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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

On Gratitude

In Manzhang, I believe, we added an aspect to our normal PENX (physical/emotional scale, needs, xfactor) check in–what are you grateful for? In those early days of China, a daily expression of gratitude seemed exceedingly important. It’s true: these past few months, maybe more than ever, I am constantly aware of what I have to be grateful for.

On the plane ride from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, I had to instruct myself to breathe. I have anxiety and have never dealt with it well; as I emptied and filled my lungs with panicked energy, I felt an overwhelming fear of all the unknowns that laid ahead of me. How funny it is that I now love this things I feared, that I take habitual steps into undiscovered, new territories. How funny it is that the exact thing that pushed me to embrace the unknown was precisely what I had feared in the first place: hardship, trauma. For what I have overcome, I am grateful.

In September, I looked at student intros on the yak board and make inaccurate judgements of my fellow Mekong travelers. How funny it is that we have slept in piles, laughed endlessly, matured, problem solved, grown together. I love Chloe’s giggles, Ethan’s yawning noises, Anne and my moments of childishness; I love what Mahler and I call our telepathy, Liam’s ability to always make me laugh, Nates spontaneous singing, Murrays smile & taste in movies/books; Jacks unmistakeable language (“dude,” “yeah man”), Ford’s Texas pride, Annabelle’s ability to remind me of home, Soren’s kindness and sense of humor and Tommy’s intrepidity. I love our I-team, however large and Dragons-unconventional it may be. It may sound cliché, but this has become family of mine, and for this family I am grateful.

Gratitude at home, in my home, is different. And by different, I mean less present. I take for granted my education, my dedicated family, my friends. I wish I didn’t but I do. The other day I found myself in a similar mindset, in an unexpected bad mood: my room the night before had been sweltering, I was cramped on our long ride from Siem Reap to our homestay on Koh Ksach Tunlea, and I felt worn out. Yet in my homestay, in the middle of my freezing bucket shower, I tried to be more present by exercising a method that Jess taught me in Shangri-la: what are five things I can hear right now, five I can see. Becoming more aware of my surroundings, I heard a song playing from a nearby house, the same one played at parties during Golden Week in Manzhang, the same played all throughout our homestay on Ban Don Dohn. My group would recognize it in a heartbeat. In a moment, the grumpiness and negativity flushed out of me. This trip has not been wholly positive, as nothing ever is: I have cried mid CT scan, missed home, felt overwhelmed by new cultures, felt exhaustion in my bones, been bored out of my mind. But from each of these situations I’ve grown immensely. And those times of happiness (and oh, there have been many): they’re glorious, they’re shining, bright beacons that pierce my heart with affection for everyone and everything involved.

So today, and every day, I am grateful for Dragons, for Mama Mekong, for Asia, for life itself: what love, what chaos, what peace you have brought me.