Monday, January 12, 2009


Now that my travels have come to a close, I am not sure of what to make of this blog—or of myself, really. The title of this writing, “Citizen del Mundo”—“Citizen of the World” holds some implications that I didn’t intend, or address initially in the writing of my travels. To be a citizen implies a certain relationship that goes beyond simply living somewhere.

A citizen has a relationship with their nation or community. In return for rights and opportunities provided by the community, a citizen must give something in return. “Active citizens” are obligated to participate in the improvement of their communities—through voting, working, volunteering, consciousness and even economic participation. Citizenship goes beyond residence.

And so, I have decided to be a better “Citizen of the World.” As a citizen of LA, I am doing my best by working with Project Literacy. To be a citizen of the world I have resolved to be more aware of the world community, by reading news and participating in the many cultural events available to me at UCLA. In this way, I can hold on to my world experiences and hopefully contribute to the world experiences of other citizens of this Earth.

Making Sense of It All

Back in LA and back to regular school life. I have scarcely had a moment to process all that I have experienced in these past few months. It seems as though I was hardly gone at all. My friends, my apartment, my school. We just picked up from where we left off. But what has changed? What have I learned? I’m not exactly sure.

What I am sure of, and what I have been telling all my friends, is that living abroad is definitely something we should all do if we have a chance. A friend asked me if I experienced the cliche of “discovering myself.” Honestly, I hadn’t thought of it that way, nor do I think any of us will ever finish in the quest for self. But in many respects, my experience fit the cliche.

Living abroad has given me an opportunity to get away from everything that I have known. I left behind the external stimuli of the people, culture, society and surroundings of my current life in LA and of my childhood home in Santa Cruz. By taking me away from everything I’ve known, life abroad gave me a chance to see what I am without it all. I was able to experience what was “me” as opposed to what were products or responses to my surroundings. In this way, I’d have to say that yes, we can travel to find ourselves. But not in the way that many people think.

We do not travel and move in search of some thing that will give us purpose or tell us about ourselves. Instead, just being away from our lives, away from anything that we have learned to associate with and become attached to, gives us a chance to see who we are without those things. Who we are, independent of our friends and comforts and habits. It is not the destination, it isn’t even the journey. It’s about change. The more change we experience, the more we can see what is constant, what is truly part of our own self. Whether or not finding that better sense of self leads to clarity about our “purpose” is beside the point, though it may be a fortuitous consequence for some people. The point is that we gain independence and identity, while reinforcing what is constant and comforting, like home and friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Vinaka, Vinaka Vakalevu

After only a moment to exhale at home, without even completely unpacking, I was off again. This time, I was with my family, headed for Fiji. A little sick (mysterious tropical germies) my little time home and the whole sixteen hours of travel were a blur. All for the best, I suppose, it may have been just as bewildering to be conscious of crossing the international dateline and “magically” skipping forward a day. For all I know I had just passed out for that whole day.

In Fiji, I once again found myself in an amiable, tropical paradise. A place where the people smiled and waved and greeted you with hugs (and at hotels with songs and a foot massage). This was a totally different kind of trip. We stayed at a beautiful, nearly empty, resort for the first couple days to get adjusted to the new time zone, and to give me a chance to get over my mystery illness. And then we got on the Tui Tai.

Now, I had no idea what the heck we were going to do. I thought it was a dive boat...but that’s not quite right because Mom and Nikko (non-divers) were promised to enjoy themselves....What it turned out to be was an “adventure cruise”, with a small list of passengers and an even smaller rank of crew. For a week we lived on this boat getting to know fellow passengers and crew very closely. Relaxing it was not—this was not your ordinary “cruise” cruise. We woke for a 7am dive every morning and had activities (snorkeling, kayaking, hikes and bike rides on various islands, and visiting small villages as we sailed by them) all day long, virtually non-stop. And every landing was a wet landing.

It would be impossible to summarize every day and every activity. Sufficed to say, we did some amazing things. Went diving with manta rays, jumped off of waterfalls, and drank kava with locals. And we met amazing people. Regular people. Fijians of many origins and “microcultures,” and Indo-fijians—hardworking people without a nation. Each of them added something new to our experiences. As one of our fellow passengers said—we are all different colors, and as we come together and share our lives with each other, we are making every life that we touch a little more colorful.

Vinaka vekelevu, Fiji, for making me a little more colorful, far after my tan fades, this trip’s colors will still have left their mark.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Leaving Paradise

On the plane from Dallas to San Fran. So sad to be so far already from the Green Mountains. But I will be happy to be home again with family and friends…and dry clothes that don’t smell like mildew.

Monteverde, and the rest of Costa Rica, gave us a beautiful send-off, making it that much harder to say goodbye. Perfect “pura vida” days, even during the most stressful time of the quarter. I blasted through the symposium, blasted through my final essays and the final submission of my research so that I could enjoy my last couple days in the mountains. And Monteverde cooperated by lightening the rain and wind, blessing us with blue skies and the most beautiful sunsets we had seen. Afternoon walks to escape the stress of the station put a lasting smile o my face.

The morning that everything was due, I submitted my papers early and went out with a friend. It was the most tranquila day we had enjoyed all week. We visited all of our favorite places, walking all over Monteverde. We visited and said our goodbyes to the local people we had gotten to know. In the end we laid out on the lawn in front of Casem and read aloud to each other until a sunny drizzle encouraged us to visit Stella’s one last time. We enjoyed our last DELICIOUS sandwich at our favorite hangout, watched birds and sat in silence for a while, appreciating the time we had spent there—watching new coming tourists bustling in and out, looking at maps, consulting guides.

That evening was the “final” feast at the station, with all of our teachers and all of the people who had helped us throughout the program in attendance. Viewing the slideshow, one thing in particular struck me. We are always smiling. Not just because we were taking pictures, no. These photos just reminded me that we have been walking around with smiles on our faces for three months, for no other reason than that life is amazing, and what we were doing is amazing and that we are blessed to be where we are.

One of Frank’s final word’s of wisdom (not to be confused with his many “cautionary tales”) was this: To simply be well educated is not enough. In fact, some of history’s most infamous villains and “fools” were the most highly educated, brilliant people. It matters what kind of education we receive. It is important to understand the world in many ways, and to understand the gifts that it holds. It is important that we learn from the world and the people around us, and to have a complete LIFE education…and that is what we have been given, and that is our obligation to pass on.

And so, as sad as I am to be leaving paradise…I know that I will someday return. Until then I have a rekindled energy and drive to make the most of opportunities, and to continue to make opportunities for myself. I accept the obligation to contribute to the world around me and perpetuate life’s education. And I look forward to the challenges ahead, knowing that I am capable of much more than I knew before.