Early travels build a foundation of acceptance
Kelsey Haas eager to use her travel experiences to help bridge gap between cultures
In 2015, while hiking in the mountains of Albania, Kelsey Haas got lost.
"I didn't have the proper gear and I got completely lost, wandering around in the rain as it was getting dark," she said. "Finally, I saw a shepherd with his flock of sheep. He walked with me for a bit, gave me his food and pointed me on my way."
Seeing a light in the distance, Haas approached a home and knocked on the door.
"I remember the moment when I was knocking on the door and it opened," she said. "There on the other side of the door was a tiny, 80-year-old woman. She looked at me and opened her arms. I burst into tears."
Haas stayed with the woman and her family for the night.
"That moment of knocking on the door was a level of trust between two cultures and two people," Haas shared. "I'm putting my trust in the person opening the door and she's putting her trust in the person crossing the doorstep."
Haas' grew up in Homer and her passion for travel began when she was 6 years old.
Haas, along with her parents, both lawyers who regularly do volunteer work in developing countries, and her sister, Kate and brother, Tyler, lived in Dharamsala, a small village in northern India, at the base of the Himalayas.
"It was absolutely magical, like a dream," Haas shared. "A beautiful place on the ridgeline, with roads falling onto either side, monasteries and Buddhist monks walking and chanting."
At the time, the village was home to the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government? When the Dalai Lama came to stay in a monastery down the road from the Haas family, they lined up for hours to receive a blessing?
"It felt very safe and welcoming," Haas said?"We were embraced by the community — the monks, the shopkeepers, even the lepers in the street."
The family spent nine months in Dharamsala and then traveled for three months.
When she was 10 years old, the family traveled to Europe. They lived in France for three months and traveled Western Europe for three months.
"This was such a different experience, she said. "India was beautiful, but there was so much poverty. In France, everyone was so elegant."
When she was 14, the family spent a year in Armenia. As the family traveled, Haas found herself growing in confidence and independence, becoming more accepting and tolerant of different religions and cultures?
"We were taught to embrace the good of all people, to always look for the positive and find the good in people's hearts," she said.
When she was 16, Haas traveled to South Africa as a foreign exchange student. This was her first time traveling alone.
"This trip was a bit difficult," she shared. "The divide between the two cultures, white and black, really shook me?It wasn't something I had experienced before."
Despite the difficulties, Haas learned a great deal about herself.
"I learned how to go beyond what I perceive as my weakness and push myself to be stronger," she said?"I was also reminded my how incredibly fortunate I am to have such a strong family who support me no matter what.?
After graduating from Homer High School in 2011, Haas moved to Ireland, where she studied ancient history/archeology and worl?religions/theology at the Trinity College in Dublin. She graduated in 2015.
For Haas, travel not only provides opportunities to meet people and experience new cultures, it provides a new way of looking at the world, such as during a recent trip to Fiji.
"I went to a remote island and ended up in a village in the middle of nowhere," she said. "The villagers had nothing of monetary value, but they were happy and welcomed me into their houses. I learned that happiness comes when you're surrounded by good people."
Haas is herself surrounded by good people, including her father, Andy, who is one of her greatest sources of inspiration.
"He's a gentleman, eloquent, well read, well traveled and he cares about other people more than himself," she said.
On March 21, Haas will set out on an open-ended adventure. She will begin in Hawaii, spending three weeks with her family before heading to Australia to be with her boyfriend, Rauel, who she met while traveling in the mountains outside of Sydney.
Rather than planning her time, Haas is letting her journey unfold.
"I really don't know where I'm going to end up," she said. "Maybe I'll teach English in Japan, I just don't know."
Haas is eager to share stories from her travel experiences in order to help build a bridge between cultures.
"There's such a gap between us - America and Homer - and the rest of world, and so any small thing I can do to bridge that gap is important," she shared.
Haas hopes she inspires others to travel.
"You don't need vast amounts of money and time," she said. "All you need is the willingness to put yourself out there and the ability to jump out of your comfort zone."