5:00am wake ups are easier when these mountains call for you to get out of your tent. Photo by Cecelia Palmquist (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest, 1st Place), Nepal Semester.

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Where There Be Dragons

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"...what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives..."
I recently had the pleasure of eavesdropping on a conversation between two of my students huddled together in a sweet, sweaty puddle in the back of a bouncing taxi in Delhi. I overheard both of them express honest relief in how nice it was to take a break from their phones; how free they felt from not having to worry about maintaining their Instagram feed; and about how they could see, feel, hear, and smell things in a way that was new to them. I was struck by their uncomplicated reflections. The demands of today’s adolescent world transecting the era of social media seems so messy, so thorny, so impossibly hard to navigate. I’m left to assume how challenging it must be to keep up with unrelenting social ultimatums at school and online, and I’m also left wondering how readily it can be cast off by removing a device. Is it really the simple arithmetic my students just proposed? Removing the phone removes the drama? Researchers and experts tell us plenty on the negatives associated with being glued to our devices: more screen time means more disturbed sleep; too much time on our phones yields reduced memory and recall; even having a cell phone around makes us less present (guilty). Some tech critics even go as far as to say that our technology and reliance thereof has made entire generations dumber. In addition to the experts, we’re ironically bombarded daily with articles written by well-intentioned non-experts (hi!) cautioning us against the negatives of screen time. Perhaps more absurd are the apps we rely on to send us a reminder to stop relying on apps that send us reminders (#meta). Our screens are onions, it seems: complicated, improbable intersecting layers of social hierarchy, neuroscience, game theory, engagement, and the arbitrary assignment and arrangement of hearts and upward-pointing thumbs. When we engage with others through a screen, we aren’t necessarily being antisocial, though. Nor is it correct to readily discount the depth of screen-to-screen connections, as evidenced by the millions who find the sacrament of holy matrimony on an online dating platform. Indeed, a screen in and of itself is harmless. But, when we replace a palpable experience, a laugh, a knowing glance, or even a glimpse out our windows for a glance at our phone, we cheat ourselves from the power and magic of being where we are now. It leads one to wonder if devices are the problem, or perhaps a symptom of something grander that’s merely triggered by screens. As a humble non-expert, I wonder if it’s a fear of unscheduling- consciously keeping precious, vacuous, spacious time that remains terrifyingly unoccupied in the midst of a busy week- that consumes us. On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. We join in on local gamelan practice with village seniors in Kedungmiri, watching hands move deftly over instruments we’ve never seen before. We are witness to the ensemble of car horns, singing bells, and cows in the streets of Bhaktapur, ears mesmerized by implausible harmony. We live and work with families in the Andean highlands, pleasantly surprised we are capable of working so hard even the tendons of our fingers are weary. We stare in awe as the sun breaks over a remote area of the Great Wall, delighting in the deliciousness of the moment. Snapping and quickly posting photos of any of these things would surely yield some likes, but we’d also be abruptly jerked from the “right here” of the human realm to the “over there” of the digital realm, where those little hearts and upward-facing thumbs validate (or not) what we saw, what we did, how we felt, and what it meant. Instead, we deliberately keep open space in our itineraries and invite magic into unscheduled hours. While on course, instructors commonly use the phrase “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” In the moment, this might mean braving a multi-hour bumpy bus ride over a high pass on the generously unpaved highways around Leh. Or trying cuy (guinea pig) for the first time. It might mean prodding your obstinate camel forward in the midday heat of the dunes of Wadi Rum. Or practicing giving one of your peers-turned-friends feedback. Or it might mean leaving home behind, sitting with your experiences, and processing their meaning and value and worth before sharing them. It might mean not knowing what your friends are doing or what feels like blindly trusting that your experience, your time, and your days away are valid in and of themselves. It might mean sitting on a bus with empty, idle hands with only the grandmother to your left and the swaddled infant to your right. It might even mean missing your phone or your social media accounts. Admittedly, a Dragons course can make it easy to leave things behind. We don’t allow phones on our courses, and without the choice to even have a device, it’s decidedly simple to see what’s in front of us. Dragons programming inherently augments human interactions and diminishes digital connection. It’s when our courses end, when we are reunited with the things we left behind during our course, that we forget the sentiment of comfort amongst discomfort. We become quickly unaccustomed to embracing those rich hollow moments, favoring ease, automation, and habits we were sure we’d shirk when we returned home (using our phones before bed, idly scrolling our thumbs through miles of square photo worlds, diddling into the depths of YouTube, and so on). We fall back into a routine of filling the emptiness with something, anything. We fill our schedules, fill our brains, fill our thumbs until we’re a bit numb. But, what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives, as we do while on a Dragons course? What if we intentionally left vacant moments in our days? What if we paused to hear our own street’s symphonies, mirroring those that seem so tantalizing to our ears in Nepal? What if we took a break from our homework and wandered down a street we’d never been as we have done with our homestay siblings before dinner? What if we stepped outside our bedrooms to marvel at the night sky as we did on trek in the Andes? I propose we get uncomfortable. Let’s challenge ourselves to unschedule, to rest our thumbs, to lean into idle, and leave sacred vacancy to be filled with uncharted magic. Let’s dig into what seems familiar and unearth the unfamiliar. Let’s see our neighborhoods with undistracted eyes, romanticize the details of our everyday, and marvel in the smells and textures that adorn our routine. And once we’ve had those moments and savored comfortable discomfort, let’s keep connecting. Let’s keep talking and sharing and inspiring the remarkable in the unremarkable.

Essay by Sara Russell, Dragons Partnership Programs Curriculum Coordinator

  We want to hear more about your sacred offline moments and be inspired by our community that seeks the uncomfortable. Tell us, show us, connect us to your moments of disconnecting by hashtagging your stories and images with #dragonsunplugged (we’ll be watching and ready to re-share!) [post_title] => Full Moments with Free Hands: Finding the Value in #UnpluggedTravel [post_excerpt] => On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. We ask: What if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => full-moments-free-hands-finding-value-unpluggedtravel [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-02-12 10:42:20 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-02-12 17:42:20 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 2 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 0 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 2 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 15 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 15 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/about_dragons/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 670 [name] => Recommended [slug] => recommended [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 670 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [parent] => 0 [count] => 5 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 5 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, About Dragons ... )
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Full Moments with Free Hands: Finding the Value...

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02/07/18

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Sara Russell

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On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. We ask: What if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives...
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...this country has great wealth that goes way beyond economics.
This new year, I’ve taken a lot of time to explore Dakar, and I wanted to share some of my stories with you. Some experiences have been profound, some not. Some fun, some uncomfortable. Sometimes I do touristy things like a local, sometimes I do local things like a tourist. This is (arbitrarily) the first of my Dakar travels. The unfortunate background to our first tale is that Sophie had to leave Senegal early. In light of this, during one of our days off, we decided to take an adventure, exploring a side of Dakar we hadn’t seen before. This included going to the wonderful Espace Maam Samba, a fairtrade boutique associated with an NGO that seeks to revitalise Senegalese villages faced with desertification (Berte, one of our instructors, works with the NGO). There we bought some gifts and spent a little while chatting with the women working at the boutique. After spending a little too much money, we headed towards the sea, trying to figure out how to get to the Ile de Ngor. We walked down some small sandy alleys, tall houses on either side, asking for directions on the way, and just as we were getting skeptical we saw a stunning beach brimming with pirogues, busy with fishers, tourists, vendors. [caption id="attachment_152546" align="alignnone" width="854"] Photo by Benjamin Roberts, Princeton Bridge Year Senegal Program.[/caption] We stood for a moment, stunned by the array of colours, the sheer quantity of boats and the beautiful view out to the island and beyond. And as we stood, a pirogue floated calmly towards the shore, then suddenly a flurry of activity as a large group of men and women, previously sitting untroubled on the beach, leapt into action, hauling the boat onto shore and examining the catch of the day. Having soaked up the atmosphere, we returned to our mission, crossing to the island. As we walked along the beach, I found myself hauling a boat on to shore; it felt only natural as it landed right in our path. Continuing on, we found a man selling return tickets to the island, and as we sat waiting for the boat to come, we saw a few groups of foreign tourists come and take private boats to the island. Sophie and I preferred to wait for the cheaper, more communal option. That gave us time for a little chat with a sunglasses seller called Babacar, who impressed us with his English as we impressed him with our Wolof. Eventually the pirogue came, giving us the cue to don our life jackets and scramble in. Not wanting to get in the way, I hopped on and made my way to the back so that others could come aboard. Once I was seated, I realised that I had lost Sophie (not the tallest among us), for whom the high-sided boat was not so easy to climb as it was for me. Fortunately someone more considerate than myself helped her clamber up, and the boat began its short yet exciting journey to the island. With our feet in the sand on the other side (and a rogue sandal rescued from the quietly thieving tides), we sought to explore. Wary of an offer of a ‘free’ guided tour, we decided to find our own way around the small island. It wasn’t long before we bumped into a local artist. Though we were at first wary, we engaged openly with him, and I’m glad we did so, as we ended up spending a long time talking, with him telling us about the island as well as his home in the southern Casamance region of Senegal. As we parted, he gifted us bracelets, telling us that though he may not travel far, his art will. I assured him that we take his name with us, and reccomend his traditional art to our friends. Barely ten paces along the island and we felt it rude not to chat with a lonely artist at work. After a brief chat about music of all types, Senegalese mbalax, disco, reggae, we took a seat at the tip of the island, looking out to the humblingly vast ocean. Dakar being the westernmost point in mainland Afro-Eurasia, the atlantic here feels particularly vast: sitting there on the Ile de Ngor, only the ocean kept us from being on the beaches of Honduras. At the same time, it really is a world away. There on the cliffs of the Ile de Ngor, with waves crashing on the rocks beneath us, was a spot ripe for reflection, and we sat there for a long while. Eventually came time to move on, and we took a stroll around the picturesque island, taking in some incredible buildings, one house covered in seashells, a Christian school that looked like Noah’s Ark, and many less incredible but still beautiful creations. [caption id="attachment_152547" align="alignnone" width="755"] Photo by Benjamin Roberts, Princeton Bridge Year Senegal Program.[/caption] Eventually came time for our return. We sat on the beach, waiting for the next pirogue to come, eating beignets (a wonderful doughnut-like treat). While not all of my time here is spent going on fun adventures like this one, I have found them to be perhaps some of my most valuable time in Senegal. Seeing the beauty of the world is a treasure in itself, and I encounter a lot of thought-provoking experiences, good and bad. The space that these adventures have given me simply to think has been so far priceless. Days like this one make me realise all that Senegal has to offer. Often in the West, there are incredibly simplistic views of Africa, not helped by some of the de-humanising ‘humanitarian’ advertising campaigns we see. But this country has great wealth that goes way beyond economics. It’s in the art, which abounds in quantity and beauty in Senegal. Even the buses here are a psychedelic explosion of colour inspired by some of the country’s richest and oldest cultural traditions. It’s in the folk traditions that have been built up and preserved for centuries, underpinning community life and providing wisdom from generations past to generations present. It’s in the landscape, from the plateaus in Thies that emerge from nowhere and disappear just as quickly, standing over vast flat plains; to the lush, green waterfallls that dot the mountains of Kedogou; as well as the peninsula of Dakar, where we were sat. And of course, the intrinsic wealth of everyone here. This is a wealth that we have all had the benefit of experiencing in our homestay families, as we are welcomed with open arms, and we encounter it on the street so often with all the incredible people we meet. All of these experiences mean that by the time I leave Senegal, I’ll be a lot richer than when I came.

Read MORE from the Princeton Bridge Year Senegal Yak Board.

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    [post_content] => Oh! We love it when our past Gap Year students send us video footage from their year abroad!  Thank you Benjamin Swift (Dragons South America Semester, Fall 2016)

“Thanks to everyone who made the past year+ great! Here's to more adventures in 2018 (albeit a bit late) Scenes from my 2016-17 gap year in Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador. Highlights included traveling with Where There Be Dragons, interning with ecologists in Quito, diving in the Galápagos Islands, and volunteering at the AmaZOOnico animal rescue center in the Ecuadorean Amazon.”



Gap Year Highlight Reel from Benjamin Swift on Vimeo.
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“Thanks to everyone who made the past year+ great! Here's to more adventures in 2018 (albeit a bit late) Scenes from my 2016-17 gap year in Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador. Highlights included traveling with Where There Be Dragons, interning with ecologists in Quito, diving in the Galápagos Islands, and volunteering...
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Dragons School Partnership Programs offer much more than an itinerary or the management of ground logistics; In our collaboration with a school, we are dedicated to an aim of fostering a more interconnected, aware, and empathetic student body, faculty, and parent community. The two voices in the following essays speak to the transformative potential that immersive international educational experiences can offer.

[caption id="attachment_152434" align="alignnone" width="1186"] The streets of Amman.[/caption]

Milton in Jordan: Transcending Limitations of the Classroom -- A Map's Edge Newsletter Feature

WORDS JOSHUA EMMOTT

THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EDUCATOR

One of the challenges teaching Middle East history to high school students is how to immerse them in a foreign culture, especially one they only know through the media depictions of war in Iraq and Syria or terrorist attacks in Europe. In our classroom at Milton Academy Massachusetts I have struggled to use texts, videos and Skype interviews with people in the region to move beyond a superficial understanding of culture, gender, religion and how modern day Middle Eastern societies work. Having lived and traveled in the Middle East, I am able to bring personal anecdotes to our studies. But I have felt that even though my students can converse intelligently about the politics and history of the region, they still leave my class feeling that Islam and Muslim culture are opaque and impenetrable topics that they do not really understand, and so they are left with little understanding of the diverse voices that are active and vibrant in the region. This frustration and inability to provide students with a holistic understanding of the Middle East led me to explore alternative ways to connect my classroom to the Middle East. This is how I found myself in Madaba, Jordan in March 2016 with nine other American teachers learning about experiential education for the first time. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan and having traveled extensively in the region, I thought I knew everything there was to know about Jordan, only to discover that I was quite mistaken. In March 2017, I returned to Jordan with eight of my Milton Academy students for a ten-day cultural immersion into Jordanian society. None of my students had traveled to the Middle East before and one of them had never left the United States. From the moment we stepped out of the Queen Alia Airport into the hot desert air until our return home ten days later, all of our assumptions about what Jordan represented, who we were, and what it meant to be a citizen of the world were constantly being challenged, tested and affirmed. Our Dragons partnership course was deliberately designed to take everyone out of their comfort zone and provide time for each member of the group to process at their own pace. In Amman, my students would gather every night on the rooftop terrace of our hotel to passionately discuss and debate for hours the impact of the Syrian refugee crisis on the stability of Jordan; what it means to be Jordanian; the role of Islam in Jordanian society; whether the tribal structure is a force for regime stability or an obstacle to democratic reform; and how to understand the role of women in Jordan. Questions abound in the moment, but for some, our ten days in Jordan also resulted in an overwhelming encounter with ‘the world’ that left them still processing the experience weeks after we had returned to Milton. To start our exploration of Jordanian culture and gender, our group was invited to lunch by a remarkable woman named Khaloud. The students and I spent an entire afternoon in Khaloud’s apartment with her two college-aged children and her elderly parents. Over the course of an hours-long feast, the students practiced their recently-acquired Arabic language skills; learned what it was like to be a young women studying science at a Jordanian college; and from Khaloud’s father, what it is like to be a Palestinian who lived in Saudi Arabia and now resided with his divorced daughter in Amman, Jordan. In our discussions over a mountain of kebabs, bread and grilled vegetables, the students shared their family stories and the role of elderly family members in their lives. We were all challenged to think about how the elderly are treated in the United States versus the Jordanian approach of having your elders move into your house when they become too frail to live on their own. After tea was poured—a sweet, sugary, aromatic mint tea that is the mainstay of all social interactions in Jordan—we all gathered around the family table while Khaloud shared her life story with us. Khaloud’s father arranged for Khaloud to be married to a Saudi man twenty years her senior when she was a young teenager. After her second child, Khaloud resolved that she was going to challenge the patriarchal structure of Saudi Arabia and run away to Jordan to get divorced, as there exists no such option to escape an oppressive marriage for a woman in Saudi Arabia. Khaloud then shared her story of building a new life in Jordan, and how difficult it is to be a divorced woman in a society where marriage is the norm. This powerful and personal experience of sitting in Khaloud’s apartment with her family as she shared her life story raised more questions than answers. After two hours listening intently to Khaloud’s story, the students paid respects to the family and we departed. We regrouped at Al Jadal café in Amman to digest and process Khaloud’s journey and better understand what this revealed about the role of women in Jordanian society. The power of our Dragon’s course in Jordan was that we never knew where the conversation was going to take us. Our visit to Al Jadal was meant to be a fun break from the heady discussions of the morning and an opportunity to learn the debkhe (traditional Jordanian dance). For over an hour, our group tried to follow the lead of our female instructor as we attempted to replicate the debkhe, which looks like a simple line dance, yet is deceptively complicated. After an hour of going right instead of left, we took a break to have a traditional Jordanian dinner cooked by Syrian refugee women working with an NGO associated with Al Jadal. After dinner the owner of Al Jadal sat down for tea and explained how his café was opened after the Arab Spring as a forum to debate the future of Jordanian politics and society. During our discussions, one of my students asked the owner of the café to explain an aside that he had made about the role of Islam in Jordanian society. Our discussion of politics suddenly took a turn and we found ourselves challenged to think about what the role of religion should be in society. Moreover, we were challenged to consider our individual role in creating a more equitable society. When should one engage in political protest or support the status quo? Is democracy the best form of government? This unexpected turn in our dinner discussion led to another late night on the rooftop of our hotel as my students developed a reading list of books they planned to read post-trip in order to better understand what was possible if one wanted to create a better world. From Amman, we crammed into a small Jordanian bus and traveled south to Wadi Rum and our four-day homestay in the desert town of ad-Disah. This was the first time we had left Amman and traveled into rural, conservative Jordan. After four hours driving passed flat sandy expanses, highway rest stops, and small settlements with twenty houses surrounded by endless brown landscape we passed through ad-Disah in the dark and arrived at Salah’s Bedouin camp at the entrance to Wadi Rum. Stepping out of our small bus into the darkness and silence of the desert, surrounded by the stone cliff formations of Wadi Rum, my group fell silent and nearly paralyzed in awe of the lunar-like surrounding where we would be spending the night. Sitting on the floor of the Bedouin tent we were treated to a traditional feast. As we ate, we again engaged in a discussion with our host Salah, this time on the role of tourism in Jordan and its impact on traditional Bedouin societies like that of ad-Disah, where each of us would live with a host family for the following four days. As we ate breakfast at Salah’s camp, the group was noticeably quiet and visibly nervous about the prospect of living alone with an unknown family in an unknown place. During our debrief before the homestay it was clear that everyone was very apprehensive about how they would spend four days with a family that did not speak English: How would they know what to do? How would they know what the cultural cues were? What if someone made a cultural faux pas? Our two Dragons leaders, Cate Brown and Elley Cannon explained how the homestay would work and patiently answered everyone’s questions. When the clock struck 10AM we all piled into the back of a pickup truck and headed into ad-Disah to drop the students off at their new home for the next four days. The truck ride into ad-Disah was the quietest I have ever seen my students. After a night in our homestays, we all congregated in the diwan (living room) of my host family’s house and debriefed our first twenty-four hours in ad-Disah. Two of the boys arrived in traditional Bedouin dress as their host families had taken them shopping in town. The two girls in our group were dressed in traditional Bedouin dress of head scarves and long robes as within this conservative society the female dress code is prerequisite for an immersive homestay experience. Right away it was clear that some of the students were having a great time and were forming bonds with their host families, and that there were other students who were completely overwhelmed, questioning whether they could spend another day in ad-Disah. The two female students in our group were struggling with the gender roles and how to reconcile their personal views with communal norms of ad-Disah.

On day two of our homestay there was a wedding in the village, which created a lot of excitement among the students. Jordanian weddings are multi-day affairs where men and women celebrate in separate locations. For the men, the weddings are all-day affairs in which they sit under long tents and drink rounds of tea and discuss family and politics for hours on end. For my students, sitting for hours with a limited ability to speak Arabic, and having to politely drink dozens of cups of sugary tea, not understanding what the hundreds of men in the tent were discussing, turned into an endurance contest and a real challenge to embrace a way of life that moves at a glacial pace compared to Milton. During one of our many discussions under the tent, the students observed that all of the younger men in ad- Disah had cellphones and spent hours upon hours transfixed by the screens. This ultimately led the students to start discussing the role that cellphones played in their own lives, and how the absence of a cellphone in Jordan had made them rethink the role that technology plays in their lives back at Milton. Transference, in a way, had begun.

Our last night in Jordan was a magical evening spent out in the middle of Wadi Rum sitting in a circle under the stars discussing ways in which we could bring our experience in Jordan back to Milton. As it turned out, one of the female students in our group, Mollie, spent her final month of school volunteering at a local mosque helping with Ramadan preparations and furthering her understanding of Islam. One of the six boys in our group, Matt, returned to Jordan this past summer to teach English at a local school in Zarqa in far eastern Jordan. The rest of the students have all expressed a sincere desire to pursue Arabic and Middle East History this fall as they start college.

The most fulfilling part of this experience for me was during our final night in Jordan, as I sat under a blanket of stars in Wadi Rum listening to each member of the group articulate the ways in which he or she had been challenged on this course and the ways in which they had grown both as a person and in their understanding of Jordan. Back at Milton, in our final month of the course, I took immense satisfaction in listening to the eight students who went to Jordan help their peers to better understand the cultural complexity of the kingdom. My goal is to bring my entire Middle East History class to Jordan every March. The impact of this trip on their understanding of local culture and society proved that experiential education is not only measurable, it is transformative.

JOSHUA EMMOTT was a participant on Dragons 2016 Jordan Educator course. Following the Educator Course, Joshua helped formalize the first Dragons-Milton Partnership Course in Jordan the spring of 2017. He and his students are headed back to Jordan with Dragons again in 2018. Joshua first traveled to Jordan in 1997 as a member of Peace Corps. Later, he and his wife Anne started a business importing olive oil soap from Syria and carpets and jewelry from Yemen and Pakistan. Since 2003, Josh has lived and taught Middle East History at Milton Academy.

[caption id="attachment_152435" align="alignnone" width="1186"] Herds of sheep coexist with
upscale apartments and embassies in Jebel Amman, a neighborhood of the capital.[/caption]

Milton in Jordan: Discovering the Middle East -- A Map's Edge Newsletter Feature

WORDS & IMAGES MATTHEW MAGANN

THROUGH THE EYES OF A STUDENT

“ISN’T IT DANGEROUS?” That’s the main question I heard when I told people I was traveling to Jordan. By and large, the West’s conception of the Middle East centers around terror, and mentioning the region calls to mind the horrors of September 11th and Islamic State.

That isn’t the picture I got in Jordan. Fear never crossed my mind as I walked through the bustling alleyways of Amman. A mixture of people, shops and traffic filled the streets of the capital city, whose electronics vendors and cafés melded together with ancient souks and Roman ruins. I witnessed a dynamic and rapidly changing society, albeit one deeply impacted by regional events. Massive, repeated inflows of refugees have heavily taxed Jordan’s limited natural resources. Despite that, it remains a stable and vibrant nation, one of the most successful in the Middle East. I spent ten days this past March in Jordan as part of a Dragons Partnership program with my high school, Milton Academy. We flew into Amman, where we stayed for a few days before driving down to ad-Disah, a Bedouin village in the southern deserts near Saudi Arabia. Although I had studied the Middle East both in class and independently, I had never left the Western world before and little prepared me for the experience I had in Jordan. I saw scars borne of the conflict and turmoil that continues to plague the region, but I also found an audacity and an authenticity unlike anything I had previously experienced. As a tall, white, blue-eyed American, I clearly stood out on the streets of Amman. So I quickly learned that in Jordan nearly everyone bids you welcome. Whether alone or with our student group, people would spontaneously call out “Hello!” in English or “Ahlaan wa sahlaan!” (welcome) in Arabic. In possession of only the name of a restaurant and the Jordanian Arabic term wa’in (where), I managed to navigate through the labyrinth of Amman’s streets, each person I asked immediately pointing out the next few turns like a personal guide. I spent the most time immersed in Jordanian culture while staying with a Bedouin host family. They spoke little English, and I no Arabic, yet I felt immediately welcomed into their home. The children in my family weren’t quite sure why I didn’t understand Arabic, but they took me around the village, introducing me to their friends and cousins and inviting me to play soccer. For a region so often stigmatized as hostile and violent towards the West, I found Jordan unusually friendly and welcoming. I certainly met Jordanians who held political disagreements with America, but I never felt those tensions shifted onto me as an individual. Perhaps in a region where states are often artificial and leaders frequently lack the popular mandate, separating the individual from the nation comes more naturally. Or, as I suspect, the welcoming culture I experienced in Jordan extends to everyone, regardless of language or nation. Although the Middle East may not fit the violent stereotypes of the West, it has undoubtedly suffered through some of the worst atrocities of modern times. Jordan, despite its own stability, has had to deal with the impacts of the conflicts surrounding it. Most of the population is not native Jordanian. A majority have Palestinian ancestry, and the recent conflict in Syria has brought in nearly 1.5 million new refugees. A massive influx of Palestinians arrived in the wake of the 1948 war, and with some obstacles, Jordan has managed to successfully integrate them into society. The current Queen Rania of Jordan is Palestinian-Jordanian, for example. Unlike neighboring Lebanon, Palestinian refugees and their descendants can adopt Jordanian citizenship. Issues still exist surrounding Palestinian-Jordanians, but considering the sheer number of people involved, Jordan has had remarkable success in integrating refugees. In recent years, the Syrian refugee crisis has presented a new challenge. I met with multiple NGO workers helping the Palestinian-Jordanians, but considering the sheer number of people involved, Jordan has had remarkable success in integrating refugees. In recent years, the Syrian refugee crisis has presented a new challenge. I met with multiple NGO workers helping the Jordanian government to handle Syrian refugees. The refugees have created tension within Jordan, which accepted them on the premise that they would return to Syria at the close of the conflict. Unfortunately, the current situation does not lend itself to any sort of peaceful resolution. The tide of the war seems to have turned in Assad’s favor. While some refugees would contemplate returning to a state under his rule, for those refugees who had any involvement with the opposition return could mean death. The mass migration of Syrians has put a strain on Jordan’s social services, and many Jordanians dislike the prospect of permanently settling refugees in Jordan. Although the government welcomes material aid, relief agencies often come up against opposition when they try to integrate refugees into society. Like many others, I had read about the crisis in the Mediterranean and the controversies surrounding Syrian refugees, but the issue still seemed distant and detached from my experience. Visiting Jordan and speaking with both refugees and those helping them gave me a better grasp of the problem. It also humanized the crisis for me. These people were not faceless, helpless masses nor were they fanatical Islamists determined to bring down America. They were people not very different from myself. I met one man who had been a lawyer in Deraa, a rebel-occupied city in southern Syria and the scene of intense fighting. His life had not been that different from my own. He studied at the university and lived a comfortable life with his family. Then one day his home was bombed by Assad’s forces and he was forced to flee across the border to Jordan, where he now lives as a refugee, separated from his wife and children. Despite that, he volunteers his time helping less fortunate Syrians adapt to life in Jordan. His audacity in continuing to advocate for refugees was not unusual. I spoke with a woman who had fled an abusive arranged marriage, risking her life to do so. I met one young man who did not believe in god, putting his social standing and even his life in danger in order to stand for what he believed in. Even on a small level, I saw acts of courage, like the young Bedouin father who bottle-fed his baby son, cutting against traditional gender roles. We often rationalize the suffering of those in other cultures as divorced from our own reality, as not our issue. Spending time in Jordan broke down those barriers of culture and geography, revealing to me how fundamentally familiar and how fundamentally human the seemingly distant Arab world is. I still haven’t quite processed my time in Jordan. It’s been eight months now, but I still think about my time there. I’m now beginning college, and I’ve decided to study Arabic this year. I hope to return back to Jordan, perhaps this summer, to build on the experience I had. Something about the streets of Amman, with their traffic and little DVD stands and restaurants and car horns and the smell of tobacco and the long nights spent up on rooftop balconies talking through meaning and purpose and direction, impacted me deeply. My time in Jordan drastically changed the way I think, and it continues to challenge me, both as an individual and as a citizen of the planet.

MATTHEW MAGANN attended a 2016 Dragons Partnership program with Milton Academy in Jordan. Originally from the Boston area, he currently studies at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, where he is a writer for The Dartmouth and an active member of the Dartmouth Outing Club. He also works at the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory in Milton, MA, has volunteered at a number of archaeological digs, and has recently begun work at a Dartmouth ice core lab.

This article was featured in the Winter 2018 Edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores perspectives from Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents and our International Staff and contacts. Feel free to view our archive of editions of The Map's Edge or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to justin@wheretherebedragons.com. [post_title] => Jordan: Through the Eyes of An Educator & Student [post_excerpt] => Please enjoy these two essays -- from the perspective of a teacher and a student -- on Dragons-Milton Partnership Course in Jordan. This article was featured in the Winter 2018 Edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores perspectives from Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents and our International Staff and contacts. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => jordan-eyes-educator-student [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-01-23 13:21:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-01-23 20:21:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 18 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 675 [name] => Map's Edge Newsletter [slug] => mapsedgenewsletter [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of Dragons Map's Edge Newsletter [parent] => 0 [count] => 8 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 8 [category_description] => Archives of Dragons Map's Edge Newsletter [cat_name] => Map's Edge Newsletter [category_nicename] => mapsedgenewsletter [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/mapsedgenewsletter/ ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Map's Edge Newsletter )
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    [post_content] => (The following is part of Dragons Travel Guide Series: Essays and Tips from our Community on Why and How to Travel)

The search for a perfect summer or semester program provider can be overwhelming. Every good project starts with great questions.

Here are some for you to consider or ask of different providers as you do your research...

  • How many years have you been running international programming for students?

  • What is the maximum number of students in each of your groups?

  • What is your ratio of instructors to students?

  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff?

  • Do your instructors speak the local language?

  • What tools do you use to facilitate reflection and dialogue on course?  

  • What’s the average age of your instructors?

  • How many of your staff return year after year?

  • How do your proactively manage risk on course?

  • How do you manage an emergency?​

  • What type of emergency response team is on-call at your offices?

  • Are itineraries fixed before the program?  Are they the same from season to season?

  • How do you foster a safe student dynamic?

  • How do you define ethical travel?

  • How do you approach the theme of “service” and manage the dangers of “voluntourism”?

  • How do you manage the sustainability of your programming on local communities?

  • How do you help students apply what they've learned abroad at home?

  • What does your financial aid program look like?

  • Can you put me in touch with an alumni student?  

 

Ps. And here are Dragons answers to these questions!

  • How many years have you been running international programming for students? Over 25-years. 
  • What is the maximum number of students in each of your groups? 12 students. 
  • What is your ratio of instructors to students? 1:4 or one instructor for every four students. 
  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff? Do your instructors speak the local language? They are experienced, career, professionals! Typically, when a Dragons instructor team heads into the field they collectively represent multiple languages, ten or more years of in-country experience, and years managing student groups abroad. 
  • What’s the average age of your instructors? 30+
  • How many of your staff return year after year? We have a large number of return and veteran staff, with an annual return staff rate that typically hovers between 60%-90%.
  • How do your proactively manage risk on course? See our Risk Management page.
  • How do you manage an emergency?​ See our FAQ page. 
  • What type of emergency response team is on-call at your offices? With Administrators based domestically and internationally, our support team—with acute attention to the safety and security of our participants—is on-call 24/7 while students are in the field.
  • Are itineraries fixed before the program?  Are they the same from season to season? Every program is custom-crafted and unique! Dragons itineraries are flexible to create space for unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise and discovery. Learn more about what makes us different. 
  • What tools do you use to facilitate reflection and dialogue on course? How do you foster a safe student dynamic? This is a great question to ask of one of our traveling instructors. You can request a home presentation and meet one! 
  • How do you define ethical travel? See our About Dragons page. 
  • How do you approach the theme of “service” and manage the dangers of “voluntourism”? See our Position Paper on Service Learning
  • How do you manage the sustainability of your programming on local communities? See our Position Paper on Responsible Travel
  • How do you help students apply what they've learned abroad at home? See the Transference section of our Blog for examples!
  • What does your financial aid program look like? Here's all the details on our financial aid program.
  • Can you put me in touch with an alumni student? Absolutely! Just send us a note requesting references to past students!
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    [post_content] => 
Here are some sneak-peek excerpts from the featured essays of our winter edition of The Map's Edge. Be sure to check your mail to get your hands on all the glossy pages of stories, photos, and updates from four corners of Dragons global community!
PAGE 4
BRAZIL
Princeton Bridge Year: To Have a Home
By JIMIN KANG
"I believe that there are qualities in each of us that can only be realized in different contexts. I discovered that Brazil brought out a version of myself that inspires me most. To this day, I miss the candor with which I greeted strangers on the street and told them about my love for acarajé, the fried bean fritters I'd eat with friends after hours of practicing Portuguese. I miss the music and the visual arts that flourish across Salvador, and the days I painted lampposts with spray paint oozing down my hands. I miss the confidence with which Bahians wear their own skin, and the way I felt more comfortable in my own body than I'd ever been. More than anything, I miss the people who greeted me with a "seja bem-vindo" (be welcome) and bid me farewell with a "volte sempre" (return always). People who taught me that home can be anywhere in the world, as long as there are people with space in their hearts."
PAGE 8
SIKKIM
Lepcha: Children of the Snowy Peak
By SHARON SITLING
"The Lepcha believe their people originated within these valleys. They call themselves 'Mutanchi Rong Kup Rum Kup,' which translates as 'Children of the Snowy Peak and Children of God.' The Lepcha are nature worshippers, whose religion blends animism and shamanism and is called bongthingism, or Munism. The tribe shares an inextricable relationship with nature as evidenced by their vocabulary, which contains one of the richest collections of names for local flora and fauna recorded anywhere, and reveals a vast knowledge of naturopathy as well as holy texts. By some estimates, there are only 40,000 Lepcha remaining in Sikkim; their language is quickly disappearing and they are fighting to preserve their lands and what is left of their culture."
PAGE 12
SENEGAL
Photo Essay: Between the Lens & Me
By CRYSTAL LIU
"I was hesitant to bring my camera with me to Senegal. I suppose I approached photography with more of a moralist's stance than a scientist's, and I felt some intuitive distrust of images and imagemaking as it related to my educational experience. I worried about the fraught relationship between subject and photographer. I didn't want to reproduce clichés and reduce people to flat, aesthetic purposes. At the same time, I wanted to remember what I would experience, and the fear of forgetting eventually overcame other qualms about the medium. I brought my camera, and I am both glad and regretful that I did."
PAGE 22
MOROCCO
Interview: The Beat of a Different Drum
By MOHAMED ARGUINE
"...after hours of trekking, Ben M'barek would take out his drum, sit on a rock and start playing whatever came to mind. He never thought his songs would attract the attention of tourists who didn't understand a word of the Tamazight language. [...] The guide explained that M'Barek was singing about his love for the High Atlas Mountains and that he hoped not to see what might be hiding behind them. The oxygen of his life, its meaning, flows down from the peak of the highest mountain to his soul through the drops of rain and flakes of snow-pure and white as his heart, and imbued with love for this region, which to him is heaven on earth."

 If you didn't get one in the mail, here's the full digital issue!

 
Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map’s Edge, explores a subject of interest to the Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, and our International Staff and contacts. Feel free to view our archive of editions of The Map’s Edge or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to justin@wheretherebedragons.com
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    [post_content] => On September 14, I said goodbye to home and got on a plane bound for Nepal. I was extremely nervous but so excited to kick off the adventure of a lifetime. I didn’t really know what to expect or what I would encounter in Nepal. What would my group members be like and would they laugh at my jokes? What about my instructors? How will I possibly fit everything I need for 3 months into a backpack? What if I forget something? What about the culture? Would I stick out like a sore thumb? Will my host family understand anything I say? How will I possibly use a squatty potty for so long? Will I get sick of eating rice for every meal? Am I going to enjoy a week long Buddhist retreat? What about living in a rural village? Can I trek for 8 hours a day for almost 3 weeks straight? What about showers and laundry? Will I ever feel clean again? Am I going to sleep on the floor every night? Will I get sick? How sick? Will I return the same person as when I left? How will this experience shape the rest of my life? Should I have just gone to college?

Little did I know the decision to come to Nepal would be one of the best I’ve ever made. Three months later and it’s hard to process everything that I experienced, but it was more than I could have ever imagined. My 11 fellow students turned into more than friends- they turned into family. Together we explored Nepal and in the process learned so much about ourselves. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve hugged, we’ve climbed mountains, we’ve challenged each other to think differently and to be better humans, and there is no way I will ever be able to repay everyone for their immense impact on my life. My instructors are more so much more than instructors. They are friends, mentors, and some of the most driven and inspirational people I have ever met. They have pushed me to question and to never stop learning. My backpack that once felt so small now feels excessive and I regret bringing as many clothes as I did. The culture in Nepal is very different from home, but I fell in love. Temples and stupas everywhere, a deep respect for others and for the Earth, the happiness that engulfs everyday life. Turns out the squatty potty is not so bad and much of my group has even come to prefer them. My host families may not have always understood me, but they taught me so much about gratitude, compassion, simplicity, and community. Daal bhat power 24 hour is a true statement even if we get sick of it at times. The Himalayas left me speechless and in an indescribable state of awe multiple times a day, and the views made all the hard days of trekking absolutely worth it. We learned to embrace our stink but also to really appreciate the occasional waterfall/river shower or an opportunity to hand wash clothes. We all got sick at some point and it often seemed like we consumed more ORS than regular water, but the support of the group made it better.

I know I have grown and changed in the past three months, and I’m proud of all that I have learned on this course. I have learned to lean in to uncomfortable situations and I have embraced a completely different way of life. I have learned so much about Nepali culture and as a result I have examined my own culture in a different light and really reflected on how I live my life. I have become so much more aware of my immense privilege and learned how I can better use what I have been given to create positive change. I have grown so much in my gratitude, especially for things I usually take for granted like clean air, a constant supply or filtered water, and a bathroom inside my house instead of across the street. I have seen and experienced so much in a short period of time and will forever be influenced by my time in Nepal.

On December 9, I will board a plane in Kathmandu and wave goodbye to Nepal. This time, I’m also nervous, but in a way I’ve never felt before. This time, I’m nervous to go home. I’m nervous to return to the place and the people that have shaped the past 18 years of my life. I’m so excited to see my family and friends and share about my time in Nepal, but I’m nervous. I’m nervous about adjusting to a way of life that now seems so foreign to me. I’m nervous I will feel overwhelmed and out of place. I can show my friends and family pictures of where I’ve been and tell countless stories, but there is no way I will be able to completely describe how I felt. How can I describe the feeling of and early morning puja with hundreds of monks at Namo Buddha? How can I share the feeling of complete awe as I looked up at the thousands of stars in the tiny village of Na? How can I reciprocate the strong communities I observed in Chokati and at the Ashram? There is so much I want this share, but I know I will never be able to encapsulate everything that my time in Nepal has taught me and how I’ve changed in the process, and I’m okay with that. At first this thought really freaked me out- would it be hard to prove the validity of experiences that I can’t even describe? I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe the best memories aren’t meant to be shared. And I always know that should I find myself overwhelmed by the transition back home, there are 14 amazing people who understand what a journey this has been and who I can always count on.
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