It’s not every day that one meets a person who has traveled extensively or has lived outside of the United States, except, that is, if you are from San Francisco. Gabriel Avina, a sophomore and Asian studies major, knows how important and how different cultures can be, having spent most of his life living in Asia.
As a six-month-old infant, Avina’s family moved away from New York where Avina was born and settled down in Bhutan, or “mountain country” as Avina calls it. Bhutan is located high up in the Himalayas and surrounded by the countries China, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. Bhutan, “land of the thunder dragon,” opened its doors to technology and the beginnings of democracy in 2007. Bhutan shares the same culture as Tibet and practices Buddhism.
Avina had to move because his father worked with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and was often relocated. Now Avina’s mother works as a jewelry designer and his father works for Microsoft. After living in Bhutan for four years, the family then moved to Laos for another four years, and finally Thailand for eight years. Rather than feeling unsettled, Avina calls his upbringing a, “wonderful experience—I’ve got a lot of perspective on life since I have lived in various countries amongst unique cultures. That’s why I’m probably taking Asian Studies right now, because I have a good understanding of other cultures because of my upbringing.”
However, even though understanding a multitude of diverse cultures, places, and people were intriguing for Avina, he did admit that moving around was difficult at times. In fact, he admitted that, “It’s hard not knowing anyone for more than five years. I’ve met a lot of people that I’ve lost contact with.” Regardless, Avina plans to do a lot more traveling, to places such as Asia, Southeast Asia, India, and France.
When asked how he felt when he first arrived back in the United States, and California for that matter, his answer was “culture shocked.” He went on to explain that he had visited it a couple times before, but he did not understand a lot of the references. Furthermore, he said that more of his emotions were based on missing home rather than concentrating on where he now saw himself. Avina said, “People overseas are much more informed and kids are more culturally aware and tolerant. Here, politics are much more internal.”
Instead of becoming familiar with Hollywood enchantment, he was familiar with a far more unique magic. Growing up in Thailand, he encountered a lot of folklore. Stories of yeti sightings and magical forest and mountain spirits surround Avina’s childhood. As in the culture, one is respectful of all that is around, plants and animals alike.
For a college experience, Avina describes San Francisco as open-minded and “fresh.” He said, “There was no where else I could really come after where I’ve been.” For all those who are considering study abroad, Avina’s message is simple, “Travel is important, especially when you are growing up. Experiencing other countries leads to a much broader perspective on the world.”