This I Believe – One Student’s Personal Perspective Shifts After a Stint with PEPY Tours

Posted on: July 14, 2011 Posted by: Kaia Smith Comments: 0

This I Believe – One Student’s Personal Perspective Shifts After a Stint with PEPY Tours

Kayleigh's picture at Angkor
Kayleigh Rhatigan and classmate Aidan Weaver explore Angkorian temples and history
Photo credit: Jason Carter

While most American junior high school students were at the beach or hanging out with friends during their spring break, a small group of students from Evergreen Community Charter School visited Cambodia this past March.

Kayleigh Rhatigan was one of the student participants and upon her return home, she wrote this beautifully written piece for a class assignment. The challenge was to write an essay speaking about something you believe to be true. Upon returning to the US with a new perspective on the world and her life, Kayleigh wrote the article below.

Kayleigh – my goodness, you are a PHENOMENAL writer! Keep on writing and all of us will keep on reading your best sellers long into the future. Thanks for sharing!

I believe I cannot write this essay. Every time I put my fingers on the keyboard, or every time I sit and think what do I believe? my mind goes blank and I put it aside, assured that some idea will come. Just a few weeks ago, I was sure that I believed something. I even had a few half-formed ideas. Women's rights, education, the power of children. But when I stepped off the Seoul to Atlanta flight on my way back from an earth-shattering trip to Cambodia last week, exhausted and hungry, all of my beliefs had fled.

I stayed in Cambodia for eight days with a team of extraordinary people. We experienced the heart-rending genocide museum, the paradoxical tranquility at the killing fields, the hospitality and spirit of students at a school in Chanleas Dai and the ancient splendor of temples from the Angkor Empire. Of all that, what shifted my view of the world most was the people. There was a sense of community far exceeding anything I ever knew in America, an easy-going attitude, a lack of pretense and self-consciousness and an overwhelming connection to the past, present, and future. For these eight days I felt in touch with the world in a way I have never been before.

While I was in Cambodia I believed in things. People, healing, change, history, learning. I felt a passion for those things that was based in experiencing their power. In a country where each of these things were very, very palpable, I found I could believe in them wholly and without skepticism. There, I would get up on my soapbox and tell people, "This is what I believe!" But here, in the U.S., these simple concepts have less meaning. I can't feel them, and coming back to this after the experience I had has taken away my ability to write half-heartedly. Saying that I believe in something is not a thing I am ready to take lightly. I can't write this essay.

Returning from Cambodia, many things seemed surreal, almost fake. The world in general here is less tangible. Things are more often buried. The change has left me indecisive, lost, and confused. I always feel thoughtful, like I have a lot to process. I'm sure I do. I am so caught up in trying to thoroughly understand everything I'm feeling that I can't take in anything new. And in this meditative state I've found that here, I don't know what I believe. I don't believe in the spirit of America today. There isn't much here to believe in.

I almost feel like I'm drowning without anything to grasp onto. There are so many "I don't knows" and not a single "I believe." Beliefs are what keep us steady in a constantly changing world. Right now I'm afloat. As I predicted while I was in Cambodia, returning home has made everything there seem so very clear. I've taken a step back from all the emotion I felt there, and everything I learned and felt stands stark in my mind. But now America and my life at Evergreen and at home is another confusing mess that I can't make heads or tails of. And so I've sort of withdrawn into myself, feeling noncommittal and misplaced.

I believe I can't write this essay, but that belief is founded in one thing I'm sure of –honesty. I believe in honesty, it seems. I believe in writing from the heart, because when all else is confusing and treacherous, you can rely on your own soul. My life right now is still foreign to me, like I lived for eight days as another human being. And until I get back on my feet, if I ever do, this one belief is the only thing keeping me steady. And it's what's preventing me from writing this paper. I won't write something fake to placate the assignment. I can't. This I believe.