Suasdey (hello) friends!
My name is Kelsey and I grew up in the countryside of Northeast Ohio, though these days I’m a bit of a nomad, driven by the wakefulness that travel instills. Most recently, from February until just two weeks ago, I instructed the Mekong Gap Year Spring Semester for Dragons, traveling through the spiritual, cultural, political, and environmental mosaic of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and China, following the mighty Mekong River that plays both master and slave to the people surrounding it. Now reflecting and resting back home in the US, I am deciding what to repack for sharing on our extraordinary adventure ahead: laughter, creativity, support, presence, and a bottomless supply of gratitude. While my prior experiences in Cambodia span the one month I was there earlier this year, the vibrancy and generosity of this resilient, beautiful country make it feel like a sweet lifetime. I am honored to be a part of the instructor team with Claire and Yut and to be joining you all this summer.
The photo above was taken by a Dragons student during our day on Tonle Sap Lake in Cambodia earlier this year, a natural phenomenon and the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Each year during the rainy season (Jun-Oct) the flow of the Tonle Sap River connecting the lake to the downstream Mekong River REVERSES, sending flow backward to the lake and creating an ecological oasis and fish production powerhouse. As water levels decrease into the dry season, flow switches back, carrying vast amounts of fish, water, nutrients, and sediment to downstream areas of Cambodia and Vietnam. Nowhere else in the world does a flow reversal happen on this scale. The lake not only maintained the world’s largest pre-industrial human settlement, the Angkor Civilization, but it is directly relied upon by millions of people today for food and irrigation. Cambodia’s natural identity, experienced through the rich and illuminating lenses of ecological wonder and organic rhythms, and exploring how we are a part of it all – that is what I want to share with you.
Hiking through a forest, skiing up a mountain, swimming in open ocean, or walking in a city, I’ve always felt compelled to understand how it all works – how this big beautiful blue house that we live in is built and how the extreme transformations we as humans bring about change it. In my time leading up to our adventure, I’ve studied earth science, water, rivers, conservation, and climate change at two universities in the US, instructed a college internship in the Rocky Mountains, volunteered teaching science at K-8 events, and led summer trips for National Geographic Student Expeditions in the US and Belize. When not immersed in student programming or scientific pursuits of the natural world, I yearn for discovery. I’ve gained a strong sense of place living a fluid, adventure seeking lifestyle, continually learning how to take care of myself so I can better serve others and the world. As your instructor, it is my duty to provide a safe vessel for our voyage and to repair any leaks in the boat along the way. It is my hope that you leave our community with a desire to use your creative capacity to meet the world’s need and a lasting appreciation for the balance of nature.
Looking ahead, a quote keeps coming to my mind from the writer of Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” In going, I want to thank you for your courage and your curiosity, for committing yourself and your energy to this experience and our community. In preparation, leave expectations and assumptions at home. Pack light. While we should anticipate acquiring countless experiences, we must be equally ready to pour out our cups a little – or a lot. We must be ready to empty and quiet the mind, apply the heart, relish in the alchemy of reason and feeling, be a channel for compassion, be fluid. We must be willing to redefine our comfort zones and unearth the more essential parts of ourselves. We must be fearless, and in doing so face our fears.
From the big city to the forests to the coast to the homestay, where I recall the constant fabric of my host mom cooking, distant morning hymns over speakers, baby chicks following their mamas, dogs napping and cats brawling, roosters crowing all day long, mangoes and bananas checkering the landscape, children ecstatically screaming hello in delight, tethered cows dutifully eating their grass, the hypnotic midday roar of crickets and cicadas, and the periodic hum of motorbikes to and fro; it is Cambodia that awaits us.
Claire, Yut, and I eagerly await our journey! Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly at [email protected] if you have any questions on packing, preparation, or the weeks ahead. In the meantime, please introduce yourself and post any questions or thoughts you may have here on the Yak Board!
Jom rieb lea!