In my next few posts I will talk ad nauseam about my plans for my trip to Southeast Asia, but before I go I think it’s important to close some doors behind me. Many people, especially my grandma, think it’s crazy that I’m quitting a great job to go to Thailand alone. Here is a little bit about where I’ve been and why I’m going.
I’ve always wanted to change the world “one stitch at a time.” As a kid, I dreamed of one day having a fashion line with a purpose, and my loves of art and fashion and my desire to create positive social change in the world continued to grow. I went and studied fashion design and interactive media at the University of Delaware where I learned that suburban life ain’t for me, made shoes out of soy bean resin and chicken feathers, and loved my “Anthropology of Clothes” and “Politics and Pop Culture” classes even more than my regular fashion classes. I also spent every summer travelling or interning, leading me to great office experiences and fantastic trips to Paris for study abroad, and Montreal, Prague, and Bulgaria with friends.
After graduating college I found myself in a bit of a rut. Despite living in the amazing city I grew up in (New York City), having great friends spread throughout the country, and having a dream job designing prints for a fashion company (and good benefits to boot), I felt stuck. Somehow my ambition had run away from me and I wound up so focused on following the fashion path I hopped on at the age of 12 that I never stopped to realize that a career in fashion, especially corporate fashion, was maybe not for me. I realized pretty quickly after starting in the corporate fashion world that I couldn’t ignore my entrepreneurial nature, technology and writing skills, wanderlust, and most of all, desire to better the world. I started attending numerous panels and meetups about social entrepreneurship, ethical fashion, women’s leadership, and every related topic. I began volunteering with New York Cares and with Be Social Change, an organization that facilitates social good networking, events, and training, and I met an abundance of like minded people. With my nights filled with volunteering, events, art classes, and adrenaline fueled research sessions on everything from fair trade chocolate to how to code an android app to everything Yves Behar has ever created, I began to live for my nights instead of my days. My college blog on ethical fashion fell to the wayside. I wasn’t getting enough sleep. Living with my parents was saving me a lot of money but it was time to leave the nest for everyone’s sanity. I needed a change and was ready to take the leap, but with so many interests and options now that I was ready to hop off the fashion train, I didn’t know where to go next.
I started googling art volunteer programs abroad and came across Art Relief International in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I had never particularly thought about going to Thailand, but with Thai food being one of my main food groups in New York, I was eager to do my research and quickly became enamored with the mix of old and new, Buddhist temples, cosmopolitan Bangkok, hill tribes, and serene beaches. After an amazing art and social action themed summer birthright trip to Israel, I was reassured that if I can handle bomb shelters and sirens during the height of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I can handle a few weeks in Thailand – coup or no coup. Volunteering with ARI will give me a chance to experience working for a non-profit, working with and getting to understand different populations in Thailand that I would be unlikely to encounter as a tourist, and to perpetuate the healing effects and sheer joy of creating art, which has always been the ultimate therapy for me. Starting off my trip with the volunteer program will also help me to acclimate to a culture and society that is so different from my life in New York before travelling on my own to take in as much as I can. During and after the volunteer portion of my trip, I think that travelling through Southeast Asia solo will open my eyes to the realities of the kinds of communities I would like to help both abroad and back in the United States. As a bonus, I’m sure that the confidence and independence gained from 10 weeks of backpacking solo will be invaluable when I chart an exciting new path after returning home.