class was mostly Indians and a foreigner here and there. The instructor said “Chetali Jain” perfectly, but when she got to all the white people’s names, like Margaret or Caitlyn, she paused before totally botching the pronunciations. Cathartic.

I finally peeked into the bathroom; it’s not so bad, just old. That’s the case with my room too — it’s not unclean, just old. Thank god. And I honestly like sleeping on firmer surfaces; my mattress during undergrad was basically a rock. A slab of actual wood was the logical next step.

3/11/19

I’m glad I brought a digital watch for Bonderman. Without my phone or accessible clocks, the watch is all I have to set alarms and tell time.

3/12/19

Part of Vipassana is accepting how things are temporary and not reacting with any kind of attachment or aversion.

My understanding of meditation right now is basically this: you sit and close your eyes. As you do this, you are supposed to become conscious of the sensations all over your body, concentrate on each sensation — without any sort of emotion tied to that recognition — and then move on to the next body part. Then repeat over and over. Based on the nightly “lectures,” the idea behind this is that any human emotion you feel can be boiled down to bodily sensation(s). Therefore, the goal is to identify such sensations (like itches, aches, etc.), stop feeling any kind of emotion about them, and then just sort of accept their transience, and ultimately, you will stop hating or craving or being attached to anything…

This is a school for little sociopaths!

Benevolent and level-headed sociopaths, though. I need to ponder this further. Good thing I have 14 hours of meditation a day to figure it out.

3/13/19

Every morning before the sun has risen, bells toll throughout the campus to wake us up for our 4:30am meditation session. I am going to have nightmares about these bells.

My guess is that there are about 30-40 other women here (the men are staying in a separate area). We all sort of wander around the place aimlessly and avoid making eye contact. It’s not an entirely unwelcome change after almost 8 months of rapid socialization abroad.

The healthy, unembellished food they serve here is surprisingly good; it’s all Indian vegetarian cuisine with vegan options, as well. There’s even chai in the evenings. I’m impressed.

3/14/19

I continue to be amazed by the natural noisiness of being a human being, even when one is trying to be silent. It’s like watching “A Quiet Place” in theaters.

3/15/19

Feels like forever since I spoke to another person or engaged in intentional eye contact with one. Somehow, even though we are all just sitting for long periods of time, I am exhausted.

A few days ago, I found a pristine, completely intact peacock tail feather in the woods near my dorm. Ever since then, I’ve been spending my breaks searching for more. I’m trying to see how many I can collect. So far, I haven’t found any more of the iconic tail feathers, just a bunch of the dinky blue poofy ones. However, I am determined to find more tail feathers so I’ve been following the flocks around.

Stalking peacocks is all I have right now. Is this what insanity feels like?

3/16/19

We are all starved for entertainment/stimulation, and this has led to an unexpected pastime among my cohort: watching monkey fights. There’s a whole cadre of monkeys that emerge from the woods every now and again to observe us and take over our spaces. Once while we were all in the meditation hall, they carried out a coup on the trees near one cluster of dorms, including my own, and we couldn’t go back to our rooms until nightfall, when they finally settled down and fell asleep. During orientation, they had pointed out signs near the pagoda that caution guests to carefully shut the doors behind them, as a monkey once broke in and wreaked havoc on the monks for a while.

Anyway, after lunch today they had some sort of collective breakdown which led to a multi-monkey brawl on the roof of the meditation hall. Their pounding and shrieks actually kept me awake though, so that was good.

We all went out afterwards and sat on a ledge to watch the (playful?) fight unfold before us. They were ruthless: tossing their opponents off of branches, swiping at the ones who got too close while they were chewing a leaf, baring their teeth if challenged. One monkey got pushed out of the tree and landed in a sitting position, legs stretched out and hands sheepishly held in its lap. It appeared to me that he or she was deeply embarrassed, almost like he/she was mortified that we had all witnessed him/her get shoved out of a tree. I don’t know, I was actually very impressed (and jealous of) how acrobatic and agile the monkeys are. Jumping from branch to branch, off buildings, like it was nothing.

3/17/19

I keep falling asleep on my mat when I’m supposed to be attaining nirvana.

3/18/19

It may sound cliche, but I feel like things are very clear in my mind right now. There’s this all-consuming sense of goodness. Maybe the Vipassana is working. I feel super forgiving and content. I even stopped being irked by people’s audible breathing/swallowing/digestive noises. I just stopped letting it bother and distract me.

Here is what I have taken away so far:

Meditation is about the here and now, but that doesn’t make it shallow. It’s more just being okay with things not lasting forever: not our friendships, not our faces, not our health, not our successes, not our failures, not our bodies, not our selves. Since there’s no question of whether things end, there really isn’t a reason to worry about how long they’ll last either. If it’s for a minute or for a month or for a year or for 10 years — you should give as much as you can to it, and not be sad or happy once it’s gone. At least that’s what I’m getting from all this.

TL;DR:

Everything’s always changing, so there’s no point worrying about anything.

Does that make sense? I don’t know. Hunting for peacock feathers is my main form of recreation, so I can’t really comment on philosophical complexities right now.

3/20/19

F***, the word that broke my nearly ten days of silence.

There was a terrace, no barrier. I was just walking. Calm and so restful — I didn’t see what was lying there below my feet, catching me mid-step, plunging me ten feet to the concrete ground. All I can remember before everything went black is falling.

India post 2/2 coming soon…

Miners and Refugees

For €5 I can get on a bus at the bus stop in Nicosia and end up in Limassol less than two hours later. All the way to the southern coast I go, looking to spend Saturday in Limassol with new friends for the first days of Carnival. This is a festival similar to Mardi Gras, to celebrate the beginning of lent (set back a little bit because the Orthodox calendar is dom here). And then, on Sunday I will make my way early in the morning to Paphos to get on a flight to the not far away city of Tel Aviv, Israel.

Getting ready to leave this beautiful and fascinating country, I can’t help but think over the landscape I’ve learned over the past month.

Cyprus was pushed up from the sea floor by a Mediterranean fault line. It literally rose from the sea like some biblical event. Then, it was slowly settled by people from many different places over the course of thousands of years.

A friend invited me to come with him to a mining photography exhibit this week. I was expecting black and white, dramatic photos of people working in the Cypriot mines.

When we arrived, a woman named Taia brought me inside and lead me to the back of the exhbit. She showed me rocks. Some were pulled from the mines and are naturally formed here. But I was drawn to one rock in particular and picked it up. She goes, “that is not rock but Slack and it is made with a furnace.” I just responded “oh” and set it down. Weird.

Then she brought us to a stretch of wall with old photos. They were of two mines in particular that had been developed in the 20th century. But, the crazy part was that these mines were also on top of older, ancient mines that were used during the Bronze age by indigenous people. There was usually a gallery (decorated with paintings and art) that led down into the inner shafts of the hills.

There were photos on the wall of Bronze age tools that were found in the mines. We marveled at how similar our tools are today. I wondered how many times I had assumed that humans living thousands of years ago were somehow less intelligent, less industrious.

And then there were photos of the landscape around the mines. Ancient miners would pull rock from the earth and melt it down, creating smooth black rocks called “slack”. It just seemed so amazing to me that those black rocks were so old, but perfectly anthropomorphic.

Modern mining consists of excavating the entire area of interest. For the sake of efficiency the mining company takes out all of the dirt, moves it to another area, extracts the precious metals, leaving behind a gaping cater in the land.

It doesn’t take much to understand why this mining technique could be bad for the local environment.

Taia is an archeologist. She had advocated for the UN to register one of the mines as a UNESCO world heritage site in order to protect it from more mining. She loves this body of work because she sees it as something that brings Cyprus together in terms of its common history. Such archeological evidence should be protected in her view.

The photography of the mines at the exhibit was marvelous and vibrantly colored (which was characteristic to the over-saturation of Cyprus on a sunny day). My introverted self really wanted to stay home that night, but I am so glad I went on that mini-adventure.

The highway that runs south from Nicosia branches out a point, westward to Limassol and Paphos, eastward to Larnaca. About 20 minutes from Larnaca is a village called Koufinu. On the outskirts of Koufinu, hidden in the quiet folds of a gigantic olive tree orchard is one of Cyprus’s refugee camps.

I was invited to come along for an english lesson taught by some Americans. During the lesson my new friend taught a class of refugees from Syria, Palestine, the DRC, and some other countries. She spoke in English and then translated to French when necessary and the room was full of women and children. The men are mostly gone throughout the day if they can find work.

When we arrived at the camp we had some spare time before class started, and we were invited to have coffee with one of the refugees in her family’s “home”. I am told that Koufinu is cleaner and has more amenities than many other refugee camps because it is meant to house entire families.

To protect her privacy and identity, I will not use the real name of the refugee who generously shared her home and story with me.

Shana is only 24, two years older than me and the same age as my older sister. She has two expressive and brilliant little boys. Two years ago she and her husband packed some clothes into bags and carried their sons out of Ilib, Syria. They walked for weeks toward the Turkish border. Eventually they made it to Turkey and found a smuggler to take them to the northern part of Cyprus. (Because North Cyprus is illegally occupied by Turkey, a lot of refugees chose this route in order to get to camps in the south, and eventually become a part of the country)

In the dead of the night, something happened to their boat during the crossing over to cyprus. Shana found herself shoveling buckets of water over the side, not sure whether her family would make it. Her sons were also on that sinking boat.

They eventually made it to shore, but they still had to find someone to take them over the “border”.

I never asked if she still had family in Syria, or if she missed home. I find myself avoiding homeland topics with refugees. Honestly, I had no idea how to approach the subject because I had never met anyone who had to struggle so much just to survive.

We talked about her sons, how they were learning so fast. She made coffee for us and told us to sit on one of the beds while she sat on the floor. We laughed about her decision to ban tablets in the room because the boys turned into “zombies” when they watched videos all day. The family of four is living in a 8ft x 8ft room made with plastic walls. They have a heater and Shana says it works well enough.

Shana and her family have applied to become refugees in Cyprus, but because they are still waiting to be approved and processed. Like many other people in Cyprus, they are designated a limbo status as people in “asylum”.

I learned a lot about the local region and about the world when I was in Cyprus last month. As the end of this fellowship comes closer every day, I am savoring it. I feel so full, so happy, so grateful for everything. Looking back I can hardly believe I’ve come so far. So much has changed.

Mental Hardships of Traveling – Note to Self

QUICK NOTE: I’ve received messages saying that the interview letters have been released for the Bonderman Fellowship. For all who received letters, I would like to say congratulations! More importantly for those who did not receive interview letters, do not stress. I promise you everything you do is an opportunity. Whatever you decide to fill in as a substitute will provide growth and experience in a different way. Traveling is not gone forever for you. There are travelers of all ages around the world and you will one day join them! If you choose that you still want to travel, but do not have the means to now, then save up for the future! I am sorry if it feels devastating , but I promise that the opportunity to travel is still available.

Reflection:

I decided to reflect on some of the emotional work while traveling. While traveling your mental health is entirely up to you. In college, family, friends, roommates will check up and make sure you leave the house and feel good, but while travelling you are 100% responsible for yourself. That’s why a traveller always has to be monitoring their internal dialogue. Where is your attention focused?

This week I have been stuck with “When I get home I’ll do this ” and my entire brain has been thinking about relationships back home. The six month mark is tough because you can see the end of the fellowship, but it is still too far to invest time in planning for when you return. There are two consequences of not staying present while traveling. 1- It is easy to get depressed while thinking about all that is going on at home and wanting to be there. 2- WHAT A WASTE OF TIME! You are in a beautiful country with culture, history, life. Get out of your damn room and go experience it (Ya, Tariq I’m talking to you).

To adjust my mindset, I decided to limit the amount of hours I could stay at my hotel. Being out and signing up for cultural activities really helped me practice mindfulness and being present. Also, it is time I get back into a hostel environment (no not hostile environment – word play). I have been in a very affordable hotel room for two weeks, but the hostel life is where friends are made and adventures start.

What makes me most annoyed about being homesick is how illogical it is. When I feel homesick, all I can think about is wanting to be home. But, I know within the first few hours of being home, all I’ll want to do is go back out and travel. These past two days have been much better because I have been out and about in the city. So current and future travelers, if you ever experience this, then quit reading this blog post with terribly corny jokes, and go outside. I always hate when people say “OH stop your anxiety/depression by taking a walk”, and I do not mean to say that. But, don’t allow yourself to sink into it, because no one else is going to be around to help you out.

More than anything else, while traveling you learn resilience. It is your saving grace when you are at your lowest. The missed flight, late night harassment, deep homesickness, exhaustion, burnout you will only have resilience to get you through those situations. Stay safe and healthy – also Michiganders take your Vitamin D. 40% of y’all are deficient.