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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    [post_content] => Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers and mother figures out there. Today, we pay a special tribute to our homestay mothers for the warmth and inspiration that they bring to our community. We are thinking of and sending extra love to our homestay families during this time as many communities are being hit hard by COVID-19 especially those who look forward to hosting students through programs such as ours. The Dragons Community Relief Fund is doing amazing work to provide resources to our global community. Learn more about how they are showing up for Dragons global community. 

In the spirit of celebration, here are three student Yaks paying tribute to their homestay mothers:

Bhutan Summer 2019 Homestay

My Homestay by Jack Greene, Bhutan.

"I started out my homestay by being greeted by an old lady who spoke no English. I would later know her as angay, which is the Dzongkhan word for grandma. Now that the week is complete, I can confidently say that in my opinion, I had by far the best homestay. The first reason for this was that I didn’t have any younger siblings. I was initially disappointed about this but am now eternally grateful. This is simply because kids can be annoying, and having them follow you around for an entire week can be frustrating. So I avoided this downside of having little siblings who lived with me while still getting to have nieces and nephews who lived on the same property as me and would hang out with me from time to time. My favorite story about my nephew is a weird one. Some context is that throughout the week, my nephew and several other kids in the village would like to hold my hand and rub it on their face because of how soft it was (which they weren’t used to because it was a farming village and their hands were calloused). So one day, my nephew told the other kids that I didn’t want them to walk me to my house, which was his attempt to not have competition to hold my hand. There are more stories like this involving kids who would push others away from me and run at each other from behind so that they could have one of my hands all to themselves. Homestay food Bhutan summer abroad Another reason my homestay was the best was that I had angay, with whom I formed a close bond despite the fact that the only English she knew was “sit down” (which she used so that I wouldn’t help her to make meals). This was best exemplified one day when I was at my house with some friends drinking tea. Angay came into the room with a little girl from the village who spoke pretty good English and translated that I needed to eat lunch out that day because angay was going to the cows. I then had her tell angay that she was the best homestay grandma and a few other things that I can’t quite remember. Angay’s eyes started to water and she gave me a hug while having the translator tell me that I was the best grandson too. This is just one reason for how great angay was. Some more reasons are how she made the best milk tea I’ve had the whole trip and she would fill my water bottle with it every morning before I left so that I would have some for the day, she wasn’t strict and let me go to my friend’s houses whenever I wanted to, she made awesome food and even taught me how to fold momos so that they looked like proper momos, she would always let me play with her cat (ghi lli in Dzongkhan), she helped make hot water for me so that I could shower every couple of days, she would let me sleep and wouldn’t wake me up extremely early like other families did, and she always had snacks and candy that she would give to me whenever I came home. And these are just the most memorable of reasons for why I had the best homestay, there are countless others that I could write about for pages and pages. Also, on the final day when we threw a party for the homestay families, most adults couldn’t come because they were at the monastery, but angay left for the monastery early so that she could make it back for the party (which ended up being a dance battle between the girls and the boys who lived in the village). At this party, I gave angay a note that I had asked someone to write down for me in Dzongkhan that said the following: Homestay letter Bhutan Summer Abroad
Dear angay, Thank you so much for letting me stay with you. You have been the best homestay. Everyone always wants to come over because I tell them how great you are and how you make the best milk tea. Then they say they want you as their homestay. Also, your food is awesome and I especially loved your momos and bato (a stew that contains beef and fried dough – photo attached). You are so sweet and made this week great. Best, Jack (Jigme) Greene
On the morning when I left, angay and I said our goodbyes and took two photos (attached). She then made her way down the road to her house and I waved tama che gae (goodbye) as she vanished around the curve in the road."

Mothers of China by Carolina, Faith, and Isa. China South of the Clouds.

"(Carolina) My first homestay mother was called Zhouma.  When she first welcomed us into her home she seemed beautiful in a quiet, unobtrusive type of way.  It wasn’t until the next morning, when she dragged us out of bed to milk the yaks that I realized how wrong I had been about her.  I watched this delicate looking lady overpower yak calves twice her weight, throw stones at intruding dogs, and punch a fully grown yak in the butt when it was annoying her.  By the end of the homestay she had forced everybody in my group to cultivate a healthy respect (and fear) of her.  She was crazy strong but you would never have known that at first glance.  She taught me to pitfalls of making assumptions and underestimating people, because this delicate lady was one of the most powerful people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting.

(Faith) In the first homestay, we were greeted by the friendliest woman with a sweet crooked smile. She lived alone since her father passed away last year, and still managed to do everything flawlessly for herself and her seventeen year old daughter. Every morning, she milked and herded the yaks, made cheese, dried yak poop for manure, and made us a delicious breakfast. She figured out that I couldn’t eat the food with gluten and proceeded to give me heaping bowls of green zucchini, yak meat and rice. She would smile us as we ate and bring us our favorite yak yogurt after every single meal no matter how full we said we were. More than anything, we had the most fun laughing with our host mom. She would constantly speak to us in Tibetan and we would speak English, but you would never know that there was a language barrier from the amount of fun that we had. At night, as we attempted to speak Tibetan and our host mom was laughing hysterically, I reflected on the simplicity of her hospitality and sweetness. It was such a highlight to spend days with just our homestay mom by the warmth of the stove on the kang in a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains.

(Isa) I was nervous and excited to meet my host mother from the first homestay. I admit that at the beginning I felt like an invader who arrived from the unknown and took place in their lovely home. After the homestay was up I realized I was wrong, these 3 foreign people that were totally strangers at the beginning, were now a sweet family to me. I spent most of the time with the mother, and with the passing of days I was impressed by how much energy she had.  She had to wake up everyday, probably to a temperature of 3C, with a smile on her face to make breakfast for you from the yaks that she just milked an hour ago.

(All 3 of us) Seeing that smile in the morning, made me feel like a needed to get more of those precious smiles, so I helped with the needs of the house. I spent a lot of time with the mother doing work I would never think someone could actually do alone. I was so impressed to see how the mother had built her home from the hard work she does everyday, and this just shows me how powerful and strong women can be, all these things made more conscious about setting goals and purposes for my life.

I can say that the mother from my homestay taught me that if your want to get something you have to wake up early.  For breakfast you have to milk the yaks, you need to do it by yourself and you need to make it happen. This sounds silly, but if you think about this image you can relate these lessons with your real life and you can start setting goals you can achieve and start to fight for them everyday.

In the most recent homestay, the three of us were placed together (let the shenanigans begin). Our sweet host mom welcomed us into her home which appeared to circulate the whole community. The mother and grandmother provided not only for their own three boys, but also seemingly hosted the whole neighborhood at some point for a meal or night of sleep. From the first late night that we arrived, we were welcomed with steaming rice bowls filled with potatoes, green zucchini and meat. At mealtime, our family watched us intently to make sure that we got enough food. Yesterday, we went on a long hike up the mountain across from our village. Our host mom and grandma packed us an entire industrial bucket full of rice and veggies, acted out that we needed walking sticks, and zipped our chopsticks into our bag. Our host mom also delicately braided each of our hair as she does her own. Not only were the women of our host family extremely caring and hospitable, but also astonishingly strong. In the mornings, we would spend hours picking beans, processing wheat, hauling bins of crops and plowing the soil. Our homestay mom and grandma would have the four of us hoist an entire machine on one of their backs and then carry the wheat processor down a tiny single wood ladder. It was absolutely insane to see how hard these ladies worked and how much they were always serving their family, the community and us as guests. It got us thinking a lot about our own moms!

(Faith) Mom, thank you so much for how much you sacrifice for our family. I admire your strength, resilience, hospitality and care. You are my role model and I miss seeing you in action every day! You have impacted me more than you know and have shown me what a confident, empowered and determined woman looks like.

(Isa) Ma no sabes la falta que me haces ahora mas que nunca. Después de haber tenido la oportunidad de estar en este hogar y ver a esta mama darlo todo por sus hijos, me hizo reflexionar acerca de todo el sacrificio y el amor con el que haces las cosas. Me siento muy feliz de tener como mama y espero poder seguir aprendiendo de ti todos los días, y te pueda seguir viendo como una luchadora que ha conseguido cumplir todas las metas que se propone. Te amo

(Carolina) Hi Mom!  I can’t thank you enough for shaping me into the person I am today.  You’re smart, charming, compassionate, kind, and the strongest woman I know.  I hope to one day live up to the example you set for me.  Since you don’t have a mom around to tell you this, I guess I have to: I am so proud of who you are and I love you so much!"

Two Mothers a World Apart by Macy Ryan, Nepal.

Nepal Homestay Summer Abroad "I miss my mom. I miss how she would give me sweaty hugs after she returned from a hike. Or how she has this one red, fleece sweater that is probably older than me but she still wears it all the time. She is confused by my childish love for sloppy joes but will still make them for me. I miss seeing her hard at work everyday, something that has always inspired me. One thing I’ve miss the most is the little moments we share together, like sharing a Chocolove bar with her while we sit on the couch after dinner. Here, I have a replacement mom. My Chokati mother is equally as amazing and hardworking as my biological mother. Over the past week I’ve noticed some comforting resemblances between the two. Last night, I gave my homestay mother the gifts I brought from home for her: Chocolove bars. She opened the Toffee & Almonds one (my mothers favorite) and insisted we share it. Sitting by the open fire in the kitchen of our small mud and stone house, we shared the chocolate bar. I savored every last crumb.
My homestay mother and I can barely communicate with each other, but this was a bonding moment. The gift of chocolate bringing a mother and daughter closer together. My homestay mother, from the moment I arrived in Chokati, took me in as her own. She has taught me how to work in the fields, cook daal bhaat, and do all the household chores. Just as my own mother would, she hands me a bucket of dishes to do after every meal. Or, when I’m feeling sick, she’ll make me some tea and let me lay in bed.
I wasn’t sure what to expect about the rural homestay; I was a bit nervous about the whole thing. One of the last things I expected was to get so close to my family within the ten short days. But now I’ve seen the sense of community in the whole of Chokati. It doesn’t matter if you’re blood-related to someone, you’re always a brother or sister or mother or father. We’ve been welcomed here with open arms and taken in as one of the family. And although I miss my family tremendously, I’ve been shown that no matter where I am, I can find comfort in a community of people acting as a supportive family."  
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[post_title] => A Tribute to Homestay Mothers [post_excerpt] => Happy Mother's Day to all of the mothers and mother figures out there. Today, we pay a special tribute to our homestay mothers for the warmth and inspiration that they bring to our community. We are thinking of and sending extra love to our homestay families during this time as many communities are being hit hard by COVID-19 especially those who look forward to hosting students through programs such as ours. The Dragons Community Grant Fund is doing amazing work to provide resources to our global community. Learn more about how they are showing up for Dragons global community. In the spirit of celebration, here are three student Yaks paying tribute to their homestay mothers: [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => a-tribute-to-homestay-mothers [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-10 12:41:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-10 18:41:42 [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] => 74 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 74 [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] => 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] => 45 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 45 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [2] => 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] => 52 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 52 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community ... )
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    [post_date] => 2020-05-06 13:05:47
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    [post_content] => Dragons Director of Admissions, Eva Vanek, was quoted by a reporter from The Hechinger Report about the recent spike in Gap Year interest. Here is an excerpt from the article:

Dragons Gap Year COVID PBS

 

"When the coronavirus first hit in March, many students who had been planning on taking a gap year decided college might be a safer option, said Eva Vanek, admissions director at a gap year provider called Where There Be Dragons.
'Now, in the last few weeks, that conversation is definitely shifting, where we’re hearing from a lot of students who are in particular nervous that they’re going to have to start their freshman year online,' Vanek said.
  Even some students already enrolled in college are considering taking a gap year in the middle of it, an indication of how many doubt that their campuses will return to normal in the fall and want to avoid another semester or two of learning online."  

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE AT THE NEW YORK TIMES.

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX? ONE EMAIL A WEEK. NOTHING MARKETY. UNSUBSCRIBE ANY TIME. SUBSCRIBE TO DRAGONS BLOG AND STAY CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY. ❤️
[post_title] => DRAGONS FEATURED ON PBS NEWSHOUR: WILL COVID-19 FEARS LEAD TO THE BIGGEST GAP YEAR EVER? [post_excerpt] => Dragons Director of Admissions, Eva Vanek, was quoted by a reporter from The Hechinger Report about the recent spike in Gap Year interest. When the coronavirus first hit in March, many students who had been planning on taking a gap year decided college might be a safer option, said Eva Vanek, admissions director at a gap year provider called Where There Be Dragons. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-quoted-on-pbs-newshour-will-covid-19-fears-lead-to-biggest-gap-year-ever [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-06 13:31:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-06 19:31:41 [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] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [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] => 52 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 52 [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] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 51 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 51 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, About Dragons ... )
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    [post_content] => 

Did you catch this episode of Dragons podcast featuring a mother and daughter who have both been on a Dragons course in Nepal?

Bub Vernon (Dragons Indonesia Semester Alumni) and this mother-daughter duo discuss:

  • Seva goes to Nepal for a Dragons semester. Years later, her mother goes on a Dragons Program for adults.

  • The differences & similarities in Dragons experiences for a student & adult.

  • What “immersion” really involves and looks like.

  • The nature of time and depth of relationships built on programs.

  • The difference between “going on vacation” and building relationships with people who have lives and culture different from your own.

  • Favorite moments & mishaps.

LISTEN NOW ON APPLE PODCASTSSPOTIFY, AND MORE.

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX? ONE EMAIL A WEEK. NOTHING MARKETY. UNSUBSCRIBE ANY TIME. SUBSCRIBE TO DRAGONS BLOG AND STAY CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY. ❤️
[post_title] => DRAGONS PODCAST: ONE LOCATION, ONE FAMILY, TWO TRAVEL EXPERIENCES WITH DRAGONS YEARS APART [post_excerpt] => Seva goes to Nepal for a Dragons semester. Years later, her mother goes on a Dragons Program for adults. Did you catch this episode of Dragons podcast featuring a mother and daughter who have both been on a Dragons course in Nepal? [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-podcast-interview-with-a-mother-daughter-alumni-duo-on-their-experiences-in-nepal-with-dragons [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-05-05 12:45:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-05-05 18:45:56 [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] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 51 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 51 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, Alumni Spotlight ... )
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    [post_date] => 2020-04-30 11:17:02
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    [post_content] => 

Dragons Alum, Eugenia Chow, wrote this reflection on her 3-month Gap semester in Nepal for her Veganism and Sustainability blog.

[caption id="attachment_156722" align="alignleft" width="329"]Nepal Gap Year Mountains Rolwaling, Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

During three months in Nepal, I cycled through five outfits, hand washed all my clothes in one bucket of water, ate with my hands, wiped with my (other) hand, lived without digital devices, navigated using landmarks, ate the same meal (dal bhat 90% of the time—yes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner), took 15-hour bus rides without a phone or music, did 11-hour trek days in mostly silence (speaking isn’t much of an option when you’re at high altitude), and camped out in tents at 15,000ft, with nothing but each other to warm ourselves up at sub-zero degrees.

And for the most part, it was the most content I’ve ever been.

These 85 days were, on average, very blissful. And they also happened to be the most simple. For a moment, I was able to step away from a life rife with mental, physical and digital clutter, and this novel experience drew me to an alternative way of living—revealing that it’s possible to maintain slowness in a society that idolizes speed.

So, while culture and climate change happen to be two topics that I’m passionate about, the first thing I realized after living out of my 40L backpack for 85 days was that:

1. The two are far more interconnected than I’d ever considered.

Although most of the things I listed above were simply out of necessity that the form of travel I was embarking on (device-free, challenging, encouraging you to become a ‘traveler’ rather than a ‘tourist’) entailed, many of these habits were also born out of an attempt to imitate another culture.

In psychology class last year, I learnt about a social organization framework that distinguishes cultures from being either individualist or collectivist structures. In contrast to Western ideals which are predominantly individualistic, community, unity, and selflessness are cornerstones of Nepalese culture. As a result, instead of prioritizing individual goals and wellbeing over the benefit of the greater good, they emphasize a commitment to familial values and community-oriented aspirations.

Individualism thrives off competition in a manner than drives the depletion of resources at a rate that the world can hardly sustain. As the world’s biggest capitalistic power, cultures like the U.S. have ended up conflating success with wealth, and the race for profit consequently becomes a rush to extinction—with the accompanying cost of environmental destruction.

However,

2. Consumption, greed, and virtual validation will never be the solution to happiness; nor will they be the solutions to climate change.

[caption id="attachment_156721" align="alignright" width="506"]Nepal Gap Year Mountains Mountain views in Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

My most memorable moments in Nepal were not marked by the purchase of my traditional-themed notebook nor the new headlamp I bought for trek. It was when I could dance and sing on top of a mountain with 14 new friends and a beautiful view of the sunset or stargaze while listening to music for the first time in two months. I was happiest when I was could feel myself forming connections with others and engage with local members of the community.

Imagine a Christmas without presents—or, at least, without material goods. I’m sure a game would be equally as—if not more enjoyable than the exchange of gifts. However, we have sadly attached the value of our relationships to the value of our goods, and we have evolved to pursue happiness in the most stressful of ways.

In Nepal, the festival we celebrated (Tihar) was not mediated by physical (or non-consumable) gifts; instead, it involved a succession of dances and offerings to celebrate and maintain intimate relationships with humans, animals, and Gods alike. Sometimes, people would freely enter and exit the homes of their neighbours during the dance ceremonies, because everyone was considered to be family.

Consumerism makes us vulnerable to the misconception that economic growth is the solution to all problems, convincing us that meaning is something which can be bought. Living in a rural village for nine days, none of us had or needed a fridge. Most of us simply used buckets as showers. Yet I was eating some of the best food I’d ever tasted and taking some of the most appreciated showers.

Which leads me to my next realization:

3. A fridge, dishwasher, washing machine, etc. are not a necessities; they are simply supplements to current lifestyles that appease our desires for efficiency.

According to Groundwork, “every year, U.S. businesses spend $207 billion on advertising to convince you that your current life is not enough,” and “some U.S. neighbourhoods have banned clothesline as an “ugly” sign of poverty.”

With the emergence of initiatives like Amazon prime, our culture of impatience has only been exacerbated to the extent where we can hardly wait more than one day to receive our online purchases. To think that Dash buttons almost became a thing simply exemplifies our incapability of remaining patient—not to mention the blatant environmental damage they would have produced.

As someone who still hand-washes dishes and air dries clothing at home, it almost makes me question whether these practices make me ‘enough’. Because “[consumerism] encompasses more than material space;“ it manipulates us into believing that our lives could be improved through the addition of something—anything.

But when will we decide that what we have is enough?

After doing some reading online and participating in Kiss the Ground’s Soil Advocacy Training online course, I’ve come to the conclusion that:

3. The term sustainability in its current use may not suffice. We need to redefine the boundaries of what is attainable in the first place before sustaining what clearly doesn’t work.

The first step is to reflect and then reconsider, or regenerate, a society that is more compatible towards the livelihoods and needs of the entire population—and not just a select few. The way we’re operating right now is evidently not working. It follows a degenerative model, which allows production and policy to leave the planet worse off for the fact that it’s occurred. This sets us on path towards ecological demise, and we need a new way of moving forward.

4. We shouldn’t just look to be mindful ‘consumers’, but mindful ‘citizens’.

Being a mindful consumer implicates that you’re ‘voting with your dollars'—purchasing items that are less harmful towards the environment and its inhabitants. But being a consumer also assumes that you have the purchasing power to allow your spendings to reveal your political standings, which automatically neglects or dismisses those who lack the monetary ability to do the same.

Therefore, being a mindful citizen focuses more on the values we embody and how this determines our everyday interactions and decisions. As a mindful citizen, we can allocate our time to being politically active or educating other individuals—important tasks that are obscured when citizens are whittled down to being simply consumers.

As mindful citizens, we can look towards building community and working together. But ultimately,

5. What we need is a cultural solution.

[caption id="attachment_156720" align="alignleft" width="395"]Nepal Gap Year Homestay View from the kitchen of my homestay in Patan, Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]

The image on the left was captured from the kitchen of my homestay family’s house in Patan. My “morning routine” during this time consisted of: waking up and drinking chiyaa (tea) alongside my homestay parents and sisters. And my night routine involved journaling and reading.

If only that was the norm; if only we haven’t internalized capitalism with the expectation that if we’re not constantly producing something or berate ourselves for taking a break almost to the point where we neglect our health—both physically and emotionally. If we don’t confront our unending desire for economic growth—a principle founded on the abundance of consumption—then we will never be able to address the looming issue of climate change. Because the two are inextricably linked.

To illustrate this point, let’s use Bhutan as an example.

Not only is Bhutan the world’s only carbon-negative country, but it’s also a nation built on happiness.

Bhutan is governed by their four pillars of ‘success’—one of them being environmental conservation. Their policies are determined under the basis of of gross national happiness as opposed to GDP, a more accurate factor of a country’s ‘success’. The government has mandated that forest areas cannot fall below 60%, partnered with Nissan to distribute electric cars to discourage the use of fuel-based ones, and subsidized LED lights and electrical public transportation—all nested under the collective goal of valuing the environment over economic growth.

Similarly, in some parts of South America, the term “Buen Vivir” has been adopted to reshape the conversation around community success. It stands for a collective well being, concluding that success hasn’t been achieved if money is earned through a means that devalues or harms your community. For instance, if wood was cut from a tree to build your house and was not replanted, it’s not beautiful because it destroyed natural space; if your shirt was produced in a sweat shop, it’s not beautiful because it exploits labourers.

So, evidently, what we require is the conversation about climate change to shift to sustainable culture. Climate change is rooted deep in our lifestyle habits, and these habits are largely determined by what we deem to be the ‘norm’.

Our values and attitudes have the capacity to slow climate change, but in order to create a truly sustainable culture, we have to be willing to change our mindsets,

accept a different pace of life and rethink our goals and place in society. This may require a fundamental restructuring of societal values, reorienting our emphasis from individualist to collectivist values. Because while many solutions to the climate catastrophe are scientific, a significant amount are cultural.

7. We need to rethink our cultural priorities/values and generate broader definitions of success.

A sustainable culture functions in harmony with the earth (take aboriginal/indigenous communities, for instance). And to quote Groundwork again, values of a culture that loves the earth include:

[caption id="attachment_156719" align="alignright" width="508"]Nepal Gap Year Village Living in a rural village in Nepal. Photo by Eugenia Chow.[/caption]
  • Patience: I experienced this while trekking in Nepal—without any devices and sometimes the inability to have conversation due to the high altitude we were in—going on walks—sometimes at 5am with my homestay mom around the village—navigating the city without a phone or GPS, and experiencing an alternative way of thinking and living.

  • Enoughness: I encountered this phenomenon while living simplistically on a permaculture farm in Gundu and in a rural village called Koshi. Everything was produced right from our doorstep, and we were living in nature, without the distraction of any devices—just our own thoughts and occasionally a book or journal to jot them down. This idea of living off-the-grid remains unconventional in the modern world, but this simply leads me to my next realization, that:

    8. Things are simply a burden, and we shouldn’t let marketers define what success or happiness means for us.

    There are so many social constructs we could simply neglect had they not been normalized by the culture around us.

    One of my favourite things about travelling (especially when packing lightly) is how un-stigmatised it is to re-wear clothes. For three months in Nepal, I rotated between five different outfits, and never once did I ever feel “deprived.” Due to the transitory nature of fast fashion, it has been normalized to wear a new outfit to every occasion. But this expectation to wear something new or different every day is highly unrealistic, and we have to rethink the conversation on what kind of standard this sets—not just for the sake of environmental sustainability, but also because of the statement it implies towards the issue of classism.

    Moreover, during our first trek, we had no mirrors for seventeen days. This meant we could abandon all self-doubt surrounding the notion of beauty, which was not only liberating, but also a jarring reminder of how much of our self-perception is determined by what common marketing has conditioned us to desire.

  • A broad[er] definition of success: This can include being self-sufficient, preserving heritage and culture and traditions. For example, my homestay father in Patan specialized in stone carving—a form of work that is viewed as successful, partially because it serves to maintain one’s family legacy.

  • And my own: valuing community. I witnessed this through entering each other’s houses freely during the dances celebrating Tihar, stopping to actually speak to one another in the village, and seeing how everyone’s considered a brother or a sister, regardless of whether actual family ties exist.

9. Kindness and generosity are faces of collective success.

One of the most distinctive memories that remain with me from Nepal involves a singular bus journey from Bhaktapur to Nagarkot. Amidst the frenzy of boarding an overcrowded bus, one lady immediately handed her blanketed baby into the arms of another passenger. And the passenger graciously accepted it without comment or complaint. The only further interaction was an appreciative nod from the former lady, and a warm, understanding smile from the latter.

Within this few second exchange, what I immediately gathered was that people here are willing to make sacrifices for each other—prioritizing a collective wellbeing.

Sure, this may be a vast over-generalization of how all people in this country act, but it’s sad to think that the first thought in response to a free cake at my door step would be “it’s probably drugged” as opposed to “that’s so thoughtful!” because that’s the way we’ve been brought up to react.

What if, instead of competing in the name of self-interest, we took the time to connect with each other and work towards our shared goals? We need to bring back collaboration and the act of working in harmony with one another.

10. While politicians play an important role, we also have to create an environment that is receptive and ready to welcome this change with open arms.

Seasonal outfit trends, Amazon Dash buttons, and clotheslines as a sign of “ugly poverty” won’t do anyone justice anymore; it’s time we create a new normal.

As Wagner writes, “when something is public, it can become a part of a culture.” And we can do this through every day actions, in many different forms! We can shape the change and lead the conversation through education people in real life by talking to them, using our social media platforms to reach a larger audience, or running campaigns to unite people under a shared cause.

A concept I learnt in psychology class last year, reciprocal determinism, states that an individual is both influenced and exerts an influence on their environment, and while culture affects us, we, as individuals have the power to affect culture as well.

“Society's response to every dimension of global climate change is mediated by culture.” And it is our role, as citizens—not consumers—to set the precedent for governing bodies. A global problem needs a global solution, and be it from the angle of clotheslines, clothing, or consumerism, the first thing we can do is begin by normalising simplicity.

 

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[post_title] => Culture, Consumerism, and Climate Change: 10 Things I Learnt from Living Out of My Backpack for 85 Days [post_excerpt] => Dragons Alum, Eugenia Chow, wrote this reflection on her 3-month Gap semester in Nepal for her Veganism and Sustainability blog. My most memorable moments in Nepal were not marked by the purchase of my traditional-themed notebook nor the new headlamp I bought for trek. It was when I could dance and sing on top of a mountain with 14 new friends and a beautiful view of the sunset or stargaze while listening to music for the first time in two months. I was happiest when I was could feel myself forming connections with others and engage with local members of the community. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => culture-consumerism-and-climate-change-10-things-i-learnt-from-living-out-of-my-backpack-for-85-days [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-04-30 11:30:30 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-04-30 17:30:30 [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] => 74 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 74 [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] => 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] => 45 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 45 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community ... )
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Culture, Consumerism, and Climate Change: 10 Things I Learnt from Living Out of My Backpack for 85 Days

Posted On

04/30/20

Author

Eugenia Chow, Nepal Semester Alum

Description
Dragons Alum, Eugenia Chow, wrote this reflection on her 3-month Gap semester in Nepal for her Veganism and Sustainability blog. My most memorable moments in Nepal were not marked by the… Read More
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    [post_date] => 2020-04-27 16:51:55
    [post_date_gmt] => 2020-04-27 22:51:55
    [post_content] => 

Dragons was featured in a New York Times article discussing Gap Year ideas for college students who are considering alternative options during this time of uncertainty.
That’s the essence of the gap year mind-set: Teenagers who are ready for challenges can find ways to achieve their goals. And just as a traditional education is about preparing a young person for adult life, learning to be resilient in handling the challenges of an unpredictable gap year can build valuable life skills as well.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE ONLINE AT THE NEW YORK TIMES.

 
PS. WANT DRAGONS BLOG UPDATES SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR INBOX? ONE EMAIL A WEEK. NOTHING MARKETY. UNSUBSCRIBE ANY TIME. SUBSCRIBE TO DRAGONS BLOG AND STAY CONNECTED TO THE COMMUNITY. ❤️
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    [post_content] => Last night I stepped out into the front yard and was met by a numinous presence. It was 9:30 pm, and our neighborhood, the nearby highway, and streets were bathed in silence. The languid moon slid in and out of clouds, leaving me awestruck at the texture, volume, and animate character of the sky. 

An hour earlier, I sat with my seven-year-old as she broke down in tears of fear and sadness—not the typical bedtime tears of disappointment—her embodied response to the uncertainty and isolation she feels during these weeks without school or friends.

My evening’s juxtaposition between the heartache of loss, and my awe at the mystical power of the night sky is representative of our collective family experience. It is a roller coaster of ambiguity and uncertainty expressed by colleagues, friends, and the global community at large.

The familiar refrain echoes that we are in “uncharted territory;” there is a great deal of uncertainty as to how we will get through this, and what life will look like on the other side. As the depth of this portal is exposed, we’re coming to terms with the reality that we may not “get back to normal.” We are all together on a transformative journey that will leave us with a world different from what we have known.

 

[caption id="attachment_156687" align="aligncenter" width="566"]Andes and Amazon Mountains Gap Year Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Instructor.[/caption]

 

How do we navigate the COVID era?

Confronted with the uncertainty and ambiguity of our current social environment, the value of global experiential education pedagogy comes into focus. Represented by organizations such as the Independent School Experiential Education Network (ISEEN), and the Global Education Benchmark Group (GEBG), global experiential programming exposes students to challenging and unfamiliar cultural environments that evoke a clarification of values and foster cultural competencies. Courses are often designed to be disorienting, bewildering, and to present uncertain circumstances. In short, it can look and feel very much like the situation we find ourselves in today.    Over the past ten years, Independent Schools have invested in global experiential education programs. The shift also marks an active investment in educator skill-sets, pushing the role of teachers to include mentoring and facilitating students. Teachers increasingly find themselves holding space as students navigate unfamiliar and challenging environments in a way that fosters growth and learning. The unique skills needed to guide such programs are the same that apply to the uncharted and emotionally charged future we are confronted with today. At this critical time, we are invited to lean into the discomfort, to work with students to question the norm, and empower them to write their own narratives of what our future will look like.   [caption id="attachment_155968" align="aligncenter" width="574"]High School Summer Abroad in Thailand Photo by Arwyn Drew, Student.[/caption]  

How will schools respond to this moment in time?

While we may not be able to offer group travel programs, now is the time to double-down on the practice of global experiential education, and recommit to this progressive shift. But based on check-ins with Independent School colleagues, the response to COVID-19 is mixed. Some report struggles in trying to keep with a rigorous academic schedule. Others have responded by reducing the focus on global education and laying off the Director of Global Education, while others are continuing to forge ahead, investing in capacity building, and feasible models for experiential education in the new era.  
The unbounded vastness of this global pandemic is overwhelming. It can easily lead to tears and despair. Such an uncertain challenge triggers the fight or flight response. For schools, it may seem that the safest path forward is to revert to what we know best—content learning within the structures of traditional disciplines—or to impose outdated educational structures on a new and dynamic reality.
  But there is another option: The option to give pause and to foster, in ourselves and our students, an openness to the awkward spaciousness before us. Paramount to the practice of global, experiential education, is creating space within our overbusy schedules to reflect on and honestly question current social and environmental realities around us. Indeed, perhaps the greatest, most revolutionary facet of experiential education is reflection; inviting students to evoke questions, clarify values, challenge beliefs, and hone opinions based on firsthand experience. The car has stopped;, we have the opportunity to get out, spread the map on the hood, and plot our course forward.   

How do we rise up to this challenge?

Transformation is not without pain; the deconstruction of what was, is a necessary precondition to create space for what will be. A new education, without the defining markers of 45-minute periods, four walls, and students moving along the assembly line of content acquisition is possible! We have been presented with a crack in our social and educational systems in which we might plant a new seed. Moments of crisis can lead to rapid institutional transformation —otherwise impossible in normal times.   In this crisis, we are called upon to be guides and mentors, empowering students as they cautiously emerge from this crisis into a new world—one in which the ability to navigate uncharted terrain is paramount. The great skill of holding space, and leaning into the discomfort of new realities is now more important than ever. It is the mandate of global and experiential education to do so, allowing students to access their inner wisdom and write their own narrative of this historical moment.   And we can expect that the ambiguity found in this “uncharted territory” will be the new norm, whether it results from another global health pandemic, the impacts of climate change, or the need to negotiate limited resources amongst an expanding global population.   
Right now, we are being asked to embrace the spacious clearing this great storm has left in our lives—not to get back to an over-busy schedule as soon as possible. We should leverage the practice of global experiential education to guide students, and ourselves, through this transformative journey by slowing down, building relationships, and looking inward. If we do, we may learn to listen to the numinous wisdom of the night sky, or more importantly, clarify values from our own tears and emotions. We may find, as an educational community, that there are many things here in this spacious clearing we can take with us as we move forward. 
  [caption id="attachment_156686" align="aligncenter" width="570"]Nepal Gap Year Mountains Photo by Nina Redpath, Student.[/caption]

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