Hi Reader Friends,
This is my introductory entry into the space I’ve created to explore the theme of acceptance. Creating a blog has been on my mind for a while; I just was never quite sure how to encompass my thoughts in this focused type of platform. And now, as I am 26 days away from my departure to Nepal, I feel a new craving to share my thoughts with those who want to listen. In the last few months, I have been asked many times to explain why I am traveling to Nepal. What has brought me to this journey? What is my inspiration? Within myself, I know the answers to these questions; I can feel the answers to these questions, yet each time I am asked, my words do not suffice. This is what I hope this blog will grant me–a space for my words to be understood.
I played field hockey competitively since sixth grade. When I say competitively, I mean that the sport consumed my everyday life. There was rarely a day from that young age until my junior year of college that I would not be playing field hockey; and if not playing, I was always thinking about it. I was not conscious of this, but it became my largest identity marker. Being a field hockey player and a student was how I earned my most prized recognition from others; that is who I thought my best self was. In the fall of 2011, this world I had created for myself rapidly disappeared.
Field hockey is a fall sport; in that particular 2011 season, I endured a head injury that would ultimately end my career as an athlete. Five months passed before I was diagnosed. Five months of uncertainty, doctor visits, and daily questioning of my own sanity. I remember one day I was asked how I was feeling while passing a few friends on campus. I said to them, “I don’t know. I really can’t tell if this is a dream or if this is really happening.” That was how I spent a very long time following my head injury–in a state of disorientation. I grasped at the things I saw falling away from me. I couldn’t focus on my schoolwork; I couldn’t play field hockey without having a headache; I couldn’t hang out with my friends because I was too exhausted. Everything was changing and I couldn’t stop it.
Several diagnostic procedures later, I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome. I’m sure by now many of you have heard of this condition due to the media coverage of many big-name NFL and other professional athletes. If you haven’t heard of it, I would briefly describe it as a prolonged period of concussion symptoms. The hardest part–there is no timeline for when the person will recover. It could be weeks, months, years and there is no way of knowing how long it will be.
Well, after the diagnosis, my family, my doctors, and I came to the decision that I must allow my brain to finally rest. I took a temporary medical leave of absence from my studies and I moved back in to my parents’ home to begin the healing process. Looking back, I am filled with gratitude for my parents and my support system. I could not at that time accept my position in life, but I am now fully aware of just how special my support was and continues to be.
I found myself in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania seeking some low-key volunteer work to occupy some of my time. I began to help out a few days a week in a classroom teaching English to newly resettled adult refugees. The majority of these individuals were from Nepal and Somalia. We couldn’t speak to each other traditionally; however, we slowly created our own means of communication. These students gave me a template of inspiration with the message that life continues after the world you created disappears. Refugees are individuals that have been forcibly displaced from their homes and their countries. I did not initially know the stories of these people, but I knew I felt something I had been lacking. I finally felt accepted as a person once again. And they taught me how to accept myself in my situation.
I looked back through my photos recently, and came across this one. I am pictured here at my first Dipawali celebration with my now very close Nepali family. I remember this moment so vividly. Lok, the man pictured in front of me, said to me as we participated together in the celebration, “You are now part of our family. Now you are my sister.” The darkness of my situation felt lighter that day as I experienced acceptance of others that I had felt had been stripped from me in the prior months.
I attended more celebrations–Dashain, Teej, weddings, birthdays. I no longer felt so alone. These people did not look like me or talk like me. Our stories were different, but our connection was mutually incredible. Last year, after Lok’s family visited my home to have dinner with me and my parents, my mom remarked to me, “These people look at you like you are doing so much for them. I look at them and I see the people who are giving you your life back.”
After a year and a half away from school, I made the decision to return to my academics with the support again of my family and doctors. My degree is in International Studies, and I had yet to complete my Senior Capstone. I found my inspiration for my project from my experience with the refugees I had come to be so close with. Their stories never left me. One in particular still resonates today. I was tutoring a few of the Nepali refugees on U.S. citizenship questions inside of Lok’s home. We took a break to drink some tea, and one of the women spoke to me about her story. She said, “We were born in Bhutan, but no one wanted us there so we left. We lived in Nepal and no one wanted us there, so we left. And now we are in America, and no one wants us here either.” It was a story of non-acceptance; a story that inspired me to research refugee identity and try to understand why the refugee is the unwanted “other” in today’s world.
I continued my research over two more semesters of independent study. Upon finishing these semesters, I graduated in May of 2015; however, my research continues. My inspiration continues. It is a story of acceptance and gratitude, of mutual understanding. My decision to go to Nepal is a continuation of this story.