I guess I should begin this blog by, well, introducing myself. I realized that, in an attempt to jump right in to detailing my travel experiences, I forgot to include an initial blog about myself... Now that I have returned from my voyage through Asia and am settled down to work and wait before my next big adventure (We'll get to that in a second), I thought I would take the time to confront this issue.
Hi! My name is Arielle and I am a traveloholic. We are a peculiar breed of people, known for our idealism, our spontaneity, our constant search for adventure, our ability to confront new cultures and peoples, and our addiction to travel in all forms (sharing, planning, and partaking). Lately, I have been reflecting on how I got to the point where I would put down a beautiful sweater I found in Macy's in order to put money aside for my next plane ticket, and I believe it is the result of many factors. The underlying cause may be my parents and the values they have instilled in me since a young age. When I was growing up, my parents gave me a minimal amount of money to spend on clothing and other consumer goods that were the infatuation of any teenage girl growing up in the States. The money to buy those things, I had to earn myself. But, ask my parents to help purchase a plane ticket to Europe, and they were more than willing to help out or let me borrow the cash. They also liked to travel themselves, and from a young age, they were always carting my sister and I around far-off countries. Whether it was the 4 month excursion in France, Italy, and Germany when I was 11 or the 2 week backpacking trip in Honduras when I was 14, I was broken and addicted to a life of travel. That's why I was so excited when my next travel binge presented itself in the form of an AFS Foreign Exchange. I knew almost nothing about France at that point in my life, other than that it was in Europe, neighbored Italy, included Paris, and that its inhabitants spoke French and ate some of the best and strangest foods. So, I spent some time learning French, packed up my stuff, and left my home to spend a year living with a French family and attending a French high school. The most fortunate chain of events placed me in a wonderful family on the outskirts of Paris, where I attended a fine arts school. Although my life in France was a dream come true, it was also one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced because it was the first time I was confronting and adapting to a different culture. But once the damage was done and the pain subsided, there was no turning back. I developed skills that I applied when I found myself in other situations where I needed to adapt and the process has never been as painful as my first.
Shortly after my return from France, I graduated from high school and was accepted to an undergraduate program at McGill University in Montreal. Montreal intrigued me because of its European-ness, and the fact that it was the closest I could get to returning to my life in Paris while remaining in North America. My first year of university, I wondered around in a constant state of shock, overwhelmed by the city and all the new information I was being exposed to in school. Coming from a small high school, I had never realized the extent of classes and how specific a subject could be, as my educational experience had only included broad subjects, like Algebra and U.S. History. Naturally, I opted to try new things in an attempt to discover what it was I really wanted to do. My focus changed constantly over the next year, until I finally settled on a degree in International Development Studies. People sometimes ask me how I made my final decision, and to be honest, I am not sure. Deciding between what you like and what you do not is inherent and unconscious. I do not know why I did not chose a degree in ancient history, other than when I took a class in ancient roman history, I just wasn't as interested and enthusiastic as I was in an international politics or development economics class. So my undergraduate experience progressed, and I became involved in the community of development students and clubs at McGill until I was living and breathing the soul of development work. It was the perfect match- a chance to combine my addiction to traveling and my obsession with new cultures and places with an opportunity to work. But committing yourself to 4 years in university and committing yourself to a life of inadequate resources, squat toilets, and misunderstandings are two different matters. I needed proof. I needed to test myself, which I did, by apply for an internship working for a small NGO called the DREAM (Dominican Republic Education and Mentoring) Project, based out of Cabarete, the DR, and committed to bettering the educational opportunities for Dominican children. After 3 months working as a camp coordinator for their summer camp program, I was finally convinced that I had found the perfect career for me.
So a couple years later, one thesis down, an undergraduate degree under my belt, and a return from traveling in Asia for 3 months, I find myself at the cusp of a new opportunity. I have recently been accepted to the Peace Corps and I will be working as an community health and organizational development volunteer in Rwanda for the next 2 years. I am excited about the opportunities this placement holds and sure that it will be the source of much of inspiration for this blog in the future.
In the meantime, I am home with my family, working and preparing for the holiday season that is creeping, more like leaping, upon us. My current occupation as a barista at a drive-through coffee shop in town is the perfect transitional job. It is not mind or time consuming, flexible, and easily left behind. As a result, I have plenty of time to prepare for the next step in my life, as well as escape on small, spontaneous trips to, say Mexico (more on this later). The coffee shop around the holidays is also quite enjoyable. For some reason, I have always thought that coffee shops and Christmas go well together. Perhaps it is the eggnog lattes, perhaps it is the fact that our building looks like a gingerbread house perched on the side of the road with all its lights and decorations, perhaps it is that our regulars come through with cookies and Christmas cards... Either way, its a nice chance to take a deep breath before heading off into the world again...