General, Life Lessons, Parenting

Raise a Traveler, Change the World: Dan in Laos

About the series: GlobetrottingMama.com aims to help families see the world. It is our belief that while all of our  kids will benefit from their exposure to the world, the world  can also benefit from exposure to all of our kids. This series offers a glimpse into the future waiting for those families who choose to embrace that philosophy.

About the stories: Recently I spoke with three Canadians who with the help of Cuso International and Global Affairs Canada are working to make the world a smaller place. All three were participants in the International Youth Internship Program –  a two-year initiative that concluded March 31 and connected 35 young professionals with non-governmental partners in Guyana, Laos, Peru, Cameroon and Nicaragua.

You can read our first interview with Ava Liu in Peru here.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to Dan Kwasnicki – proof that sometimes finding yourself in the place you least expected is exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Raise a Traveler, Change the World: Dan in Laos

If there had been odds placed on where Regina, Saskatchewan- born Dan Kwasnicki would end up at age 28, Laos would’ve been at about a billion:1.

The fact that he’d be there after spending four years in Korea? Even less likely.

And yet, that’s exactly what has happened.

“Right after I graduated my undergrad I knew I wanted to travel but I had no money,” he explains. “I had lots of Korean friends in University and they told me about an opportunity to go to Korea, teach English, make relatively good money and  see another part of the world.”

“It was back in 2010 and the Canadian economy wasn’t  good,” he adds. “I thought if not now, when will I actually go out and travel? I needed to grasp it at that moment and I’m very glad I did.”

The move from the prairies to Seoul was a shock to the system.

“It was from white to black really. Night and day,” he says.

“I still can’t think of a bigger contrast. We have a family farm in Saskatchewan. I’m  used to prairies and open skies. The greater Seoul area has something like 25 million people. It’s all skyscrapers. Everywhere you look buildings and people.”

Dan in Laos

Despite the frenetic pace and his lack of knowledge regarding the Korean language ( “Before I went I could say maybe Hello, my name is… Even that I think I was probably saying wrong.”), Dan ended up staying in Korea for four years.

He returned home then, but it wasn’t long before he was itching to go again. That’s when he discovered Cuso International. It was his mother’s brief mention of the company she had heard about when she was a student years earlier that sent him online looking at the possibilities. When he saw a position in Laos, something clicked.

“I thought, this sounds perfect for me, what I want to do and the kind of experience and lifestyle I want to live,” Dan says ” I applied for one position and they called me back the same day and said they had another position they wanted to fill within three weeks.”

His answer was immediate.

“I basically packed up my stuff, filled out the paperwork and travelled to the other side of the world.”

By this point Dan’s family would’ve easily won any takers on a bet as to whether he’d be on the road again.

“I think they know now that this is my personality and what I want to do but I’m definitely the black sheep,” he says laughing. “All of my other siblings live more or less in our hometown. I’ve always been the one that was a bit more adventurous in terms of traveling in my family.”

The opportunity in Laos has turned out to be life changing. Dan teaches English at the Ministry of Agriculture. His job is to help government officials improve their ability and comprehension of the English language.

“Specifically the department I work most with is the department of planning and co-operation that deals with international NGOs and other government organizations,” he explains.

While it isn’t unusual for him to be asked to pop into the Ministry offices to help with something, most of his day is spent working from his apartment or a local cafe.

When the government workers finish for the day they can pop into a classroom environment Dan has set up and study with him in an immersive environment. Sometimes they bring documents they are working on or ask for his help with communications they’ve started in English but aren’t feeling confident about.

“They have to be able to communicate efficiently in English and understand whatever is being discussed at international conferences,” Dan says. “They really want to be clear on the meaning. They’ll come and ask me: What exactly does this mean? What is he trying to tell me?

Much like when he was in Korea, Dan is doing his work with very little knowledge of the Laos language. That hasn’t stopped him from picking up some key life lessons from the people he’s met here, including the other Cuso International volunteers in the area who help with homesickness.

“The building I live in is provided by Cuso and is in a complex with other Cuso volunteers,” Dan says. “So if I’m ever feeling like I’m a bit lonely or I want to grab a beer with someone I literally just walk down the stairs and knock on my friends’ door that speaks my language and who I can relate to and we can talk about Canada or whatever. And with Cuso volunteers there’s definitely a feeling of family … more than other groups of volunteers.”

“I think Cuso has gone beyond what I expected in terms of support and preparation,” he adds.

You can hear his love for the placement and the people in his voice. It explains why even though his placement was over this month, he’s extended it to June. And when that’s over, he says he’s still hoping to find work in Laos.

“I really like Laos and my background is development so there might be job opportunities where I can work in a different position which would be a salary rather than stipend,” he says. .

“I’ve learned a lot of new skills. I can speak a bit of Laos now. I’d say the lifestyle and their values have rubbed off on me a lot, especially coming from Korea,” he says. “Korea is a very “work hard, work fast” sort of culture whereas Laos  – even though they are a lot poorer than any country in this region – they really value their free time and a very easygoing lifestyle.  Their values in life are not necessarily monetary or material. They value family and friends and they are very easygoing. The motto in Laos basically means “no worries.”

“Anything that happens in life…no worries. A mistake happens .. no worries. They’re very stress free,” he notes.

“I think I can take that anywhere I go. I can always have that in the back of my mind:  All the stress I have, in the end, its actually not what’s most important in my life.”

Cuso International

This post was subsidized in part by Cuso International. For more than 55 years, Cuso International has sent young Canadians to volunteer with partners around the world. Although Cuso International volunteers are now of a more diverse age range, youth volunteering remains an important principle for the organization – giving youth the opportunity to apply their education and skills in a real-world context and learn from colleagues in other countries.

While the International Youth Internship Program concluded March 31, Cuso International continues to place volunteers around the world.

For more information on volunteering click here.

For more information on the International Youth Internship Program, sponsored by Global Affairs Canada click here.

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