Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Leaving Laos with Lessons Learned

After four years in Laos, I'm finally returning to my home country, the United States of America. A friend challenged me to think of three things I learned from my time here, three things I'd do different if I knew what I know now, and three pieces of advice I'd give to others as a result of my time here. My answers follow.

Three things I learned:

  • Being a minority (caucasian) in a foreign country has really opened my eyes to the dehumanizing nature of racism. It's not some inherent defect of the white race or even of western culture, it's a defect of human nature and a lack of understanding about other people. This is a topic I'm likely to write on at more length in the near future, for now let me simply say it has changed my former intelectual distaste for racism into a visceral hatred of it.
  • After spending four years teaching it, I have a greater appreciation for the amazing adaptability, beauty, and power of the English language.
  • I never had pondered what level of personal value to place on family before. Being away from my own extended family in America made me appreciate my own family more, and consider all they have done for me over the years. Also, seeing how much Lao families support each other was something that made me ponder and more deeply appreciate that a strong family bond is incredibly important to individuals and society.

Three things I'd do differently, knowing what I know now:

  • I would probably made more of a point to take time off and travel around more. A lot of time was spent working and there was always an excuse as to why I couldn't travel and see the sights more. In the final analysis, all thoses excuses could have been delt with in one way or another. Ultimately, I could have made a lot more memories while making a just little less money.
  • I'd take better care of myself. After six motorcycle accidents, typhoid fever, malaria (more times than I can count), and dengue hemoragic fever (twice), I've a new sense of the limits to which a body can be pushed to. Most, if not all, of that was avoidable with some simple percautions.
  • I'd have made more of an effort to save money. Although I've never been quite a spendthrift, and despite the fact that my job wasn't very well paid at all, I could have probably tightened the belt that one extra notch.

Three pieces of advice I'd give to others:

  • If you're an American, take time to appreciate just how lucky you are! In the past four years I've witnessed grinding poverty, rampant corruption, and true stifiling of dissent. Americans so often take for granted the freedoms and standard of living that comes with living in such a fine country. If you're born American, you've already won the lottery.
  • Take time to travel and learn about the world you live in and the people who live in it. If you have already done so, do some more!
  • When in South East Asia, never order a dish that is described as "village deer". Trust me on this one.

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