How did I ever end up in the Peace Corps?

Some people think I am crazy! How does one who has all the education and a comfortable home and loving family decide to give up the potential of a successful career and volunteer for two years in an unknown developing country. The truth is this decision took some time to think over but once I made it, it seemed so natural and comfortable. I love traveling and have done it ever since I was a teen growing up in the States. To this date, I have traveled to so many countries that I have lost count and know that I am over fifty and maybe over sixty countries mostly with simply a backpack on my back. At every opportunity, strapping a backpack on seemed like a natural calling and with each trip, I grew more excited for the next. However as young kid, I always loved business and the excitement of making money. I went on to pursue my MBA at University of Michigan which turned out to be one of my greatest decisions. After graduation from Michigan, I got a great opportunity to work for International Paper to open their first Divisional Office in Shanghai. It was a great experience for 3+ years and it added to my passion for international cultures particularly at a time when China was just beginning to boom in the world markets. Then I moved back to Taiwan to work in the family business and was glad to be able to return home to learn about my native country. It was not only exciting culturally but also to be together with my family which has been rare since immigrating to the States.

Passion for Travel

I found this lost in my pile of old computer files...

July 9, 2002
There are not many feelings that compare to strapping on a backpack and taking that first step out the door. My body is immediately filled with adrenaline that lifts my steps as if floating on air without notice to the 50-pound pack on my back. My mind is excited with images of new adventures that will take me to new limits. My soul feels at peace again knowing that I will be pursuing what I love most.

Travel, just the word raises my pulse! We all have some our fondest memories and experiences from traveling to various places around the world. But it is not the distance, or the exotic places that makes traveling so memorable. It is the experience of dropping our everyday routines and structured thoughts. Even the little walks that we take around our neighborhood after a long day at the office can bring the same elation as visiting the most exotic beaches in Asia. The liberating experience is really escaping from our present surrounding and traveling to a place in our mind where we can be in touch with our soul and mind.

Nothing facilitates this travel better than strapping on a backpack and heading out the door by oneself. I have backpacked regularly with every opportunity I had since being a teenager. My first brief trip exploring Tokyo when I was a teenager, I discovered a healthy addiction that I have not been able to give up. Since that first trip as a kid, now some 20 years later, my solo travels have contributed to my growth and defined the person that I am. It is not the 50 or so countries seen or exotic activities that I have done that is valuable; it is the lessons learned about myself and life that those trips offered is what I value most.

Backpacking alone is the ultimate in getting to know oneself. People I meet in my travels often ask me why I travel by myself and not with a friend and if I get lonely? It is exactly these questions confirming my belief that everybody should do it at least once. In our world, we are so busy with work, responsibilities and endless selection of entertainment, that it keeps us from getting to know ourselves and being in touch with our own feelings. It is interesting how, we are the closest being to ourselves, yet we are increasingly more distanced from ourselves! I think this is root cause of increasing unhappy people in our society. If we could all only travel and get to spend time with ourselves and get to know ourselves intimately, we will gain a soul mate that will always be there with us. But instead of seeking the greatest friend that we can have, we seek comfort in our jobs, money and other material possessions. Others are less extreme, seeking comfort and happiness in friends, family and a partner. But I wonder how we can find the beauty at a distance, when we can’t find the beauty closest by, in ourselves?

From my travels alone, I have met my best friend and soul mate that I can always depend on for comfort and happiness. I have found myself! I found a friend that I can always share my deepest thoughts whether it be in a moment of sadness or happiness. I found him to be understanding and patient and a friend that will be there when I am down and out. When I am excited, he too is there laughing and smiling sharing my euphoria.

This friendship was not always the best. Our relationship has been developed and nurtured over a long time. We were strangers and not the best of friends at the beginning. Without knowing him well, I was critical of his differences from my lack of understanding. Our friendship is not different from any others in this perspective. But I think our relationship is special in that we have grown to appreciate each other from our travels together.

Traveling has a way to bring out the best and the worst of us. Backpacking brings out challenges that we do not face in our regular lives at home – the physical endurance of carrying a 50lb pack all day going from place to place and going door to door looking for a room to finally put it down. The language and culture barriers force me to think before I speak and to be more sensitive to my surroundings and actually make the effort to listen. What a concept! How often does one actually make an effort to listen and be sensitive to our surroundings at home? But in our travels it is a necessity of survival.

When we travel, we see things from a new perspective. By making that decision to travel, we subconsciously make the decision to drop our ingrained biases, habits and protectiveness; opening us to a new experience and world. We commit to opening up our senses to experience new ideas, cultures, and thoughts. With all our senses unfiltered, we are able to feel wonderful things surrounding us. The colors light up more vividly, the aroma brings back lost memories, and we begin to hear the melody and harmony in sounds. Life seems to all of sudden come alive again.

Incredibly, this new outlook actually is most valuable for allowing us to look inward. By opening up our senses, we are better able to be in touch with ourselves. We begin to feel our own heart, to listen to our own mind and to understand our own thoughts. We come home more at peace with ourselves, essentially as a result of finding a new faith in ourselves. Sometimes we have to travel great distance to find that special treasure which has always been close by.

"On Kalashnikovs and Kipling" by George Mastras

An awesome story of our trip written by my friend George about one of the trips we took together. Read it and you will feel like you are right there with us.

On Kalashnikovs and Kipling; In the Tribal Areas of Pakistan on the Eve of 9/11
Copyright George Mastras
ghmastras at

“SHOOT!” commanded the red-bearded Pathan with piercing blue eyes.
We were in Darra Bazaar, a dusty market town tucked in a large, arid gorge in the remote Tribal Areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, only twenty-five miles east of the Afghan border. It was 28 July 2001 – an ominous time to be in the Tribal Areas, a region ardently supportive of Osama bin Laden and recently slapped with a slew of staunchly worded U.S. State Department travel advisories, in sum and substance, warning all Americans, “DO NOT GO THERE!” From the ‘Osama bin Laden – Our Hero!’ t-shirts sold in the nearby Peshawar bazaar, to the wild-eyed mullahs distributing jihadi leaflets lambasting the “American-Zionist” conspiracy against Islam, one thing was clear – the place was an anti-American powder keg waiting to blow.
But little did we know how much powder had been packed into that keg. Less than 150 miles away, bin Laden and his Al Qaeda cohorts were finalizing their plans for the worst terrorist attack ever committed against America – one that would alter the course of history in one fell swoop.

Continue Reading