experience Archives - St. Stephen's University

Having a Pilgrim’s Spirit

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

Traveling with SSU has always had the value of pilgrimage come with it. In my own travels I have experienced this on several occasions. The thing I both love and hate about this idea is that to be a pilgrim is to open up yourself entirely to the will of God through the physical experience of travel. Generally, in my own case, this has never been a smooth experience. However, it has always been full of both joy and grief. Pilgrimage for me is an experience through which my steel is tempered, and this time has been no exception.

Usually, it seems that the thing that you need to learn from is the thing you are most avoiding, and in this trip I feel more confronted than ever. In this case I will probably rely on James yet again (possibly paraphrased) – “Do not let yourself be like a wave tossed by the sea, but let endurance have its full effect so that you will be complete and lacking in nothing.”


October 14, 2012

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

I have been struggling. I have felt the stress and pressure of traveling from the

The walk to Kabigan waterfall.

beginning of our trip. From trying to prepare for the unknown, to sleepless nights on buses and airplanes, scorching hot days, strange foods and foreign tastes, to navigating new cities and meeting new people. Even good and wonderful experiences are stressful. I have been dealing with this on top of a feeling of displacement, a longing for home and the people there. I have lived a transient life for a number of years and since coming to SSU, I have felt a feeling of “home” for the first time in a long time. As I travel, I cannot shake the feeling of being far from the place where my heart is.

As much as I would love to be lost in the excitement of seeing new places and having incredible new experiences, my heart is hurting. However, if there is one thing SSU and the community there has taught me, it is to accept my own vulnerability. Now, this looks a lot different when traveling than it does in my home community with people who know me, but I am learning that even on the road, being open in your weakness connects people. I have learned not to hide my hurt and I have noticed something interesting when I do: people respond to vulnerability.

Since beginning our trip, I have had the honor of sharing some special moments with different people: my classmates and pilgrimage partners, the bartender at the cool hipster venue in Malaysia, my home-stay family here in the Philippines. In these quiet moments, when you can be open and vulnerable when sharing about your fears and your heartache, others respond. I have seen beautiful bridges being built between people from different countries, different cultures, and even between those who speak different languages. Everyone understands hurt, everyone’s heart speaks with tears. Walls which separate cultures through customs, manners and ways of life come crashing down when you are vulnerable. Strangers become friends when they share their feelings of loneliness, women become sisters when they are honest about the weight they feel from society’s pressure, a woman becomes a mother when she comforts a girl who is far from home.

At first I was upset with myself as I struggled so much on this trip, feeling like I was cheating myself of a whole experience when visiting another country. Now, I feel more relaxed and comfortable with my struggle. It is my experience, and by sharing my vulnerability with those around me, my experience has become holistic and enriched.


My Own Experience

By | 2012, Asia | No Comments

As our group of stressed, overtired, and hungry students piled into a tour bus about to head to Hong Kong, it finally hit me — the feeling of not knowing what to expect. Along with the not knowing came the fear that I might get “the full experience,” the experience that past SSU students have had and come back to tell tales of, great moments that I could only hope to have. But why must I compare my experience with theirs?

While walking through the canopy of a rain forest near Kuala Lumpur I was struck by the thought that this is one crazy and insane trip I am on; that no matter what, it will be the best for me. It was as if my thoughts turned from comparing my time in Southeast Asia with other students’ trips to where I really started to experience Southeast Asia for myself.

Simply put, I can never relive the moment that I am now in. My experience in Southeast Asia is special to me and only to me, no matter how much I explain how great it is to others. From the concert night at Northwestern University to the conversations I have with my homestay family, others will never grasp the full reality of the trip that I am currently partaking in.

In conclusion, my trip so far has been amazing. Every time I open my eyes I am greeted by the warm hearts of the people that I am living with. I stand in amazement every time I see the sun rise as it means another day in Paradise. To each his own and may the other trips following mine be even greater.

how to wash dishes

By | All Things Travel, Alumni Abroad | No Comments

Ashley Burtch is a recent graduate of SSU and is currently serving at a l’Arche community in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  The following is a reflection on her experience of living in community there. Also, if you haven’t done so, make sure to check out the video of the core members that Ashley lives with.

Well, that’s it.  Vacation is over.  It was so incredibly good.  Far beyond what I could have hoped for in a vacation.  So I take a deep breath and I close my eyes to sleep tonight unsure of what tomorrow brings, which is, I suppose, true about any day.  I end vacation tired and satisfied.

We’ve had a dishwasher while here in Saint John (and have enjoyed making full use of it, despite some pangs of guilt).  Candice found the following passage in Miracle of  Mindfullness by Thich Nhat Hanh. It seems so appropriate in light of the pending return to a life with more daily responsibilities than I am used to carrying.  It reminds me that I must learn, again and again, to live present in each moment. It would be so easy to look back at vacation and wish for these days again, because they have been so enjoyable.  For that matter, it would be so easy to look back at my time at SSU, or at home with family, or my childhood and long to be there again.  At the same time, it is so easy to worry about coming changes, the future, my “life plan”, where the heck I’m going and on what road.  But all of that distracts me from the opportunity that is here and now.  The opportunity to learn, grow, develop, enjoy, breathe, digest.

This is a long quote, but well worth reading.  Especially if you, like me, have a lot of dishes to wash.

Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks. There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing. Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrubpads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards. I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just a little too far!

While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I’m being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There’s no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we’ve finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, “Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them.” Jim replied, “Come on, you think I don’t know how to wash the dishes?” I answered, “There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes.” Jim was delighted and said, “I choose the second way—to wash the dishes to wash the dishes.” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the “responsibility” to him for an entire week.

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not “washing the dishes to wash the dishes.” What’s more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future —and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

With love and peace,