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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Home is whenever im with you.

Today i went back in time. The past few days have flown by. Yesterday i was supposed to leave at midnight to head to the states but my flight got canceled. I can remember getting that feeling while in the cab that i was on my way home. Saying goodbye to India twice was harder than it should have been. I kept my window down while i was sitting in the back of the cab with my window down getting the last few breaths of Indian air. Fali, the friend of mine that introduced the gap semester to me, had warned me about the smell of India. You get used to the diesel fumes and constant smell of poo but India has a smell that is so distinct i could recognize it anywhere.
I didnt want this semester to end, but now as i am sitting on a plane just a few hours from being home i feel ready to end this chapter and really go home. For the past three months i have called a lot of places home. I considered the Hanifl Centre at Woodstock school home for the time i spent in India, even when people asked me where i was from i sometimes made the mistake and would say Mussorri. The times i caught myself making this simple mistakes are the times i missed home most. Everyone that finds out i am going home after my three months here always ask me three questions. What do i miss most the most, who do i miss the most, and what am i going to do when i get home.  And when people ask me these questions i always try to make up new answers, not for confusion or amusement, but because i have no idea how to answer these questions. But ill try for kicks and giggles.
First off i miss knowing what im doing. In India everyday was another adventure. Which is great and im not dissing on being adventurous but i miss having stability. I know that once im back to my routine i am going to be craving India again but maybe that will drive me to go back. Also I miss not always having eyes on me. One thing about being a foreigner in India is that everyone is concerned about what your doing. Im so tired of explaining myself. I miss being invisible. I want to walk down a street and not have people watching my every move, or trying to sell me something. 
To answer the second question, i miss people that love me. I meet new people everyday in India. Some have become very good friends now, but i cant say that i know they love me. When your with people that really love you their is a feeling that i took for granted until i was really alone. Never have i felt so trapped inside of my own mind until i was climbing to the top of a mountain. Its so quiet that the only noise you hear is the wind blowing freezing wind against your ears and your feet pushing through the piles of knee deep snow. As alone as i felt i never stopped thinking about the people i love and how they love me. It kept me going always and it still keeps me going.
Finally, when i get home, im going to eat a bowl of Honey Nut Bunches of Oats, Just bunches, mixed with Captain crunch just berries. Ive been thinking about this combination for a long time and every time i think about it my mouth waters and my stomach grumbles. Besides the cereal preference i think im just going to try to find where i fit in back in the states. In India i had a purpose an identity that meant something, i was a student in a program hosted by the most prestigious international school in all of India. I built a greenhouse for a monastery that needed vegetables, i climbed a mountain, i stayed in remote villages for days at a time learning a new culture and trying to think of ways to help improve their living conditions, and i think i did some self improvement as well. Ive become more intelligent, stronger, faster, and much more self sufficient. Im still an awful speller but some things will never change.
 Im going to miss India. Im going to miss the general friendliness of people and the chi twice a day and all the Limbca i can drink, but i think a break from it all will be nice as well. Plus i could go for a big steak right about now. My journey through India has been wonderful and getting used to America will be a fun topic to write about so you can expect more posts coming from now on. Case Closed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I just cant wait to be king.

Today i came to Rishikesh. (sp?) its basically this really holy city that a ton of Hindus come to to bathe in the Ganges River. I havent been spending my time bathing but i have spent most of my time in the water. Over the past couple days we have been white water rafting down class 3 and 4 rapids. Our guides have been pushing us to do the most extreme trails possible which is great as long as you dont mind swimming in freezing speeding rapids. At the end of everyday my arms are sore and tired but when i get up and the options are kayaking, water polo, white water rafting, white water duckying (which is like an inflatable canoe) or just swimming through the rapids i get pretty excited and usually go all out. Its great here, a very relaxing yet extreme end to the trip. Its hard to believe my trip is almost over, and as much as i want to get home a lot of me is saying im going to miss India. Hopefully enough to come back. Ive finally been accepted into the University of Knoxville which i was pretty excited about so it sounds like once i get home that adventure will begin. Hopefully ill be able to post a couple more times before i leave India, i only have 9 days until i leave ;)

Monday, October 17, 2011

This mountain that i climb, dont even know my name.

Today i have reflected on what i have accomplished in my life. Ive done some things that i am proud of but most the things i have done havent been as hard once i have finished them. Until i came to India. Today as i was walking through the Bazzar (Market) I stopped and bought a butterscotch ice cream cone from a vender. I am lactose intolerant and dairy products usually give me “loose motions” but today i felt like i deserved something that delicious. 
Over the past two months i have survived India, thus far. I have eaten local meals, hiked to the highest villages in the world, lived in a Buddhist temple for three weeks (where i built a greenhouse out of mud), and just in the past two weeks or so i have successfully climbed a 20,000 ft peck.
 The name of the mountain is Draupadi-ka-Dunda, but we call it TKD2 for short. With the help from an NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) instructor, the other gap semester students and i trained by going rock climbing, hiking around Utterakashi with full backpacks and learned climbing technics that would help us with our assent. We started at the road head of this hike after two cups of chi and a two hour bus ride (that was actually in an old ambulance). We hiked through a beautiful forrest that reminded me too much of the book “The Hobbit”, which i read while on this trek, and i was expecting giant spiders or trolls to walk in front of me at any moment. But that never happened only monkeys and big birds crossed my path. I did hear word of a black bear in the area and i saw some footprints but was not lucky enough to see one, or maybe i was lucky enough not to see one. I hiked though streams and across log bridges, all up hill, for four hours until we came on the first camp. I was exhausted. Keep in mind i had the heaviest pack, besides the porters who supplied the tent and cooking supplies (God bless their souls they carried a lot). I would say my pack weighed about 50 to 60 pounds which isnt bad when im back in Tennessee, with an altitude of 500 ft, but the road head starts at 7,500 ft and the first camp was at about 10,000 ft alt. I was pooped as i got my sleeping bag ready and laid out my mat to sleep on. Thats when i learned how our trek the next day was going to be. Our Instructor Mr. Singh came to Holden and I, we were the first to reach the first camp site, that the next days hike would be twice as long and even more vertical than the hike today. I wanted to turn around then but im not a quitter. I knew why i was on that mountain at that point. 
Mr. Singh was also very correct in how long and vertical the next day’s hike would be. The first three hours were ok, but as soon as we crossed the river we were basically climbing up roots to get to the top of this huge hill. It was pathetic how hard i was breathing but Mr. Singh did a good job of giving us 3 minute breaks as we ascended about 300 feet ever 20 minutes. With a lunch break in between we did make it to the second camp in 8 hours but once we made it there i was ready to lay down. Mr. Singh didnt like us just laying down though. Everyday he would take us on acclimatization hikes to get our bodys used to the mountain. I hated these walks because i acclimatized fast but i guess it was still good for me. The next camp was called base camp. This is about 14,000 ft alt and was where a helicopter would land if we needed to be evacuated off the mountain. Luckily we didnt need those services. We stayed at base camp for 3 days learning ice climbing skills and survival tactics that we could use if an emergency happens on the mountain. From base camp we hiked up to ABC camp, which is the last camp before the glacier in front of the mountain. This camp, while cold became a home base for us, mainly because we build a snowman with the hail and snow that fell and we stayed there for the longest. On the 8th the doctor came and told Alex and Rishi that they couldnt climb the mountain due to a hurt knee and high heart rate. Hearing this disappointed me because i was set on us all summiting but i was just thankful i was healthy enough to go on with the journey. On the ninth, Holden and I, Mr. Singh, Jevoung (an energetic porter who became my brother on the mountain) Geresh (another Instructor) and two others made our way to camp one at about 15500 ft alt. Walking most the way across and up a glacier that was saidto have 300 foot crevasses in it. I was a little scared i guess you could say. We made it up to camp one and had to set up our tent on the top of that glacier and make sure that it was sturdy enough to take on the high winds. The temperature up there was below 0 degrees Celsius and getting in and out of the tent was dreadful but we only had to stay there for a couple hours because we started our packing at 2 in the morning and started the assent at 3:40 Am.
 At this point i still knew why i was on the mountain. The Top was all i could think about, and the Local Native song that was stuck in my head at the time. I would hum as i hopped across frozen rocks and kicked my feet through the snow and ice. As the trek continued and in the frozen pitch black night i started to think more about why i was there. With huge crevasses on either side of me in the middle of the night i was in a different country risking my life to make it to the top of something that doesnt even know i exist. I worked so had to get there and it never even moved. I started to pray, and to sing church songs instead of Local Natives songs. It put me in a better mood. Especially “Lord be there for me”, mainly because as i was ice climbing up this vertical slope kicking my crampons in and driving my Icepick in as deep as i could get it, i thought about the second line of that song. Lord be there for me when i fall be there for me. I wasnt expecting to fall but im sure Jesus had my back. Holden did exceptionally well in making sure he followed all the steps correctly and i respect him more now than i did before the hike. Climbing a mountain makes you see the real side of a person, how far they are willing to push themselves for success. We made it to the top of TKD1 which is the mountain Neighboring TKD2 but we sill had to make it another 2,500 ft to the Summit of TKD2 and the sun was coming out so we only had a few hours. Once the sun starts to melt the snow it can get dangerous due to breaking ice and avalanches. We summited at about 10:15 AM and took plenty of photos on the top. 

Thats when i realized why i was where i was. I was accomplishing something that i have dreamt about for years. I was a true mountaineer and i was proud to say that. Now that mountain knows my name, not only because i left a piece of paper at the top with my name and address, but also because i knew it on a personal level now. The mountain and i had a fight and it didnt break me. 
We descended and nobody ran down that giant hill faster than me. I was falling head over heels trying to get to a warmer place but my weary legs only let me go so far so fast. We made it down to camp one by about one oclock PM and then back down to ABC camp where Rishi and Alex were waiting for us to take our bags and give us some fresh lime tea. It was delicious. and finally sitting down was glorious. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ive been going down, down into the River baby.

Im back for a day, and today was the best.
Over the past 21 days i have been traveling around Northern India on the boarder of Tibet and China. We took a 4 day trek to get into the Spitti Valley going over the 15,000 pass The Baba Pass. The entire hike was picture perfect and once it was done we got hiked to a village named Mud and took a cab to the city of  Kaja (or Kaza) and stayed there for three days. We enjoyed a few good meals at the local restaurants and did some shopping the first few days then went to a monastery and climb above it to this pristine lake that had a huge natural spring in the middle of it. The day after that hike we actually went to go live at a monastery in Key. The Key Monastery is over 900 years old and is still thriving with Monks or "Lamas" and everyone their speaks a mix of Tibetan Hindi. We started making the bricks right away and after four days of constant brick making with rummy games in between we finished 400 and 8 bricks and left to go on a homestay trek to let the bricks dry. Over 3 days we traveled from house to house to house in different Villages along the Spitti Mountains. We went to Langza, Comic, and some village starting with a D. (i cant spell it.) Each village had tons of new things to learn about and i actually got to see how everyday life is in a rural Village. I loved learning how to make Momo's with potatoes inside, its my specialty dish now in front of Mac and Cheese. We returned to The Key Monastery and Finished the greenhouse in a couple days and on the last day the King of Spitti, King NO-NO, came to inaugurate it. The whole ceremony was more extravagant than i thought it would be because Lama's were mumbling prayers and the king cut the ribbon and we planted seeds inside the greenhouse while the little children monks clapped outside the greenhouse. It was pretty awesome. We ate dinner and returned to Kaja where we stayed a night and then at 5 in the morning we started our long trip back. The first day we drove 8 hours across little rocks and big rocks. The roads in northern India are pretty bad but it was alright because my ipod was fully charged and i let myself be taken away by the music until we made it to Manali. Manali is the coolest city ive been to in a while. The tourists are more than i like, mainly because i like being the token wight guy in india, but i couldnt help but fall in love with the city. We left Manali at 6 in the morning and traveled across two states which is about a 16 hour car ride, stopping at Mcdonalds and a vegetarian restaurant on the way back to Woodstock. The Mcdonalds here is pretty funny. There is a sign that says "No beef or pork products sold here." Kinda beats the purpose of a Mcdonalds but whatever. We finally reached the Hanifl Centre by 11 that night and i crashed hard.
This morning i got to wake up at about 8 and talk to Tori and my mom. I knew i would miss them but i didnt think it would be this bad. After about 2 hours of skyping the gap guys and i went to the Rockaby manner for an amazing, well deserved, lunch. I came back down from Landor and took a nap to make the day even better. The Kutty briefed us on our upcoming adventure. Tomorrow we leave for about 19 days to go stay at the NIM, National Institute of Mountaineering, and we will be hiking a peck of about 19 to 20000 feet. Im so ready for this my skin is crawling. This is going to be real backpacking and im so excited. I stayed on the Internet long enough to be on when Tori woke up so i talked to her a little more then went to dinner and staff night before returning back to the Hanifl Centre and talking with Ingrid and Lindsay about our trip to Spitti. Even though ive spent only a short time here i feel like Woodstock school has become a second home, especially now that i have friends here. I walked Ingrid and Lindsay back to their apartment and they gave me some butterscotch ice cream in return. Even though im Lactose intolerant i ate every bite of that ice cream because it might be the best thing ill have in while. India camp food isnt the best but i cant complain. On may way back to the Hanifl Centre an easy 25 min uphill walk a moped came up behind me and it was an employee of the Hanifl Centre that lead us on our first hike. His name is T-2 and he offered to give me a ride up the hill. I was so excited to ride on a moped and not have to walk that i basically jumped at the opportunity and we zoomed around the windings hills with me on the back laughing hysterically with how much fun i was having. Now that ive given you the run down ill tell you guys that i wont be able to post again for almost another 3 weeks so dont bother checking until October 16. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Im gonna let the blue sky carry me

Today is the last day will get to post until the end of September. Well at least the 26 of September. Ive said it a couple time in previous posts but tomorrow at 6 in the morning i leave for a 21 day trip to a region of India called Spitti to hike, make greenhouses, and live in different villages with locals to taste what real India is all about. Yes, their is a real and fake India. Here at Woodstock school its like a paradise for people not native to these parts. Most everyone speaks a little English and their are always people who i can recognize and see around campus to have conversations with. Everyone around here usually has a lot in common like doing outdoors stuff and traveling and even have the same problems like using the bathroom. Foreigners call their movements the "Indian Norm." We joke about it but all of us at the school are not really getting to feel India in its whole. I know i have mentioned it in every post and im sorry for being redundant but in Shantaram he talks about this very subject. He writes about how to feel the Real India you need to go and actually live in a village. Ive been babied for the past couple weeks here so its going to be a big change living amongst people who may not speak English at all. I dont really know how vast these people's education is but im assuming sense this is kind of a remote location they are not as educated as the people around Woodstock. That still doesnt mean they dont have a ton to teach me. I plan on utilizing every opportunity i have on this trip to learn more about the people, the environment, and especially myself.
I dont like pain or making myself suffer or anything, but i feel that getting away from expedients and luxuries that i have will be a really good thing for me. Really getting my hands dirty and doing things outside of my comfort zone is exactly what i signed up for when i decided to come here. Everything has been a little difficult but to be honest its still not roughing it yet. Pushing myself to my limit and seeing just how far i can take it will be interesting to see. 
Over the past three days i have been involved in a first aid course that has equalled up to about 20 hours of training. Ive learned and am now certified to give medical attention and CPR to any patient i get consent from in the wilderness and in urban environments. I Even have the cards to prove it. The course was difficult just they way i liked it but the instructors did an outstanding job at answering questions and really simplistically showing us the causes and ways to help people that are in danger with their own health. I love now knowing what do do if someone is unresponsive or choking or even has a dislocated shoulder. I have the power to help them and that makes me feel really powerful and confidant. I think everyone should be certified in First Aid at some point in their lives. Actually they should go through the class once every two years according to my card. Hopefully i wont have to use any of the things i learned while im in India but its really helpful to have this knowledge. Plus i take really detailed notes so i have all the extra stuff that some may be questioning in my journal. 
The past two days i have got to talk with Tori a lot more than normally. it may be because i really wanted to cram in as much talking time with her as i can before i leave, but i would want to talk to her as much as i have been anyway. 
She is a lot of things for me. For a couple months she has been my girlfriend and has shown me a lot about what caring for someone really means. For a while now she has been my advisor because she always has advice that i understand and that makes sense. She is always specific to my situation in the advise she gives as well, because she really knows me and makes an effort to get to know me more than most people have tried. Ill be honest with anyone if they ask the right questions in the right setting but she could ask me anything anywhere and i cant help but tell her every detail that goes on in my brain. She has been a solid rock that i can depend on and know that i can trust her for most of the time that i have known her. Most of all i think she has been the best friend i have been  looking for for some time now. Some people dont believe in angels but i can see her wings when she talks to me, or tells me a secret that only im allowed to know, or especially when she looks up at me with her green eyes and starts her contagious laughter because she cant hold eye contact very long without feeling awkward. Its not difficult at all for me to look into her eyes. Its actually the thing i miss most right now. Shes brave, strong determined, smart , beautiful, and i could go on but im already being to corny and cheesy so i better just stop being such a poetic pansy and just say that she is great. "Its a beautiful wonderful marvelous mysterious thing." -Drew Holcomb
Ill be back in 21 days so until them its case closed ;)

Friday, September 2, 2011

painting the town your favorite color

Today is the first full day of First aid training. Yesterday we had a 4 hour class on CPR that involved most of the staff. Its funny to see how people get along so well especially in a classroom setting like this im pretty excited about today though, i dont really know what is planned but the instructors are pretty cool so i know it will be something outstanding. Us Gap students, Rishi, and national rock climbing champion Prashant went to this really nice restaurant at the top of the mountain today. The had so many options of food that reminded us of home that we at breakfast there, then we have an appetizer, and by the time we were done with that we all got lunch and a desert to top it off. It was the best meal ever. Ive havent been that full in a long time...well sense i got to India. I was so happy to be that full i couldn't stop smiling. All the way down to the market i had a grin from ear to ear. After the CPR class yesterday Lindsey, a band teacher at Woodstock, invited us to go check out senior night. Senior night happens occasionally and involves a meal, games, a dance, and a movie. We made it in time for the dance which kind of reminded me of the middle school dances i went to. Except these guys loved being with each other. One thing that is common in India is that guys have no problem showing affection for each other. At first i thought it was strange but its just so common here nobody cares. All the kids in the auditorium had their arms around each other and were in big circles showing off their dance moves, listening to modern music, it was fantastic and i actually had a lot of fun being there.
Recently i have found out that i will be going on a three week trip to Spitti. Ive been really excited to go on this trip, mainly because we will be helping build greenhouses but also because we will be trekking most the way there and we will be staying in multiple villages along the way. From what i am told this is going to be the trip of a lifetime so im so ready to take it on. The only down part is, with all the hiking im doing i will not be able to bring my Laptop. It wouldnt do me any good to have it anyway sense Spitti most likely doest have Wifi at all so i really dont need to bring it but not being able to contact my family or Tori is going to be rough. I already miss them so much that it hurts.
Sometimes at night i will dream im home in Tennessee.  I will be in my kitchen with my mom, or watching a movie with the whole family, or in my truck driving Tori home from a date and i will be so happy that i wake myself up. When i wake up all i see is my watch, that i take off and hang from my bunk bed and a few photos i taped to the side of the wall next to my head. Looking at the photos is nothing compared to how real my dreams felt to ill try to roll over in order to get back into my dream but it never works. Sometimes i get restless when i wake up so i make a quiet exit out of my dorm and head up a trail near the Hanifl Centre. Its so dark that i can close my eyes and see more that i did with my eyes open. Their is a clearing along the way to the top that i stop in and try to write some of my thoughts down in my journal. I write about what i miss most and the things i wish i would have done before i left and the things i would be doing if i was home right now. I put everything down on paper and then read over it making corrections and deletions and slowly i assess my situation. If i was home i wouldnt be on the side of a mountain looking at billions of stars and watching the sun rise across miles of other huge mountains. I have to keep telling myself these things not to miss home to much. India has been my dream for so long i have to keep my head here instead of at home. I miss everyone from home a lot but this is where i need to be now. No pictures today but hopefully some will come of this fist aid class. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

you'll run and never tier, desire.

Today was nothing compared to yesterday.
Yesterday After four hours of Hindi Rishi picked us up at Landor where my language school is located and  we started on a curvy ride down toward the market. In India all the cars run on Diesel so it was hard to really keep my head out the window like a dog but i suffered through the pain because i just couldnt pull my eyes away from the views. While Holden was getting queasy from the curves i was mesmerized not only by the skills of the taxi driver but by the views of the deep valleys and high peaks. I could see rivers in the crevasses of the mountains flowing down like huge water slides that never ended. We even passed a huge water fall that we basically drove under in order. I just stared in amazement as i watched all the water flow right off this cliff onto these orange rocks that were beaten and rounded down by the water. All the people we passed that were working on the road must have thought my behavior was pretty unusual because they all laughed as we passed. It could have also been that i was grinning ear to ear in amusement of the beauty around me. With my ipod blasting Ryan Adams, in order to hear over the car engine and the wind on my face, i thought about how lucky i am to be here and to be able to experience all this. By the time his album Demolition was 3 quarters of the way through we had arrived at out destination.
A woman in a white kurta was waiting for us on what i thought was the side of the road. Our driver stopped and we all piled out of the car. Earlier that day Rishi had told us we were going to a school and in my mind i thought it to be another school like Woodstock but man was i wrong. The woman introduced herself as Lorey and i could tell by the way she softly shook my hand the she was Very caring and truly happy to see us.
She lead us down to what she called a cowshed of a school and that is basically what it was. Maybe four rooms maybe ten by ten feet with low ceilings and finger paintings all over the walls. We went into every classroom and introduced ourselves and one by one each student introduced themselves very properly in English. Each one said "Hello brothers, my name is..., i am ...years old, i am in...grade and i live in Shanti. It seemed pretty rehearsed but never the less it was adorable and i was truly impressed at their comprehension of the english language. In the oldest class we sat down and they asked us to help them make paper cubes. I was helping a couple 10 year old boys make cubes and while he cut out the shape i helped him draw i drew him a picture of me saying Good Work in bubble letters on a scrap piece of paper. He showed it to all his friends then pocketed it and said thank you three times.
 By the time the cubes were done school was about over and all the kids put on their matching backpacks and headed for the door. Lorey has had this school for about a year and a half now and has been providing these kids with education that the Government Schools in India do not have. Lorey invited us to her house in the village down the road from the school and we happily agreed. I think she could hear my stomach growing before we even showed up. Once we go to her house we ate dal and rice and lady fingers which were surprisingly good. Im not much of a vegetable eater but it was easy to eat when she so graciously prepared it for us. Her nefew was a student at her school. I belive he was 9 or so but it is hard to remember now. He taught me an Indian version of patty cake that was twenty times more difficult, plus i had no clue what he was saying. After we ate Lorey showed us around the village.
This village is known for not only being secluded but also for the corn that they hang along the balconies and from the roofs. Lorey described to us that they hang the corn up as a food storage and when they need it they pull it down crush it up and make it into flour. She says around october the sides of houses are magnificently beautiful with all  the hanging corn. The children did most of the tour guiding all wanting to drag us this way and that and show us there houses. The adults in the village were sort of confused by our presents but still smiled for photos and went along doing there harvesting. They even gave us a couple horse radishes as souvenirs. We learned about the culture of the village and the different methods of cultivation that they used.
By the time our tour was complete it was almost dinner time and if we didn't make it back to Woodstock we would have a long walk to the market and back to pick up some food so we unfortunately had to say goodbye. Before we left all the children wanted to do the extreme version of patty cake with us and they also did an american song/dance about a man named joe who works in a button factory, i had never herd of it but apparently its a widely know song.
Saying goodbye to some of those kids was so hard. They kept asking when we were coming back and i dont think they knew we had just come for a visit. Either way i want to help out somehow. Lorey said anytime i come to India i can volunteer as a teacher and i plan on taking her up on that offer. The desire these kids have to have a higher education than the normal field worker is amazing. Not saying field workers are not smart but that these kids told us they wanted to be engineers and doctors and pilots. I was truly inspired. The ride home i still kept my head out the window, tongue flapping in he wind but i was no longer thinking about the views i was seeing, i was more concentrated on how i was going to contribute to making those kids dreams a reality. So much potential i see in these kids and in a lot of the people i meet in India. Potential and determination that you wont find in the states. I want to be a part of it. The school is very poor and Lorey always is looking for someway to help these children im sure if any of my readers want to donate i will do my best to send it on to her and make sure it goes toward furthering the kids education. Im sure they would appreciate it, and you never know someday they my be YOUR pilot or doctor so wouldn't you want them to have the best education possible?