I'm writing this post from the gate at Rangoon airport in Burma, (officially known as Myanmar). I've just spent the most wonderful 10 days touring and trekking the newly-opened country with 6 of my classmates, and am about to fly to Tokyo to begin my International Experience (IE). Wait. Let me back up just a little bit.
The last two weeks of our Spring I term flew by astoundingly fast with finals in Employee, Operations Engine, and The Global Macroeconomy in 3 consecutive days. We also capped off student fundraising week for our Internship Fund with the annual Star Search talent show. We ended up raising over $80,000 to allow our classmates to pursue summer internships at non-profits and social enterprises. Add to this our Winter Welcome for Round 1 admitted students, and Interview SuperDay with over 100 candidates on campus, and you have one very busy Admissions Chair! My days have been so back-to-back that I hadn't really had any time to process the fact that I'd be traveling for over 3 weeks!
IE is such a cool part of the SOM curriculum, and I look forward to sharing more about it once I get to Japan. But there has been a long tradition at Yale to go on pre-trips with your classmates prior to your IE. back in November, I had the good fortune to go to breakfast with my fellow first years Ashley, Greg, Heather, Nora, Sarah, and Tyler, at New Haven's finest brunch spot, The Pantry. It was there that we started the planning reprocess for the seven of us to come explore a country at had been largely closed off to the West for several decades, and which has recently been experimenting with rapid democratization. A few of us had been lucky to hear Daw Aung San Suu Kyi speak at Yale earlier in the fall, and it was a great catalyst for wanting to visit. After getting the idea and the crew together, the hardest part was actually the planning. Or rather, the planning not to plan. When you're in a group of 7 type-A individuals, it can sometimes be hard to relinquish control, but we all quickly realized that this trip was a special case and I especially used it as an opportunity for growth in letting things (like my OCD) go.
While we've been here, I've learned a great deal about the country, including how much further they have to go until long-lasting reforms are achieved, and how thirsty the average Burmese citizen is for knowledge about the outside world. We've also seen some pretty incredible sights. We talked to monks at the massive Shwedagon Pagoda in downtown Rangoon, where 6 of Buddha's hairs are said to be buried; we climbed temples in the ancient city of Bagan to watch the sun rise and set over miles and miles of pagodas and stupas, as far as the eye could see; we took a three day trek across a landscape not unlike Tuscany or the foothills of Northern California, staying in rural villages, and rising with the dawn and the crowing of roosters; and we rode bikes up to a winery overlooking the spectacular Inle Lake. (The wine gets a 5 of 10 from me.) All in the spirit of Mingalaba, which is a blessing in Burmese meaning both 'hello' and 'goodbye', as well as 'auspicious wishes'.
We did a lot more strange and wonderful things there, but I'll let Heather talk more about that. All of the amazing sights, sounds, and tastes aside, the best part of the trip for me has been getting to know these 6 wonderful people better. Talking to everyone about their incredible accomplishments, (Sarah commanded a squad of medics for the US Army in Iraq, Greg was a tv reporter and opposition journalist in Armenia), their career anxieties and celebrations (Ashley is interviewing with two extremely reputable economic development firms, Tyler got an amazing offer to do sustainability work for a huge global brand), and lots of teasing and making fun of each other, (particularly me and Nora, who is tall, German, sassy, and can dish it just as we'll as she can take it), has really left me with a sense that I am the luckiest guy in the world to be on this trip.
Greg taught us about the 'Tamadan,' an Armenian custom for one person to serve as the toastmaster for the night - toasting to health, family, and happiness. We rotated tamadans throughout the trip, and when it was my turn, I toasted to the amazing pasts of my fellow trekkers, our present time together at SOM, the awe-inspiring people they will be in the future, and the journey we've taken together.
There's lots more to come on Japan, an amazing alumnus I had dinner with just before spring break, and the dream summer job that I just signed, but for now, I am tired, physically exhausted, dirty, and just about the happiest guy on the planet. See you soon.