SAIL Blog – by Sabrina Saechao
I was seven years old when my parents visited their homeland, Laos. They came back with videos and pictures of my relatives. It made sad that I missed an opportunity to travel with my parents to visit the family that I have yet to meet. I would then set a goal for myself to meet them; however, that goal would slowly fade away as I grew older. I’d become more realistic with my goal of traveling. I was naïve to think I would be able to afford traveling—not to mention thousands of miles across the globe. When I heard about this scholarship, an opportunity that will allow me to travel to Laos, I knew that I had to make this scholarship mine. When I received the call that I was accepted, I couldn’t believe it. Even after my trip, I can’t fathom the fact that I was lucky enough to be chosen. I was given the opportunity to study abroad for five weeks in Laos.
Everything still feels so fresh in my mind, as if the events occurred yesterday. From the hectic process of obtaining a passport to the endless nights of preparation. It was chaotic. Yet, I still managed to hurdle through these obstacles that were before me. Before I could even catch a breath, I was sitting in a van with the rest of selected recipients of the McConnell scholarship. We were on our way to San Francisco International Airport. Arriving at the airport, I thought I could finally catch a breath. I was wrong. The craziness would not end there, as it would continue in the airport. I felt uneasiness from checking into the airport, going through security, and finding luggage. After three planes, I landed in Laos. It felt surreal. I finally made it. I could finally breathe and let it sink in that I was in Laos. After all the hurdles that I had to jump over, I made it. I walked out the airport with a smile. I knew the memories that I will make in Laos would be memories that I will cherish the most.
The moment that I stepped out of the airport, I realized that I was in another country. The humidity of Laos hit me, as I was soaked with sweat and begun to felt sticky in a matter of minutes. When we, the McConnell girls and I, arrived at our hotel, the place where we will call home for the next five weeks, we didn’t stop to rest. We were eager to explore Vientiane. We didn’t want to waste any time of our journey. We walked down the street to our school, The LaoAmerican College. After visiting our school, we hollered for a tuktuk, a widely used form of urban transportation much like a cab and truck combined. We were now on our way to the famous night markets of Laos. The night markets of Laos had souvenirs, street vendors, and anything you could imagine.
The day after, we would spend our time visiting temples and wats, which are monasterytemples, such as Pha That Luang. It felt like a never ending journey, yet I still felt as if I had the energy to go on for another hundred miles. We all felt anxious on our first day of school. We would spend the next five weeks learning a new language, customs and culture. The classes were difficult as we had substitutes filling in for the first couple of weeks. I had a hard time learning from different teachers, as different teachers had different teaching methods. I didn’t want to end up frustrated, so I kept an open mind for each teacher . As days will go by, I would finally find my rhythm and develop a routine. I would wake up the same time each day, walk the same route to school, and visit different shops for lunch. The life in the capital was much different than the life in the rural area.
The buildings and roads are more industrialized, traffic is horrible, and the air is polluted with toxins. In our second week, we were given the opportunity to visit Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise, or COPE for short. They provide for the physically disabled and support them to get back on their feet. My heart was touched to hear that such a program existed in Laos. A program that continues to help those who were harmed by bombs, cluster bombs that were intact from the Secret War in Laos. There were many lives that were taken away from these bombs. Visiting this organization opened my eyes, as I was reminded of the stories that my parents will tell me. The stories of their homeland being at war. I could finally grasp a little sense of parents’ experiences. As war struck their homeland, they had to flee. They sought out refuge, a chance to live. The war would cause many of people to migrate into new lands for refuge, which often resulted in families being torn apart.
My time in Laos has taught me to not take anything for granted. I am so blessed in the states, if I am to compare the quality of my life to theirs. The Laotian people have to endure intense labor under scorching heat for living wages, yet they do not complain. They continue to push forward with a positive mindset and attitude. I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn a new language, visit the most beautiful temples in the world, and lastly, understand the life of another countrymen. My experience in Laos has taught me that communication is the key of new beginnings. Without knowledge, you won’t get far. You will never know what’s out there until you take the chance to be brave and explore.