Holidays Abroad

This will likely be one of several nostalgic 2013 posts as the new year approaches. Today, I was looking through some of the photos I’ve taken this year and realized that I spent most of the big holidays and celebrations of 2013 outside of the country. Some of my favorite holiday/celebration photos are below. I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have met so many incredible people, visited such beautiful places and had such meaningful experiences this year (and every year for that matter).

May 14, 2013: MY BIRTHDAY.

On my 21st birthday this year, I landed in Haiti with a group of students and faculty from my university to work at an orphanage in Les Cayes for a week. I will never forget having “Happy Birthday” sung to me in the boy’s village at Proje Espwa. I can’t think of any better way to spend my birthday.

DSC02469

JULY 4, 2013: INDEPENDENCE DAY

I spent America’s independence day in Nepal with my friend Ellie. We had just finished a week-long trek in the Himalayas the day before and spent independence day touring around Kathmandu and having lunch at a rooftop cafe.

998826_681743288507699_591826737_n

This picture, however, is from one of the tea houses we stopped at on the trek.

NOVEMBER 3, 2013: DIWALI

I got to celebrate a new holiday this year because I was in India. Over our week-long Diwali break I visited a friend’s family in Bangalore where we got to light firecrackers and celebrate the festival of lights.

DSC_6123

NOVEMBER 28, 2013: THANKSGIVING

I also spent Thanksgiving in India finishing up the final few days of my study abroad program. In the afternoon I suited up and learned some of the basics of cricket with a few other students from the program and we celebrated our Thanksgiving dinner at an upscale restaurant in one of the fancier areas of Pune.

This is actually a photo from before our farewell dinner...I can't find any of the cricket game!

This is actually a photo from before our farewell dinner…I can’t find any of the cricket game!

And for New Years this year, I’ll be celebrating with my family in Mexico. There’s something wonderful about celebrating holidays from the comfort of home with family and friends, but after this year, I’m starting to think there’s also something to be said for celebrating away from home. It turns out you can find friends, family and home just about anywhere.

A Challenge

I’ve been given a challenge. We’ll not so much a challenge as an insightful suggestion.

After spending nearly 4 months in India, writing about some of my most meaningful experiences several times a week, I’ve now slipped back into the sometimes-comfortable, sometimes-overwhelming pattern of my final semester at college. Still grappling with reverse culture shock, it has become easy for me to fixate on specific experiences in India that I miss or that fester in dark little pockets of memory. I think in some ways I’ve lost the big picture (if there is a big picture) of my experiences last semester because of this. And I’ve also become a bit doubtful that there is a way that my daily life in India relates to my daily life in Ohio.

The challenge I was presented with, then, was to reread all my posts from the semester and let them baste for a bit. After some time, I might be able to say something about them that approaches insightful. Hopefully it will also help me in the process of making sense of all these experiences that happened so quickly and dropped me back in central Ohio so suddenly.

So, in the next two weeks I’m truly going to take this suggestion to heart and reread what I’ve written. Over spring break, I’ll organize my thoughts and get back to you with my first real post in months.

It can be hard to keep up with blogging while at college and I’m discovering that’s often because I lose sight of how my experiences all relate to each other. Hopefully this will be a good exercise, not just for me, but for anyone who is working on integrating meaningful experiences they’ve had elsewhere into their daily lives here and now.

See you all in a week or two!

Ringing in the New Year

Hello again! Sorry for the big unexplained hiatus over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, I’ve been traveling with my family since the 26th to Galveston, Texas and Cozumel, Mexico. We returned home late a few nights ago to Boston after flight delays in Houston–with the temperature jumping from 70 and sunny to 30 and slushy. The beginning of a New Year always leaves me feeling a bit conflicted. I love clean starts and the prospect of beginning something fresh, but I have a absolutely horrible time with endings and I was a little sad to see 2013 go. It was an exceptional year in my life and I don’t have my usual unadulterated excitement about 2014 because it’s the year I will graduate from college…which, at the moment, is an utterly terrifying prospect. So, in an effort to avoid thinking about such things until another day, here are the highlights of 2013. I will look back at them fondly from my future home in a box on the side of the road where I will be living after graduation, whiling away the hours as an unemployed post-grad.

~

JANUARY: At the beginning of the year I started working at the Ohio Historical Society. I had a badge for a job for the first time in my life and I went into work every week when the museum was closed to the public. The first thing to greet me in the morning was a t-rex fossil replica. I got a small taste of a potential job in the history field and a sneak peak into the challenges of operating a non-profit. IMG_4702 MARCH: In March, I co-led a Spring Break Mission Team to Fort Bragg, North Carolina on a trip that I created. The trip was approved by the school and was given special recognition by the White House as a National Pilot Program in the hopes that other colleges could do similar mission projects to visit military bases across the country. The trip went nothing like I planned and I learned how difficult it can be to communicate with the American military. Ultimately, I think, our experience was better than I could have hoped or planned for. Instead of spending all of our time on base, we got to see how the town of Fayetteville interacted with its military base through service work. In March, my little sister also got accepted into college, my grant proposal to trek the Himalayas with my friend, Ellie, got approved, and I was accepted into my study abroad program in India in the fall. haiti MAY: In May, I celebrated my 21st birthday in Haiti. I worked with a group of four students and four faculty members at an orphanage in Les Cayes called Proje Espwa. We spent our days helping organize the medical facility and hanging out with the kids and our nights up on the roof of the cement guest house overlooking the entire compound with the most incredible view of the night sky that I have ever seen. DSC_1701 JUNE: From May into June, I went to New Orleans with two great friends to help rebuild after Katrina. It was a wonderful trip and I’m counting down the days until I can go back to the crescent city. After my trip to New Orleans, I went with my sister and her friends to Orlando to celebrate their high school graduation in Disney World. DSC_3518 JULY: In July, Ellie and I hiked the Helambu trek in Nepal in one of the most challenging experiences of my life. We studied the impact of tourism on rural mountain communities by living it out and staying in tea houses along the hike. Later in July, my family visited our nation’s capital (my first time traveling to DC). We saw a bill being passed by the House of Representatives and visited the monuments by day and night. DSC_6338 AUGUST: At the beginning of August, I attended the Interfaith Youth Core Conference in New York City and was inspired once again by the value of interfaith work in our modern society. Mid-August, I set off for Pune, India where I spent the next three and a half months studying during the week and traveling around India on the weekends. It was definitely one of the most impressionable experiences I will ever have and I hope to be able to return next year. DSC_6976 DECEMBER: In December I returned home from India and spent the first few weekends visiting family in New York and Connecticut before celebrating Natalie’s birthday and New Year’s Eve in the Gulf of Mexico.

~

I don’t know how 2014 could live up to this past year, but I don’t doubt that it will. As usual, I am astonishingly grateful for all of the incredible experiences I’ve had and I am constantly aware of the privilege that permits me to do all of these things. I’m hoping for some clarity and direction in 2014 and a wonderful final semester at OWU. I wish you all the best in 2014. I hope it is a challenging year and I hope you are constantly reminded of how complicated and wonderful each day is.

If you’re interested in seeing any of my other photographs from the past year I’ve organized them on this site for posterity: http://rachelvinciguerra.weebly.com/2013.html

A Quick Update from Bangalore

More detailed posts to come, but I thought I’d just take a second to go through some of the highlights of the past few days in Bangalore. On Friday afternoon myself and two friends grabbed a cab to the airport in Pune for the beginning of our week-long Diwali break. A few hours later we touched down in Bangalore where we were met by my friend, Aara’s, wonderful mother. The past three days have been a mix of relaxation, family time to satiate our home-sickness, and the sights and sounds of firecrackers going off in the streets.

If I had to pick the top 5 moments these would be them.

1. Eating delicious home-cooked Indian food with an incredibly warm-hearted and generous family. They opened up their home to three random college girls from Pune and we will be forever grateful for their kindness.

2. Riding the Bangalore metro. It’s only 2 years old and, although it doesn’t seem like it has caught on with much of the city population, it’s one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever seen. It reminds me of a mix between the London metro and the monorail at Disney World because it gives you a beautiful view overlooking the city from a raised railway. (It was especially beautiful to ride as the sun was setting).

3. Setting off firecrackers for Diwali. To be fair, I didn’t actually set any off myself for fear my face would burn off with the crackers, but it was a blast to watch and take pictures of the fun.

4. Walking through the Lalbagh Gardens. They were absolutely beautiful and very expansive. It’s always so nice to find a peaceful place in the heart of a busy city.

5. Just driving around the city and getting a feel for things while listening to the radio. It’s incredible how comforting it is to hear familiar American radio music after going a few months without riding in a car.

But that’s just the beginning of it, we also spent lots of time resting, reading and relaxing. I can’t wait to upload some of the pictures I took from Diwali celebrations. I’m realizing more and more the longer I’m in India that this country really knows how to celebrate life.

Happy Diwali all! Today I head off to Kerala for three days on a houseboat.