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From Gap Year to Freshman Year

As I prepare to move in to my freshman year dorm at Ohio State University next week, I have been feeling so many emotions. Excitement, anticipation, and a dash of nerves… All of the things that seem normal for someone to feel in that space right before they begin a new chapter in their life. And yet, unlike many approaching college freshman, underneath all of it is a hint of nostalgia as I think back just one year to when I was just as nervously preparing for my gap year with Thinking Beyond Borders. As I prepare to move all of my stuff into my dorm room, I can’t help but think about how I incredulously pondered how to fit all of my things into one bag which I would lug around on my back for over six months. And after all is said and done, how is this person who is entering college right now, different from the person that would’ve been entering college last year had he not decided to take a gap year?

One of the ways I’ve changed is gaining an increased willingness to be okay with not…

Finding the Middle Path

In Buddhism, there exists a concept named the Middle Path. What this essentially means is that each one of us is meant to walk life in the center, without retreating to any extremes materially, physically, mentally, and emotionally. This idea originated after Siddartha Guatama (later to be known as The Buddha) spent several years living an ascetic life, rarely moving and eating only the seeds that fell into his lap. Eventually, the Buddha was on the edge of starvation, and though he was still putting all of his energy into his meditation, his mind was clouded and he was unable to focus. Thus, he came to realize that one should not deprive themself of things they need, just as one should also not live with so many distracting things that, though may cause pleasure in the short term, ultimately only increase their suffering.
Learning about this middle path has been very thought provoking for me. While beginning to question whether I really do walk the middle path in my life, I'm simu…

Understanding Yourself (or Lack Thereof)

One of the most difficult concepts for me to grasp since I began studying Buddhism more deeply is the idea of non-self. During the time of the Buddha, one of the major religious ideas making the rounds was the idea on an eternal Self, and that liberation could come only with the stripping away of the ego self and all other wants and desires until one was left with nothing but their purest Self. The Buddha adamantly disagreed with this belief, but rather was convinced that through examining the impermanence of our emotions, sensations, and thoughts, we would find ourselves unable to discover anything about ourselves that is unchanging or everlasting. Essentially, he believed that we have no underlying souls that remain in us and constitute our true essence from birth to death.

Consider the physical side of it. Each of our cells is replaced over time, and seven years from now we will be made up of completely different cells, just as we are now made up of complete different cells than we …

Sawadee krup from Thailand

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Sawadee krup from Thailand! Sawadee means hello in Thai, krup the word put at the end of literally every sentance in order to make it more polite (krup for men, ka for women). These last few weeks in Thailand have been quite the adventure. I really love everything about it here. The most noticible difference from Guatemala has to be the food. From the second we stepped off of the plane, we have been bombarded with sauces, spices, curries, and exotic fruits (including one named Durian which both smells and tastes like onion cheesecake... Yeah, I'm confused about it too). And of course, rice. White rice, fried rice, sticky rice. Really any type you can imagine, at any time of the day. It has been quite the change from the sometimes bland but always solid and predictable corn tortillas, beans, and eggs of Guatemala. Not that I'm complaining. Thai food is basically my food heaven. I am willing to publicly swear on all of my posessions that I will never, ever get sick of it. 
The w…

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is easily one of the hardest times to be away from home. Part of  this past Thursday was inevitably spent thinking about what my family was doing back in Canton, Ohio. I could picture them all sprawled out watching Family Feud together, or playing pinball, or secretly snacking on cinnamon bread. It feels like I've done it a million times, and I can imagine it like the back of my hand.

But this thanksgiving especially, I have a lot to be thankful for. This time around, three months into this journey, I'm especially thankful for some little luxuries, like warm showers, soft blankets, my 2008 Ipod Nano, and my nalgene water bottle, just to name a few.

Really though, I'm thankful for the people in my life. Being away from home this intensly, I've been able to really figure out which people are most important to me, because they are the ones that even after months of limited connection, I'm still thinking about and missing every single day. Those connection…

Fairwell Guatemala, Hello Thailand

Sorry for the long delay! These last few weeks have been very crazy. First, I had to say a final goodbye to Tecpan and my amazing host family. After that, I spent a week with my group traveling around the country to Semuc Champey, a nature reserve of sorts with beautiful natural pools and waterfalls as well as plenty of hiking. After that, we traveled further north to Tikal, one of the largest ancient Mayan cities, to see the temples and learn more about Mayan civilization. After that we traveled to Flores, a beautiful lake island. We had a few days there to relax by the water decompressing from our homestays and farming.

After that began a long few days of traveling. First, we left Flores for Guatemala city, which took us about 10 hours by bus. The next morning (if you can call 4 a.m. morning) we got up and headed off to the Guatemala airport to fly to LAX, then from LAX to Seoul, South Korea, to Singapore, to Bangkok, to Nan, the city we will be living and working in over the next s…

The Opposite of Diversity

Recently, our group went into Antigua for a weekend long getaway. During our time there, between eating all of the delicious foods and taking in the beautiful sights, I did some people watching. It was incredible to see so many people of all different backrounds and races. It is rare to spot a white person in Tecpán and even more unlikely to see a black or asain person, and without realizing it I had become so used to this homogeny that being in a city with so many people that looked like me just felt... abnormal.

This past week, after we came back to Tecpán, I've started thinking more about the implications of this. Since living here, I haven't seen or heard of practically any conflicts between citizens of the city. That being said, during the night there is a group of vigilantes that patrols the streets and makes sure all is as it should be. But aside from that, Tecpán, being made up of over 90% indigenous Maya people, seems almost completely harmonious.

It made me ask mysel…