It’s 6am and I’m watching out the window of my plane as it breaks through the clouds barreling it’s way back to the United States. I am on my first of four flights Kris and I have to take to get home.
Our route home has us hopscotching from Cairns to Brisbane to Auckland to LA and then finally to Chicago. Once Kris and I get to Chicago (at midnight), we will take a three hour shuttle back to Lafayette for a quick two night stop over before we head out again to meet another study abroad group in Ireland and Scotland for three weeks,
This is our typical summer schedule.
Normally by now we are excited and eager to head over to Dublin, yet, somehow I am not.
This year feels different.
I am now on my second flight and a wave of melancholy crashes over me on this journey homeward.
I think about our last night in Australia. We went out for a traditional Balinese meal (a cuisine many students never heard of before). We dined at smaller tables in groups of 4 and 6 people. I sat with Kris and a few of the vegetarian students (and three serious carnivores). As the carnivores gnawed away on their crocodile satay and BBQ short ribs, we ate fried rice, fruit, and mixed vegetables.
Balinese cooking is served family style with large portions of food that come to a table wave after wave after wave. Last night the waves of food were mainly curry – yellow, brown and green. Each time we thought we saw the last of the curry another curry dish would arrive. Naturally, our table quickly made curry our running joke of the evening. I worried about all this curry because I learned long ago that curry and traveling on planes don’t go well together.
At my table the conversation flowed freely and because we sat at different tables, the dinner felt more private. This privacy was great for deep conversations but because we sat apart, Kris and I never had a moment where we felt we could thank the group collectively. A toast would have been impossible for all to hear.
Towards the end of the evening we did go around the restaurant to thank everyone but there wasn’t one moment where as a group we all held our breath to say our thanks and showed our appreciation and gratitude.
I regret not having this closure.
I am now two hours into my third flight (from Auckland to LA).
I am tired.
As I think more about last night, I wish I could show my gratitude in person.
Another hour has passed.
My eyelids are heavy and I am fighting off sleep.
I don’t think I will be able to stay awake.
As I start to drift off, I think about this trip and I am thankful for so many people.
I am thankful for having the opportunity to mentor such amazing young people and to help them learn more about themselves and their lives. I know I say this a thousand times but, it deserves one last “they really are quite extraordinary.” This group of students make me hopeful for the future – if they are any indication of the next generation, then we are all in safe hands.
I am thankful for being allowed to teach overseas with my husband, Kristofer, who is gentler and kinder than I am. He is empathic, intuitive and compassionate. He is my rock and my foundation. He is passionate about helping others and he does it with an open mind and a tender heart.
I am thankful for being allowed to go overseas with one of my mentees, Jaziel, who worked very hard to arrange all the details of this trip. This instructor role often goes unrecognized since most of the work is behind the scenes.
I am thankful for Richard Feinberg (my Department Head), Liping Cai (HHS’s Dean for Study Abroad), Carmen Morrow (HHS’s Study Abroad Coorindator extraordinaire), Paula Memmer Departmental Study Abroad Manager), and Kathrine Yngve (my Intercultural Faculty Mentor) for all their guidance and patience.
I am thankful for all the Aboringal people we met: Anthony McKnight (from the University of Wollongong), Dwayne and Steve (from the Ngaran Ngaran Gulaga Creation Tour), Donna (for showing us the history of Redfern), Margret and Beryl (Korrobora Dreamtime Dinner), and Dr. Ernie Grant (from the Ingan Tour).
I am thankful for each and every student on this trip. I am always impressed when I get to know our students on study abroad but this group was filled with some of the most memorable students I have had the pleasure to encounter. I feel close to these young people and I am very excited about their future lives at Purdue and beyond.
Finally, I want to thank you the reader. You obviously have someone you love who came on this trip and I hope our blog let you share in some of what we experienced. We can never fully capture in words and pictures all the beauty we saw and things we learned.
To everyone, Thank you …
Written by Dr. Stewart Chang Alexander