As I hastily climbed the stairs of my neighbor’s house, gasping for air with sweat dripping across my forehead, I had one goal in mind: to win this game of Hide and Go Seek. I had no idea that this simple game would change my life forever.
Continuing up the stairs I had the mentality of many young children – my life seemed invincible and the thought of death was distant and abstract. Thinking that I would outsmart everyone, I climbed onto a bed to reach a window and obtain a view of the scene below. However, when I leaned my small body against the window screen, it suddenly broke and I was propelled into the air. My brief flight ended abruptly as I fell, head first, onto the concrete driveway below. Several hours later I lay in a coma in Children’s Hospital, with my parents anxiously waiting to hear news of my condition. Finally a physician appeared and informed my parents that I had a severe head injury. The diagnosis was a skull fracture and, depending upon the extent of the damage, I may either be paralyzed, sustain severe brain damage, or even die.
Remarkably, over time, all of my injuries healed and I developed into a thriving young woman. Throughout my adulthood, I often reflect upon that event. I appreciate both the fragility and preciousness of life and how suddenly it can be taken away from anyone. Because of this perspective, I actively seek opportunities to assist others in maximizing their own potential.
Recognizing that there might have been a dramatically different result from that incident years ago, I have always felt a particular kinship and desire to work with children and young adults. Therefore, I chose a career path in which I would counsel youth with disabilities and mental health diagnosis. For the past several years, I have worked for various non-profits in San Francisco. As most people know, there isn’t a lot of money for educators and counselors in my field. I received minimal financial compensation but it always felt worth it to me. However, I must admit that deep down inside I was craving travel and adventure but I just couldn’t afford it.
This past year, my organization experienced major budget cuts and I was suddenly laid off. As I sat in my apartment that evening, I decided there were two avenues I could go down. 1.) I could return home and look for work or 2.) I could seek out what I always felt was missing—travel and self-growth. It was an easy and quick decision. I would use my life savings, sublet my apartment and embark on a journey of a lifetime.
A few weeks later, I was on a flight to Thailand. After spending a few weeks in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, I was supposed to return back home. However, I didn’t feel ready and so instead I decided to extend my trip. I booked another one-way flight to Vietnam. After visiting Halong Bay for a few days, I posted a some pictures of the beautiful landscape on facebook. My friend Adam (from the states) noticed that I was in Vietnam and messaged me to meet up. He was also traveling solo in Vietnam and was craving a travel partner. A few days later, we met up in Da Nang where we decided that we would do a 4-day motorbike tour across the Ho Chi Minh trail.
Each day of the motorbike tour was incredible. We drove hundreds of miles (about 150 miles per day) across Vietnam in the pouring rain. We would hear shouts of “Halo!” and see young children coming out of their huts in order to greet us. We visited many remote villages where people live with very basic necessities. It was a very humbling experience.
Adam is a 6’2 redheaded male and so many of the villagers were in awe when they encountered him. Often times they wanted to just touch his skin and face. As a photographer, Adam embraced these opportunities because it allowed him to get personal with many of his subjects.
On one of our final days of the motorbike tour, my life changed forever. In Kon Tum we visited an orphanage that housed hundreds of Vietnamese children. Luckily we brought the children candies and so they were more than eager to hang out with us. Originally we intended to only stay an hour, but Adam couldn’t seem to pull me away from the children. We stayed for a few hours; we played games, looked at pictures and sang songs. Although there was a language barrier, we were able to communicate with one another in beautiful ways. Adam was able to take several photos and I was able to spend quality time with the children.
After leaving the orphanage that day, I knew I would one-day return to a foreign country and work as an English teacher. A month later I returned back to San Francisco. The images of these children remain fresh in my mind almost every day. I plan on enrolling in a TEFL course and hope to return to South East Asia (or somewhere else) in the very near future.
My head injury was a pivotal event in my life and was initially viewed as a tragedy. However, it became the catalyst for my desire to help others. I’ve spent years helping others in the United States. However, now it is very clear to me that I must go teach abroad.