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Archive for August, 2013

I Am a Warrior

I’m not much of a Vermonter.  I hardly ever ski, value the indoors more than the outdoors, and steer clear of most Vermont-y adventures.   Yet this week, something must’ve stirred within me because I suddenly became adventurous.  Crazy, I know.  Every year at my school, about 50 seniors participate in SLAM, a leadership program aimed at helping freshmen adapt to the high school life.  On Wednesday, all 50 of us gathered to spend two days together for a retreat to kickstart the year.

One of the best places in Vermont to go for team-building is Northern Lights Rock and Ice, an “outdoor challenge” facility with rock climbing walls, a ropes course, and miscellaneous team-building activities.  While I despise heights, I always seem to be pressured to do something or another that ends up with me almost crying.  With these nightmarish experiences in mind, I spent Tuesday night as an insomniac with extreme anxiety.  By Wednesday morning, I was ready to go, mostly because I would be seeing some friends after an entire summer.  But once we got to the ropes course, every fear within me arose again.  I am deathly afraid of heights.  To put things into perspective, I can’t climb a ladder.  When I was young, I used to avoid every monkey bar, roller coaster, and [insert tall structure] that I could, but I would say I’ve lived a pretty eventful life thus far.  While I am absolutely content cheering from the sidelines with the utmost pep, somehow teachers always find a way to give me grief about “stepping out of my comfort zone” and “taking challenges beyond the classroom.”  Our Northern Lights instructor even went as far as to say that not taking the challenge of climbing the 40 foot (yeah, keep reading that number) structure would mean living a sheltered life in the future.  Somehow I don’t equate climbing a structure to making new friends or getting a job or enduring ground-level challenges.  Anyways, pity party over–I spent about three hours stealing glances at the 40 foot structure and calming my nerves.  The last time I was at Northern Lights, I chickened out from the ropes course, but the time before that, I actually completed it—and it was one of the worst experiences of my life (plus I think I made one of my classmates deaf from screaming in his ear for so long).  But standing there, in front of 49 of my classmates, as a 17-year old, I just couldn’t justify not taking a chance.  I knew I would hear about it for the rest of the year.

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Northern Lights Ropes Course (Photo Courtesy of findandgoseek.net)

For the three hours before the 40 foot ropes course, I very carefully avoided the other activities–such as jumping off of a tall pole with five students belaying me–and mentally prepared myself.  When we finally got to the course, I gave myself a dramatic lecture about broadening my horizons and doing this for my future as a journalist and something about college acceptances.  At this point, I’m pretty sure I was trying anything to convince myself.  With these compelling thoughts in mind, I climbed the rope ladder up to the course, careful not to let my foot fall through the holes, looking straight ahead and definitely not downwards.  When I got up there and tied myself to the safety rope, I did a victory dance before realizing that I had about four more obstacles to overcome before reaching freedom.  For the next few obstacles, I regretted everything.  I regretted my lecture, I regretted being convinced, I regretted actually getting up the net ladder.  The first big obstacle  was the “Earthquake”, which consisted of ten hanging (and wobbling) bars you had to cross over as a team.  Every time my team of five put forward a foot, I hung back screaming, “Wait, wait, wait I’m not ready!”, which, eventually, caused my teacher to lose her balance and fall (thankfully being caught by the safety rope….don’t worry, we were all connected to a wire….did I forget to mention that?).  She laughed it off, but I was humiliated.  They finally got me past the 10 bars, with a lot of consolation.  The next obstacle was the worst by far– a tight rope going across two platforms.  I knew I couldn’t do it.  I got half-way through, ditched my partner (who I was supposed to be supporting), and hugged a pole in near-tears saying “I can’t do it, I can’t do it.”  I don’t really know what I expected everyone to do–were they supposed to get a crane and pull me off?  I’m sure at that moment, that would’ve been the preferable option.  Seeing that I was the last one, the instructor came to help me, after letting me struggle for a few minutes (all part of “taking a challenge”).  I finally crossed the rope with my eyes closed, tightly holding on to him.  It wasn’t my brightest moment.  Thankfully, the penultimate obstacle was a choice between yet another tightrope (which some people did blindfolded…are you crazy?) and a bridge.  Needless to say, I chose the latter, and actually ended up booking it across in excitement that I could do something.  When I got to the end, I was eager to take the zipline back down.  I had no hesitations jumping off the structure onto the zipline—just closed my eyes, counted to three, and went for it.  When I touched the ground, I remembered why I hated heights in the first place.

Here’s my moment of deep reflection.  In retrospect, I’m glad I completed the course.  I will probably never ever (ever) do it again, but I can happily say that I’ve completed a 40 foot ropes course twice in my life.  It’s a feat for me.  I remember spending the rest of the day smiling, feeling accomplished, soaking in the success of overcoming a fear.  In the end, my lecture worked.  Maybe I won’t live a sheltered life after all.

After Northern Lights, we all drove up to the Monitor Barn in Richmond, a quintessential Vermont town with rolling hills

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Views from the Monitor Barn

and a lingering smell of hay and manure.  I fell in love with Vermont again, just as I always do when I step out of South Burlington. We spent a few hours hanging out in the Monitor Barn, during which many people volunteered to help cook our dinner (and did it quite well).  We ate dinner all together, and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much with people from my school in a while.  Once everyone was finished, people started to volunteer to pick up our plates, and for the first time ever, I felt a sense of community within our class.  Eventually, everyone was helping each other, regardless of if they were friends or not.

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Monitor Barn

After dinner, we went out to the lean-tos in the woods behind the barn.  I never knew what a lean-to was before this, but it’s basically a wooden cabin with one open side.  Half of the group nearly passed out upon seeing them, but somehow I found myself amused.  When the sun finally set, we had a bonfire–I caught up with two of my best friends after a few weeks over s’mores and stories.  In fact, I even tried to tell them a ghost story, but turned it into a classic Basundhara story and failed.  Thankfully, my former calc teacher came to the rescue, and told the entire group stories that kept me jittery for the rest of the night.  Before dispersing, he finally told us to close our eyes, hold our breaths, and listen around us because nature is loud.  I felt inspired at the moment.  The crickets were chirping, the leaves were rustling, the fire was crackling.  We were in the middle of nowhere–literally–but we weren’t alone.  I always feel like Vermont is special because of its natural beauty–something you don’t necessarily experience in a big city.  I have dreams of living in a city one day, but I will always have Vermont in the back of my mind, and I will always prefer the sound of crickets to honking cars.

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Morning Scene

Before going to bed, my friends and I trekked to the barn to grab some stuff.  On the way, the moon was impeccable, glowing above the farms and delineating the gliding clouds.  I danced all the way there, content about life, content about being out there, content about my entire summer.  Unfortunately, all this contentedness stopped when a frog jumped on me, and forced me to scream bloody murder, which led to a string of other screams.  Everyone was on edge.  That night, we went to our respective lean-tos.  One of my friends and I planned on going star gazing in the field, but before I knew it, she was passed out cold in her sleeping bag.  I stayed up for hours, unable to sleep with the sounds and bugs, listening to the nearby guys howling like wolves.  I woke up the next morning to endless bug bites and a tremendously sore upper body.  My friends and I trekked back to the barn, looking like zombies, but admiring the misty sunlit sky above the farm.  I had barely slept the night before, but I felt reinvigorated.  Is that what nature does to you?

Sleeping in the woods isn’t on my bucket list, but I wish it had been.  I went into SLAM camp thinking it would be frustrating, or that our class would clash.  But I couldn’t think of a better way to end the best summer I’ve ever had.  This entire summer–this entire year actually– I have been talking about college and leaving and joining new communities, but the community I’ve grown up in has been one-of-a-kind.  I whine about Vermont and the lack of change, but the truth is that my 12 years here have been amazing.  It’s all so bittersweet.   There were people I reconnected with who I’ve known for 12 years, yet haven’t talked to since middle school.  I remember on Wednesday night, one of my best friends from my childhood and I told endless stories about the adventures we used to have when we were five or six.  We laughed like we used to years ago, and remembered all of the times that had faded in our minds.  And seeing us in that moment, you wouldn’t think that it’s been years since we’ve really talked.

South Burlington is a small community, but a valuable one.  We’re all going into our senior year, and in a year, these laughs will be cries and Remember whens…? and soon enough, we’ll all be on our own paths.  Beyond conquering my fear of heights for a day and sleeping in the woods, SLAM camp reminded me to live in the present for this year–for my senior year, as hard as it is to believe.  Next year, I’ll be off at college, creating new friendships and embarking on new adventures, but until then, I have an incredible community around me, and years and years of friendships to value.

So here’s a toast…..to conquering fears, to taking chances, to nature, to community, to childhood, and, finally, to senior year.  Let’s make it our best one yet.

-B

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Global Scholars

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Jonathan Edwards

TR has taken a backseat in my life for the past month. Since then, I have met over a hundred people, explored unknown cities, and had some of the best experiences of the summer.  I’ll catch up on Amsterdam in a following post, but I want to talk about Yale first.  For the past two weeks, I have been at Yale for the Young Global Scholars’ Program, a rigorous (and they don’t joke when they say this) depiction of Yale’s actual Grand Strategy program.  I have studied with 150 students from 47 different countries, sat in on some of the most renowned professors’ lectures, and learned more than I have in the past few years of school.

Jonathan Edwards, our residential home for two weeks, is a beautiful college, with buildings and a dining hall similar to those of Hogwarts.  In the center of the college is a courtyard, where we spent every night mingling.  The first night, we merged together in the center of the courtyard, desperately trying to introduce ourselves to each other.  Hi, my name is _____ and I’m from _______.  Just that first night, I met about 60 people, and forgot about 75% of their names.  Everyone was trying to figure each other out.  The next few nights, we were less shy–I remember conversations about bear mace, politics, creemees (which, to non-Vermonters, is a bizarre term), college preferences, and hometowns.  And even more, we were realizing that we were all in the same boat–nobody was as intimidating as they may have seemed.

Over the first week, I found myself lost during lectures, and constantly swamped with work.  Each night, we were expected to catch up on readings or complete yet another 1000-word essay, and every morning was a reminder of why I love sleep.  But throughout the two weeks, I have memories of some distinct moments that made the program what it was.

  • My three favorite lecturers were Charles Hill, who spoke of Machiavelli’s The Prince and the origins of the Arab Spring; Harold Koh, who served as Hillary Clinton’s advisor and is perhaps famous through the meme Texts from Hillary (he’s the one behind Hillary); and John Negroponte, a former U.S. Ambassador, whose lecture, The Art of Negotiation, was by-far the best.  The professors’ breadths of knowledge were awe-inspiring.  Besides the campus (which I grew to love) and the quality of the school, I fell in love with Yale even more because of the professors.  I never thought I could captivated during a lecture about the Middle Ages, but I was.  Teaching, I suppose, is an art in itself.
  • On the fifth night or so, we watched Hotel Rwanda, a heart wrenching film depicting a true story from the Rwandan Genocide.  I guess the only way to describe my reaction to the movie would be to say that I have seldom felt so suffocated, so emotionally drained, so helpless.  At many parts of the movie, I resisted the temptation to walk out of the room.  Moments left me speechless, close to tears, and purposeless.  Having said that, it was a stunning film, which beautifully captured the candor of human nature.  When the film ended, not a soul uttered a word. The instructors opened up the floor to the group, asking to hear about reactions or experiences.  The discussion started with a girl who spoke of the sights she experienced in Congo, where the strife had extended to years later, which influenced her to establish a non-profit dedicated to the region.  Next up was a boy from Korea, whose North Korean friend died from beatings by his ruthless classmates. And third was the girl from Rwanda, whose own family members had undergone the atrocities we had watched just minutes before.  Even today, in the 21st century, unjust violence and hatred still finds its way into the world, and that’s heartbreaking.
  • What made YYGS special was the amalgamation of 150 unique stories from 150 unique individuals.  My own experiences were pale in comparison to those of everyone else.  One day, a few of my friends and I spoke to a Palestinian girl about her own views of the Palestine-Israel conflict, and it made me realize that you can never fully learn about something without experiencing it, as is true with the aforementioned Rwandan girl.  The media never depicts the stories of the people.  This girl told us about how one day, she wishes to speak to someone from Israel.  She told us about how fear is always present.  She told us about how relatively open-minded she is about peace between the two, albeit having friends who will never come to terms with Israel.  Likewise, I partook in a seminar about Islam in the West with an Afghani and a Bahraini (this was especially exciting, since I used to visit Bahrain often while living in Saudi), and heard their side of the situation (ie. the headpiece ban in France).  The girl from Afghanistan was particularly interesting; she found herself disappointed at what we had to say about Islam, especially as supposed ‘scholars’.  She enlightened us with her own views, and we were forced to reconsider everything we had said before.  Beyond the lecture hall, I think YYGS was meant to expose us to varied perspectives of the world, ones that might be controversial in the United States or completely unheard of.  I’ve always heard about the Israel-Palestine conflict from the perspective of Israel–through my friends, through the media, through the U.S. government–but listening to the girl from Palestine reminded me how complicated the conflict is; there is no ‘right‘ side.
    Everyone brought a rich culture to the table, whether from Singapore, Kenya, Brazil, or Vermont (biased here).  I learned Italian phrases from a Canadian who also  taught me to use the word “moss” in lieu of “hanging out”; marveled over Dubai with a guy who goes to boarding school there; interrogated a Bahamian about the Bahamas; picked up y’all from an Alabamian; became persuaded by a Spaniard to visit Spain; and learned how to say våldtäktsman (thank you Google for that spelling) from a Swede, who is also one of the most amazing, sassy, and like-minded people I’ve ever met (there’s your shout-out Anna).

    Anna!

    Anna!

    These connections I made were unlike any other.  As an only child, I’ve never experienced living with a group of people, or getting a text at 2-am saying “Come across the hall with food so we can hang out” or laughing at every meal until we couldn’t feel our stomachs anymore.  All of this just makes me excited for college.

    More friends

    More friends

  • While most people would call me crazy, I loved the intensity of this program.  I loved staying up and finishing my essays, and then seeing the hard work pay off in the following days.  I guess I thrive off of these types of challenges.  It’s not like any of it was easy; there were nights when I felt like giving up or going home.  But in retrospect, every minute was worth it. I realized that I am undoubtedly fascinated about counterterrorism–I spent hours in seminars related to terrorism, and even more hours developing a set of policies regarding counterterrorism with a group of three other people.
    Policy Group

    Policy Group

    I fell in love with Machiavelli’s principles.  I discovered how incredible working in national intelligence could be.  But, most importantly, I learned that I am still a journalist at heart–I still search for stories.  Even after two weeks of fascinating lectures and seminars, I found everyone’s stories to be most compelling.  But there is an entire world to learn about out there, and no experience will ever divulge everything; there will always be more to learn.

Thank you to everyone at YYGS for such a wonderful experience.  It was the perfect end to a perfect summer.

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