Tag Archives: religion

An Adventure to Nepal – Guest Post!

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It is not everyday that we meet someone who traveled to Nepal. And even more interesting, is talking to someone who took a National Geographic trip to Nepal! I want to introduce Dalton George, who is dating one of my favorite new friends in Greenville, Alissa. Ironically Alissa is also from Michigan and we bound over our love for Michigan (despite our Spartan and Wolverine rivalry :)). To show how small our world is, Dalton is also from my hometown, but we never met each other there! When I first met Dalton in Greenville, he mentioned that he was traveling to Nepal and I couldn’t wait to hear about his trip! He was kind enough to share details about his experience, answering my questions below.

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Pokhara (PC: Dalton George)


What inspired you to go on the trip to Nepal?

I am not so sure I was inspired to go to Nepal specifically, I was more inspired to just travel in general. If anything, the decision to go specifically to Nepal was more out of coincidence than anything else. I will explain.

So last June I finished up my Master’s Degree program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and had a few months in between that and my next professional endeavor. Knowing this, and knowing how busy life can get, I made traveling somewhere new an imperative in my life during my “down time.” The logic here was simple: you never know when you will have the opportunity to do something amazing with the people you love most, so seize the day! My mother had already told me she was going “stir crazy” and needed to travel somewhere new, and had asked me if I was interested in taking a trip with her and my sister. So the decision to travel somewhere was easy: I had motivation to do so and people to go with. Time to make it happen.

Coincidence selected Nepal. My mother and I were unsure of where we wanted to go, but we were certain that we wanted to go on a National Geographic tour. To decide on our destination, we flipped open a NatGeo adventure catalogue, and we each picked out our 3 favorite trips that were advertised. Our selections overlapped at Nepal, and therefore we decided Nepal was our destination.

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Trishuli River (PC: Dalton George)

I cannot speak to why my mother selected Nepal out of that catalogue, but I can tell you why I did: lack of knowledge. Seriously, that is why. Ok ok, and I really wanted to see some cool mountains (and my God, were those some cool mountains!). I remember looking at that NatGeo catalogue, reading over the Nepal description, and thinking, “oh my gosh, I literally know NOTHING about Nepal, or Tibet for that matter.” The trip description advertised some exciting opportunities, including a Rhino wildlife safari, Paragliding, and mountain hiking. But the main reason I selected Nepal out of that catalogue was ignorance, and a desire to reverse it. And again, yes, to see some awesome mountains.

Describe National Geographic trips to those who may not know about them.

National Geographic offers curated tours of popular “and some not so popular” destinations across the whole world. The trip usually functions as a two week tour of a region, or in our case, most of a country. You travel with a small tour group, usually 12-20 people, and together you all have an adventure! This was my first trip that functioned this way, and I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. It made Nepal accessible to someone like me, someone who does not speak the language, or as I have previously mentioned, have any clue about any aspect of what the country is all about. The tour group is led by a guide a local from that region or country. Ours was a Nepalese man who was currently living in the country’s capital city (Kathmandu) and had been leading NatGeo tours for 12+ years. His English was excellent, and he was an endless encyclopedia of knowledge about his home country, its religions, and the Tibetan region as a whole. Seriously, we did our best to stump him with questions, almost to no avail. I sort of cheated, half-sarcastically asking him to name all of the gods in the Hindu religion. He could not, seeing as there are over 33 million total…

I would recommend NatGeo trips to anyone. Your group follows a general itinerary, but there is ample time to pick and choose activities that appeal to your preferences. For us in Nepal, we jumped at every chance to do any hiking, as my sister and I enjoy that activity immensely, and decided not to participate in others like the much heralded “Everest Plane Flight” (it was too expensive). This ability to pick and choose gives the NatGeo trips a great balance between structure and freedom, and you are never pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do.

Another reason why I would recommend NatGeo is in the way they set up their tours so that almost all money spent by you and your tour group during the trip is going in the hands of local people. And I don’t simply mean the well off business owners of city hotels. I mean small villages, and in our case, Tibetan refugees. At least on this trip this was the case, I suppose I cannot speak to other trips in other areas of the world. Places that your tour group eats, sleeps, and spends your time (and money) are almost exclusively places run by local people. In this way, NatGeo places a premium on supporting local, sometimes even vulnerable, communities in the places that they send their tour groups. Don’t confuse this with any sort of charity activity, these are businesses like any other, the difference is your money is not going to some rich development company who set up shop on the coast of Jamaica, but into the hands of local business owners who have a much more personal stake in the future of their country. As a tourist, this gave me the feel-goods, and is a business practice in the tourism industry I had not given much thought to until I saw it in action.

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Kathmandu (PC: Dalton George)

What were your favorite landmarks and excursions?

The Himalayas – these need no explanation I’m sure. One of the few times in my life that I can honestly say I had no words to describe the shear awesomeness of a thing I saw…I imagine the majesty of looking up at these mountains is only matched by the view from atop one of them.

The Himalayan Foothills – Like a way, way cooler version of Appalachia. With glacial rivers cutting pathways through the steep, forested foothills of heaven’s cradle, the beautiful scenery provided makes the arduous journey through the bumpy mountain roads of Nepal enjoyable. Well, mostly.

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Farmland in the Himalayan Foothills (PC: Dalton George)

Buddhanath Buddhist Stupa – This 5th century Buddhist religious monument/temple serves as a pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists around the world. Awe inspiring in its Architecture, one of those moments where you ask yourself “how did people over 1000 years ago build something like this???”

Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa – Another Buddhist religious monument similar to Buddhanath, but this temple has a very sizable population of Rhesis Macaques roaming the grounds. These “holy monkeys” live at the temple year round, entertaining tourists and stealing from the offering tables all day every day. Additionally, the views from this Stupa of the capital city of Kathmandu are amazing. Absolutely worth your time.

 

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Monkey Temple (PC: Dalton George)

Pashupatinah Temple – A very famous Hindu temple located in Kathmandu. I learned so much about the Hindu religion whilst visiting this ancient temple, both in a cognitive and emotional way. This place hit me harder than most of the places I visited in Nepal. It’s a very spiritual and emotional place. If you are a westerner, be prepared. Oh, and stay out of the way of the roving bands of holy cows that are walking everywhere.

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Chitwan National Park – Rhinos. In the wild. From 100 feet away. And Tigers. TIGERS. We didn’t see one, but the footprints were enough for me to get back into the safari jeep. The farming village of Chitwan is also a lovely place filled with lovelier people. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

How were the people?

From the streets of Kathmandu, to the small farming villages in the Himalayan foothills, the people of Nepal were never shy to share a smile and a “Namaste” with foreign visitors. Never during my twelve days in the country did I feel unwelcome or experience any unfriendliness, and I always felt safe. The Nepali are a very spiritual, peaceful people whose society is heavily influenced by both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. This latter influence is especially important in understanding their attitudes towards community and people from all levels of society. Without going into extensive detail (because I will surely not get something right!) I can say that Tibetan Buddhist influence has instilled a fundamental sense of living for the community that defines the culture of the Nepali people. They are not (as of yet) a materialistic people, their sense of self is not tied to ownership of land or things. They seemed much more concerned about building spirituality, and social connectedness than wealth and status. Oh, and they very much like to have a good time when the working day is done 😉.

How was the food?

Delicious, unique, and CHEAP. Nepalese cuisine is kind of mix between Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan (no, not Panda Express Chinese, actual Chinese). Lots of lentils, lots of meat curries, lots of fried breads, lots of fantastic uses of spices on veggies, and fantastic teas (Masala Milk Chai in particular). If you choose to, you can have this Dal Bhat style of meal breakfast lunch and dinner: it’s a Nepalese staple, and its amazing. All of the ingredients for most everything you eat are locally sourced from the fertile foothills of the Himalayas, so everything is very fresh.

What reflections or learnings did you have about yourself, life, and/or the world?

Oh man, I could go on and on for this one. But in the interest of keeping it short and sweet, I guess the one most important thing I learned, or at least got a more concrete sense of, is that different lifestyles and cultures do not necessarily belong on a hierarchy. We label places like Nepal “the 3rd world” and conceptualize it as existing in a lesser state of prosperity (and therefore happiness) than a place like the United States, or some other “developed” Western country. When we look at the GDP of a place like Nepal, or here about how basic its infrastructure is, or shake our heads at its lack of political stability, we are only focusing on the surface and missing the bigger picture, the deeper understanding of what that place is really all about. Only by walking on through the streets and interacting with the people can we gain such an understanding. There are plenty of values and norms of Nepali society I would love to see incorporated into my American one. Love, peace, and community-oriented growth are cornerstones of the Nepali culture, and we as Americans have a lot to gain in understanding how these people see the world and understand their place in it as we journey through our own nation-wide identity crisis. I would highly recommend Nepal to anyone wishing to experience a place unlike any other, with a people unlike any other, before it (potentially) succumbs to the pressures to modernize in the ways dictated by the Western “developed world.”


Thank you, Dalton, for sharing your story! I am inspired to go on a National Geographic trip and to visit Nepal one day too!

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Transition to Spring: Lenten Inspiration

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With 17 days left until spring (hallelujah!) and 40 days of lent for those who follow the Catholic tradition, March is a time to prepare for positive change in our lives. Writing this from home with family in snowy northern Michigan, spring seems far away, but I am reminded to have faith that spring comes every year. Spring is a metaphor that new beginnings and positive changes are always ahead of us and should keep us motivated in this crazy thing called life.

I recently read an article from St. Peter’s Church in Columbia, South Carolina (originally from www.upperroom.org) that inspired me and how I would like to be during Lent and the upcoming spring. Regardless of our religious or non-religious traditions, we can look at the Lenten season, or the end of winter and the beginning of spring, as a time to soak up a few more days to bundle up indoors, reflect individually and with our loved ones, and make changes before starting the new spring season. Below I am sharing some Lenten inspiration from The Upper Room and adding some of my own thoughts for how we can be inspirNational and make positive changes over the next 40 days.

Ideas You Can Try for Lenten Season

  • “Try an electronic fast. Give up TV, Facebook, texting, tweeting, e-mail and all things electronic for one day every week (or everyday of Lent!). Use the time to read and pray (or reflect for those who are not religious). Learn more about fasts at http://devozine.upperroom.org/articles/unplugging.”
    • I am committing to spend at least one hour each day fully disconnected, setting my phone aside, and appreciating nature. I find that I come up with my greatest ideas and solutions to my challenges when I am disconnected and in nature. Perhaps this will inspire you to do the same!
  • “Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it (maybe even yourself). Study a book on forgiveness, such as The Forgiveness Book by Alice Camille and Rev. Paul Boudreau.”
    • We should constantly remember to let go of what no longer serves us. Holding grudges only hurts us more and prevents the healing process for us and for those around us. Practicing forgiveness will help us heal and continue to grow as people as the new spring season begins.
  • “Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Give the money you save to help folks in different parts of the world who are in crisis.”
    • Or donate to a charity of choice! We can save so much money by not buying a daily latte – I have found that avoiding extra expenses and making food and drinks at home helps me save so that I can give back in the future. As President of the Moore School of Business MBA Student Association, I am currently raising money for the Special Olympics as part of the Duke Fuqua MBA Games competition in April. Special Olympics is a non-profit organization offering training and competition in 19 Olympic-type sports to 40,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The MBA Games provide an opportunity for MBA programs throughout the United States to compete in field day style games while raising money for the Special Olympics. You can learn more about donating to my Moore Hands team here: https://www.firstgiving.com/team/343067.
  • “Create daily quite time. Spend 10 minutes a day in silence and prayer. See how it can help you add spiritual practice to your daily life beyond Lent.”
    • While prayer is part of my daily life, I also spend time reflecting through yoga, writing this blog, and relaxing in nature. We all have our own ways tospend quiet time and it is important to make it part of our daily routine.
  • “Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way.”
    • While we may often feel grateful, it is easy to focus on the negative, such as the challenges we face each day or as we prepare for the future. By focusing on gratitude each day, we can feel a glimpse of hope and happiness as we go through challenges. We can also make others feel more appreciated by spending more time thanking them.
  • “Strengthen your faith.”
    • This reminds those of us who are not faith-focused to spend more time determining which form of spirituality heals our souls, helps us grow as people, and helps us contribute most to the world around us. It will make us stronger people and better able to face life’s adversities.
  • “Volunteer one hour or more each week with a local shelter, tutoring program, nursing home, prison, etc.”
    • This inspires me to be more active with volunteering again. As a graduate student with two jobs and school extracurriculars, it is easy to get wrapped in my own routine and forget what brings me the most joy and has the greatest positive impact on the world. I imagine others face a similar challenge. Over the next 40 days, I plan to volunteer for the Special Olympics as part of the Duke MBA Games and will continue to regularly volunteer to help the community.
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Source: themiddlepage.net

How will you make positive changes throughout the Lenten season as you prepare for spring? I hope these insights provide food for thought as you reflect on the winter and transition to spring!

United by the Circle of Life

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After traveling across three continents and studying intensively in three countries, I am realizing that while it is easy to focus on differences between cultures, it is even more interesting to focus on similarities.

Religion, culture, language, and customs may divide us, but we are all connected by the core purposes of life: milestones, values, relationships, careers, memories of the past and hopes for the future. I am going to combines these core purposes of life and describe them as the circle of life. We are all united by the circle of life.

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Source: http://www.canstockphoto.com

I have been reminded of this unity recently while living with my host family in Paris. Almost every evening, we enjoy dinner together and have interesting conversations about life

The Joys of Being a New GrandparentOn Friday, my host family welcomed their first grandson into the world. My host mom discussed how excited she was to share in the “new grandparent” experience with her husband. She described that when women deliver their own baby, mothers and fathers cannot relate. The mother already knows the baby after nine months of carrying it. The dad meets the baby right when it is born. However, grandparents can share in the experience of just meeting the baby because it is new to both of them. This is an exciting time for my host family, which is relevant to any family throughout the world with new grandchildren.

Celebrating 33 Years of MarriageI had a dinner with my host dad one night and discussed the secrets of a lifelong marriage. He and his wife celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary in December, beating the odds of only a 51% marriage success rate in France (very similar odds in the United States as well). He said, first of all, there are no secrets. You have to make your marriage work in your own way. He also described that communication is the most important part of a successful relationship- catching up on each other’s days, discussing successes and failures, and overcoming conflicts. He said he follows his dad’s advice to never go to bed angry. With the challenges of marriage throughout the world, I was intrigued to learn insights about successful marriage in France.

The Purpose of Strikes: Last week, Paris experienced another strike with taxis blocking the streets and requesting higher wages. I learned from my host family how common strikes are in Paris and how they are always related to money. My host family was frustrated with the strike’s disruption to the city and the corruption of Paris’ tax and immigration policies. While our conversation remained politically neutral, it was interesting for me to learn that debates related to social change, taxes, and immigration are present no matter where we live or travel. We are united by our societal challenges, and diverse in our responses and reactions to these challenges.

Stop Striving for Perfection: One of the most insightful life conversations we had was how people are striving for perfection in their careers and relationships. My host family emphasized that perfection is not realistic. There is no perfect job or perfect spouse. People are “job hopping” more now than ever before, assuming that the “grass will be greener on the other side.” In reality, there are no greener pastures, just greener perspectives of the situations we face. In the past, my host family said that they were just grateful to have a job and a steady wage. If they didn’t enjoy their job, they would focus their energy outside of work rather than letting their job consume them. My host family also described that people are also getting divorced too soon, giving up before giving it their all. Now people are expecting so much more and rarely feeling satisfied. I can attest to these sentiments from my own experience and that of my friends, especially those of us in our 20s. The post-college decade is full of uncertainty, change, and striving for the perfect life rather than focusing on the good in today. I posed a question to my host parents, asking how they think we can all stop striving for perfection. They said they didn’t know, but knew it was possible. My proposition is to first stop comparing our lives to others (which is easier today with access to friends and family’s life updates on social media). After, we should create our lives as we see fit, combining our upbringing with what we learn as we live and travel throughout the world.

Each of these circle of life conversations sparks thoughtful insights that we can learn no matter where we are in the world. What life conversations have you had during your travels?

New Eyes: Travel Changing Perspectives in Seville, Spain

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Earlier this month, Melibee Global launched a new series – New Eyes: Travel Changing Perspectives. The series encourages us to share how travel has changed our perspectives. Given that the premise of inspirNational is the new mindset we develop from living like a traveler, I was excited to contribute. Every trip and every destination I have visited has contributed to how I view the world. Below I am sharing one of my most interesting New Eyes experiences in Seville, Spain.

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Touring Real Alcazar in Seville, Spain provided me with a new perspective on religious diversity. I was fascinated by the architecture in Real Alcazar, which included symbols representing a multitude of religions, from Islam, to Judaism, to Christianity. I learned that throughout centuries of history, Real Alcazar was the residence of royalty of several religions. As the palace changed ownership, and the leaders changed religious backgrounds, they maintained the religious symbols of previous generations. To me, this is an ultimate form of respect. In one of my Spanish poetry classes in undergrad, I learned that Cordoba, another Spanish city, is “The Ornament of World.” It received this special name because it supported Islam, Judaism, and Christianity at the same time during a period of religious unrest throughout the world. The religious diversity, tolerance, and acceptance represented in Seville and Cordoba are concepts that we should apply in the modern world today.

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Interested in participating in the New Eyes conversation? As Melibee Global says, “simply share an image on social media and write a few words about how that image of your travels changed your perspective. Please use #neweyestravel so that we can find your incredible images and stories!”