Former Program Coordinator, Connie Ma, shares her adventures in her travels around the world:
Dear IIT Boeing Family,
Greetings from the sunny city of Lyon, France! Congratulations to everyone on completing a wonderful program year, and I wish I could have been with you to celebrate all your accomplishments at the End of Year Banquet, but I immensely enjoyed watching the videos of your LGP presentations and seeing how you’ve grown. I am a long way from Chicago, but I think of you all often. This year has also been a time of change and transition for me, as my partner and I left Chicago and began a year of travel around the world. I’m writing to tell you a little about what we have been up to for the past seven months.
We pay a visit to a giant yellow rubber duck in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in October 2013.
Why did we go abroad? For us, travel is one of the richest, most interesting experiences we can treat ourselves to. We wanted to learn different languages, tour famous sites around the world, see how people live in different countries, and of course, enjoy the cuisine, and we didn’t want to save all these experiences for when we retire! We were lucky to have savings, as well as families who were supportive and self-sufficient. So we researched and planned for a year before we packed up our lives in Chicago. In September, we left for Japan, our first country, and have since then been through more than 22 cities in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Croatia, and France. It has been a real roller coaster of a ride with a lot of ups and downs, but I am immensely grateful that we’ve been able to make this happen.
My partner Steve and I in Jiufen, Taiwan, in January 2014.
Even though it sounds like a lot, the more we have traveled, the more I feel like I’ve only seen a small slice of the human experience. Now I’m not saying I haven’t learned anything: I can tell you how to get train ticket reservations in India (which is really hard, guys), the best way to bargain with rickshaw drivers in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and where to get the cheapest sandwiches in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I have a billion stories to share: about how we met two monks from Thailand and Malaysia, that time I ended up in a Taiwanese hospital, when we napped in a manga café in Kyoto, listened to the dawn call to prayer in Bangkok, and watched the sunset over the water from a houseboat in India. But the really humbling part is realizing that even in these wonderful experiences, I have only brushed the barest part of someone else’s existence and glimpsed entire populations in the world who are living their day-to-day lives in a different country, with different food, clothing, amusements, faiths, jobs, and societies that I know almost nothing about. And yet, we are still connected by our common courtesies and struggles. At the Golden Temple in Amritsar, I learned about the amazing inclusivity of the Sikhs, who run one of the largest soup kitchens in the world. On the flip side, I also found that young adults my age all around the world from Taiwan to Croatia are dealing with the crisis of unemployment at rates of up to 50%. All the things that make us different and yet similar impress and fascinate me, and keeps me eager to learn more.
We talk to monks about their lives at a monastery in Chiang Mai, Thailand in February 2014. The one we spoke to was actually a year younger than me and had a cellphone!
At the same time that I have been trying to be a cultural sponge, I feel I have also learned a lot about myself. Travel can truly challenge you and push your boundaries. So far on this trip, I have learned how many times I could wear a shirt before I needed to wash it (approximately five). I learned how many stairs I could climb with a large 10 kilo backpack. I learned how to convert US currency to the Euro, Thai bahts, Japanese yen, Croatian kunas, Malaysian ringgits, Indian rupees, and more. I learned that I could patiently wait in a two-hour airport security line with one guard manning the gate at 5 am. I learned how to ask complete strangers for help in translating menus in Bangkok. I learned about how much I take for granted in my life. I also learned that travel is a full-time job. Unsurprisingly, it takes a great deal of time and research, budget management, and planning so you can properly enjoy and store away these memories.
We visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India in March 2014.
One of the most important things was that I learned how not to fear failure. I was a high achiever in high school, like many of you, and proud of being good at things. I shied away from things like art and music and math, because I had learned I was bad at those things, and I didn’t like the taste of failure. I have carried that attitude with me for many years now, but the drawback has been that I have learned much less than I could have. On this trip, I’ve slowly started to shed this attitude, and really take to heart the fact that if you want to learn something, you have to give yourself a chance. I started by buying a guitar in Taiwan and learning a few chords. In India and Croatia, I began doing watercolors of the landscapes around me. At first, my attempts did look like a five year-old’s kindergarten masterpiece, but now, I can do halfway decent Roman ruins, and best of all, I am enjoying myself at something without being great at it.
We climbed the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia, where Game of Thrones is filmed, in April 2014.
As each of you moves onto senior year, college life, and possibly beyond Chicago, remember to challenge yourself in small ways and large. “The master has failed more times than the amateur has tried” is a saying that I remind myself of often, and living without fear of failure is starting to make a real difference my life. In three months, we will return to the US, and though we will have seen fewer countries and learned fewer languages than I wanted to, I am still happy and comfortable with the sum of my experiences, because I know now more than I did before. This fall, I am also heading back to school, this time for my Master’s degree in Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I thank each one of you and all my colleagues at IIT for having been a part of a wonderful two years in Chicago and for having taught me so much. I would love to stay in touch and welcome any of you in the South! If you are curious about our travels, you can follow our blog and sign up for a postcard at www.circumnavacation.com (get the pun?) and view pictures of our trip on Flickr.
Best wishes for the future,
Former Program Coordinator