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Dear Lola…

Dear Lola,

Only three months ago we were sitting at a café in Amsterdam, eating ‘bitterballen’ and sharing the limited amount of information we knew about a Dragons semester. This was when you first heard you’d be travelling with all your stuff in one backpack and without a phone. Judging by your facial expressions you were not too happy about any of that. Still, you looked at me with that confident face you always have and said, “this will be a life changing experience for both of us”. Here I am three months later telling you that you were right, even though McKenna and Noah both know I never like to admit that I’m wrong. The past three months I have visited many beautiful places, felt my lowest emotionally and physically, mastered a total of six Nepali words and experienced extreme contentment with my place in life. From every place I learned something new, all of which contributed to that version of me you will see very soon.

In Bhaktapur, the historical city we had our orientation at, I learned that a lot of the service activities I had been participating in were self-fulfilling; something to put on a college application or tell other people about. I became aware that the fifteen people standing in that Dragons room would be the most important people to me during my time in Nepal. As I came to realise later, they would also be the only people who will ever fully understand what I have experienced. In Bhaktapur we also had a ceremony. Up until then I was unaware that a ceremony had the power to create a sense of community, of support only four days into the trip. Neither did I know that Rishi’s favourite song was ‘sunflower’ by Post Malone. I must say that really did change my perspective on Rishi, “maybe he is cool after all” I thought.

In Patan, a city known for its crafts, honking motorcycles, and peaceful courtyards I learned that a family can be created anywhere. Every morning I would wake up to my sister, Smriti, knocking on my door, “sister, breakfast time”. I would go upstairs and aama would have the best ‘chiya’ waiting for me with pastries even though she knew I would always have breakfast at the programme house. Aama didn’t speak much English and at that point I could only say “namaste” but still we would sit in the living room enjoying each other’s presence. Aama was amazing at cards especially when it involved money and baba was always eager to talk to me, “you teach me English I teach you Nepali” he would remind me everyday. When the family would be complete at night, we would play cards and watch Bollywood movies I could not understand.  It felt good to join in on their daily routines even if that meant 5:30 am morning walks. From these four amazing people I learned its possible to create that feeling of home wherever you are and I can’t thank them enough for that. In Patan I also had my first of many emotional days. Noah and I were sitting outside Rupesh’s house – our ISP mentor – and I just cried. What the exact cause of that was I don’t remember but I knew it felt great knowing someone was there for me no matter what I was upset about. On a more positive note, Patan showed me how much Jacob’s actions would add on to the group humor. Even though he sadly left us later on in the trip he certainly left an impact denying taking showers at the PH despite coming out of the bathroom soaked and bringing his fan remote instead of his burner phone.

In Nagarkot, I learned that being a good leader means listening to the group needs and giving space for others to step in too. I learned that Madagascar 1 really isn’t as good as I remember it being. On clear days we could see a tiny section of the Himalayan mountain range and we’d stand in awe completely unaware that we’d be seeing a much more extensive version of it everyday during trek.

On trek I got closer to Natalie and Becky. Natalie and I definitely bonded over the fact that we were battling diarrhea fifteen out of the fifteen days of trek. I learned that it’s ok to turn around and not make it to the top. I still perfectly remember the day we walked up to Surya Peak (if you can call it a walk I don’t know). Tsering, noticing I had difficulty, was carrying my bag, standing below me in the not so small case I fell and placing his feet under mine supporting every step I took. Yet for some reason, fear took so much control of me to the point that I would still not trust I was safe and constantly tell Tsering, “ I can’t do it” at any minor inconvenience. To that he would simply say, “no Ma’am, you can do it, I am here”. The view at 5,200 m was incredible but for some reason I barely felt accomplished at the top. Maybe it was because Tsering literally carried me up and it was definitely more his accomplishment than mine. If you encounter a similar situation on your own trip remember not to be too hard on yourself. I learned that AMS sucks (at least for some of us it does) but that the instructors take care of you like you’re their child. Even though your instructors won’t be nearly as amazing as the ones I had, you should appreciate the work they put into your experience every second.

In Alegaun, a beautiful village made up on only seven houses on a hill, I learned the true meaning of community. Community in Alegaun meant aamas coming together to make us lunch. It meant that on some days I would be helping out McKenna’s or Nat’s family in the fields and aama would still be proud of me telling the other aamas I was working hard as if I was her own daughter. I learned that you don’t always need words to communicate love and appreciation. And I came to know that Audrey is a great sister and sleeper, “Aruna coming?” aama would ask and I would run into the room and try to get Audrey out of bed in time for roti. This might’ve been what led aama to tell Nat’s didi Audrey was lazy.

In Chitwan I was reminded of nature’s beauty through Aditya’s constant awe and curiosity, “oh wow it’s a spotted deer!!” he would say actually still amazed after seeing the tenth deer of the day. I was also reminded of how awesome Cooper is for having planned such an incredible X-phase. I got inspired by stand up for elephants and even before I could express how I felt Uttara already knew I was saying goodbye to med school and volunteering in Chitwan instead.

In Namo Buddha I was reminded of the impermanence of things, whether experiences, friendships or life. It made me think of how this experience too is impermanent and how hard it will be going home and letting go of every meaningful, funny, and enjoyable moment I’ve shared with each individual on this trip and with myself. I experienced what it’s like to stay silent for a full day and realised that I’m finally at a place in life where I’m comfortable being alone with my thoughts. As you know, I have been someone who has always needed certainty when it came to the future. After this trip I’m still somewhat uncomfortable with uncertainty but I learned that not knowing what the future holds opens up a lot of opportunities. We have the gift on being in a gap year and being able to figure things out slowly, at our own pace. I’m assuming you won’t have a Buddhist retreat in South America but whenever you feel like your own belief system is being challenged don’t be scared, it’s normal to feel frustrated.  It’s using those exact moments to reflect, talk to people that will allow you to learn and grow as an individual.

In this letter I haven’t gotten close to listing all the things I learned from this country or the incredible people I’ve met. You too will experience this overwhelming sense of growth and understanding. On your trip you will connect to people with extremely similar experiences but you will also cross paths with people whose stories are incredibly different to your own. You will have amazing days and once in a while a bad day. You’ll feel homesick and you’ll be so busy at other times you won’t even think of home. You’ll get sick one time and experience the discomfort of being sick in an unfamiliar place. You’ll like certain parts of the trip more than others. And it’s this contrast of emotions that I feel right now at our final stage of the trip; excited to see you and my family back home but also extremely sad I’m leaving this country behind. Leaving Nepal behind means saying goodbye to its incredible people, to the dust of Kathmandu, second families and connections I’ve built, daal bhat, bargaining with shop vendors for a $1 change in price, the beautiful views of the Himalayan mountain and countless other things that have become so special to me. When I come to pick you up in May from Schiphol Airport know that, just like me, you’ll be a different person, filled with experiences and the dream of soon returning to a place you made your home.