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Ariel Smith

The Return

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

I was thrown right back into the middle of my Canadian life as soon as I stepped onto BC soil.  It has been comforting, yet exhausting and I’d honestly rather be walking endlessly through European streets, museums and cathedrals.  The intense experience of traveling for two months with such a big group has made it that much more difficult to transition into a slower, less crowded living pace.  I have loved coming home because it has allowed me to find new peace, which has forced me to think about more specific experiences of the last two months.

The glimpses and sparks of meaningful space, important conversations and moments of peace in and amongst such historically or architecturally beautiful areas are what I have been remembering the most.  I took my time walking through the Louvre while we were in Paris and sat in the courtyard of one area of the massive building to try and gather all of the information and art that was thrown at me while wandering the museum.  It was moments like these on the trip which allowed me to become more present and involved in the experiences I was having and to motivate me to be responsive even when I was feeling exhausted from the travel, study and community.

I had a short break when I arrived back home, and now I have been working on a fruit and vegetable farm that has given me loads of time to think about what Europe 2010 has meant to me.  I am still trying to process all of the incredible experiences, but I am so thankful that I was able to take the trip and share it with the SSU community.

One Week

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

Over the last few weeks of our Europe trip I have been feeling the exhaustion catching up to me every day. As difficult as it is, I am trying to suppress that exhaustion in order to make the most out of my remaining eight days with the group.

I have recently been in a state of individual reflection rather than the communal growth that I was focusing on in the beginning stages of the trip.  Alongside personal growth, I have been trying to find my place in the bigger picture of my spirituality and faith.  Stepping in and out of incredibly built cathedrals, historical monuments and ancient ruins, I am overwhelmed with the amazing spiritual and cultural experiences I have been a part of.  I have felt as if I have been involved in something bigger than myself and our small Christian university as I played simple games with a group of refugee children from all over the world in Munich, or as I learnt about the disastrous fire bombing of Dresden while taking part in a Kurt Vonnegut tour.  This trip forces you, in some way or another, to look beyond your own tragedies and woes and take on someone else’s for a day or just an hour.  This is why the communal aspect is constantly reflected in the life of the individual during the SSU Europe trip.  Although there are times to reflect on a personal level, there is always the wider view of community and my place within it.

I don’t believe I will ever be fully accustomed to living in a 40-person group traveling around Europe, but I do believe there is richness in allowing yourself to grow around people who challenge and disturb you on a daily basis.

Ariel S.

Worldview: Old vs New

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

For some reason, after constant times of reflection, note taking, and journaling over these past two and a half weeks, I am having a difficult time trying to focus on a few specific moments during this time of travel.  It has been overwhelming to encounter such artistically and historically rich cities and countries in a very short amount of time, and I have recently realized how difficult it is to process it all at once.

However, one aspect of this journey that has connected with me in a strong way, a way that I did not expect,  was the peace and rest I found as I entered a few of the cathedrals we have visited.  The Basilica at Montserrat outside of Barcelona and the Santa Maria Della Vittoria in Rome were a few important moments for me.
I had a very spiritual time while visiting Montserrat, even though the Basilica was crowded with tourists, worshippers, and flashing cameras.  For the most part I was stuck at the very back, trying to peek at what I could of the service.  I finally got a little further up as the choir boys were singing, and I tried to imagine that I wasn’t amongst the crowds as I closed my eyes and listened to the haunting voices.

Later, after the service had ended, the crowd had left and just the organ was playing, I walked in and sat in a pew near the altar.  I tried to put aside my own worldview in order to understand the amazing piece of architecture in its purest form, fully created to express love for God.  I became frustrated with my own watered down faith, that often becomes bogged down with relativity and leaves out a force or purpose.  I believe our contemporary churches have struggled to be too strong because of their fear to offends or disrupts others

Sitting there allowed me to understand sixteenth century Catholicism in a new light, but more importantly, placed my North American Christian life in perspective with the beautiful story of architecture , art and faith from so many centuries ago.

Ariel Smith

Europe 2010!

By | 2010, Europe | No Comments

A semester at home has made it quite difficult to come back to St. Stephen and continue on with student and community life all over again.  I feel as if I’m just barely getting used to the idea of being around people all the time, and this makes me quite nervous about being in close quarters while camping and traveling in Europe with 35 of my peers.  It was quite a challenge to buckle down academically while I was in BC, which has caused me some unnecessary stress and regret. However, now that our departure date is just around the corner, I finally feel semi-prepared for the academic portion of the trip, and have been trying to grasp how Europe will affect me emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.

After talking and discussing with a few people about their hopes for this Europe trip, I have better understood the attitude that I want to have going into it.  Like many, I want to live and experience every site, walk, cafe, and conversation that I can.  I have already stressed and fretted over the little trivial things, such as packing and preparation, and I don’t want to bring this kind of anxiety with me on the first leg of our European adventure.

It is tiring to try and understand how I am ‘coming into this trip’, by analyzing myself over and over, but I think I am beginning to understand the importance of it.  I don’t want to over-think my time abroad, but I want to be mindful that my experiences can have the power to change me completely.

Bringing it Home

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North American culture has worn me down again, and I am sinking back in to familiarities.  It hasn’t, however, covered up pieces of Southeast Asian culture that I have intentionally taken from my experience abroad.  It was difficult to vocalize and express what these aspects of my experience looked like when I returned back to Canada, but in our final few plane rides I began to understand what I really value from my time in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand.  I wrote this while sitting in the Bangkok airport, waiting for our flight home.

The clouded sky and broken trees have been on my mind,
and I’m stumbling for simplicity.
The mist and soil have imprinted my heart,
and I’m begging for peace in the eyes of war.

I’ve seen love here, and I can’t leave it behind.
I’m bringing hope with me and taking her home.

The trip to Southeast Asia was an extremely positive experience for me.  I found that the culture and people encouraged me to live in peace, and live a much simpler life than that which is promoted in the West.  My fear was that I would see this beauty and simplicity and not recognize it as I come back to a familiar place.  I find now, that I am often reminded of the heart that I encountered in Asia.  I am continuing to pray that this experience will connect with other aspects of my life, and that I can learn from it as I grow, spiritually and academically.

Goodbye SEA

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It is my last day to have Thailand at my window in the morning and evening, to buy fried rice and veggies on the side of the street, and to witness the stunning Buddhist architecture and lifestyle which make up this rich culture.  I feel a sense of satisfaction and peace about this trip, but I anticipate a delayed reaction once I land back in Canada.  I think the shock of being back to familiarity will be harder to get used to than a new culture altogether.  I have already began my reflective process, as I have been soaking up every last bit of this incredible two month experience.

I loved the city of Chiang Mai, but more than the chaos and excitement of the city, I loved my little house in a village outside of town.  For two weeks I lived an hour away from the city, up the winding mountain, past the monkey, snake, and elephant camps, and on a small river overlooking mist, sky, and mountain.  My Thai family (Ma, Pa, Kip, and Koy) grew, gathered, and packaged vegetables beside the house to sell to Bangkok every morning.  This family poured so much energy in to making sure we were comfortable and welcome in their home.
I didn’t realize how exhausting communication was until I began living with my last home-stay family.  The motivation within myself to put forth enough energy and enthusiasm to communicate was draining enough, on top of the issues of using hand gestures and broken Thai to explain simple concepts.  I did all I could though, to ensure that our family recognized my gratitude for everything they did for us over those two weeks.  I miss the Thai jungle and my experience in Chiang Mai.

There is something very poetic and romantic about Thailand’s culture and the Buddhist faith.  I was at the back stairs of Chiang Mai University’s building one day between classes, looking at the gathering of endless trees surrounded by bright flowers on a canvas of mountains, and began to connect this sight with some of the principles of Buddhism which values simplicity, beauty and truth.  However, I couldn’t understand this landscape with the ideas of human independence and importance.  Beauty, simplicity, and truth are not man made, and human capacity could certainly not create the scenery I have seen, from the jungles of Thailand to the prairie plains of Canada.

I don’t know if I can pinpoint drastic and noticeable changes within myself from the first day in the Philippines to the last day here in Bangkok, but I know that my heart and mindset will continue to be molded and transformed by the experiences I have had during these two months in Southeast Asia.

Thailand, here I come

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Everything is moving very fast.  We’re starting on week three of the Southeast Asia trip, and already I’ve experienced and have learned so much about a part of the world that I have never thoroughly studied.  I have felt a dose of ‘cultural fatigue’ as we moved from the Philippines to Malaysia, but I have started to gain a bit more energy by taking some time for myself to reflect on the amazing hospitality and kindness that I encountered at Northwestern University and with my homestay family, as well as with the Muslim community in Keningau, Sabah.

My first mosque experience was an incredible eye opener.  As I sat and observed the young and elderly men of the Keningau village wash their feet and bow towards Mecca, I began to look past the practices of Islam and tried to focus on the heart of these Muslim men.  I realize that faith involves rituals, traditions, and practices but I also know that there is much more to Islam, and to all religions, which surpasses head knowledge.  I began to search for the heart of Islam, which in turn forced me to reflect on my own values and faith.

The intensive classes which prepared me to understand the practices and rituals of the Muslim faith only partially prepared me to enter a mosque.  I tried to combine both head and heart as I sat on the cool tile of the building in the community of Keningau, in order to give me an understanding of the emotion and spirit that every human possesses, no matter what their background or religion is.

The last few weeks I have been jotting down words and phrases to help me process and reflect on the spiritual side of my travels.  I have found it to be quite difficult balancing reflection, community, and experience in a neat package on a day to day basis.  I am beginning to gather some of my musings and confusions in music, poetry and song, when I am unable to string together eloquent sentences to explain what is on my heart.

Already we have visited two countries and are on the last half of this incredible experience.  Thailand seemed like a distant objective when we landed in Malaysia, but now here we are, about to be amazed again by the culture, geography, and spirit of another country in Southeast Asia.

SEA, here I come

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I have anticipations, but I am often numb to change until I experience it.  I have been trying to pinpoint my exact emotions towards this trip to Southeast Asia, but the more I try to psychoanalyze my expectations and thoughts, the more I realize it is not about what I expect.  What I am sure of, is that I am excited to be uncomfortable, confused, and challenged.  To me, that is living, as well as learning.  I believe this travel abroad will give me an opportunity to reflect on my North American life, mindset, and expectations.  I believe it is sobering to be immersed in another culture in order to make us realize that our Western lifestyle is by no means the standard for a ‘good life’.

Being educated and exposed to a portion of the world’s cultures is a valuable part of life, and I do not want to take this experience for granted.  There are so many things that Southeast Asia can teach me, and I have been praying that I will keep my eyes and ears open to it’s lessons.  The sights, sounds, people, and places, no matter where we are, tell a story of their own, and I am looking forward to listening to other perspectives about the world, and ultimately challenge my own.

I love my home, family, and a familiar place, but I am also anxious for unfamiliarity.  I fully believe that the classroom can only go so far, and at a certain point, the experience of contacting the foreign cultures we learn about must take precedence over our regular schooling.  I am all together anxious, nervous, and ecstatic to leave for Southeast Asia, and am looking forward to the adventure ahead.