Sunday, July 27, 2014

This is really happening!

Nepal->Myanmar->Home->Ecuador->Patagonia-> ?
Fall 2014-Spring 2015

That's the very rough draft for my upcoming adventure.  Until recently those places sounded as exotic and unreachable as Saturn.  Adjusting to the realization that I'm going to actually be in those places has been huge for me!  Here's a brief overview of my ridiculous outline for the next several months, set to begin with a flight to Kathmandu on Sept 18th.

In Nepal, I'll be going on an 18 day trek with my good friend Vince Gianotti, who's been teaching in Kathmandu for a few years.  We're aiming hopefully at the restricted Dolpo region in the remote northern part of Nepal.  (Is this real life!?)

Afterwards, I'll be joining with the Mazamas' Critical Incident Stress Management team to work with the Sherpa communities.  Following the devastating avalanche on Everest in April that killed 16 Sherpas, we were contacted by internationally recognized climber Conrad Anker who requested CISM support and training for the Sherpa community.  Partnering with the Alex Lowe Foundation, Lhakpa Gelu Foundation, and local guides, our team is planning to spend a month traveling from village to village providing training and support in critical incident debriefing.  We don't know many details about this yet, but I'm hopeful that we can provide free training that will hopefully benefit the community.

My timeline from there is hazy, but I am hoping afterwards to volunteer or trek in Nepal, or potentially visit a Bhutanese friend in Bhutan.  I'll be home with family for Christmas and to apply to grad school, likely while working some crappy job.

For the new year, I'll repack  my backpack and fly down to Cuenca, Ecuador, where I plan to spend the month of January in the mountains doing an intensive Spanish immersion and tutoring English to keep costs down.  In early February I'll hopefully meet up with some Portland friends who are going to be in southern Chile to do those iconic treks (!).

Last on my list of plans is to volunteer to help build the Patagonia National Park.  Really.  I was selected to be part of a small crew of half-Chileans and half-North Americans to spend a few weeks in the backcountry doing invasive species removal, trail building, fence removal, etc.  If you've seen the movie "180 Degrees South" on Netflix- this is it!  Here's info on the volunteer program.  I'm pretty shocked that I was accepted, given my lack of background in conservation and Spanish ability.  It'll be intense but great.

My pseudo-plans end in early March.  At the moment, that is intentional because I imagine that I will have changed and grown a lot as a human by then.  I can't predict what I'll want, what I'll need or who I'll have met at that stage.  Leaving the future open ended is both freeing and terrifying.  I'm sure I'll be beyond broke at that point so it's likely that I'll either come crawling back to my parents' basement or, ideally will work for a local nonprofit for a while.  I might start a Masters in Social Work program in Fall of 2015, but I don't know.

Given how straightforward my life's trajectory has been until now, this all feels very drastic and new.  I'm incredibly excited of course, but that is tempered by how tough it's going to be to leave Portland (see earlier blog post), and feeling guilt around the privilege of getting to do this in the first place.

I'm not one for short term "voluntourism" but I also know that I'm not interested in doing a trip like this that's just centered around hiking and drinking in hostels.  The volunteer programs that presented themselves in Nepal and Patagonia are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that I feel have a specific focus, are well-thought out and don't misdirect resources from the local population.  I've tried to be very intentional about not just excitedly signing up for the first NGO gig that offers good photo-ops.  Everything is falling into place surprisingly well that I can build a long-term trip around two major volunteer programs in different parts of the world, and then hopefully stay on to plug into a local nonprofit effectively.  Those later opportunities will have to be the type that arise organically from being in a place- not something I'd be able to research and plan around now.

I've never asked for money, and doing so after voluntarily quitting my job feels especially bizarre.  But here's the link to this crowdfunding campaign I just set up, trying to offset some of the costs I'm accruing while blowing my savings on this adventure.  My friends have convinced me that I've accrued enough karma doing what I do in the past four years that it's worth asking the universe for some help in this next stage of my life.

More important than financial support, I know that I'm going to be lonely and have moments of crushing self-doubt when I'm on this trip.  Your emails & comments mean more to me than I can convey.  Also, if you've been to any of these places and have suggestions, send them my way!  I'd also be very appreciative of being put in touch with any friendly faces you know in the countries I'll be visiting.

I promise that future blog posts will be less list-ey and more story.  Thanks so much for reading.  I'm only able to launch off like this because I know what a wonderful and supportive community I have.  Between now and Sept 18th I am working through endless to-do lists in preparing to uproot my life.  I would love to see each of you before I go.  Let's make it happen!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Saying Goodbye Hurts

Hello friends and family near and far.  Thanks so much for reading!  I've always felt like personal blogs are inherently boring and self-aggrandizing so I'll do my best to not be either of those, and  to keep posts short and photo-heavy.

So, after four incredible years of calling Portland "home," I've decided to uproot and see where the universe takes me.  My hope is to spend the next year or so backpacking internationally, focusing on volunteer opportunities and authentic cultural experiences as well as outdoor adventures.

It's tough to convey how difficult the decision has been to leave my life in Portland behind.  Back when I had the idea to travel a few months ago it felt surreal- it would never actually happen.  I've been on a pretty straightforward trajectory my whole life that has been school directly to Jesuit Volunteer Corps NW which morphed into my current job of four years working with the homeless population at JOIN.  JOIN has been so much more than a job.  Heck, I was a full-time volunteer there for two of those years.  The genuine, compassionate focus we have on empowering marginalized individuals through authentic relationships has shaped me as a human.  I've learned so much from my amazing coworkers and homeless folks, and doing the hard work in the trenches of urban poverty has allowed me to mature and learn more than I could have doing anything else since college.  I could go on, but I'll leave it at the fact that giving my notice yesterday was one of the most difficult things I've ever done.  The next month and a half of saying goodbye to the friends on my list of formerly homeless people I work with will be incredibly painful.

In addition to a fantastic job, I'm also leaving an amazing community of close friends.  I feel so fortunate to never have experienced the isolation that often comes with being a 20-something in a new city.  My friends from JVC NW, roommates, climbing, Mazamas, etc. have been my anchor and I love the feeling of being supported and having so many wonderful people around with whom I feel comfortable being my real, filter-less self.  I'm a complete idiot to leave all of these wonderful connections, but I know that it's not forever and that we will definitely stay in touch.  When I think about the reality of leaving it's hard to keep from crying.  It's terrifying and sad.  At the same time though, I realize that if I didn't feel that sadness it would invalidate the past few years as not meaning enough to have affected me in that way.  I never feel far from my family, and I know that I'll probably stay in touch as well with them while traveling as I currently do.  I'm so ridiculously grateful for their unconditional support and safety net.

I'm not "running away" from anything by leaving.  There is nothing negative in my Portland life that would 'push' me out of this lifestyle.  I needed this major 'pull' of travel and eventual grad school to motivate me to depart from a life that is completely comfortable, fulfilling and fun.  I am beginning to feel the fringes of being burnt out at work and my folks deserve to have me at my best, least-jaded self.  I know that I can effect more positive social justice change if I have the skills and knowledge that come with having a Master's degree.  And in the meantime, I crave the instability and adventure that come with solo backpacking.  This is a bit tough to broadcast to the world, but a big motivation for me to actually pull the trigger was having had two separate, minor health related scares in the past few months.  I realized that in both instances, my first thoughts were, "I need to go travel before I have to deal with this!"  Fortunately, while it's probably not the smartest thing for me to ditch health insurance, everything is looking fine for now.  Naturally I'm experiencing a huge amount of self-doubt around this whole trip, but I'm counter-intuitively choosing to go for it regardless.  This is all really difficult for me.