Previous entry Next entry

Katie’s Travel Diary

Wednesday, 04 Jan 2006

Location: Boston, USA

MapIn most years since 1976, my Dad has captured the development of our flawless personalities, innumerable outstanding achievements and exceptional contributions to society in annual family epistles entitled ‘The Mansfields at Christmas.’ This year I continued coming to terms with my flaws, felt at various moments like an exceptional underachiever and tried to figure out how I got so lucky as to be around people who really did contribute to society, fading in their glow. Ha, ha, yes, our clever daughter Katie…

Anyway, having intended (not having been officially employed for over 18 months, with the exception of my first ‘summer job’ since college) to get cards out this festive season – and, as usual, not quite managing – I am trying at least to get something out before the calendar calls for a mass Valentine. I’ve kept in touch with a few of you, so for some the following may be old news; but for those of you I’ve neglected, here’s my scoop:

Mostly it was a fantastic year, starting out sunny and clear (if not clear-headed) in Sydney, Australia… I sure loved being in the southern hemisphere in January and February. Having celebrated 29 prior birthdays in either the northeastern US or England, I welcomed the non-existent chance of a blizzard ruining my birthday party in Melbourne. Wow, I almost just followed in Dad’s footsteps of listing every person I visited there – guess that’s my joy, not yours…but thanks to everyone who put me up (and put up with me) during the visit, and congrats to the various newlyweds!

I spent about a month on New Zealand’s South Island as well; I’ve been trying to figure out my odds on emigrating for months since…guess it’s cliché at this point, but what an extraordinary corner of the planet. Highs: seeing sperm whales, giant albatross and dusky dolphins, penguins and fur seals, exploring the glacial blue ice caves, ‘tramping’ for seven days in the wilderness around the Lake Wakatipu region and seeing all of five other people, skydiving from 12,000 feet, enjoying Kiwi hospitality. Lows: not many, though a) finding out while on a swim-with-the-seals outing that great whites do in fact feed on seals, and yes, they could be found in these waters (gulp), and b) sliding uncontrollably down a steep hill covered in tussocks and rocks, some parts of which sloped off as cliffs (thank you for stopping me Phillip!), were both humbling moments.

After brief stops back in Australia to wish friends well in Melbourne and Perth, I made my way back to India. My original itinerary had me seeing southeast Asia at that time, but I was lured back to India (after a visit there in November 2004) to attend the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala and do some volunteer work while living with an incredible family outside New Delhi. The guy I worked with was Shantum Seth, who’s a Zen Buddhist teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and a long-time worker for the United Nations Development Program in India. His mother was the first woman High Court Justice in India, and if I keep going on about the others in the family I’ll just embarrass myself…it was an amazing place to learn about human accomplishment, and it also sparked an interest in peace education that has at this stage developed into hopeful grad school plans. (More on that shortly.)

I made one last stop in Europe, visiting friends and playing tourist in Lyon, Paris, Italy’s Cinque Terre and Lake Como, and London, before heading back to the US to visit friends and family at home.

Then I did something probably more suited to a college kid than the mature woman I am (really) – worked at a summer camp in Ashford, Connecticut. No ordinary summer camp, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp hosts over 1,000 children with life-threatening illnesses in its nine 7-day sessions from the beginning of June to the end of August. I was the Nature Specialist and Camping Staffer, which meant that on a day-to-day basis I conducted the Nature program (amusing given my total lack of knowledge when it came to plants and animals – though I learned quickly enough), which meant inventing and facilitating games and activities for rainy and sunny days, often introducing the program with a frog puppet and using camp songs and having bugs and worms crawl on me to get everyone involved. Just like Goldman Sachs. For the Camping part of my job, I helped with food prep, hauling coolers, barbequing, supervising groups about 25 campers at a time on overnight camp-out experiences, and doing dishes – also eating too many s’mores. Of course, the unpredictable Connecticut weather meant we didn’t have too many overnights under the stars, and I’m not sure I ever earned my fire-building badge…though if they had a badge for barbequing in the rain, I might just qualify! Probably needless to say, the kids – and staff members – were pretty inspiring, and I felt lucky to get to work with and learn from them. (I also felt a little old for the first time, as the most staffers were 19-25.)

In the weeks after camp, I made a whirlwind tour ranging as far north as Maine, as far south (not very far) as Pennsylvania, and as far west as Wisconsin, with stops in Chicago (for Nancy’s nuptials!), New Jersey and New York.

That tour’s conclusion officially marked the end of roughly three decades in which I always had a plan. I was pretty daunted, crying more than I had reason to and wondering if it might not just be better to get a job and have easier answers to ‘where do you live?’ and ‘what do you do?’ It was a lot more romantic answering ‘I’m traveling around the world…’ than ‘well, I’m really not so sure.’ I ended up making temporary plans to crash with my dear friend Dana from Pine Street (where I grew up), who lives in Watertown, Massachusetts, not far from where I went to college, to embark on a new stage of life in some familiar surroundings. I picked up Pema Chödrön’s Living with Uncertainty and When Things Fall Apart, as well as a few more travel guides (in case I chose an escape hatch). I went to Harvard’s Office of Career Services, amused when I heard a current undergrad approach the resource desk, asking, ‘What do I have to do to get a job in Australia?’ (Yeah, me too?) Also felt a little old there, as most of the ‘career’ seekers were there in search of their first jobs…

Anyway, I got in touch with former classmate Eric Dawson, who started this program Peace Games in Boston around the time we finished college. To simplify, the program falls under the violence prevention umbrella. A more complete picture: they partner with schools to build a culture of peacemakers over the course of a multi-year partnership, providing resources for educators, bringing volunteers into the schools to facilitate a cooperative games-based curriculum with children K-8 (roughly age 7 to 14), and reaching out to the communities. They’re now in schools in LA, NY and Chicago too, and I spent a few months volunteering with them (here in Boston) both as a volunteer working with a class of third-graders once a week and doing some strategic planning. Recently, that volunteer work has turned into a more official arrangement they’ve kindly entitled the ‘Peace Games Germeshausen Peace and Justice Fellowship,’ which may be pretty handy in my application for grad school. I’ll be working on some interesting projects in the months ahead, and the people at Peace Games couldn’t be much nicer.

In the course of all this I found out about a masters program at Notre Dame (figured after NY and London, South Bend, Indiana was the natural next step) entitled the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which is a two-year masters including a six-month field study abroad. It looks like a great learning opportunity, though my chances of getting in aren’t too hot; the program admits fifteen people each year, 75% of whom are typically international students. So I’ve taken my GRE, mailed my application and crossed my fingers. I’ll find out in April.

Meanwhile, living in Watertown (just outside of Boston) with my oldest childhood friend has been fun, and I’ve been free to take lots of dance classes – ranging from tap and ballet to belly dancing and African dance – and practice some yoga and meditation. Have also gotten to catch up with other local friends, though you working people sure do have a lot of commitments...

The end of this year was kind of hairy, as a close friend was hit by a car despite his walking in the cross-walk, with the light (just a few yards in front of me, just behind other friends). I’m hopeful that he’s on the road to full recovery, but the situation certainly shed more light on life’s unpredictability and the difficulties faced by people without resources like health care, friends and family (fortunately Dan had those in abundance).

I’m at my length limit, and you may have stopped reading some time ago, so I’ll close by saying I’m so thankful to have you in my life. I wish you a peaceful, joyous 2006. Torn between encouraging fearlessness and not wanting anyone to cross the street ever again, I’ll just say take good care of yourself.

Lots of love,