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Published: August 18th 2015
Angkor Wat Temple "You only have one life, so dream big"
Surrounded by Buddhist Monks in Cambodia at Angkor Wat Temple, one of the 7 man made wonders of the world
260 days ago I left Bermuda and set off to backpack around the world with my sisters without the slightest idea of the journey that lay ahead for us and how it would all unfold.
Now I end where I began, standing with my backpack outside the Bermuda airport, having learned lessons that cannot be taught, with life experiences that have changed me forever and memories that will never fade.
I have left my footprints on 5 continents and in that time I have:
• earned my PADI Advanced Open Water certificate on the Great Barrier Reef;
• scuba dived in 3 different oceans
• jumped out of a plane at 14,000 ft, free falling over the picturesque view that is the Whitsundays;
• cage dived with great white sharks in South Africa;
• bungee jumped off the highest bridge;
• hiked 5 mountains in 3 different countries;
• lived in a campervan with 3 other people for 2 months;
• lived in the Australian jungle for 1 month
• saw the world through a traditional Muslim niqab on International Women's Day;
• volunteered with Elephants in the north of Thailand and spent the day with burned victims
Biking in Siem Rep - Cambodia
One of my favorite places was in Siem Rep in Cambodia. This day actually was so incredible. We found ourselves caught in the hustle and bustle as locals made their way to work!
in South Africa grasping an understanding of their struggles;
• completed a 60k bike ride with my family through the mountains of New Zealand;
• become passionate about animal welfare and becoming a voice of change;
• met backpackers from all over the world;
• attended the world famous Full Moon Party in Thailand;
• got caught in a scam while trying to cross the Cambodian border;
• lived on a boat for 2 days in Vietnam;
• explored some of the 7 World Wonders;
• visited the mass grave in the killing fields in Cambodia from Pol Pot's Khmer Regime and the massacre of 3 million of his own people;
• celebrated the 40th anniversary in Vietnam, commemorating the end of the civil war Vietnam;
• wrote numerous job and scholarship essays on my phone (couldn't travel with my laptop) and had to take many job interviews on Skype in hostel bathrooms with a blazer and pj's bottoms at unheard of hours of the night because of the time change;
• accepted and became comfortable with waking up and not putting on makeup;
• lived out of a backpack for 9 months with minimal clothes and 2 pairs of shoes;
• had time to read 10 of my books;
• shared a room
Getting a new perspective
Happy International Women's Day - To celebrate, Amanda and I decided to see what life was like through the eyes of a woman in a Muslim country. We wore the traditional Niqab, a type of Islamic dress which covers the woman's entire body, leaving only the eyes and hands visible. As we weaved our way down the tiny streets of Kuala Lumpur and through the local markets, the first thing I noticed, other than how hot I was under the thick black material, was that I could no longer communicate with people. I felt like an observer, watching people go about their busy lives, unable to interact and communicate with them through facial gestures like a polite smile or nod. The only form of gesturing I could make was with my eyes, which became especially difficult when I tried to thank the driver who stopped for me at the pedestrian crosswalk where my polite smile and nod of course went unseen. When passing by Western tourists I could sense their discomfort as they awkwardly walked by me trying not to stare, many giving looks of disgust and disapproval. Although I was fully covered, local men continued their whistles and catcalls, subjecting me to such grotesque and unwanted attention. Being in a Niqab made me feel more comfortable as it covered my body from the eyes of preying men. It felt like a form of liberation from the objectification of women in society. On the other hand it also felt oppressive, anti-social and used as a form of male domination. To improve women's equality in other countries, we must first truly understand the experience of walking in their shoes
with people for 9 months whether it be strangers in communal mixed dorms of up to 16 people a room or being jam packed liked sardines in the campervan with my sisters and best friend (haven't had a room to myself in 9 months, please take that in);
• learned about who I am and what I value and the importance of having friends who make you feel good about yourself and understand what is important in life; and
• took the time to reflect on what I want to accomplish in my life, what I am passionate about and most importantly to be happy with who I am.
This gap year has made me a more well-rounded and globally minded person. It has opened my eyes to the beauty and the suffering in the world and I hope that I have shown people what awaits you through my photos and my posts which portray the highlights of my journey and give a small idea of what it all meant to me. And remember a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so take a chance, I did.
Jessica M. Burns
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