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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

THERE IS A SONG THAT WANTS TO BE SUNG THROUGH US

'Hay' from North India. Photo by Christy Sommers.

Dear Friends and Family,

We are writing this from the airport in Leh, Ladakh where we’re waiting for our flight to Delhi. Patience is perhaps one of the most important traits a traveler can possess. Flights and trains get delayed, and especially in India things rarely happen on our schedule. In our busy lives at home, waiting is an undesirable state-the cause of much anger and frustration. If we must wait for something, you can bet we will be glued to our phones. But there are no phones here, no computers, no headphones. The students are curled up in a corner of the waiting room, heads on shoulders or in each other’s laps. They’re laughing and joking, drinking cups of masala chai and eating samosas and biscuits. We’ve been here for over an hour and may be here another hour more. No one seems particularly upset or frustrated. Over the past six weeks, we’ve waited for flights, train, taxis and each other. Waiting has become as much a part of our group as sleeping or eating.

Each day, students ask each other an “x-factor” question which can range from favorite food to places they want to travel. Yesterday, the question was “What advice would you give to students doing this program next year?” Most of the advice seemed to boil down to this “Be present. Be here. Engage with the people, places and experiences you are with now.”

We’re often asked what students take home from these programs. Many take home a greater confidence in themselves and their ability to deal with challenging situations. Many take home new skills-packing a backpack, treating a blister, making momos. Most take home new friendships and inspirations. But what’s less obvious and harder to qualify is their ability to sit with themselves or others without the multitude of distractions our modern lives throw at us. And how much students come to cherish these quiet moments. Sitting in a remote Ladakhi village among fields of ripened wheat, one student sighed, “I’m going to run over my phone with a car,” and many others nodded in agreement.

At the end of the course, we like to ask our students a few questions about their experience. Below you will find their anonymous answers. As you will see, they have been changed in ways both big and small, obvious and more subtle. As instructors, we are honored that you lent us your students for the summer! We feel privileged to have spent the last 6 weeks traveling around North India with ten such inquisitive, kind and curious young people. They inspire us every day and make us proud to do this sort of work.

Thank you,
Saurabh, Hemant and Rebecca

1) What is one thing you learned?

The people of Ladakh taught me how a remote, sustainable life can be challenging, fulfilling and joyful at the same time.

Learning never stops and it’s always possible to keep learning no matter the circumstances.

I finally understand the idea of internal happiness and how to have it anywhere.

One thing? I have learned so much in the past 6 weeks, from how to sit with myself and feel my emotions to how to engage in cultural exchange and form bonds with people who have nothing in common with me and everything in between.

Over the course of this trip, I found that it was impossible to avoid learning something new every day, whether it was how to make momos, phrases in a new language or just more about myself and how I fit into the jigsaw puzzle of the world around me.

I have learned how to sit with myself and my thoughts.

My time in India has taught me more than I’ll probably ever know. But as I think back on what I’ve learned, the paper-thin Ladakhi air cutting through my lungs, I can say one thing of which I’ve become sure: there is a song that wants to be sung through us. Much of it, we are able to write ourselves-the rest can be heard as a whisper from the mountains.

The emotion or pain or heartbreak has always had the ability to trump happiness and joy. However on this trip I learned that no matter how much pain one may be in, happiness and joy is ultimately more powerful.

2) Who is a person who affected your trip?

My homestay father in the village of Taar showed me his love for the Himalayan mountains by taking me on a hike, starting at daybreak that I will never forget.

Rebecca ji, one of our beloved instructors became a role model for me, not only because of her unique and exceptional leadership style, but because of her courage to always try new things and push her limits and ultimately challenge herself.

Hemant is a person that has affected my trip.

Preet-a fascinating leader, charasmatic, consistent, diplomatic and disciplined. A man whose traits I admire and wish to develop.

My parents have affected my trip, because I am constantly realizing how much they have sacrificed to give me the incredible life I have.

I began to realize that every single person I spoke to, whether is was a random Ladakhi villager walking by, an instructor, or my roommate for the night helped to shape the cherished experiences; they all added a little more to the epic story of my time in India.

Rebecca ji, Saurabh ji, Hemant ji.

Every single person I encountered on this trip has changed me in their own unique way and I am endlessly grateful that they have opened their hearts to me and helped me to discover so much about this life.

3) What should people at home know?

I would like them to know that I aim to make some sustainable lifestyle changes modeled after ways that I have lived over the last six weeks.

Grateful and thankful to be able to visit to such a great country.

I will find joy in the smallest things.

No matter how much or how often you travel, even if it is to the same location, there is no way to leave as the same person you were upon arrival. Every person you meet, whether a mother who cared for you as her own for weeks or months, or a street vendor who is excited to share a language, or one who is exacerbated that you don’t, teaches you something new and unique. No lesson is too small or interaction insignificant; with experience comes sensitivity and the ability to bring awareness to your own growing wisdom and change of character. Don’t expect the same daughter, sister, or friend when I come home, but please be ready to welcome whoever walks through your door, because she is full of love and new life.

I guess I just feel like I’ve changed in ways that may not be obvious on the surface but are a deep part of me now.

Every experiences brings its own uniqueness and hence I wish each parent/guardian welcomes their child back with an open palm and respects how they have changed.

I will try to explain all that I have lived for the past six weeks, but know that my words could never quite do the mountains of Ladakh or all of the laughter or the million starts we all saw together, justice.

I’m prepared to not let other people’s perceptions of ideals, values, and people dramatically affect my own conclusions. I will also be location the nearest Indian food shop as soon as I get home.

I am not the same as I was when I left six weeks ago-just as I’m not the same as I was when I woke up yesterday or even when I started writing this. Please don’t worry or be alarmed. Just be with me and breathe with me on this journey. “Is not impermanence the very fragrance of our days?”