Off To Earlham! – by Ari, age 18
We have to bid good-bye to Ari’s regular stories as he commits to generating his own adventures. This Fall, Ari joins Earlham College, a small Quaker-founded liberal arts school in eastern Indiana; we can report that he is already having a fantastic time living and studying without hovering parents. His classes in social anthropology and psychology intrigue him most.
I have been traveling with my family for over five years now, but my time living with them has come to an end. I am leaving for college. Although this is incredibly exciting for me, there are going to be some major drawbacks, like not having anybody to cook me dinner, not being able to go to Asia for free, and having to buy my own laundry detergent. I have taken a lot from my parents, but one of the things that has defined me to a huge degree has been our travel.
The first time I went to Southeast Asia in 2005, my paradigm of what life is and how I define myself as a person and an American changed dramatically. I had not realized how incredible different other cultures could be. Sure, I had been told that other people had other beliefs and different life styles, but I didn’t know it until I had seen it first-hand. Now, wherever I go, I bring my new paradigm with me, which has led me to a whole new set of experiences, from going to Korea with the Sister Cities program to volunteering in Sovie, Ghana to build a latrine. None of these life-altering opportunities would have been available had my parents not taken the initiative to take my brother and me overseas.
Now, going into college and what seems to me as the tireless flatlands we call the Midwest and the big bad world in general, I have already seen my experiences shape my life’s direction. I received the Bonner Scholarship from Earlham College. This scholarship is awarded to students who demonstrate a desire to improve the world, and my international travelling and volunteering helped me earn the honor. There are two components to the scholarship. The first is that I will do community service work instead of a work-study (which the program will pay me for), and the second is that I will receive a stipend for doing social justice work during the summers. The summer section can be done anywhere, so, although I may use it as an opportunity to come home to serve the Eugene community, I could also go abroad and work for a nonprofit organization that builds schools for impoverished girls in, say, Turkmenistan.
All in all, I am a very different person now than I would be had I not traveled. Can I tell you exactly what about me is different? No. I can’t pinpoint the changes. But every time I have come back from a trip my friends (and sometimes my family) have told me that I am a new person. I have yet to fully define this new person, but I know that, as I head off to college, I am about to embark on another adventure that will surely redefine who I am. I wonder who I will be when this next adventure comes to an end. I also want to thank all who have traveled vicariously with us through Laos and Vietnam – you have helped us look more deeply at our experiences through our writings.