The Head, Heart, Hands Collaboration

Unlike what I left behind, there were many things that I took away from this trip. Like Ms. Strong suggested at the beginning of our journey “Take!” and so, I like to think that I did that in a good way. We started in Haa Valley, then to Thimphu, and finally to Punakha and Paro. I saw so many beautiful things, so many moments that will be stain glass windows lining my soul. However, it is what fills those stain-glass walls that is most important. And what fills those walls are the experiences, people and perspectives that I have taken from this journey. This is what I took away with my head, my heart, and my hands. 

I took some things straight to my head. Amongst learning about Buddhist philosophy and how to fold a kira, I made an important discovery; I learned to adapt. I am very loud and I don’t bring down the volume very often, so being quiet with both my mouth and my actions was a struggle for me. But Bhutan maintains a very traditional culture, which meant learning to be myself while respecting those who had accepted me into their country. I learned that this didn’t necessarily warrant conforming, simply respecting; allowing those who had not yet spoken to speak, dressing for the occasion and the comfort of others around me, not just for myself. I had to think, who is my audience? What do I need to do in order to be respectful? I became mindful of others’ comfort zones and wants, not just my own. From this experience I can take away an understanding of what it means to be respectful of another culture and mindful of my own actions within that culture.

The head, however, was just one component of my experience in Bhutan. Another incredible journey lies in the heart and the bonds that form when you open yourself to others. This particular takeaway stemmed from my experience at the ELC High school (Educating for Lifelong Citizenship) and the students who so generously opened their school to us. Driving up to the school and seeing a line of students, I felt terrified. What if we didn’t get along the entire week? What if Andover and ELC separated like oil in water? But these were momentary thoughts as I embraced our trips’ mantra: go with the flow. I’m an outgoing person, I’ll talk and when they feel ready, they will too. And so went on the week. I kept myself open to everyone around me and I was astounded at the incredibly deep connections I made with people I had only known a week. Living in their dorm room, eating their food and dancing in their courtyard began to feel less like theirs and more like ours. We became a family. I saw unbreakable bonds form and from it I take away, not only an open mind, but an open heart. An understanding that if you allow yourself to go with the flow there is no telling what may surprise you along the way. 

What I took away with my hands was the third, and final component of this incredible journey. For me, hands didn’t necessarily mean building something myself. Rather, it meant guiding to help create. I don’t really like being a part of the “in-charge” group. I do what I need to and help where I can, but guiding others has never been a skill of mine. This was a place where I learned with my hands by, ironically, not using my own hands at all. Our final project at the ELC was to create a presentation that introduced our topic (ours was environment), the organizations, and our own thoughts and feelings based on what we learned from those organizations. About an hour into our discussing and brainstorming, I stood up and took to the chalkboard. Ideas, ideas, ideas was my mantra. I continued to repeat it until another thought was mumbled. I facilitated instead of contributing, I guided instead of building, and it was difficult. The presentation did get finished, was a great success, and is owed completely to the wonderful people in my group. Upon further reflection, however, the experience I found so frustrating, guiding thoughts for construction, became my most important learning experience. Sometimes learning with your hands doesn’t mean that it is your hands creating, but helping others around you build without touching a single brick. 

Nothing compares to being thrown into unfamiliar terrain. It is exhilarating and terrifying and releasing all at once. You become so much more than who you were before, and in a very short period of time. Coming out of it, reflecting on the past two weeks, I see my growth. I see what I left behind and I see what I now take with me. I am so grateful to have been able to learn with my head, heart, and hands in the most incredible backdrop with a unique and completely original group of students. I will take my growth and gratitude with me from this chapter of my journey onto the next.