So, technically our trip is over. No more international
traveling, hotels, or learning for a while. Although I was homesick and will
look forward to getting back to a normal life, I know I will miss the routine
which we have established over the past year. I also know this is not the
end of my own traveling experiences. We have learned and accomplished a lot,
yet there is always more room for understanding and adventure in our lives.
For me, there isn't really such a thing as being "traveled out,"
at least not for an entire life time. In my eyes the world has no limits.
At the beginning the thought of traveling the world
was overwhelming. I thought I would be a completely changed person and never
fit into a normal life again. I was worried all of theses cultures and places
would cause me to forget about my own life and country. I thought that at
the end of the trip I would never want to step foot in another country again.
As strange as it sounds, I got remarkably used to our traveling routine. I
got used to doing new things every day, and meeting people living in conditions
that I found unimaginable. It was like learning something in school and day
by day building on your understanding of that topic. Eventually the lesson
is complete and you move on to something different.
The same goes for when you are traveling. When spending
time in a country you constantly build on your understanding of the culture
and history there. You then start the same process with a different country.
Sure, we had some hard times, but don't you have hard lessons in school too?
The difference is traveling brings learning to a far deeper extent. When I
learn about the Vietnam War in 8th grade, I'll have heard both sides of the
story. Most kids build their understanding from text books. I built my first
understanding from talking to Vietnamese people who witnessed bombs being
dropped on their villages by U.S. forces. Without these experiences the message
Our numerous special experiences throughout the trip
have sparked many ideas about what I want to do with my life. Traveling internationally
has exposed me to things I never thought I would find interesting. Some of
the major things are governmental and health issues in various countries,
preserving culture (anthropology) around the world, and religion. I believe
that the experiences we have had will greatly assist me when it comes to thinking
about what I want to study and do. The trip has also encouraged me to do something
which will affect the entire world, and not just my own country. I feel like
our educational systems have a great need for not only teaching people about
the history of different countries, but life in those countries today as well.
This doesn't mean changing their lifestyles, but rather understanding and
preserving them while keeping them healthy and safe. I feel a great need to
help to save and conserve these various worldwide cultures so they will survive
for my children to see in the future. This is one element hard to find in
the United States.
Now that the trip is over I really cannot imagine living
fully without the experiences and learnings I have had. I will definitely
try to travel with my own children and family in the future, if not for a
year then a couple of months. I began the trip with mixed feelings and uncertainty-I
was never someone who really wanted to be away from home. I now think anyone
capable could and should travel outside of the U.S. Not only does it expose
you to new cultures, but it builds on your understanding of your own life
It's hard to believe that this year-long journey has
come to an end. As I take a look back on everything that we did, I realize
that this trip was absolutely worthwhile. In fact, I think that I would do
it all over again! It was an unbelievable experience that will have an impact
on me for the rest of my life.
Over the course of the year, I have changed in many
different ways and developed personal views of the world and our American
society. For one thing, I have a much better understanding of how people live
outside the U.S. and the challenges they face each day. I never really understood,
until we took this trip, how lucky I was to be an American and live a comfortable
life. But as we traveled I recognized that although we as Americans can never
imagine living in a smoky crowded hut without running water and a refrigerator
full of food, many people in rural parts of the world, who don't know of another
way of life, are happy. The Lao woman who can't count and doesn't know how
many children she has is happy, Justin's Maasai family who sleeps in a cow
dung hut is happy, and the Chinese woman who still works in the fields and
gathers fire wood at the age of 90 is always smiling. Our cultures, beliefs,
and ways of life are all very different, but in an indefinable way we are
I have also undoubtedly become much more adventurous,
and willing to try new things. I realize that nothing will really faze me
anymore, not after I have hunted with the Hadzas. Not only have I grown intellectually
and mentally, but also physically. I am returning to Boston six inches taller
and have outgrown two pairs of shoes during the year.
I know that my new knowledge and understanding of the
world will serve me well in the future. I am looking forward to returning
home and beginning the next chapter in my life. So for now, this is David
Koppel signing off.
It's difficult to believe that our year away is actually
coming to an end. In just a few days, we will be home and thrown back into
our traditional lives. The sadness I feel for the end of our journey will
be soothed by the comforts and predictability of home. For several weeks now,
we have been talking about what foods we want to eat, how wonderful sleeping
in our own beds will feel, how soft cotton shirts and jeans will be, how we
can't wait to smell the Cape Cod Bay breezes and be with our extended family
again. It will even feel great to step into old familiar roles and routines
and to do those daily chores again!
While I am looking forward to the comforts of home
and the USA, I know that I will also miss our incredible journey. The year
away has not been a vacation by any means and I have stretched and grown by
doing and learning new things almost everyday. I have been fascinated by the
cultures we have experienced abroad and humbled by the challenges many people
face each day. I hope to continue to enhance my level of understanding even
once we return home.
This year has brought many surprises with each day
being an adventure. Initially we were taken back by the hospitality and generosity
of families and schools we visited in communities along the way. We were consistently
welcomed even when our visits were unexpected and unscheduled. The grace of
people who often had few possessions and barely enough food for themselves
was overwhelming as they insisted we take what they could offer-from a cup
of green tea, a hard pear, potatoes dug from their fields to the young boy
offering David one of his family's two water buffalos. The generosity of people
around the world was astonishing. At festivals and schools we were treated
like honored guests and could not imagine such a reception being offered to
foreigners in the U.S. From the hundred children who turned out on a Saturday
to welcome us at their school in Africa to the villagers in Vietnam who insisted
we join their local celebration, I will never forget the openness and warmth
we felt in these communities all over the world.
One of the major reasons for taking the trip was to
expose ourselves and our children to the whole world because we feel so strongly
that global understanding is essential for the success of individuals and
the world. I am even more committed to this principle now and inspired to
pass this message on. I also believe the trip will influence how we move forward
with our lives and am anxious to see how this plays out over time.
The year away has allowed us to all learn more about
ourselves, each other and the world. We have sometimes felt like an island
as we moved from one new place to the next. Having to depend on each other
for continual support and entertainment has led to closer bonds which will
serve us well as we all grow older.
Before we left last June, there was a quotation on
the wayside pulpit (an outdoor bulletin board) of the Unitarian Church which
stated, "You don't have anything if you don't have the stories."
This quote by Leslie Marmon Silko reminded me of how important stories are
to us all. There are lots of ways to create stories and memories but for us,
this journey will always be something that binds us-something tangible, unique,
and as some would say,"crazy", that we accomplished together as
P.S. These are some impressions and thoughts I jotted
down while completing my end of trip memories. As Katie would say, "They
are totally random"-but I don't want to lose these last few thoughts
before our journal comes to an end.
- The smiles and laughter of children and adults when
seeing their photos on the digital camera
- All the interesting people we have met along the way-guides, other tourists,
local people, friends of friends-learning about their lifestyles, jobs, insights
on the world
-Finding that many more people live without what we would describe as basic
necessities and seeing that they are still happy without these things
- Discovering that many people live happily with little knowledge of the world
outside their own village
- The realization that for many children education is a luxury their families
can't afford even when it is provided free
- Seeing that many societies still are predominately agricultural and many
families literally live off a small plot of land using hard physical labor
and don't have a need for much money
- Realizing that American and Western culture continues to take hold especially
in urban areas and it may not be long before traditional cultures are lost
forever-how to preserve cultural distinction is something I want to learn
- There are still many areas of the world where there are vast areas of beautiful
untouched nature and we still have time to protect it
- Certain values or characteristics heavily influence culture-importance of
groups in Japan, polygamy in African tribes, lack of future orientation of
the Hadza, lack of interest in progress or making improvements in techniques
- How religion, colonization and migration of people has effected culture
- How little we really need to just survive
- Even in places with relatively little development, people know about American
pop culture (music), the president of the U.S., Coke, McDonalds, KFC and the
war with Iraq
- People survive with little variety in their diet, little access to medical
care and sanitary standards far different than our own
I often think back about how we made the decision to
embark on this journey. Before this year, we hadn't traveled much and from
our perspective had never done anything really out of the ordinary. I had
spent twenty years as a consultant with Accenture, while Paula developed her
career as a geriatric nurse practitioner, recently starting her own small
consulting company. We always spoke about someday retiring and traveling,
but recently realized how much more fulfilling this would be to do as a family
while our children were still young. We also believed that providing the gift
of world travel to our children at such a young age would benefit them for
the rest of their lives. We continued to talk and dream, until everything
seemed to come together perfectly. Paula and I both reached transition points
in our careers at the exact time that David and Katie were the ideal ages
for this adventure. We felt that they were old enough to appreciate and understand
our experiences, but young enough so that the disruption to their lives at
home would be manageable.
For David and Katie, our hope was to provide them with a unique set of worldly
experiences that they could then build on during their formal education. We
believed that this would impact them on a life-long basis. For ourselves,
we were looking for an opportunity to enhance our own growth and believed
that these experiences could be foundational for how we spend the second halves
of our lives.
There very different processes that each of the four of us went through in
making our personal decisions to embark on this journey. As the youngest,
Katie was somewhat reluctant at first. However, as things got started, she
quickly became the most enthusiastic and has surprisingly suffered less homesickness
than any of us. David's story is the reverse - he was extremely excited at
first but often had more difficult times being away from his friends and everything
he missed during the first year of high school at home. David and Paula were
also the most concerned about safety, and as individuals who love routine
they found it the hardest to adjust to the travel.
Without question, our most valuable educational experiences have emanated
directly from time that we have spent observing and interacting with people
as they lived their daily lives. We found that our most impactful memories
have resulted directly from serendipitous encounters. We intentionally spent
many of our days with no plan other than to simply visit villages, homes,
markets, schools and hospitals. Rarely did we make such a visit without experiencing
something memorable. We joke among ourselves about specific times when one
of us would balk at the idea of going to, for example, yet another school
in a particular village that we found ourselves exploring. Inevitably, even
with us having already visited several schools in a particular country, this
next encounter would result in some new lesson, insight or interesting interaction
that we'd find extremely enlightening or valuable.
Our list of memorable experiences is long. It includes hunting with the Hadza
in Tanzania, digging potatoes with Quichuan families in the mountains of Peru,
spending a day visiting Japanese schools on the island of Shikoku, our unplanned
visit to a festival in a small village in the outskirts of Hanoi, getting
lost in the confusion of St. Petersburg's subways, wandering through the medinas
of Marrakech, conversations with people in China who were in Tiananmen Square
in 1989, and knocking on doors and visiting families in numerous small rural
villages in India. We have also had unforgettable experiences at some of the
world's wonders, including the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu,
and the Taj Mahal. Thinking back on the past year, we are constantly amazed
at how much we have seen and done!
We will never see the world the same way, and now cannot imagine ourselves
living out our lives without having explored, at least in a small way, how
people really live and how culture, ideas and resources effect why they live
as they do. We now also find ourselves hugely motivated to experience more,
and are likely to travel extensively in the years to come. Each of the four
of us has our own story to tell about what this adventure has meant to us.
In addition, we are now able to see the impact that our experiences have had
on ourselves as individuals, and us as a family. We have a tremendous amount
of pride for what we have accomplished as a unit. Paula and I love the fact
that we have stretched ourselves greatly, and think that we have served as
positive role models for David and Katie on things like the value of taking
risks, experiencing different cultures and life-long learning. We often look
back at how far we have all come with becoming comfortable in situations that
originally were very hard (for all of us) to deal with.
It has also been great to see the personal changes that have occurred with
David and Katie. Listening to them enthusiastically relate their experiences
to other adults is wonderful. Additionally, Katie is now talking about how
our travels have led her to think that someday she may want to become an anthropologist.
David talks openly about how he never wanted anything to do with art or ballet,
and describes how he personally voted to spend our last night in St. Petersburg
with a return trip to the Marinsky Theater to see his second ballet.
Our travels have also sparked many questions in our minds for which we don't
have answers. For example, what makes certain cultures want to continually
seek ways to change their lives while others remain so determined to stay
the same? We have just started speaking as a family about ways that we would
like to further pursue some of these questions through research and additional
We have been blessed with safety and unbelievable health
(none of us missed a single day the entire trip due to illness), and for that
we are thankful. We also received tremendous support from family and friends,
and without this our trip would not have been possible.
Now that we're home again, we plan to spend much of
the summer relaxing on Cape Cod, reconnecting with family and friends that
we have missed so much. We don't know exactly what to expect from our "reentry"
process, but as of now we plan to transition gradually back into our daily
routines. David and Katie are eager to see their friends and head back to
"normal" school. As for Paula and me, we plan to spend time beginning
to explore what's next in our professional careers. Both of us are looking
to move forward in new directions, and there's much thinking and work to do
before decisions are made. As a family, we would like to write a book about
our travel adventures, and have already initiated some preliminary discussions
about our ideas with people in the industry.
My thoughts are now dominated by a feeling of tremendous
pride for what we have accomplished as a family, and the knowledge that this
is the best thing that we have ever done together. This has been an amazing
opportunity for us to learn and grow. Most importantly, Paula and I are so
happy to have provided David and Katie with experiences that we know will
serve them well for the rest of their lives.