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Photo by Catherine Von Holt, Nepal Semester.

Namaste from your Program Director

Namaste Fellow Adventurers,

Welcome to the Fall 2017 Himalaya Semester!  In just 5 weeks you will arrive in the Kathmandu airport and begin a sojourn that will change your life in unforeseen ways.  This journey will present challenges and rewards far beyond your imagination.  It is an exciting prospect and one that I’m sure you are all a bit nervous about.  It takes a tremendous amount of courage to leave behind what is familiar and to venture out into the unknown.  For that, you already have the respect of your instructors and the communities you will be living amongst and working with.

In this note, I want to introduce you to the Yak Board and to share a bit about your semester and myself.  Your instructors too will introduce themselves in the coming days and encourage you to introduce yourself here as well.  You will soon discover that this page is a great way to share, connect and build enthusiasm for the adventure that lies ahead.  It will also be used throughout your course to share your experience with loved ones back home.   Important notices will also be posted in the coming weeks, including your tentative itinerary, so please begin the habit of checking your board regularly.

My personal sojourn in Asia began almost 2 decades ago.  While studying at Middlebury College, I found myself drawn to Eastern religion and philosophy for the emphasis placed on cultivating self-awareness and embodying virtuous emotions such as compassion, generosity and patience.  I decided that I needed to journey to the East and follow in the footsteps of so many seekers before me.  I have not been disappointed with the decision I made to enroll with the School for International Training in Nepal.  It changed my life so dramatically that I made my home in Asia for 14 years.  Among the many lessons that I have learned, perhaps the most potent has been learning to live in the present.  Asia can demand your full attention in any given moment and challenge the ways in which you view yourself and the world.

You will all have experiences of intense presence, some that you might like to be forewarned of.  Past students have expressed an appreciation for, shall we say, a heads up!   So, with that said, be prepared for the potentiality of the following:  dramatic changes in schedule, a lack of personal space, phases of too little or too much free time, being hungry, being intensely full, being more tired than you’ve ever been in your life, having to wait for transportation, being asked to do things you’re not totally psyched about, not having clean laundry, not having a toilet or having to use a dirty toilet, having to speak a different language, being laughed at, having sloppy diarrhea, once again, not having a toilet!, having to take a cold, bucket shower or having no shower (for days), hiking until your thighs burn and your lungs are ready to burst, eating unappetizing food, having to drop your expectations. . . and more than anything and perhaps implicit in all stated above, having to be uncomfortable and hopefully learning to extract a valuable lesson in being so!

However, you can also be prepared for the inevitability of the following: feeling your heart spontaneously open to virtual strangers, seeing more smiles in a day than you can count, experiencing acts of kindness and generosity from people who have seemingly nothing, being moved to tears and laughter unexpectedly, hearing words of insight and wisdom from respected members of the community, being accepted into a family as if you were their biological child, playing silly games with the most enthusiastic and curious kids you’ve ever met, holding farm animals, stuttering through a new language, saying “Malaai kushi laagyo!”, being spellbound by chanting monks, learning new skills from your ISP mentor, feasting your eyes on high, snowy peaks, filling your belly with copious amounts of daal bhat, meeting dreadlocked, ash covered yogis, watching monkeys play, and avoiding cows lounging in the city streets.

What lies ahead is hard to find words for.  What is even more difficult is to be prepared for the journey.  I imagine this note will find all of you at some stage of preparation.  All I can say by way of advice goes beyond anything you can fit in your backpack. It’s important to start this sojourn with your loose ends tied up at home so that you can slip into the presence that awaits you.  What I ask for you to all bring is an open heart and mind.  Be ready to give up some control and let yourself flow.  My role and that of your leaders is to provide a safe raft and a paddle to get you through the rapids.

In the coming weeks, your instructors will be checking the board regularly and available to answer any questions that you post.  Before then, please feel free to write me directly – [email protected]

I hope that this note finds you all healthy, happy and enjoying the summer.

Be well,

Shannon Harriman