Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Instructor.

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Global Community

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Disconnecting (digitally) to Connect More Meaningfully

I closed my computer screen, grabbed my journal, and found a sunny spot outside—thank goodness for Tucson in December, where I live. It felt appropriate to take a break from my screen to write about disconnecting from technology.  Over the summer I visited the Guatemala 4-week Spanish Language program. I had just joined the Dragons Administrative team in a new digital marketing role—managing social media, blog, and email marketing. I was really excited to be part of the Dragons team and visit a program for the first time. Having worked in the educational travel industry since 2015, I’ve only seen an increase in the dependence we all have on our phones, and the interference they cause with immersive travel programs. I was especially excited to see how a program looked without the use of mobile phones for students.   In Guatemala I spent time with my phone, taking photos and communicating with the other instructors and admin via Whatsapp. Sometimes students would ask to see the photos I took, or requested to see an Instagram post that included them (here’s a beautiful photo of the group at sunrise, actually). But mostly, the students seemed content without their phones, and this was about 2.5 weeks into the program. 

"I don't really miss it."

So I asked the group what it was like being without their phones, iPads, or computers for the last few weeks. To my pleasant surprise they responded with “I sleep so much better,” and “It feels so good to take a break—I know it will still be there when I get back.” Some said, “ I don’t really miss it. I love having conversations at dinner with the group instead of being on my phone.” I thought, Heck. Yeah. I need more of this in my life.  While it always feels important to take breaks from technology, it feels incredibly timely as we’re in the holiday season. The end of the year typically represents a time of gathering and reflection, and a great reason to be more present with our current surroundings rather than our screens. I surveyed the Dragons Administrative Team and our Alumni Ambassadors about how they disconnect to connect.

Best tips and tricks for taking a break from our devices: 

  • I plug my phone in to charge in a different room so I'm not tempted to look at it last thing at night or first thing in the morning. I actually bought a nifty new alarm clock with one of those slow rise lights so that I'm not dependent on my phone for my alarm. When going out on a hike or drive somewhere, I'll try to consciously leave my phone behind so that I'm not dependent on the GPS at every turn. —Aaron Slosberg, Director of Student Programming 
  • With family, we do try to keep our phones off and away from us so that they're not at the dinner table or part of the conversation. One thing that is a pet peeve of mine is when someone is telling a story and they say, "Oh, let me show you the photo of this..." and while it's relevant to the story, I think it just kills the conversation because they pull out their phone, scroll to find the photo, and then the description and storytelling kind of just grinds to a halt. —Dragons Admin Team Member 
  • I've started trying to unplug as much as possible during the weekends. I go hang out at my mother-in-law's house. She doesn't have wifi and I won't touch my phone all day— just play with kids and drink tea and sit around talking and laughing. —Jenny Wagner, Staffing Director
  • I like to set time limits on my phone and also temporarily delete some apps when I feel like I’m going on them too much. —Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
  • Communicate with others that you’re taking a break so they know not to worry. Additionally, let them know your preferred way of getting in touch or when you’ll be checking your phone/email/messages. —Alex Biddle, Digital Marketing Associate 

Benefits we experience and activities to do when taking a digital detox: 

  • Surfing is the ultimate unplugged activity for me, my digital free safe space. —Aaron Slosber, Director of Student Programming 
  • I take detox breaks when I spend time in nature, go for hikes, and when I can go camping I rarely use my phone and it works wonders for me and my life. When I’m not on my phone, I try to journal, talk with friends, connect with family, make music or other art, go outside, workout, hike, etc. I feel it helps me feel more clear headed and more present. —Lily Conquanto Alumni Ambassador
  • The benefits of disconnecting allows me the chance to take a few moments to reflect on the past year as I enter into the new year. Not to set "resolutions," but to reflect on my experiences, who I have become, and life's transitions. It forces me to sit with the uncomfortable in order to enter the new year with clarity. —Sarah Bennett O’Brien, Programming Associate 
  • A great way to disconnect is spending in person time with friends and family. Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
  • I absolutely love reading books, enjoy painting in my free time, and I often take walks in nature. It definitely makes me feel less lazy doing these activities than being on my phone, and I feel more connection with everything and everyone around me. —Julia Borque, Alumni Ambassador 
  • Playing board games! —Eva Vanek, Director of Outreach 
  • Baking, to fill the house with scents of cinnamon & comfort! Helps the brain disengage from the chaos of everyday life and focus on the simple pleasure of being "home". Lisa Smith, Administrative Associate 
  • I love to post up at the breakfast table with my sketch pad and draw cabins in the woods. We have some land up on Lake Superior and one day I hope to build an artsy and soulful home for our family. Simon Hart, Director of Partnership and Educator Programming 
  • For me, disconnecting leaves room for surprise and spontaneity. I can't help but view this through the lens of young children. There's a cycle to this process, which is disconnect, then comes boredom (which usually leads to anger/frustration), and then spontaneous action…I love when we get to the final stage. Often it involves trashing the house to build a fort or an obstacle course. When they choose to draw quietly, it's blissful. Whatever it is, it's never something that I foresee, which is what I love most about disconnecting. I think the key is boredom. When they say they're bored, I know we're about to break through to something funky. —Reed Harwood, Executive Director 
  • My favorite things to do when I need a break from the internet are go outside or read! Neither of these activities require any technology so I can get a full break. —Alumni Ambassador

It feels good to take a break.

Even handwriting this post in a journal before typing it out was a joyful experience. I feel better. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a huge help for my day to day work and life, but it feels so good to take a little break. I hear the birds singing in the mesquite trees, I feel the warmth of the December sun, and see my dogs Bert and Ellie sunbathing and happy.  From all of us at Dragons, we’re wishing you a warm holiday season and hope you take time to disconnect digitally so you can connect to yourself and your loved ones. Here’s to soaking up the present moment.  Eager to keep reading about the power or disconnection and unplugged travel? You can check out this article for what it’s like to be on a Dragons course without your devices.  [post_title] => The Power of Disconnection [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-power-of-disconnection [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-12-22 12:24:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-12-22 19:24:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 30 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 30 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [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] => 20 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 20 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) [3] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 20 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 20 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Global Community ... )
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    [post_content] => This story is from the field and written by Jacquelyn Kovarik, a Dragons instructor who is currently leading a group of students from Tufts University through a semester in the Southwest (USA). Jac shares her story of the group's time in New Mexico, celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. Her reflection speaks to the importance of traveling and seeking out lesser known realities in the United States.

Monday, October 11th, 2021 was an eventful day for the Southwest Tufts Civics Semester. It was our last day in northern New Mexico, which had been our program base for the first half of the semester. It was also Indigenous Peoples Day 2021, and the first year this day had been federally recognized by the so-called United States. As we began to say our goodbyes to the dramatic and recently snow-capped Tewa Kusempi peaks (the so-called Truchas Peaks), it felt fitting to head to a Tewa-led community celebration of Indigenous excellence in O’ga P’ogeh (so-called Santa Fe). We spent all day Sunday cleaning and packing so we could pile into the van and Jeep on Monday morning to head an hour south for the celebration. 

“Indigenous Peoples Day: Back to Our Roots - Celebrating Indigenous Excellence” was a community celebration put on by the Three Sisters Collective (3SC), a collective of Pueblo, Tewa, Diné, and other native women. Dr. Christine Castro, who also goes by “Dr. X”, is a founding member of the collective and first let us know about the celebration five weeks prior, when we met with her in so-called Santa Fe during our orientation week for a native-centered tour of the city. Dr. X is a tribal member of two Tewa Pueblos and has dedicated her life to educating her communities and the greater Santa Fe community about Tewa culture and the ongoing fight against neo-colonization and neo-colonialism. Seeing Dr. X that Monday afternoon, completely in her element and often being trailed by laughing native children, was so joyous—she was surrounded by her community of native and non-native friends and loved ones, and the day’s activities were dedicated to celebrating Indigenous excellence. This was radical joy in the face of colonization and violence. It was tangible and so so sweet. 

The celebration was hosted by Reunity Resources, a farm and community center in Agua Fría, Santa Fe. This was not our first time at Reunity—we had come first with Dr. X on that Sunday five weeks prior and had also returned in mid-September for their Fall Festival. Returning again for Indigenous Peoples Day really felt like we had become a part of the northern New Mexico community in a meaningful way, despite five weeks having flown by. The sun was shining and native vendors were selling their art and work in rows along the rows of corn and wildflowers. Solange Aguilar, a queer Apache/Yo’eme/Kalnga/Kapampangan artist, sold us stickers that said “My Queerness is Ancestral” and “Protect the Land with Me.” Students bought jewelry and handicrafts for their friends and loved ones back home. Sticky sweet paletas dripped down our forearms as we gathered in the performance space to listen to the Indigenous open mic. Everything felt so abundant, immediate, vital. 

Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms

[caption id="attachment_158251" align="alignnone" width="2049"] The student group attends an open mic for Indigenous Peoples' Day[/caption] The performances started off with a young native Japanese girl named Ishi. Her voice was breathtakingly beautiful and carried over the vendors and blooming crops: You cannot eat money, when the rivers are poisoned and the fields are barren you cannot eat money. What if we lived in a world that valued the earth and sustenance over monetary gain and capitalism? These are Indigenous futurisms and Ishi was generously giving us a taste.  Israel F. Haros Lopez was sitting nearby, beside his pregnant spouse. About a month prior we had gathered on this same farm with Israel to make art and commune with the earth. Israel is the founder and director of Alas de Agua, a grassroots art collective in so-called Santa Fe run by and for Chicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, queer/trans, immigrant, and BIPOC artists. I was surprised to see that Israel’s spouse had not yet given birth - when we met with him nearly a month prior he had said the baby was coming any day now. “Alas de Agua” translates to “Wings of Water” in English. Israel jumped up and walked to the open mic, a water glass in hand. He grabbed the mic: “Together we are going to call forth the names of our baby - multiple names because we have not decided on one yet. He is overdue and we so badly want him here with us.” His voice cracked and there were tears in his eyes, and he looked directly at his spouse and began to perform spoken word, calling on Water to deliver their baby. Water is our blood. Water is our bodies. The water we shared the first time we made love. The water that is holding our son now. The water that is our love. Water is our baby. Water is life. Let the Water break now. Israel was calling on Water to deliver their baby, sharing the glass of water with his spouse at the end. What if we lived in a world that valued water as our teacher, our lover, our elder? What if we lived in a world that revered water as a sentient being with personhood and rights? These are Indigenous futurisms and Israel was generously giving us a taste.  To the left of the stage were a group of people sitting in a circle and harvesting amaranth seed as they listened to the performances. Two people stood up, brushed the amaranth seeds off their laps, and headed to the mic - Beata Tsosie-Peña and Frayer of Tewa Women United. TWU is a collective based in Española that works to build the Tewa community and end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Mother Earth. We had met Beata and Frayer a few weeks prior in Española, when we met with them for an afternoon at the Española Healing Gardens Oasis and learned about the intersections between seed sovereignty, Indigenous sovereignty, and reproductive/gender justice. In addition to working as the Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator at TWU, Beata also works as a doula and is a Pueblo representative for the New Mexico Governor’s task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. That day we harvested beautiful purple and pink colored beans in the field, laughing with our hands in the dirt. Beata and Frayer took the mic for a spoken word duet: The elm tree did not ask to be planted along our Río Bravo shores. They were brought over without their consent, by white men who knew nothing about their seeds, their branches, their root systems. What if we lived in a world that treated seeds and plants as our elders? What would it mean to ask a plant for consent, to form a loving relationship with the ecologies around us? And what if we lived in a world where native women could give birth the way they wanted, and lived without fear of violence? These are Indigenous futurisms and Beata and Frayer were generously giving us a taste.  As the open mic came to a close, a DJ started mixing The Bee Gees and a dance party broke out. We hopped and stomped and spun around in the late afternoon sun with everyone else who had just witnessed all the beautiful wisdom of the Indigenous open mic, and as we moved our bodies there was an undeniable wave of irresistible joy.  The site and organizational visits we have been doing on this program are often heavy. From nuclear colonialism and the effect of Los Alamos and the Trinity Test Site atomic bomb testing on the immediate surrounding Indigenous communities and on the whole planet; to environmental racism and the incarceration of Black and Brown youth in underserved Albuquerque neighborhoods; to the struggles of immigrants to obtain legal protections in our country’s broken immigration system; to the violence that trans, non-binary and femmes migrants face while trying to cross the border for a better life - liberation for all often feels far from our current reality. Beata herself shared with us that the reason she got involved in environmental health and justice work was due to the daily realities of living next to a nuclear weapons complex. There is much healing to be done.  The celebration at Reunity Resources this Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a reminder of the power of radical hope and joy—the need for this in the healing process. Despite ongoing colonization and violence, we danced. We danced together, and together we witnessed —with our own eyes and ears and bodies—what Indigenous futurisms hold, for us all, if we are willing to listen and learn.

Hear what students had to say about the celebration

[caption id="attachment_158247" align="aligncenter" width="2049"] Students from the Tufts Civic Semester celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in New Mexico[/caption] Lily Feng, 18, Farmington, Connecticut: “There was a moment where we were in the courtyard listening to the open mic, and I looked around and saw all the diversity of people there, and it struck me that we were taking part in something revolutionary. It was the first time Indigenous People’s Day had been recognized by the Biden administration, and it was the first time the Three Sisters Collective had put on this celebration, and it felt powerful. It also felt like our first portion of the trip had come full circle - all the Indigenous people who we had met while in northern New Mexico were there, and it felt like we had created longterm and meaningful relationships. We were able to participate in these radical Indigenous futurisms, as Dr. X said, and that is powerful.”  Caroline Bewley, 18, Willamette, Illinois: “What made this day particularly memorable was that it was our last day in northern New Mexico so it was a day that was already filled with so much emotion. We got to go for an Indigenous People's Day celebration at the farm that we went to on our first day, so going back really was a full circle moment and felt like the perfect way to end this chapter of the program. We also got to listen to spoken word poetry, music, and singing from Indigenous creatives which I really enjoyed. Additionally, at the celebration we got to say goodbye to some of the people that had taken the time to meet with us and teach us more about what they do and how they are contributing to the betterment of their communities.”  Biani Ebie, 18, Lagos, Nigeria and Boston, Massachusetts: “I really enjoyed the celebration. Just being able to witness Indigenous excellence was something special. Seeing Dr. X and Israel and Beata and Frayer again, it felt like a full circle moment and felt like the best way to end our time in northern New Mexico. It felt cyclical in the best way possible.”  Ben Chisam, 18, Atlanta, Georgia: “It was really powerful because Dr. X shared about how the particular Indigenous community that was coming together for the day’s celebration was a new community. It was powerful to see that space being created. We witnessed a lot of the colonialism of Santa Fe as a city during our time in northern New Mexico, and it felt powerful to see a decolonial space created by Indigenous people and for Indigenous people. It was also a testament to the fact that Indigenous people are not just a figment of the past, but are very much a force of the present and will be in the future as well. It was a safe and radically inclusive space to be in.”  Learn more about our domestic Summer Programs and Gap Year Semesters for the 2022 season. The program most closely related to this story is the Rio Grande Semester, offered next in Fall 2022.  [post_title] => Indigenous People's Day in O'ga P'ogeh: Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms  [post_excerpt] => Learn how the Dragons - Tufts Civic Semester group celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day in northern New Mexico. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => indigenous-peoples-day-in-oga-pogeh-celebrating-indigenous-futurisms [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-10-21 22:47:43 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-10-22 04:47:43 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 81 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 81 [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] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community )
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[caption id="attachment_158047" align="aligncenter" width="762"]Lake Superior: The Good Life  A group photo from Dragons' Lake Superior: The Good Life program — Summer 2021.[/caption]

To better support students coming from all backgrounds and identities, we’re excited to share two resources: Allyship Abroad & “Traveling as You: A Guide for Specific Identities”.  It’s our hope to create a culture and community that supports each participant to travel as their fullest self. These resources, and pedagogical approach, help all participants learn more about themselves, and how to be better allies in the world. 

We walk through the world carrying our experiences and histories. Some aspects of ourselves are visible, but much goes unseen, to us and others. When we travel, we gain more understanding of all that we are, and all that we are not. We begin to learn that while there is certainly a shared human experience, we’re also individuals that have unique and nuanced identities. Although we leave home, we still carry these identities with us when we travel. 

Diversity, Inclusion, and Allyship Abroad: Fostering a more just, compassionate and inclusive world.

The Allyship Abroad webpage is full of information on how to support individuals with specific identities and general resources for diversity and inclusion. It’s broken down into these five sections: 
  • For families: Discover why it’s important to talk through your family values and be aware that we facilitate and welcome conversations around these topics on our programs. 
  • Glossary of terms: A helpful tool for defining the key words related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. 
  • Identity and you: Through a series of questions, you’ll be guided through defining your identity and why it’s so important for everyone, even people from dominant identities who might not have reflected on this much before. 
  • Skillbuilding for allyship abroad and at home: Discover the tools that will help you become a better ally through podcasts, online resources, books and articles, and more guided questions from our team. 
  • Identity related risks and travel: All travel involves risks and challenges, and some participants might have different challenges abroad based on factors such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. This section is designed so you can equip yourself with helpful skills and resources to stay safe, informed, and thriving on your Dragons program.

Traveling as You: a Guide for Specific Identities

The goal of Traveling as You is to serve as a resource for allyship. The webpage walks you through different identities and explains what might come up for each specific identity while on a Dragons or student travel program. It goes more into depth for the following identities:  
  • Race, Ethnicity, Nationality 
  • Sexual Orientation (LGBTQ+)
  • Gender 
  • Religion 
  • Political Ideology 
  • Disability 
  • Body Size 
  • Low Income and First Generation Students
For each identity, the guide provides example scenarios of situations that may come up on your Dragons program, and reflection questions to get you thinking about how to prepare. Of course this is helpful for your own identity and for being aware of all the identities around you, especially those on your program.  And no Dragons guide would be complete without providing extra resources — which can be found at the bottom of this webpage. This list was designed to be your one-stop as a quick place to get an overview of the amazing and comprehensive resources out there to support diversity abroad. Whether you’re eager to learn how you can become a better ally at home and while traveling on a program, or you want to know more about your identity in the world, then these resources are here to help. We hope to continue fostering a more just, compassionate, and inclusive world, one student and one program at a time.  [post_title] => How to Become a Better Ally, at Home and Abroad [post_excerpt] => At Where There Be Dragons, we’re always striving to improve diversity and inclusion within our student body and travel programs. That’s why our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee created two resources for becoming a better ally as well as a guide to traveling as you. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-become-a-better-ally-at-home-and-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2021-09-17 16:28:02 [post_modified_gmt] => 2021-09-17 22:28:02 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [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] => 55 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 55 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 66 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 15 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 66 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, About Dragons ... )
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    [post_content] => Valentina Campos, who has served as our Homestay Coordinator in Tiquipaya since 2011, is moving on from her role with Dragons to pursue artistic and cultural projects in La Paz. She has been an essential part of our programming in Bolivia, and her presence in Tiquipaya will be dearly missed. Undoubtedly, she will stay connected to Dragons in the years to come, and we look forward to coordinating with her during future visits to La Paz.

[caption id="attachment_157988" align="alignnone" width="1478"] Homestay mamas Doña Leticia and Doña Carlota with my (Julianne) daughter, Inara, and Valentina (right)[/caption]

Valentina is well known in Bolivia as a painter, traditional chicha maker, and for her work with Andean cultural affirmation. Her striking paintings depict imagery of Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the rituals of planting and harvest that shape the Andean calendar. These ancestral rituals help forge an intimate bond of reciprocity and respect for the natural landscape, a defining component of Andean spirituality and worldview. Valentina is a powerful embodiment of that relationship, and the reproduction and celebration of Quechua rituals and traditions informs every aspect of her life.

The tapestry of that way of life is rich and varied, and is central to what captured my own heart when I first moved to the Andes. For Valentina, cultural affirmation includes the traditional elaboration of chicha, an ancient fermented corn drink; collective child-rearing and the construction of communal spaces of reciprocity and exchange; documentary work to preserve and share Andean wisdom and ritual; the practice of weaving and textile traditions; and participation in agricultural cycles and production. Like the mesmerizing layers of her paintings, these practices are interwoven seamlessly into her daily life and relationships.

I feel deeply honored to have had the chance to be a part of these cycles and practices over the past decade, as Valentina and I have worked together to build and nurture the Dragons community in Tiquipaya and Cochabamba. In the late northern summer of 2011, we walked the dusty roads of Apote, Totorkawa, Colpapampa together to set up our first homestay families. Sitting in shaded patios and adobe kitchens, we explained the concept of a “homestay” to confused families and scouted potential program houses tucked away in agricultural fields. It was not a likely site for a student travel program, and that is precisely what makes our community so unique and dear. All these years later, our homestay siblings have grown from young children to adolescents, having grown up with Dragons students at the family table.

Those exchanges, conversations, misunderstandings, and unexpected friendships shaped their formative years and their worldviews, just as we hope the experience of cultural exchange will shift the lives of our students. Together, Valentina and I have hosted countless homestay gatherings and celebrations, received hundreds of calls from worried homestay mamas when students are late to arrive home, and coordinated innumerable independent study projects. With Valentina’s eye and guidance and seemingly endless collection of contacts we’ve breathed life into 7 different program and staff houses, coaxing plants out of parched earth, building kitchens and composting toilets, and laughing over Q’oa rituals and community meals, and weaving workshops on the grass with Doña Carlota and Doña Leticia and their children.

[caption id="attachment_157989" align="aligncenter" width="1366"] A  ritual Q’oa  offering to give thanks to Mother Earth[/caption]

None of this would have been possible without Valentina’s grace, her deep-rooted relationships in this place, without her joy and creativity. When we talk about the work done “behind the scenes” in the field of intercultural education, we are talking about a lifetime of bonds and rituals and community building carried out by Valentina — and so many other homestay coordinators and community contacts — that give meaning to our work and tenderness to the experience of a student walking into a home in a new community and language and way of life. When those students create connections with an independent study mentor, when their hearts are pierced by a simple moment of understanding with a homestay sibling, when they are moved by the afternoon light cascading across the Tunari mountainside as they make their way home, Valentina is there.

In no small part, Valentina is the reason I moved from the city to semi-rural Tiquipaya 8 years ago. She was in the room when my first daughter was born, and her wisdom and friendship have greatly enriched my life. I always believed that Valentina would never leave Tiquipaya, that her dark long braid and old fashioned bicycle would inhabit these streets forever. However, she is a creator and community-builder and it is time for her to plant seeds into the earth elsewhere. In a brief moment of pause between quarantines, she packed her easels and giant ceramic cantaritos for fermenting chicha into a truck and headed for La Paz. I am excited for this next chapter in her journey. And her presence on these country roads still lingers in the air.

[caption id="attachment_157990" align="alignnone" width="1718"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption]

Interview with Valentina Campos (translated by the author, Julianne Chandler)

You have been coordinating homestays and independent study projects for Dragons participants for almost 10 years. Can you describe some highlights of that experience? The homestay experience has been exciting for me, receiving each group was a completely new experience. The work has always been very integrated with our own lived experience with the community, in coexistence with the shared upbringing of our wawas (children). It has been very rich in various directions, especially for me and many of the families/friends and our children, now teenagers, who have learned and have opened up to relate to the difference and diversity that enriches us. And some challenges? It is true that it has not always been easy and fluid to relate with one another. All of us have had some degree of challenges with students who came with certain personal conditioning that sometimes when mixed with our social situations complicated the coexistence. But we have all learned a lot from those experiences! Your two children never attended school, and you have raised them using methods from the Unschooling Movement. Can you briefly describe the upbringing of your children? Do you feel that it has any relation to the "experiential education" methods promoted by Dragons? It has been very enriching for everyone in my family, even for the grandmothers who initially opposed the idea! Now we all realize that it has been the best decision and personally the best one I have made in my life after the decision to give birth at home. The most important thing about their upbringing through natural learning has been allowing them to grow up with their imagination as intact as possible so that they now know for themselves what they want to be, what they came to life for. It has been a true path of unlearning for us adults. What they value most in life now as young people is living in community and that makes me feel fulfilled, happy. Yes, I think there is a strong relationship, such as the attitude of mutual learning, reciprocity, cooperation and community coexistence that Dragons has promoted in many experiences and shares a lot with our form of natural upbringing. You recently moved to the outskirts of the city of La Paz to deepen your work in collective cultural affirmation. What does this work consist of? Our project Uywana Wasi is a community of shared knowledge and learning experiences. It was created by compañeras-os (friends/comrades) from diverse Bolivian contexts 12 years ago in the town of Totorkawa, Cochabamba. Our space is centered in community upbringing which is a principle of Andean worldview. The spirit and intention is focused on cultural affirmation, comprised of people from different contexts to reclaim autonomy and responsibility for our own knowledge and learning towards "Allin Kawsay" or Living Well. From the beginning, we have focused on creating spaces for exchange and reciprocity of knowledge, wisdom and everything that is created through the experience of coexistence. In recent years, through our documentary “Wallunk'as Program,” we have deepened relationships with several communities in La Paz to the point of becoming very attached to the families. So we decided to relocate, coinciding with various personal changes that some of us have gone through, to be able to continue solidifying projects. On our website we share a little of everything we do and live. You are a renowned painter and artist, and your work represents feminine symbols and rituals of planting from Andean cosmology. How would you describe your latest collection that is currently on display in California? The series of my paintings is called "Siembra de Mamalas," it is an affectionate name to describe the spirits of the seeds. Most of them are feminine and are treated as human. I have always been inspired by seeds, plants and all the myths and archetypes of nature. That is why I feel that this is an open/unfinished series because it is impossible to paint our biodiversity in its totality. At the same time, painting each species is like trying to immortalize them (many already in danger of extinction) and I try to manifest all their power. My gallery is: [caption id="attachment_157992" align="alignnone" width="1712"] The Wallunka festival, celebrated in November of each year after Todos Santos. The Wallunka swing is believed to be a portal between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Valentina has organized an annual Wallunka celebration in the community for many years.[/caption] Now that you are leaving Dragons, do you have a message or any advice for the Dragons community? First, I would like to thank you all enormously for the opportunity you have extended to me and my family all these years. My brother Tim was the one who extended his hand and made the connection between communities. He also connected me to Julianne as a fellow sister, collaborating in complicity for many years so that we’ve had unforgettable experiences together. I feel like we have joined our communities mutually and I hope we don't take this “leaving” thing seriously. Here I am —you have us, and we would like to continue sharing our experiences from where we are, whenever possible. To all the students with whom I have had the opportunity to share, I send my gratitude. And to the instructors and wider community with whom I’ve built a friendship, we will continue to share and be in contact with each other. I wish everyone times of regeneration, healing and growth. 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    [post_content] => Across cultures stories are told about a hero’s journey to distant lands, only to find that what they seek is where the journey began: home. 

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot, 4 Quartets

On December 28th I embarked on a personal journey, a journey that resembled my first foray into the American West after graduating from college two decades ago. Last week I hugged my family goodbye and hopped into my van. Outfitted with warm layers, sleeping bags, food, and podcasts, I headed toward the “Four Corners” region, where CO, UT, AZ, and NM meet. I had no idea how far I’d get or where I’d sleep, other than knowing I’d be in the back of my van, somewhere. For a week I meandered. I roamed Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa, their dried canyon river bottoms blanketed in snow; I sat on the edge of the Grand Canyon, confused by the deafening silence and overwhelmed by the full nighttime galaxy, unadulterated by city lights; I descended the Colorado plateau into the great Sonoran Desert, and felt its soft winter warmth. After a challenging year, reconnecting with the American West, and my twenty-year old self, was like drinking from a well after a long period of thirst. I felt a deep gratitude for my post-college journeys into these landscapes, which were closer to the surface of my consciousness than I had ever realized. For nearly three decades Dragons has taken participants on journeys to discover the world and, in the end, themselves. When the pandemic closed down the world, Dragons turned inward to North America. This fall we offered two outstanding domestic Gap experiences: the Rio Grande Semester and the Colorado River Basin Semester. Because of their success, we are excited to announce that this new programming will extend into the 2021/2022 season and will continue to  be an important core of our work.

Keep an eye out for our new 2021 domestic program announcement!

The confluence of COVID-19, a heightened awareness and reckoning of racial injustice, and vast political divide in the United States has increased the need for domestic programming and specifically for a Dragons-style education. Our domestic programs strive to understand the complexity that arises when diverse peoples inhabit a land, looking closely at settler colonialism, power and privilege, and racial, social, and environmental justice issues. We examine how people have changed landscapes, for better and worse, and how those landscapes have in turn shaped our present realities. At a time when connection is hard to come by, the Dragons experience seeks to connect us to each other, our natural world, our collective and shared histories and, in the end, ourselves. Like all of our programs, our domestic courses help students confront important realities and understand their agency in shaping our collective futures. As we slowly return to the soulful international programming that has always been the hallmark of a Dragons experience, we’re moving into 2021 with increased self-awareness of our home here in North America. That rediscovery will weave itself into our global tapestry, augmenting even more depth and breadth to our programming.
After college I moved to New Mexico, and then California. I spent my time guiding wilderness trips for youth. It led me to Dragons, and in my late 20’s I found myself on the Tibetan Plateau, leading a Dragons group from Lhasa to Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage route for Buddhists and Hindus. I was struck then by how much the Tibetan Plateau reminded me of the Colorado Plateau and the vast American West. And now as I travel and live in the southwest, I’m reminded of Tibet. Future Dragons students will now share the rediscovery of a place many people call home, and come to know it for the first time with new eyes and understanding. As you start thinking of your plans for 2021, I hope our domestic programming is something you will consider. And if you decide to join us, I hope your experiences in the American West will always be with you, right beneath the surface, waiting to reawaken you, as it did for me this past week. With hope for the future,
Reed Harwood, Executive Director
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    [post_content] => This webinar is brought to you by the Dragons Global Speaker Series – a program where our global educators share lessons in critical thinking related to current world events.
On October 18, 2020 Evo Morales's leftwing party, Movimiento al Socialismo (Mas), celebrated a stunning comeback with the progressive candidate, Luis Arce winning Bolivia's presidential election in what could be considered a landslide victory (about 20 points according to exit polls.)

It’s a remarkable turn of events, especially considering that just under a year ago, Morales—the longtime indigenous president and incumbent—was overthrown in a police-military coup who then installed the right wing evangelical Jeanine Áñez as president.

In this webinar recorded in May of 2020, Julianne Chandler, Dragons Latin America Program Director, shares her experience of living in Bolivia as the Coronavirus pandemic collided with the fallout from an already devastating political crisis.


The Fall of Evo Morales and Political Transformation in Bolivia


The Plurinational State of Bolivia was already in crisis when the global pandemic took hold, after contested elections in October of 2019 incited national protests and the sudden ousting of longtime indigenous president and incumbent Evo Morales. A highly controversial debate about whether or not Morales was victim to a right-wing coup has been overshadowed by draconian quarantine measures and increasing restrictions on civil liberties being implemented by the interim government of Jeanine Añez, no friend to Bolivia’s indigenous majority. As a new round of national elections in Bolivia continue to be delayed indefinitely in the face of the public health emergency, serious questions remain unanswered about Evo’s hurried departure, what constitutes a coup d’etat, and the politics of pandemic under a de facto government in South America’s diverse and often misunderstood Andean nation. This session will provide an outline and assessment of recent events in Bolivia from Julianne’s personal experience living through the political crisis and pandemic.

Presented by:

Julianne Chandler, M.A. Poverty and Development, The Institute of Development Studies. B.A. Anthropology and Latin American Studies, New York University. Julianne is the Latin America Program Director with Dragons and lives in Tiquipaya, Bolivia with her husband and two daughters.


Interested in developing your own in-field perspective of Bolivia through cultural immersion, wilderness exploration, and language study? Learn more about our unfiltered and immersive Summer and Gap Year programs here.

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