Unicycling 101

Kim Asenbeck - Brazil


September 12, 2012

I rode a unicycle today. But let me get back to that in a moment…

First, a bit of background: Fall Training–a ten-day period of exhausting yet exhilarating seminars, field trips, workshops, and training sessions–serves as the start to every fellow’s Global Citizen Year. The aim of Fall Training is to prepare us for our time abroad through exposure to experts in the fields of social entrepreneurship, international economic development, etc. Abby Falik, founder and CEO of Global Citizen Year, shared a notable metaphor at the start of our ten days at Stanford. Imagine yourself hanging from a set of monkey bars, Abby instructed. Now think of that moment- that split second when you let go of the monkey bar behind you, and you’re suspended in insecurity as you reach for the next bar. I’ll go no further in explaining this metaphor at this point, but rest assured, I’ll delve deeper.

For now, back to the unicycle. Those who have attempted to unicycle before will attest to the fact that unicycling is no easy feat. There’s quite a lot of balance and core strength involved.  As I was beginnning to get comfortable on the halved bicycle, I noticed that the beams which supported the roof abovehead happened to form what was effectively a set of makeshift monkey bars. Abby’s metaphor came to mind. Wobbling still, I held on first to one beam, then reached forward to the next, feeling vulnerable and unstable on my unicycle. Finally, after a reasonable amount of unsteadiness, I reached the opposite side of the porch I was pedaling across. I trusted myself to let go of the monkey bars for a brief period of time–just enough to propel myself forward to my destination.

Travel is filled with these monkeybar moments. Granted, one rarely finds oneself on a unicycle, gripping onto literal monkey bars. Yet often enough, one does find oneself grasping for a new word in a new language, trying meat which comes from a cow part you never even knew existed, or awkwardly learning the first steps of a new dance–be it Samba, Forro, or Ai Se Eu Te Pego. Regardless, these moments present insecurity. A lack of comfort. Often, one would rather drop down from the monkeybars and rest in the facility of comfort. Yet in discomfort, we grow. “Monkeybar moments” stretch us. They help expand our capacity. They are the moments that define our travels, and define who we become.

Today, I stretched myself. I was insecure. I was wobbly. But I tried a new thing, learned a new word (monociclo- unicycle), and, most significantly, I let go of the monkey bar behind me.

Post Script: You may be wondering why, or how, I found myself on a unicycle in the first place. Currently, my fellow fellows and I are going through in-country orientation, a month-long period intended to prepare fellows for the remainder of their time in-country by providing them with basic language skills, exposing them to various cultural elements, and building a general skill set which will be of use in apprenticeships, homestays, and so on. The Brazil cohort is spending the month allotted for in-country orientation in Vale do Capao, a tiny, quirky Bahian village in a beautiful region called Chapada Diamantina. Here in Capao, a number of the village’s residents are members of the local circus. During my time here, I’ve met clowns, acrobats, and, among other talented individuals, a unicyclist. Ipso facto, today I tried out said unicyclist’s unicycle. Check out this video for yours truly in action!

Kim Asenbeck