My mom and I have a running joke that I left New York to join a cult.
“If they offer you any Kool-Aid, don’t take it,” she told me shortly after I arrived in KL in February. I laughed her off, but 6 months later I realize it may not be as much of a joke as we initially thought.
There are a lot of similarities between Remote year and your run of the mill cult: We have super energetic leaders, we live/work/spend all of our time together, we rarely see our non-RY friends and family, and we think our way of life is so, so much better than everyone else’s. What we’re doing makes no sense to anyone, and “it’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it” is a common refrain for all of us.
As I sat on a beach in Portugal, surrounded by 50-ish members of my “tramily” (“travel family,” one of the many weird Remote Year terms that has become a part of my vocabulary), cheers-ing with $2 champagne (so much better than Kool Aid, IMHO) in what looked like a Scientology initiation ceremony, I realized my mom may have been right.
We were celebrating our 6 month anniversary on Remote Year, and things had reached peak culty-ness. Our fearless leaders threw us a party on the beach, and gifted us with matching tank tops and personalized notes reminding us of the goals we set for ourselves when we got here and calling attention to how far we’ve come in achieving them. Then, we all got in a circle (which I nervously joked was for a blood oath…) and played a game that involved turning to the person next to us and sharing our favorite memory together, then telling them why we’re happy they’re here.
As I looked around the circle at this group of people who were strangers a half of a year ago, my brain started to recall my favorite memories with each of them:
The time Nick, Jamie and I got caught in a Monsoon coming home from work at 4am in Cambodia.
The time Pauly and I shared a Domino’s Pizza and a six-pack of rum and cokes watching the sunset in Byron Bay.
The time we went to a rave. At a fortress.
The time Simon rescued a puppy, and he, Vanessa and I attempted to give her a bath.
The time Nick and I took selfies with the most famous chef in Asia.
The time I found J. dancing on a table, alone, at 6am after the Full Moon Party.
The time Pedro, Christina, Emily and I (and Will and Cari, who were four month members of our #squad) accidentally did join a cult in India.
Blame it on the champagne, but by the end of the exercise there were actual tears in my eyes.
I didn’t come on this program expecting to make friends. I figured that I was going to be here with my boyfriend, and anyone else who I got along with would just be an added bonus. But not only have I made friends who are going to be in my life forever, I’ve gained family… in the normal sense of the word, but also kind of in the Charles Manson sense, too. And like with regular family, we didn’t pick each other (and sometimes we drive each other completely insane), but we’re stuck together, and we’re figuring it out.
When I was an angsty teen, my mom used to say “I don’t always like you, but I always love you,” which just about sums up how I feel about this band of Kublai misfits. When they’re stealing all of the bandwidth at the workspace to watch Game of Thrones or blasting music on a bus at 7am when I just want to sleep, I could kill them. But when they’re cheering me on during a presentation, or we’re playing some weird charades game at an airport gate, or we’re sitting on a beach practically singing Kumbaya to one another, I realize how lucky I am to have them.
Being so far away from my actual family, especially in the wake of losing my dad, has been the hardest part of this whole thing. But these former strangers have my back every single day — through late nights at the office (thanks for the food runs, Yam and Jide), borderline-too-drunk nights at the bar (shoutout to Lydia, who shared her chili dog with me when I was hammered and starving), and some really, really shitty moments (Lauryn, you are my rock). They don’t care if I stop brushing my hair or wear the same outfit for a week straight, or if I eat 4 “sliders” that are really full sized hamburgers. They taught me how to code, and how to surf, and never laughed once about how terrible I was at either endeavor. They are the most supportive people on the planet, both personally and professionally. The bond that we’ve formed in the last six months — over a zillion plates of Pad Thai, too many “Town Hall” meetings and more bottles of wine than I’d care to count — is cult like. And honestly? It’s pretty fucking special.
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. As an outsider (… aaaaand we’re back to the cult terminology) it may seem like we’re on permanent vacation. But living with a group of 50+ people, a million miles from home, trying to manage some sense of normalcy and work life balance, is hard. At this point, nearly a third of the group has called it quits, and those of us who are left are survivors. For every tough moment to come (and you better be sure there will be a lot of them), we have each other.
As far as my personal growth throughout these last six months, some days I feel like I’ve come so far, and others I feel like I’m even more lost than when I started. On the one hand, I’ve realized that I hate travel writing, and that my next two projects are going to be 1) starting a wellness platform for digital nomads and 2) writing a book about my dad. But on the other, I haven’t written in my journal or meditated nearly as much as I promised myself I would, and I’m still not totally sure what this blog is about (thanks, readers, for baring with me). I still have six more months to figure all of this out, which as I now know really isn’t that long at all.
It’s simultaneously felt like we’ve been here forever and for no time at all, another thing that’s pretty much impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves. (see? told you.)
To the 38 people I’ve had the pleasure of spending the last 6 months with, and the 30 others I’ve gotten to spend portions of this time with, each of whom I have my own special memories with, I am so, so grateful for each and every one of you. If you ever want to share a cup of Kool Aid, as it turns out I’m all in.