"Minds are like parachutes - they only function when open."
-- Thomas Dewar
This is the story of an adventurous Colorado family who traveled to Indonesia to visit the home-stay families of their two sons' gap semesters of several years ago. This tale blends the mother’s and sons' perspectives of their unique journey together.
When asked why the family undertook this trip, the younger brother stated that, "when you have life-changing moments while traveling, I think there is a strong desire to want to share the experience with your friends and family. Even the best pictures and most thoughtful descriptions can't provide them the context of a life altering experience. I think this trip emerged out of a desire to perhaps help my parents understand why we were now different and how that had come to pass. Living in Indonesia for three months was an experience that I have been trying to digest and dissect every day since my return. And while the shared experience brought my brother and I closer, the different perspectives we had gained about the world distanced us from our parents, even as they listened intently to our stories."
Their mother added, "upon their return from their gap years, we recognized how difficult it was for both of them to describe what they had experienced and how it had changed their perspectives. We realized how invaluable it was to allow them time to reflect and grow before trying to decide what they wanted to study in college and beyond. As cliché as it sounds, they grew in ways we couldn't have imagined. So when our oldest son was preparing to graduate from college, four years after his gap year, we decided as a family to visit Indonesia and have them share with us firsthand some of their experiences. Without a doubt, this is the best gift we have ever given ourselves as a family. Our 21 and 23 year-old sons planned and packed a three month gap experience into a three week family trip."
The goal for the boys was to introduce their parents to close Indonesian friends and to share remote locations where they had lived during their gap semesters. The sons organized the trip by staying in more western-style accommodations with toilets and mattresses on the front end. As the trip progressed, in an effort to "acclimate" their parents to the rougher conditions, they stayed at increasingly more spartan places with thin bedding and squat toilets, and traveled in local rickety boats.
The sons recall that initial day: "Our first day together in Indonesia began with tea with our 82 year-old home-stay father-- a gentle, kind soul. We then wandered the streets of the culturally intense city of Yogyakarta before visiting another Indonesian family. The host sister offered to walk with us to lunch, which turned into a several mile journey exploring the meandering alleyways of the poor neighborhoods. That night we found ourselves sipping sugary black tea sitting calmly in silence with our home-stay family barely able to communicate. As we continued the trip, we slept on the ground in the jungle and on local boats inhabited with cockroaches and rats. We witnessed semi-wild orangutans, colorful living and dead-bleached corals, dense mangroves, active volcanoes, and many happy Indonesians. Both of our parents embraced the experience by being willing to get 'uncomfortable' and tackle each challenge."
The mother shares a vivid memory of the second home-stay visit towards the end of their trip: "as a proud parent, we were invited to live with the same family with whom both our sons had lived. We stayed in a fishing village built on wooden stilts over the water. These villagers, known as Bajau or sea gypsies, live on the water and fish for their food daily. They live simply with very little, yet have such strong communities. Community members live without envy or comparison and want to know you for exactly who you are. We became acutely aware of a fundamental community value-people took time for each other. Small fishing villages were actually designed with community in mind-building smaller houses closer to one another. Locals spent more time on their front porches interacting with their neighbors. My husband realized that the locals actually have everything they needed to survive-with access to food, water, shelter, and a community for support. When there is little outside influence and few societal pressures, people don’t continually need or want more, but rather, they make do with what they have. The vision that sums up so much of this trip for me is that while watching several young kids in the village flying kites made out of plastic from trash, we realized that one child was actually flying a large leaf! It was absolutely beautiful in so many ways."
Reflecting back, each family member intuitively understood that their family unit had been woven tighter. When asked what they had learned from this trip as a family, they all agreed that they want to make informed choices and to include community more in their lives, and to live better, knowing that they have a common vision and an understanding of what truly matters. Living with the local Indonesians taught them that happiness can flourish by living simple lives, especially if one takes the time to tend to relationships, find beauty in silence, and get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Benefits of a Gap Year Presentation & Panel
Marion Taylor - Speaker
Saturday, January 20
3:00 - 5:00 pm
Kent Denver School
4000 E. Quincy
Englewood, CO 80113 RSVP NOW
USA Gap Year Fairs Marion Taylor - Speaker
Sunday, January 28
1:00 - 4:00 pm
Tuesday, January 30
6:00 - 8:30 pm
Peak to Peak
800 Merlin Drive
Lafayette, CO 80026
Check out this new podcast featuring interviews from gap year alumni, who are millennials working in equity and social justice. Hear their personal and professional stories of challenges and setbacks.