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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Homestay Haven

The first days at our homestay in Don Donh, a small Catholic village on an island between two channels of the Mekong River, have been filled with Lao language and history lessons, village volleyball matches and local games, and seemingly endless amounts of sticky rice. From one of the island’s beaches we stand in Laos and, at what feels like a stone’s throw away, see Thailand on the other side.

The group is thriving with learning the second language of the program, picking it up even faster than the first, and is quickly forming organic bonds with their new host families and community. As we settle into the quieter and slower vibrations of Lao culture and daily life, it’s hard to imagine that we are approaching the middle of our course. It seems like only yesterday that we were all gathered on the rooftop of our hotel in Phnom Penh, nurturing the flames of our candles against the city winds, sharing our goals for the months ahead and what we wanted to both leave behind and bring to this co-created experience. The day we left Thakhek, the larger town closest to Don Donh, to come to our new home for two weeks, our group held a mid-course ceremony. By forming a truly beautiful space in which we shared our gratitude, hopes, fears, needs, and challenges, we’ve continued onward with refocused intentions, clarified communication, and expanded inspirations.

As it’s often too easy to look ahead at the new places and adventures we are sure to encounter, I try to remind myself and those around to savor these moments; that life is a balancing act comprised of both headwork and heartwork, and it is not to be rushed; that laughter and kindness are universal languages we all have the ability to be instantly fluent in, if only we step into our own capacities; and that these experiences are ones not to be saved up for later spending, but to be lived fully, right now. Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” It brings me deep joy, as an instructor and human, to see this exceptional group of students challenging themselves to step into those words, share their light with the world around them, and take ownership of this experience.