Women’s Day 2014 Guest Blogger – Ms. Amy Stretmater of Koru Street, Colorado, USA

An American, living in Colorado Springs, Colorado where she runs Koru Street, which was launched after coming across fashionable products made from recycled materials in India. A natural progression of a life and career focused on learning more about different countries and cultures! Prior to her trip, she worked in Chicago in advertising and Cologne, Germany in international relations. She holds a bachelor’s degree in German from Colorado College in the US and an MBA from University College Dublin, Ireland.

Thank you Ms. Stretmater for honoring Conserve India & Conserve HRP with your this gesture.

Over to Ms. Stretmater…………

What inspired me to change my life and start my business importing products from all kinds of recycled materials? It all stemmed from the decision to leave my job in pursuit of a four month trip through New Zealand, Australia and Asia (which eventually turned in to a six month excursion!) Near the end of my trip I reflected on what I had learned so far, as a 35 year old woman traveling on my own. Below is the blog post I wrote for my friends and family six years ago. Looking back now, I can see the seeds that would eventually blossom in to an entirely new career and way of life.

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Surely there’s more to this trip than just “I did this and then this, oh and then this funny thing happened.” So here in a nutshell are some of my observations from my experience thus far:

  1. Sometimes I’m not as outgoing as I think I am. Many a time I’ve entered a packed common room in the hostel and taken the easy way out and just read a book or watched TV. Often it’s the overwhelming scariness of starting up a conversation with a random stranger but sometimes it just doesn’t seem worth it to spend time getting to know someone when the next day they’ll be in a new city and you’ll likely never see them again. I would have guessed before leaving that I’d jump on any opportunity to chat with someone. Luckily, when I did reach out there have been exceptional outcomes, such as when I walked into the hostel in Dunedin, New Zealand at 5:30pm, was out with a group by 8pm and have remained in touch with one of the women ever since.
  2. A lot of casual friends is very different from just one good friend. There are times when I love having all these different, unusual people from all over the world around me. And there are times when I’d chuck them all in for one friend who actually knows me! But it can also be liberating to share your innermost feelings with someone who doesn’t know your history, who can listen intently without judging, who hasn’t heard the story a million times and isn’t going to be around to bring it up again. Not to mention the valuable insight from someone with a completely different background. During this trip I have had thousands of short conversations with different people which doesn’t nearly add up to the worth of one good friend. However, meeting these people, becoming their acquaintances and sometimes friends, having these conversations does change you in a way that’s hard to explain. I’ve learned so much about other ways to be happy and fulfilled.
  3. On that note, I feel like I’ve tried for a long time to be “normal” towards the goal of a good office job, settling down, getting married, having kids. (Going on this trip has certainly been in opposition to all that, however!) After meeting people with so many different ways of viewing and living life, I know that whether or not I do any or all of these things, I can still be “normal” and happy. It’s very liberating.
  4. I’m smarter than I thought, and not as smart. I’m braver and not nearly as brave as I believed. Your perceptions of yourself really change on this kind of trip. Sometimes I feel so incredibly smart (usually when surrounded by half-drunk 19 year olds) and sometimes I feel stupidly boring and uninteresting (usually in the same scenario). I know the decision to do this trip, especially on my own, is somewhat brave, but at the same time it’s nothing to the kinds of things the people around me are doing. There are 19 year old traveling throughout the world for a year or more, which I would never have had the guts to do. I went overseas at that age, but on a very planned, well-supported study abroad program in a country where I spoke the language. I’ve met entire families who have left jobs and homes to travel the world together. There are people who can talk to and befriend anyone. It’s all very humbling.
  5. In the same vein, there are so many fascinating people in this world. Which I already knew, but here it’s so in your face. Half the time it’s wonderful to be surrounded by this. The other half it’s tough because it makes you wonder, am I as fascinating to them as they are to me? You tend to do a lot of comparing to others and since you only know a small portion of them – usually just the really interesting part – it’s easy to find yourself lacking.
  6. One thing people tell you about this kind of trip is that you will realize people are the same at heart, once you strip away language, culture, age and experience. What they don’t tell you is that just as you start to see this (and I have on many occasions), something else happens to make you realize people are NOT all the same. There are some people who think and act so differently in this world. That’s perfectly fine and probably as it should be (and maybe completely obvious), but a revelation none the less.
  7. Material things have become much less important to me. I can’t think of any thing that I miss at home, besides the general notion of the comfiness and coziness of my condo. I don’t wish I had a particular shirt or skirt that I left behind (although I do often wish I had different clothes with me, just for variety’s sake). I don’t miss that poster I just had to have or the desk I agonized over selecting. This is something I’ve learned over and over, such as when I moved overseas with just a few suitcases, but this time it’s really powerful. I’m already looking forward to de-cluttering my life when I get home. What I do miss are dinners and games with my friends and family. It’s the experiences I treasure. Just like on this trip – I’ve bought a few souvenirs, but not many, as it’s the nights out, the skydiving, the scuba diving, the funny things that have happened that I’ll treasure. I just need to make sure I continue to remember that when I’m home.
  8. New has lost its fascination for me. This is probably the strangest one. Like anyone, I’ve loved buying a new CD, a new electronic gadget, new clothes. When I bought my condo, the vintage ones, albeit beautiful, held no interest for me. At some point halfway through Cambodia, while looking out at the ugly array of patched together electronics, houses and cars on the street I realized there it something to be said for not tossing something away just because it’s not the newest thing anymore. In India, I was told “anything can be fixed” and nothing gets thrown away. In the U.S. it was recommended I buy a new phone, even though only the volume button was not working as it would cost more to repair than replace. In Delhi, I had it repaired for a few dollars with everyone believing that was a perfectly normal thing to do. Yes, having a blue door on a red car may not look great, but it still runs great so why would anyone buy a new one? That would be a waste of money and resources. Certainly a different way of thinking. It’s along the same lines as the material things observation, but slightly different. Things no longer need to be useful AND beautiful for me. It’s ok if they’re just one or the other.

Wow, all this is a bit of a switch after my silly posts over the past few months. You do tend to get wrapped up in the “how to I get to that museum” and “how much money can I spend on dinner tonight” and don’t realize the things that are going on inside your own head. I do sometimes wonder how life will be at home. Will I just go back to my old life, with good memories? Will I radically change my life because of them? Or will I find a way to make small changes, incorporating what I’ve learned into what I had previously achieved? If so, what will that look like? I guess I’ll have to wait another month to find out…

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