Our last day of Student-Directed Travel (or Somewhat Determined Travel…) has finally come to a close, resolving in time for ceremony, reflection, and a really freaking good dinner!

Our group-led travel has been a bit unpredictable, but we managed to get through with wonderful strokes of luck and spur-of-the-moment planning. Picking up where we left off at last post, our trip to Marble Mountain was a success with beautiful climbs opening up to beautiful landscapes and rock formations. Our train was arriving later than expected—an hour late—and even, still, we found a random bus that happened to travel to Halong, allowing us to forgo our original bus plan. We got to Halong Bay, only to realize that finding places with kayaks was a bit harder than anticipated, often only being a side note to an expensive cruise. Nevertheless, with a bit of last minute discovery, we sprinted to the booking office to get us aboard a vessel that would take us around the beautiful rocks, caves, and give us kayaks. The next day we traveled to Bai Tho for another hefty climb up steps and rocks for a beautiful overlook of Halong. For our final days in Hanoi, we saw the traditional Vietnamese Water Puppet Show, portraying village life and tales from their ancestors. For our final full day, we explored the remains of the Imperial Citadel, the locations for much of the political leaders during the American War in Vietnam.

Our evening came to a close with a ceremony addressing our concerns and hopes from way in the beginning of the trip, bringing our time together full circle. A time for such reflection made me think of all the unexpected, yet almost magical surprises that came our way during our trip. So, instead of creating a giant recap, I thought I would ask each Carpe member what he/she thought was a surprising event that was not thought of prior to attending, but brought about so much joy and becomes such a cherished memory. I hope you enjoy what they wanted to say…

Nitzny – Something that was really hard for me but has brought me happiness and clarity to my life has been learning about myself. I have met so many wonderful people and have done some really hard activities. All of these things have taught me that I am so much more than what I thought. I am Nitzny freaking Barragan and I can go on a day trek and still have energy to do 100 squats with elephants!! I have wasted so much time at home doing nothing and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to keep learning and growing. This trip was full of surprises—good and bad—that made this trip so amazing for me.

Alejandra – One of the many impactful things that were unexpected to me was the loving kindness and openness of every project, homestay and stranger we encountered. I’m still so amazed at how welcoming each homestay was. They opened their homes to complete strangers but always made me feel like part of their family. One of my most memorable homestays was in Cambodia because there was a huge language barrier that didn’t stop us from sharing a couple laughs and hugs. It’s something that I will always cherish.

Dominique – I was not that excited about Vietnam when starting the trip because I don’t know much about Vietnam. I was only excited about Thailand as it is the closest to my culture. I loved Thailand, but I definitely got over the honeymoon stage really fast and I missed home every day, so I didn’t enjoy myself as much I expected myself to. Once we got into Vietnam, I expected myself to not enjoy myself, but being in Vietnam is the happiest I’ve been all trip. The food is amazing and the people here are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. The language exchange with the Vietnamese students at Tan Tao University was the most amazing experience ever. I will cherish those moments for as long as I can. The amount of love and kindness from each student is something I’ve never had before. Seeing their smiles and positive energy inspires me so much. I would love to come back to Vietnam in the future.

Ahmad – To meet new friends and connect over free-styling. I made lifelong friends so quickly.

Ashley – What surprised me the most that I didn’t think about prior to this trip was how generous everyone was wherever I went. There were times I would walk and families would invite me for some tea even though we couldn’t understand each other. It was just wonderful to see how much families would share with us what they had, no matter how “rich” or “poor” they were.

Jeremy – When I was filling out the application to Carpe Diem, I didn’t think much of the part addressing how I felt about homestays. I kinda just thought they would be cool and different. When we arrived at Mae Rim, Thailand, ready to meet our families, I actually was not feeling too excited, kinda thinking to myself, “Oh good grief, how the heck am I gonna communicate with these people?” It turned out to be my absolute favorite part of the trip: right from the very beginning, my homestay parents were so excited and happy (even my neighbor!). I had a little sister and a dog that were afraid of me/barked at me, but soon, they started to follow my every move and drag me around to show me every part of their house. My mother refused to let me wash my clothes, my father was always pointing me in the right direction, my younger sister would play games with me until she was told to go to bed, and my older sister would teach me Thai as I struggled to communicate back (but she knew English and Google Translate is a beautiful thing). The amount of love, smiles, laughter, gratitude, and every other emotion that goes through a family was unconditional and fully understood despite our language barrier, and it is for that reason that I was overwhelmed by joyous surprise.

Jonathan – It never ceases to amaze me how quick strangers can be to show kindness to a guest in their country and how quick they are to become friends. Walking off the bus at Tan Tao University, we were greeted with a tremendous welcome, smiles, and laughs. These students had stayed up till midnight to help prepare a welcome meal for a group of people they had never met. They instantly put us at ease, and friendships quickly followed.

Chris – The thing that stood out to me the most was we were on a trek in Northern Thailand, stopping in hilltribe villages every night. One evening, we took a tour around the village to see their day to day life. One house we stopped at was the local clothesmaking woman and she was making a shirt by using a back strap and cross sewing. It was absolutely amazing because the women in Peru made classical Incan clothes the exact same way. Even crazier was that the designs were remarkably similar. To me, it was so amazing that I could firsthand see how humans migrated around the world but continued the same traditions. The traditions are clearly thousands of years old and have lasted the test of distance and time.

Cari – The most impactful experience I had was seeing the way one of the local women interacted with animals. I have an immense love for animals and in many countries, there is a lack of compassion for these beautiful creatures. Witnessing her sacrifice her time and energy for the love of animals gave me hope. The incident in particular that stood out in my mind was the way in which she cared for a paralyzed puppy that had been hit by a car. From changing his diapers to simply loving him, it is these acts of empathy and compassion that she had which impacted me the most. The puppy was named Lucky, and lucky he was.

For those of you following these blogs, I hope you enjoyed hearing about the journey as much as we enjoyed being a part of it.

Goodbye friends…