Endings and Beginnings

So I’m home. Skipped over the last few days of my SouthEast Asia trip…in truth, it was sort of more of the same. We moved out to the eastern side of Koh Phangan to a nice secluded little beach area, had a great evening with drinks and watching the big waves roll in, then the next morning I had to catch an early tuktuk to the ferry, then a bus to the airport, and a flight back home. There were little stories everywhere, and yet nowhere. Another month on the road, and I was feeling a bit beat. But it was a great chance to see the region, explore a bit, and maybe even give a little ‘farewell’ to some familiar places, as I am moving to Africa in a very short while.

To prepare for my move, I am flying to Ouagadougou this week for a very brief visit. Burkina Faso will be such a different place than HK, and my role there as Tech Director will have some very new tasks for me to master, so I feel it is prudent to have a brief visit before I start packing up so I can be best prepared for the climate, culture and needs of the school. I fly out on Friday morning, and I’ll be back next Thursday. Stay tuned.

But that means that, as of today, my ‘gap year’ feels like it has officially ended. I am already starting to think about work, about technology in education, about reconnecting with my PLN, and getting back into the swing of things.

Which means it’s time for a few reflections on the gap year.

1. I’ve decided that I really like to work. I like what I do (Tech Integration) and I miss the feeling of cameraderie, purpose and inclusion that my work gives me. It will be very nice to be back in the saddle when the summer ends.

2. A gap year can be an expensive proposition! Living life costs a lot more now that it did when I was younger….I was sort of hoping to have an overall budget of about $100 per day for the entire year (including airfares, food, lodging, transport, etc). However, even with average expenses of $40-50 a day when traveling, big items like plane tickets, income taxes, etc tilt the scales more than you think. It takes me about $50K per year to just live, and not extravagantly at that. This is a real wake-up call for preparing for retirement. I need to get busy!

3. In some ways, I have to admit that my Gap Year was not really successful. I had visions of mastering Mandarin, seeing many off-the-beaten-path places in China, being adventurous, discovering new places, and even pursuing that ever elusive sense of ‘getting more personally centered’. Instead, I found myself retracing many old well-known paths, getting sucked into the main tourist/backpacker routes, and wasting a lot of time just doing nothing. Those things have their value, but they don’t really leave  you with a sense of accomplishment.

4. In other ways, I have to admit that my Gap year was very successful, I certainly feel the loss of work-related stress, and feel about 5 years younger. I also feel very good about my ability to manage limited funds and still be active. And I did fill in a lot of blank spots on my personal map of the region.

5. Maybe the most honest (and unattractive) reflection is that this was a very selfish year, and I’m not sure how to change that, although I deeply want to. I have a LOT to offer the world, and the world needs help. I have tech skills, mechanical skills, organizational skills, I’m highly educated, out of debt, good with math, I’m very clever at fixing things and can problem solve very creatively and effectively. I would think that I have just the skills and profile that would make me a great asset somewhere, but I never lent these skills to anyone during my year and did not know how to plug in. I looked at volunteering, but Volunteerism has become a massive business these days, with organizations taking a fee to send you to some disadvantaged place where you do little good, and actually harm (creating a dependency culture) while the parent organization keeps 80% of the fee you pay to be a volunteer. I pitched in where I could (fixing router settings, helping guesthouses with their webpages, etc), but my impact was microscopic. The ‘backpacker route’ is jammed with hedonistic youths who have yet to discover their strengths, so they are just narcissistically partying and wasting time….but that’s not me. I have strengths and skills and really want to be leveraging them to help people…but I could not figure out how to do it. I envy people like my friend Tash who seems to just find ways to make a positive impact wherever she travels….I just seem to try out new beers.

6. The Grateful Dead said it years ago: “Tired of sitting around, you wanna travel. Tired of traveling, you wanna settle down.” I’ve done enough world travel for anyone…I’m feeling very ready to settle down. There is always some unexplored place over the horizon; somewhere with promises of being the best place ever, where you feel rooted and welcomed, amazed and at home, in awe at the beauty or intrigued by the culture. But in truth, traveling is an addiction and you can never get enough and overindulging in it actually makes things around you worse, not better. I’m ready to start growing roots, to put my ‘World Traveller Merit Badge’ on the shelf and learn to sprout peppers and build a post-and-beam barn.

So I’ll have some more reflections later….in general, this year has been a gift to myself and I’ve enjoyed it. But I’m ready to get back to work.

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