On The Road

Mason. 22. Lover of all things sublime. Travel, nature, community, photography, literature, volunteer work, backpacking, history, filmmaking, spiritual fulfillment, friends and family. These are the things that matter.

studentsgoneglobal said: Hey! We saw you are traveling abroad and love your Tumblr blog! We are StudentsGoneGlobal[.]com – A new social start-up for youth travelers! We would love to have you join our free community (and share your story you can even import tumblr posts)! All you have to do is “Request An Invite” located in the top right of our homepage :) We also have a new site coming out this summer!

Thanks for the message! I’m happy to hear that you like what I’ve got going on over here. I’m definitely interested in joining your online community and connecting with others that share a passion for travel.

BERLINER DOM (Berlin, Germany)
A glimpse into the life of studying abroad in Germany.
MEMORIAL FOR THE MURDERED JEWS OF EUROPE
(Berlin, Germany)
BRANDENBURG GATE (Berlin, Germany)
Off to Europe! See you in two months. America.

“The mountains are as a rule a world apart from civilizations, which are an urban and lowland achievement. Their history is to have none, to remain almost always on the fringe of the great waves of civilization…”

—   Fernand Braudel
What a game! Can’t wait to celebrate in Germany when I leave for Berlin on Thursday.

Had the privilege of grabbing beers, watching the World Cup match and hiking into Berkeley’s hills with the homies today. Glad to see them one last time before leaving the country next week.

10 Days Until Europe

May 23, 2014

It began as a typical Friday night in Isla Vista. A few of us were having drinks and sharing laughs at a friend’s apartment before heading to a party taking place down the street. At 9:41 P.M. I received the following text: “Everybody stay out of IV. There is an active shooter on Trigo.”

In the 15 minutes before receiving that text, six of my fellow students were slaughtered, with an additional 13 injured by gunshot wounds or vehicular assault. The entire Isla Vista massacre took place within a mile of my apartment. A friend named Kevin, the one who sent the text warning about the shooter, was at a park directly across the street from one of the murder scenes when the shooter drove by unloading rounds out of his car. Kevin’s interview with the Los Angeles Times can be found here. Two additional close friends, including a future roommate, were in a truck at a nearby stop sign when gunfire was exchanged between the gunman and sheriff’s deputies.

After a traumatic evening of panic and confusion, the details of what happened slowly began emerging online. Around midnight several Reddit users had shared the shooter’s sinister YouTube manifesto on the UCSB subreddit. For the next week, an expeditionary force of media crews flooded our small community. They parked their satellite trucks in front of IV Deli and the Alpha Phi sorority house to film our tears as we brought candles and flowers to the makeshift memorials.

Several services were held to commemorate the lives of our fallen classmates. The massive sea of people that walked together into Harder Stadium for the memorial service was unfathomable, dwarfing the attendance of our most crowded soccer matches. The weekend before we had come to the stadium to celebrate Extravaganza, an enormous yearly music festival held each year by the school. None of us could have possibly believed that we would be gathering there a week later in the tragic wake of another mass killing on American soil. At the memorial service, we remembered the lives of our fellow Gaucho’s that were taken from us.

  • Katherine Cooper, 22
  • Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, 20
  • Veronika Weiss, 19
  • George Chen, 19
  • Weihan “David” Wang, 20
  • Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20

As a community we mourned together, and as a community, we have moved forward together as well. Several days after the memorial service, a paddle out was organized by students to heal and reflect. I rushed out of my history class that day and raced home to grab my surfboard and wetsuit before making my way to the beach. I paddled out towards the enormous ring of community members gathered in the water, swimming through an ocean filled with brightly colored flowers brought by the maritime mourners. After some words of wisdom and a moment of silence in honor of the victims, we as a community shook hands and shared smiles with one another. 

After the Aurora and Newtown shootings unfolded, I voiced my outrage on social media. I talked about gun control and mental health. I expressed anger and disgust towards the shooters, the NRA and the world. But in the aftermath of the Isla Vista Massacre, I was almost silent. The few words I shared were in remembrance of the victims and disbelief in what had happened. And I noticed that those who were from UCSB and Isla Vista did the same.

It was the people who didn’t have a personal connection to the shooting that were the first to take Tumblr and Facebook by storm and use the tragedy to advance their political agendas. Social media activists spread the name of the killer and not the brave young people who lost their lives. The Isla Vista tragedy highlights numerous prevailing issues in American society. Misogyny, gun control, mental health, power and status, wealth and racism have all been brought into the spotlight in an attempt to analyze the reasons why someone could do something so unbelievably dreadful. These are all serious discussions that need to be had within our country. However, these conversations should:

  1. Come after a sufficient amount of time has passed, not directly after an incident when details are still unconfirmed and sufficient time for mourning has yet to be held.
  2. Not use the tragedy as a justification of one’s ideological political agenda.
  3. Place the lives of the victims, not of the killer, at the center of the reports in the media.

In the days after the massacre, I made an interesting observation. Several of my friends online were incredibly vocal about the issues raised during the Isla Vista killings, with feminism and gun control in particular being the most prevailing topics discussed. Both sides used the tragedy to defend and attempt to advance their political ideologies. Yet out of those most vocal about misogyny and the 21st Amendment, not a single one of them reached out and asked if I was okay. It was the people that said nothing but reflected on the horrible events of May 23 that sent texts, phone calls and Facebook messages asking if I was safe or how I was coping with everything. It was the parents of the “activists” who had more life experience and a better understanding of the emotional and psychological burden of loss that sent messages asking how I was doing and expressing their sympathies for our town.

Despite the horror and sorrow that Isla Vista has gone through, we as a community are stronger than ever. As I sat in Harder Stadium during the memorial service, surrounded by thousands of fellow individuals coming together as one, I felt part of something larger than myself. We were connected as students, as a community and as human beings. I had never been more proud to call UCSB my school and Isla Vista my home than I did sitting silently there in that moment. Sometimes it takes tragedy to remind us of our priorities and remember that we are born into this world with a simple mission to listen, to help and to love one another. 

Isla Vista has become a beacon of strength, love and grace for the world to see. We honor the lives of our fallen comrades by continuing to live our own lives not in fear but with compassion and thanksgiving. Staying true to our school motto, “let there be light” and continue shining, UCSB. Together we are one, and together we are strong.

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“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head? I know what I want. I want it all. I want to try everything once.”

—   Anthony Bourdain

Off the Road and Back Online

Many moons have passed since my last post. What began as a fast from social media during the Lenten season snowballed into complete blogging hibernation.

The most exciting update concerning this page is that I’ll be spending the summer studying abroad for a month in Berlin, followed by a five week backpacking trip across Western Europe!!!!! This has kinda’ been my dream adventure for the past few years and I still don’t know if I’ve fully processed the awesomeness of what awaits in just a few short weeks. Expect more updates to come!

Some other rad things I have had the privilege of experiencing while on my Tumblr holiday include:

  • Taking this selfie with a giraffe on a wilderness safari in the Bay Area.

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  • Participating in this vibrant Holi festival of colors amidst the scenic backdrop of Santa Barbara.

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  • Sailing the high seas onboard DJ Cashmere Cat’s boat party with these beautiful people.

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  • Experiencing a real life Project X type scenario during the massive Isla Vista street party known as “Deltopia” that escalated into in a full scale riot and the teargassing of half my graduating class.

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  • Forming a football club with a few friends that has quickly evolved into a bi-weekly event with dozens of amazing players from all different skill levels.

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  • And lastly, reuniting with this righteous babe.

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    I’m so grateful for all of the memories I’ve been blessed with over the past few weeks, especially in light of the tragedy that recently struck my community. If you’ve followed any media outlet anywhere in the world, then you’re aware of the horrific events that unfolded in my beloved college town. I will discuss the Isla Vista shooting rampage in detail with my following post.

    That being said, with summer fast approaching, I’m already underway getting prepared for my latest upcoming adventures and can’t wait to share them with YOU!

    What are your summer travel plans? Have some advice for my first trip to Europe? Are you a fellow travel junky who wants to connect? Send me a message and let’s get in touch!

    -Mason

thelengths-rebellion said: Just wanted to say that I love your response to that article posted on the Huff Post website. The article kind of left me feeling sad and confused about some of the things I want to do in the future in terms of volunteerism but your post was really great! We need to talk more about this topic during Dinner Club haha

I’m really delighted to hear that you liked the response, and that you’ve found me on Tumblr! You better continue with your future plans, I’m sure you’ll do great things wherever you find yourself. We can talk more at Dinner Club though!

Anonymous said: There's an article floating around the internet called 'The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism', it reminded me a lot of you and I think you should read it. Very interesting points, may change your perspective on all those "good" things you do.

I have read “The Problem With Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism”. Several of my friends have shared it on Facebook throughout the week. I’m glad that you left this message, despite your anonymity and rather condescending parenthetical use of the word “good”, because I’ve been meaning to address this complicated topic.

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There are several issues that I have with the piece, the title alone being a topic worthy of criticism. One of author Pippa Biddle’s central arguments is that as a “5’4” white girl”, she simply has little use working in the developing world due to her biological attributes. She attempts to appear as a pragmatist by ostracizing herself from foreign work due to perceived limitations emanating from her stature, race and gender. But doesn’t this violate the very basic principle of social equality, that we all have something valuable to contribute to humanity regardless of societal norms, which is preached by self-professed civil rights and feminist activists?  

Pippa recounts her experience as a volunteer in Tanzania with a group of 14 white girls and “1 black girl who, to her frustration, was called white by almost everyone we met in Tanzania.” This statement, as well as the title of the article, downplays the contribution that people of color are increasingly providing abroad. She neglects to write about the large numbers of Hispanic, African and Asian Americans who sign up every year as volunteers for non-profits, missionary trips and voluntourism programs. Considering that the one black girl on the trip was perceived as much of an outsider to the Tanzanians as the white volunteers, mentioning the races of the “little white girls” at all appears forced and unnecessary. A more befitting title for the article could have been “The Problem with Little American Boys, Girls and Voluntourism”. 

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While in Tanzania, Pippa’s group was given the task of constructing a library. She explains that their construction skills were limited and how every night “the men” (it’s unstated whether they were fellow volunteers or Tanzanian workers) had to rebuild their shoddy work. I wasn’t in Tanzania with Pippa’s organization, but based on her article, I would attribute their failed project not towards the race or gender of the volunteers, but rather to the fact that it consisted almost entirely of high school students with limited work experience. Pippa acknowledges her lack of skills for the job she was assigned, admitting “I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries.” From my personal experiences abroad, we did have individuals with these skills, but we also had many unskilled volunteers such as myself who worked together and accomplished extraordinary things.

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Last summer, I volunteered with a non-profit on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Pine Ridge is one of the single poorest regions of the United States with living conditions comparable to that of the Global South. While serving in Pine Ridge as a college student, I was hardly a skilled laborer or working professional. However, I did have an open mind and willingness to work, which allowed me lend a hand in various projects around the reservation. Despite my lack of carpentry skills beyond middle school wood shop, under careful instructions by the non-profit’s staff and fellow volunteers, I was able to construct bunk beds for children that had been requested by a relative of the great Chief Red Cloud. I know little about gardening, but that knowledge was superfluous as I spent several hours turning mulch and killing insects on an organic garden operated by a progressive Lakota family. And although I’m not a lumberjack (despite my beard and closet full of flannel shirts), I ventured into the Black Hills and collected beetle infested trees for tribal elders to use as firewood during the coming winter. And it wasn’t just me, the young white male doing all the labor; the women actually outnumbered the men on our team and consistently toiled alongside us. One woman, who traveled to Pine Ridge all the way from Japan, had never used tools or performed manual labor in her life because it was taboo back home. Nevertheless, on the “Rez” she was a workhorse who contributed enormously to our collective efforts. Our team successfully completed the tasks we were assigned due to the coordinated effort between volunteers, organizational staff and the local community, all of whom came from varying ethnic, political and socioeconomic backgrounds to provide a better quality of life on the reservation.

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The summer before Pine Ridge, I traveled to Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with the United Methodist Church’s Volunteers in Mission program. Arriving two years after the massive earthquake that rocked the country, I encountered a nation and people still suffering the traumatic ramifications of physical and emotional destruction. After arriving in Port-au-Prince, my ten member team of volunteers traveled north to the rural town of Leveque where we were the first mission team to arrive at the small Methodist parish since the earthquake. The local community’s church had been badly damaged during the natural disaster and rested uninhabitable for two years. The small congregation began attending their Sunday worship services inside of an adjacent school constructed by the British Methodist Church that also served as our makeshift sleeping quarters.

As the first team to arrive at that particular job site, our job was to demolish the entire structure down to the foundation. My fellow volunteers and myself worked alongside a team of Haitian workers from the local community.  Our binational team developed a close bond as we sledgehammered and carted off rubble with one another. In Haiti, as in Pine Ridge, the women worked right alongside the men at our construction site. At one point, I handed my hammer over to a female friend who I realized was much better at tearing down the walls than I had been. I wasn’t too disappointed though, considering it gave me more time to play soccer and practice my Creole with the kids who were also eager to practice speaking English. After a long workday, we would sit around with the Haitian people and share laughter, conversation and playtime with the children. Many in the local community were fascinated by us and were just as interested in our lives as we were in theirs. They personally invited us into their homes and on the final evening of our trip organized a surprise ceremony out of appreciation for our contribution to their hometown. 

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On a few occasions, however, our American crew and the Haitians workers disagreed on the best demolition methods for particular portions of the church. Two of our leaders, a firefighter and rancher from back home, had concerns over the safety of several walls that were coming down. Ultimately, we agreed to let the Haitian workers proceed with their more dangerous method of bringing down the large concrete blocks. Despite a near injury, fortunately nobody was crippled by the falling structure. We agreed to help with the Haitian workers more dangerous option because our team realized that despite our commitment to safety, the importance of the Haitians rebuilding their homeland and re-establishing their national pride was equally significant. When the last section of the church was to come down, we handed the hammer over to one of the Haitians who brought down the final wall with a mighty swing. The local community burst into applause as we shared hi-five’s and hugs with our new friends. 

In both Pine Ridge and Haiti, I believe we were successful because we worked alongside the people, not simply for them. We always acknowledged that we were guests on their beloved land. Our organizations didn’t tell the people what they needed; we them what they wanted and helped provide the capital and labor required to accomplish those tasks. In Haiti, we also benefited from belonging to the same religious denomination. I’m actually not a Christian myself, and I would have never joined the mission team had our objective been to convert the local community to any particular faith or political ideology. The Lakota and Haitian people have been dealing with that bullshit for several hundred years and don’t need any more of that nonsense. The paperwork that I signed before traveling to both Pine Ridge and Haiti included pledges to abstain from proselytizing and a commitment to respect the culture, religion and people in the regions I was to have the pleasure of visiting.

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Pippa suggests in her article that as a result of her team’s failure in Tanzania, “It would have been more cost effective, stimulative of the local economy, and efficient for the orphanage to take our money and hire locals to do the work.” I agree with her proposed system of development, because the end goal for any international aid project should be self-sufficiency in the host country. I dream of the day that the Lakota and Haitian people no longer need help from outsiders and can provide for their own people. However, both regions of the world have incredibly primitive infrastructure and little to no employers or natural resources, not to mention corrupt government bureaucracies, conflicting visions of progress and the scars of a tumultuous history. Pippa’s proposition is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the only option towards progress in impoverished regions. The funds that myself and the other volunteers had raised for the trip paid the salaries of Haitian workers for two weeks and purchased construction materials inside of the country that greatly helped to stimulate the local economy.

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Despite my objections to her article, I admire Pippa’s courage to confess, “It wasn’t the work that was bad. It was me being there.” She clearly expresses her belief that the work they were doing wasn’t bad, but that the problem is outsiders working in a society that they are not a part of has a negative impact on the country and its people. However, she does go on to say that international voluntourism “slows down positive growth” and “perpetuates the ‘white savior’ complex” both internally with the volunteers and externally with people they’re trying to help. Based on my personal experiences abroad, I’d have to challenge her assessment. 

My time spent volunteering in Pine Ridge and Haiti has made me a more empathetic, open minded and socially active individual. Whenever friends and family ask about my experiences, I make sure to explain that the people I had sought to help ultimately helped me in ways I could have never imagined. My travels have inspired me to take action in my own community, including feeding the homeless, donating a portion of my income to charity organizations and attempting to live a less materialistic driven life. I volunteered for others, but I also volunteered for myself. The major difference between Pippa’s worldview and my own is that I believe voluntourism benefits both volunteers and the people they seek to help, whereas she doesn’t believe the latter to be true. I like to believe that it makes a positive difference for everyone involved and would encourage anybody regardless of physical limitations, race, gender, religion or nationality to travel the world and experience the wondrous people and places it has to offer. Volunteering abroad is mutually beneficial for everyone involved when practiced properly.

  

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