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Hi friends! My name is Ashley Cao, and I am beyond excited for the year ahead. As our departure date quickly approaches, I am certain that I speak for more than just myself when I say that with each passing day, I feel more and more like a child counting down the days until Christmas, constantly adding to my never-ending wish/packing list. (Don’t worry though, I still made sure to pack light!)

My life of adventuring started out around two years ago, for a variety of not-so-important-to-this-introduction reasons; however, since then, I have traveled with my mother and sister throughout Europe and the United States, hitting places like Antelope Canyon, Copenhagen, and Vienna among others. Last summer, I spent three weeks doing service in Udonthani, Thailand, where I got my first taste of international service. While the three week program was a little superficial, getting a brief taste of the Thai language, culture and people was able to entirely change my perspective on travel. Through this next year in Indonesia, I hope to broaden that perspective and deepen my understanding of what it truly means to travel and to immerse oneself in culture.

Over this summer, though, I just got back from another family trip! My mother, sister, and I flew to Japan for a week, exploring Tokyo, Kyoto, and Mt. Fuji. We visited more temples than I can count, engaged in a tea ceremony (yukata, matcha, and all), and witnessed the beauty of the July herb festival and lavender blooms. After back-to-back meals of ramen, pufferfish, ramen, fatty tuna, ramen, wagyu beef, and of course more ramen, I honestly don’t think the physical examination I took prior to leaving for this trip reflects my current condition…I might weigh just a little bit more… :’)

We then headed to Shanghai, China, where both my parents were born and where the majority of my family resides. When I wasn’t (yet again) eating eel, toad, crawfish, river shrimp, or crabs, I was spending time with older family members, all the while practicing my quite horrible, but rapidly improving Shanghainese. Oh, and in preparation for the hot, humid Indonesian weather to come, I cut my hair much shorter than I ever have in the past. Much to my surprise, I think this haircut suits me and my personality better than long hair ever did! In a way, this little haircut is my first, lighthearted step towards self-discovery that resulted from the adventure ahead.

And in the last stretch of our journey, we went to Sydney, Australia. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the city, because I spent most of the week in  rehearsal. It’s funny how eight hours of singing seems to drain your brain more than it does your vocal cords. But, at the end, I performed with a choir at the Sydney Opera House, and the acoustics were quite definitely the best I have ever seen…or heard?

So if the summer debrief wasn’t quite enough, here’s even more about me!

As probably evident through what I’ve already said, I have proudly caught the travel bug from my older sister, and this love of travel and meeting new people is a big part of why BYP Indonesia really caught my eye. I live in a small Southern Californian town, about an hour away from LA with good traffic (which never happens); but I really feel most at home traveling the world with my family and soon, hopefully, with all of you!

I also am a total music fanatic! I participated in my high school’s choir for a year, and hope to engage in something similar at Princeton. Besides singing though, I also play the piano, guitar, ukulele, and as of the China trip, the ocarina. I am currently in love with the artists, This Wild Life and In Love with a Ghost, but I really do love any and all music, so please let me know if there are any artists or songs you think I might like, because I definitely will!

And finally, I am a VERY family-oriented person. As a result, it pains me to be leaving my mom with an empty nest. But at the same time, I am sure that many of your parents are going through the same adjustments and mental preparation. While this next year currently seems daunting and unknown, I’m trying hard to bring a positive attitude (the most vital item on my packing list), telling myself that when the homesickness and newness of empty nest blows over, we will all adjust. To be honest, by the end of this year, my mother will probably learn to love our new puppy, Taro, more than she loves me or my sister (Taro doesn’t talk back or break down into emotional fits as most teenage girls do).

I sincerely hope that through this introduction, you were able to get to know me and my personality a bit better than before. (I don’t think my really bad, overexposed passport photo on the Bridge Year website could have done me justice :P) I am looking forward to getting to meet and grow closer to all of you in this coming year! Best wishes to everyone as the days count down. See you all soon!