By Erin D’Amelio

LaosDuring the final week of March, all schools in Malaysia celebrated their first holiday break, so, to take full advantage of the free schedule and ease of travel, I spent my week with two fellow ETAs, Kerry and Ashley visiting the countries of Laos and Cambodia. For this article and the next, I will share some stories to give you a sense of how I spent my holiday.

It wasn’t the temples that I visited or the monuments I took pictures of that sticks most in my mind when I recall my holiday in Laos. Even though a week has passed since the moment I first stepped out of Malaysia and into Vientiane, the country’s capital, the memory that returns to me the easiest takes place our second to last day there.

We were staying with Ashley’s friend Phicksaway and his family during our time in Laos, and that night they had cooked us barbeque pork, Lao salad, and a few American “delicacies” (French fries and hot dogs anyone?). Phicksaway’s dogs, some with adorable names like iPad and iPhone, hovered around our knees hoping for a scrap of food as we toasted to the night with Beer Lao. Phicksaway busted out his guitar and we sung terrible but terribly funny versions of Shakira, Adele, and Lady Gaga. Kerry, Ashley and I successfully manage to teach Phicksaway’s sister Noyphai how to do the “Cups” song, counting in Lao as we take an empty water bottle through the moves. We spent hours just sitting outside the front of his house, enjoying each other’s company and casually swatting away mosquitoes. The lazy street sent only a few cars passing by, and the amber glow of its lamp blended smoothly into the halogen ambience from the house.

Could I have transplanted the essentials of this story- a barbeque and a jam session with friends- to my home in the Lehigh Valley and experience the same warmth and happiness? In all honesty, yes, I could have, but there’s something to be said about feeling the same sort of comfort in an unfamiliar country with people you have only known for a weekend. Phicksaway and his family welcomed us immediately into their home, and even tried to persuade us on several occasions to return the following week to attend a sister’s wedding. If school weren’t preventing us from doing so, we totally would have.

This trip to Laos highlighted an important if not underemphasized aspect of traveling: Sometimes the best vacation stories don’t involve the tourist attractions. And you know what? That’s totally okay. You don’t need to barrel through the tourist attractions, snap photographs left and right with your camera, and claim that you saw the place. In truth, you did just “see” the place, and nothing more. For some people, that’s just fine with them, but I am under the spell of experiential travel- I won’t be satisfied with quick trips. Thankfully, I have been afforded one very lucky opportunity to experience culture this year. It would be silly of me to waste it.

My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey

How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
Sensory Overload
(Almost) Hitting the Ground Running
Mercurial Days
Language and Tennis
Land of the Wholehearted People