January 12, 2018. Our program featured Blake McGill who recently deferred her freshman year at Dartmouth College for a three-month long gap-year Asian adventure. She was part of a team traveling with Youth International whose mission is to open the doors for young adults to discover a broader perspective on the world while developing a deeper understanding of themselves and their place within the world. Blake’s goal was to connect with people of other cultures and help hone her focus for the international studies she plans to pursue at college. The team received three days of intense training including a visit from the State Department before heading for a 4-week stay in Nepal.
They were introduced to the current Kumari in a temple in Kathmandu. The Kumari is a young girl who has been chosen to be worshipped as the manifestation of a living goddess. The team stayed in local homes and participated in community projects. The next stop was Pokhara which preceded a nine-day trek to the Annapurna base camp in the Himalayan mountains. The stay in Nepal included a monastery visit where they were introduced to the the legend of the Buddha and the tiger.
The group then traveled to India where they helped celebrate Diwali and visited the Taj Mahal. Other stops included Jaipur and a middle-class home stay; Jaisalmer and a three-day desert camel safari; Udaipur with a palace tour and batik art lessons; Adivasi and a homestay and teaching /interacting with girls at a local boarding school; and Amritsar where they lived with other “pilgrims” in residence at the Golden Temple. While staying here, they learn about this holiest of sites for the Sikh faith. The final stop in India was in Dharamsala which is home to the Tibetan government in exile and a large population of Tibetan refugees, including their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Their stay included an introduction to Buddhism and a ten-day silent meditation retreat.
The final week was spent in Thailand and was largely a vacation. The Asian adventure was a fantastic opportunity for Blake to break away from her Catholic/politically conservative home life and gain perspective on the world. She particularly enjoyed seeing how religion shaped the lives and the culture of the people with whom she stayed.