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Fall 2014 Semester

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Princeton Bridge Year

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A note from a previous student

Himalaya B, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
Prep
by: Claire Wright
Dragons Alumni

Whether or not you realize it, you guys are the luckiest people in the world. I would give anything to be where you are at this moment; you are about to embark on the most incredible adventure.

I would give anything to be able to see the mountains again, for the first time. To realize what it means to be in awe of nature, shocked that our world can be so physically beautiful and powerful at the same time. I guess that’s what you call majesty.

I would give anything to sit with my amaa (mother), rolling out roti by candlelight, sipping chia and discovering that language far surpasses simply words.

I would give anything to trace the streets down to my ISP, and feel hard silver in my hand; to begin the art of turning a figment of imagination into a piece of jewelry.

I would give anything to wander down rocky hillsides with my bhaini (sister), tired and dusty, ready to swim in the river with friends.

You will feel happiness greater than you could ever imagine. But there are also moments of great pain and struggle ahead of you. Each of you will have challenges: for some, trekking will be the hardest weeks of your life; for others, meditating silently may drive you crazy. But there is also great sweetness in every trial. Nepal taught me to embrace the beauty in life – beauty that appears as pain and as joy. Both sides of life shape us into the person we will become.

I wish you all strength and joy. Be excited – the next three months are yours, yours to grow and live and learn. Your families and friends will be waiting when you return, so try and embrace every moment in Nepal with 100% of yourselves; the time will fly by and you only have three months!

And, just in case you were wondering (I know I was): Yes. It is possible to find ice-cream in Nepal!

Xoxo. Namaste.

Claire Wright

Himalayan Studies Semester Alumni

Matt’s Introduction

Indonesia, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
Prep
by: Matt Colaciello
Instructor

To Our Soon-To-Be ANAK NAGA (Dragons students):

Sitting down to introduce myself to you, I’m filled with curiosity about your lives and aspirations. Who are you adventurous young adults that Rita, Jen, and I will soon meet in Yogyakarta? What is calling you away from all that is familiar to an island nation on the other side of the world?

It has been twelve years since I embarked on my own first journey into the world. I was 16 and somehow convinced my parents to let me spend several months with family friends in Spain. I wonder if you feel now some of what I felt then: that longing to experience life outside of America paired with an equally powerful longing to know myself. It’s funny that these two desires should arise in us together. Why should we think we are more likely to find ourselves, our truth, in a cobblestoned plaza in Madrid or in a remote Indonesian village than at home? Why couldn’t truth have chosen an easier place to get to? Why couldn’t it be available on the aisles of a Walmart in American suburbia?

There is an Indonesian proverb that goes: “The will of the heart is to hug the mountain even when the arms are not long enough.” (“Ingin hati memeluk gunung apa daya tangan tak sampai.“) We can be sure that this saying wasn’t originally intended for global travelers like you and I, but its meaning certainly speaks to my question above. It is only when we reach out to embrace the world that we really experience our limitations, our fears. At home, our limitations can go unnoticed. We hold tight to our distractions and habits; they are easy to wrap our arms around. People in our lives may even encourage us to settle, to allow our fears to draw the boundaries of our dreams.

When we immerse ourselves in a foreign culture, however, our limitations come right to the fore. Encountering difference forces us to question our unexamined assumptions, reconsider habits, and develop deep compassion and empathy. This fall, through countless situations, we will have the opportunity to stare our fears and limitations in the face, to push beyond them, to open our arms ever wider and embrace the world as fully as we can. There is so much joy in that embrace!

If your travels in Indonesia are anything like mine over the years, you are likely to feel simultaneously bigger and smaller than you ever have at home, more elated and yet more challenged, more independent and yet more closely knit to others than ever before. As you experience this spectrum of emotions you may find yourself looking inward for what remains still, a voice of clarity, an inner refuge. This is the inward turn of the outward journey. It is precisely what makes a trip to Indonesia a more effective way of finding your authentic self than a trip to your local Starbucks!

This inward turn, in combination with an aspiration to serve others and a love for bridging cultural divides, has kept me traveling ever since my first trip to Spain. During high school, I returned to Madrid each summer. In college, I managed to spend three semesters studying abroad. First I went to Mali, West Africa, to work with an arts-based human rights education project. Then I backpacked throughout India and Nepal before moving into a Buddhist monastery to spend a semester studying philosophy and meditation. After graduating college, I received a fellowship to work on environmental policy advocacy and poplar education with a foundation in New Delhi. In 2011, I started working for Dragons in Indonesia and have been back and forth between there and India ever since. Through all of this, my heart has never stopped yearning to embrace the mountain fully, and staying open, flexible, and welcoming of life’s challenges has remained a daily practice.

So that’s a little about me and my approach to the journey. How about you? Feel free to use the Yak Board to tell us, your future instructors and co-travelers, about yourself.

It goes without saying that Rita, Jen, and I, along with the 79 species of mammals unique to the island of Sulawesi, can’t wait to meet you!

Sampai Jumpa! See you soon!

Matt Colaciello

How I Have Changed

Bolivia 6-week, Picture of the Week, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
Reflection
by: Rebecca Strull
Student
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I now see myself as part of the bigger picture. Before these six weeks of travel and exploration, I knew that there was a world out there, but did not really understand what that meant. Now, I am part of a world of seven billion, all of different thought systems, rituals, and ways of being. I understand that this world is ours; it is not merely a thought held only to my imagination. We all deserve to live on it, yet have the duty to live with it, to be aware that we are stewards of nature and nature is a steward of us.

Our main goals as people are to survive, surround ourselves with loving family and friends, and most of all, to foster personal happiness and global well-being. I have laughed, feeling so supported and respected by my group. They have allowed me to become an independent thinker, and even more so, an independent doer. My home stay in Totor Kawa distilled for me the essential familial values of strength, love, and support. Not that my family back at home is any less amazing, just that my family here has shown me what is the most significant, that material possessions are irrelevant. For that matter, they have shown me that poverty is only a word for not having a lot of unnecessary material wealth. This is completely unrelated to the richness of humanity which is attainable by anyone.
I tear up to know that I have felt free; I have felt free because I am not afraid. Having shaken from the bonds of mental limitation, I will make my own choices and own future. During this trip, I have learned through experiential adventure how I want to live my life. This could never be taught by someone else. I want to be unrestricted by society’s borders of conventionality, do what I believe, and keep learning all the time. Blending my creativity and sensibility, I will positively impact this world.
I am so proud to be living amongst nature’s balance of a system, yet have been struck by the human selfishness and ignorance which now weigh down the scale. After experiencing the mountains of the Andes and life of the Amazon, I dedicate my life to once again returning the world to harmony. I will keep questioning, so that if lucky, I may eventually stumble upon the answers.
Thank you to these six weeks of discovery. Thank you to my perseverance and openness. Thank you to four instructors who helped guide both my body and mind. Thank you to all the wonderful people I met and observed throughout this journey, allowing me to experience their perspectives and way of life. Thank you to my eight best friends who have created a community of love. Our new family has let me be no more and no less than myself and done the same for everyone else; I have grown. Thank you to these blank pages, now filled with thoughts. Thank you to all who have shared and all who have listened. Thank you to the waterfall that collapses into the pool, then winds through the rocks at my feet. Thank you to the blue sky. Thank you to Bolivia. I am so incredibly appreciative.
I will miss you, but am ready to go home and live some more.
My goal is to not lose this life from the past six weeks. The people and places will not be the same, yet I want to live with this same essence.

The red dirt of Africa on New York City carpets

Rwanda, Yak of the Week
Reflection
by: Zack Siddall
Instructor

I woke up this morning (at 3:30am…thanks time zone difference) mildly distraught and severely disoriented. My ears searched around for the familiar sounds of my roommate Emmy or the faint East African rhythms coming from some nearby radio. Yet all I heard was the labored breathing of a cheap hotel’s outdated air-conditioning unit. This morning I would not start my day with a  shower that consisted 30 seconds of boiling water and then 5 minutes of water imported from Antarctica. I would not walk out of my room and sit with my amazing instructor team to plan out our day over countless cups of Icyayi ch’amata. I would not see my wonderful, sleepy eyed students slowly trickle over to the breakfast table.  I was no longer in Africa. I was “home.”

 

To the parents, friends and loved ones of our dear students,

Your Dragon is home! What a long six weeks its been for you. Getting the occasional Yak update or hastily written email that can’t even begin to cover all the experiences your loved one is having. We thank you for your patience but we need to ask you for even more. Because despite the fact that your Dragon has returned home their adventure is not over. Actually, as cliche as it might sound, their adventure has only just begun.

Rwanda changes you. It changes you while you’re there. It changes you in the days and weeks that follow. It changes you in the years that follow. Loved ones of our dear Dragons acknowledge and nurture this change. Ask deep questions that go beyond the “what was the food like?” but also give then space and time to process this epic adventure. And the last request I have is send them love from us, their instructor team, and let them know how unbelievably proud of them we are. Thank you for letting us steal your precious child/friend/loved one away for 6 life changing weeks this summer.

Sincerely,

Zack

 

To my Dragons family,

When I look back on our trip the first of so many memories that comes to mind is the 13 of us sitting on the shores of beautiful Lake Kivu. All of us looking up to the stars and sitting in blissful silence while we reflected on the concept of forgiveness. I am so impressed with each and every one of you in your own unique way. I hope we made it clear how proud of you all we are. Continue our meditative practices of sending love and positive energy to one another. I look forward to the day our paths cross again but if they do not I want you to know how thankful I am for the time we had together. Let’s keep each other in our lives.

With much love and appreciation,

Zack

 

What does “home” mean to you?

Nicaragua Educator, The Best Notes From The Field, Yak of the Week
In-Field
by: Joe Helpern
Educator

8:30pm – El Lagartillos – It is dark now. No more discussions of water shortage in town. The roosters and hens are quiet. My host family (Alcides, Carla y ellos hijos Roniel, Greybim, and Alciditos) has gone to bed. The hum of carrahchatta keeps me company as I type away. For most of the year, I am a science teacher and global citizenship committee member at a high school on Long Island, NY. But here in Nicaragua, I am Jose. Some invisible scissors had spliced me into pieces and all I could do was stare at them as they rest on the dirt floor.

Where to begin…I will pick up my heaviest piece first.

Every person is taught their own of definition of home, consciously or subconsciously, from a very early age. For some, it is a matter of, well, matter; red bricks, carved tree branches, old kitchen tables, and creaky rocking chairs. So when my parents called me three years ago and asked me how I felt about them selling our house in upstate New York and moving to a house in South Carolina, I froze. But I didn’t care about the stuff; we had moved with my two younger sisters four times before that and I had personally moved eight times since high school. Heck, my collection of moving boxes is older than my upper deck baseball card collection. At first I thought, I won’t miss that house. And I felt my own selfish pride. I was proud that my parents felt confident in my ability to redefine home once more. Some awful coming-of-age ceremony was taking place and I was standing on the podium. But the single seed crystal that solidifies your thoughts and changes the course of your life is often unexpected. I froze. I thought, “If there is no house, what is home? Where is it?” And then I wondered about other families and their definitions of home. And if their are other versions of home, why haven’t I seen them? And so I find myself in the small community of El Lagartillos, Nicaragua, searching for those answers.

This is the magic of the Dragon’s Educator Experience. A small group of teachers with exceptional instructors, together spiraling through the meta-experience of learning course design while experiencing it firsthand. Shared mental models of global citizenship, awareness of self and leadership/skill building begin to coalesce as we move through the experiential learning project components (homestays, rugged travel, trekking, service learning, surveys of development, independent service projects, language study, comparative religion, and a specific focus of inquiry for each region). In my eight years of teaching, I have never had such an integrated, engaging, and reflective learning experience.

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Welcome to Yak Yak, Dragons’ student travel blog. The thoughtful reflections, inspiring text, and open-hearted wisdom of Dragons’ students are among the most moving student travel writings to be found on the web. In an age of media overload and cryptic tweets, these writings stand out as contemplative, often profound, and once in a while magical insights into students’ overseas travel experiences. Yak Yak consists of over 11,000 posts that have been uploaded since 2007, when the word "blog" was a scarcely known term. The history of our work and the soul of Dragons lives in these pages. Enjoy!