A Dragons student and monk playing badminton. Photo by Eric Jenkins-Sahlin, China Language 4-week.

Posts Tagged:

China

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    [post_date] => 2019-08-15 12:09:10
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-15 18:09:10
    [post_content] => 

Twenty-two years ago I walked into a small town in southwestern China near dusk and realized I was in trouble. I had the equivalent of just a few dollars left in my wallet and the only bank in town was closed (there weren’t any ATMs). I had no place to stay for the night, no ticket onward, and knew no one in the area. Like most people at that time, I didn’t have a cell phone—even if I had, I’m not sure who I would have called. I stood on the steps of the (closed) bank, one of the larger buildings in town, and watched the warm, late spring sun sinking lower in the sky, considering my options and feeling angry with myself. I was also exhausted and hungry after walking all day. This wasn’t my first brush with the consequences of failing to think ahead (nor would it be my last!) but in a completely unfamiliar place, in a country then still very new to me, with Chinese language skills that might be generously described as “intermediate”, traveling solo… I was feeling both stuck and stupid. The days and weeks leading up to this moment had been some of the happiest and most exciting of my life. I’d taken a year off from college and worked all fall so that I could join a study program in China in the spring. This kind of travel, which was never in the cards for my family growing up, was something I’d always dreamed of. To explain why, I have to tell another story first… WHEN I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD... The town where I grew up sponsored a group of Cambodian refugees who had fled the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge. One of these refugees, a boy a couple of years older than me, named Kiri, became my friend, and something like an idol. Kiri’s life experiences were different from mine in pretty much every way. I grew up in small college towns in New England where life was mostly quiet and peaceful. Kiri’s family had all been killed in the chaos that enveloped Cambodia at that time and he fled with other children through the jungle, arriving eventually in a refugee camp before coming to the US. Kiri’s childhood experiences left him with scars I couldn’t see, but had some sense of, even as a kid. His experiences also left him with great survival skills—including what, to my seven-year old ears, was a knockout sense of humor. Kiri was still learning English, and one day when he was over at my house, he discovered the power of the phrase, “never mind.” From that moment on, every time Kiri and I needed a boost of extra entertainment as we played upstairs, Kiri would call to my mother downstairs. “Hey, Susan?” “Yes, Kiri?” my mom would answer knowingly. “Never mind!” (cue cascade of two boys laughing). My mom was very patient. Kiri also had concrete survival skills as a result of the time he spent escaping war in the wilderness. One day, Kiri came with my family for a walk in the woods and he and I went down to a stream below the path. I watched him pull a live fish, about six inches long, out of the stream with his bare hands. From that moment on, I did everything I could to emulate Kiri. Kiri had a habit of carrying photos around with him inside his t-shirt, “close to the heart.” One was of his parents. Another was of a tank. After he showed me the photos, I asked my parents for some photos to put inside my t-shirt. Through Kiri, I got to know other kids and families in the Cambodian refugee community in our town. Although I wouldn’t have been able to explain it quite this way at the time, I began to fall in love with people and things that were different from those I knew. I began to wonder about life in places far away from home. I began to dream about seeing the world. So, many years later, when Chinese was introduced as a language option at my high school (a rare opportunity at a public high school in 1991), I jumped at the opportunity. I loved languages, but even more so, I loved the idea of being able to communicate with people whose lives and cultures were profoundly different from mine. Eventually, in the spring of my junior year in college, I landed in China’s Yunnan Province—a place that felt to me like a wonderland: more than 30 different ethnic groups, biodiversity with ecosystems ranging from snowy mountains higher than any I’d ever seen to dense tropical rainforests, a long list of religious traditions, foods as familiar as fried potatoes and as unfamiliar as roasted cicadas. I was in paradise. The culmination of my semester was a month-long “independent project.” Working with my program advisor, I set out to follow the Mekong River along its entire path through Yunnan, from the Tibetan region of Kham in the northwestern corner of the province, downstream and south through ethnically Hui, Lisu, Pumi, Yi, Naxi, Bai, Wa, Dai (and the list goes on) areas to Xishuangbanna, bordering Myanmar and Laos. Carrying letters of introduction that I hoped would allow me to enter many counties then closed to foreign travelers, and cartons of cigarettes needed to win over skeptical local officials, I set out with the goal of covering as much of the route as I could by foot—a goal I soon realized was totally unrealistic given the distance I had to cover and the month I had available. Walking is still my favorite mode of transport. It’s the only way to move from one place to another slowly enough to really see things. It’s also the only way to move that leaves you with no choice but to stop and talk with people along the way. I discovered quickly how friendly, hospitable, and curious the people of rural Yunnan were, often stopping to offer me rides, and inviting me into their homes for meals. In the Meili Snow Mountains of northwestern Yunnan, a family pulled me into their shack near the road to offer me a small piece of fried fat and a plastic cup of orange soda—the most luxurious things they had to offer. In another town, I asked a girl on the street how to get to the post office. She looked at the items I wanted to mail back to my advisor’s home in Kunming and told me I’d need to have a container to mail them in. She then brought me back to her family’s home for lunch, found an empty grain sack, and carefully packed all of my things in it. I repeated all of the ways I knew to say “thank you” as she stitched up the sack and walked with me to the post office. When we arrived, she helped me navigate the maze of counters, fees, forms, and surly officers with red stamps that run the engine of the world’s oldest bureaucracy. Again and again, I was stunned by the level of hospitality and generosity I was shown. WHICH BRINGS ME BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS STORY... As I arrived in a small town, at the end of a long day’s walk with no money, not even enough for a meal, and no place to stay. As I stood there on the steps of the bank, a man walked over to me. “Hello, can I help you with something?” he asked, “Are you lost?” Startled out of my own thoughts of how foolish I’d been, I explained I was looking for a bank. “This is the only bank around. It’s closed now.” “Too bad,” I said, then, thinking of another priority, “Can you recommend any very cheap places to eat nearby?” The stranger asked me more questions and I eventually began to explain my predicament, but before I had even finished, he opened his wallet and pulled out 100 kuai—at the time equal to about twelve US dollars, and more than enough for a room and a meal. He insisted I take the money. “Chinese people are hospitable,” he said, “and you are our guest from another country. I know you would help me if I were a visitor to your country.” I wondered if that last part was true. I hoped so. I wasn’t sure. Unfortunately, I didn’t think too many foreign young men in small towns in the US were approached by strangers offering assistance and cash. Then, the stranger spoke a Chinese phrase that was, by then, starting to become familiar to me. “It’s what I should do,” he said. I was tired, stress had been building, and I was choked up as he handed me the 100 kuai bill. I asked him to write down his address and promised (though he said it wasn’t necessary) to send him the money he’d given me once I could get to a bank. I thanked him profusely. I imagined how much better things might be for people everywhere if we all did what we should do. WHAT’S THE MORAL OF THIS STORY? I suppose the obvious answer might be: plan in advance and be prepared. Yawn. You’ve heard that before. If I hadn’t set out to “walk the Mekong in a month” (I mean, come on, really, kid?) I might not have been gifted the realization of my own incompetence and lack of knowledge, or the truth of my reliance on others. I never would have met that stranger who showed me such pure generosity, or been faced with the uncomfortable question: Would this ever happen where I’m from? If I hadn’t overshot in what I thought I could do, I wouldn’t have felt what I did in the moment that stranger said, “It’s what I should do.” And that’s a moment that I have always remembered. I remembered it through what turned into eleven years of living in China, and a lifetime of involvement with China and with Chinese people. I remember it, sometimes, when I send groups of students to the high mountains and deep river valleys of Yunnan Province, and to live with homestay families in villages just a short distance away from that small town and the steps of its only bank (no doubt, there are many banks and ATMs there by now!). These days, it’s my job to help those students and their instructors prepare, and plan, and manage budgets, and risk, and logistics. But it’s my wish that they’ll truly challenge themselves, and that sometimes things will go wrong, and that when things do go wrong, they may learn something powerful and unexpected. AND WITH THAT IN MIND... I want to turn this story back in a circle. It has been many, many years since I lost touch with my friend Kiri. My family moved away from that town in New England when I was seven years old. As I wrote out this story, I had the inclination to do something that wasn’t an option back then: I Googled Kiri. Kiri is not his real name. His real name is unique enough that on my first search, to my astonishment, I found a news story about him. It turns out life got complicated for Kiri as he got older and he became involved in criminal activities. His actions weren’t violent, but drug-related crimes led to years in jail. As a result of changing policies and more hostile attitudes towards immigration in the US, Kiri was deported. After growing up, marrying, and having children in this country, he was sent back to the country from which he had originally fled as a refugee. I felt tears come to my eyes as I read about Kiri being separated from his children in the US, and sent back to a place where he had no living family members, a place now as unfamiliar to him as the US had been when he first arrived. Because of what I learned, the process of writing this story down took a different turn for me. Since I learned about Kiri’s deportation, I’ve been trying to get more information, and to contact Kiri, trying to find out if there’s anything I can do to help. In short, I’m trying to return some of the favors the world has granted me and to figure out what I should do.

  JODY SEGAR is China Programs Director at Where There Be Dragons. He wants readers to know that he did get around to mailing that stranger’s money back, plus extra. (PHOTOS: Northwestern Yunnan, 1996)    
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[post_title] => When Things Go Wrong - An Essay by Jody Segar, Dragons China Program Director [post_excerpt] => "Twenty-two years ago I walked into a small town in southwestern China near dusk and realized I was in trouble..." [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => when-things-go-wrong-an-essay-by-jody-segar-dragons-china-program-director [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-10-17 09:18:32 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-10-17 15:18:32 [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] => 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] => 16 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 16 [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/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 20 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 20 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/thedragonsjournal/ ) [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] => 11 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 11 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, The Dragons Journal ... )
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    [post_date] => 2018-07-19 11:50:06
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    [post_content] => 

Experiential Education involves the use of hands-on exercises that engage multiple senses and learning styles.

For a fun example of what this looks like on a Dragons course, check out this "Metacognition" exercise in action on Dragons China: The Yangtze River summer program, subtitled, "Games to Visualize our Thinking" as facilitated by Zack Siddall and described by Tingting Xu...

Er Fo Temple is famous for its Chan Buddhist sculptures. Before leaving the temple, Zack organized a game with the intention of guiding students towards more awareness of their thinking and decision making processes – an important step before entering a mega city, like Chongqing, after a quiet and peaceful time at Er Fo Temple. The process of “sculpting each other” was a lot of fun for the group and helped them get to know each other even better as the journey continues. Hope you enjoy the video as much as we (instructors) enjoyed watching! – Tingting

[video width="640" height="360" mp4="https://yak.wheretherebedragons.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/meta-1.mp4"][/video] [video width="640" height="360" mp4="https://yak.wheretherebedragons.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/meta-2.mp4"][/video] [post_title] => Experiential Education in Action: "Sculpting" Videos made at Er Fo Temple, China [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => experiential-education-in-action-sculpting-videos-made-at-er-fo-temple-china [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-07-19 11:52:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-07-19 17:52:47 [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] => 53 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 53 [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] => 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] => 34 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 34 [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/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 640 [name] => Dragons Instructors [slug] => dragons_instructors [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 640 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [parent] => 0 [count] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 8 [cat_ID] => 640 [category_count] => 23 [category_description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [cat_name] => Dragons Instructors [category_nicename] => dragons_instructors [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, For Parents ... )
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    [post_date] => 2018-05-17 11:41:09
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    [post_content] => God bless parents, especially moms. At least, especially my mom. Just after I turned 24, in 1992, I returned to my parents’ home in Missoula, Montana, USA, after having spent the academic year teaching English in a medium-sized industrial city in the far, far northeast of China. “Reverse culture shock” is a term I may or may not have heard before that homecoming. Either way, I was utterly unprepared for what was about to hit me…and my mom.
“Reverse culture shock” is a term I may or may not have heard before that homecoming. Either way, I was utterly unprepared for what was about to hit me…and my mom.
I was rude, insensitive, and sometimes even cruel to my mom, who only wanted to welcome her son home and make me feel at home. Nothing she did was enough for me. She tried to empathize, she tried to nurture, she asked questions. Nothing worked. I was just too jumbled. My case may be extreme, but I know that the general sense of instability, of not feeling quite right, is common for people just back from big adventures in new places. And it turns out that the brain has a lot to do with it. Please indulge me in doing a brief exercise. Hold this page at arm’s length. Now, while keeping your left eye closed and your right eye laser-focused on the plus sign, slowly (slowly!) move the paper closer to your face. At some point something will happen to the dot. (If the paper ends up at your face you’ll need to try again. It’s crucial to start with the paper far away, to keep your right eye squarely focused on the plus sign, and to bring the paper in very, very slowly.) How could the dot just disappear like that? It turns out that each eye has a blind spot, where the visual field is blank. The retina gets no information from this part of the visual field. Why don’t we see some kind of hole or emptiness where the blind spot is? Because the brain invents something to “put” there—in this case, the color or pattern of the paper around it.
Volumes of evidence from vision experts have proven that the world we see is a massive illusion.
How does this work? The brain just invents it. Volumes of evidence from vision experts have proven that the world we see is a massive illusion. Just twenty percent of visual information comes from the retina; the remaining eighty percent is pure fiction, manifested by the brain in order to create a sense of coherence. Think about that: four-fifths of what we see is just the brain’s best guess. It’s not actually there. I love this simple exercise because it gets right to the heart of two key issues when it comes to human identity. First, reality is a product of our own brains, based on our particular set of experiences. Second, our brains have a primal need to create coherence. They are doing this constantly, in the background, completely out of our conscious awareness. Another thing our brains do all the time, automatically, is warn us of threats in the environment. One part of the brain in particular—the amygdala, or “lizard brain”—gets highly active when it thinks we’re being threatened. And when the amygdala is active, it inhibits activity in the prefrontal cortex and other parts of the brain that govern our “higher” functions. The amygdala is fast but coarse: it knows nothing about nuance or subtlety. In one important sense this is a good thing: it keeps us alive. If a tiger jumps out of the bushes, we really don’t have time to consider the tiger in all its uniqueness. We just need to know right away that it’s a tiger and that it’s dangerous. The problem is that the amygdala does its thing even when we don’t need it to. It sees almost anything new as a potential threat, and since difference is a form of novelty, we tend to see people different from us as threatening. This leaves us with a rather bleak picture of humanity: If our brains are busy inventing coherent realities about the threats posed by groups of “other” people, then we don’t stand much of a chance of getting along. And isn’t this, when it comes down to it, the story of humanity’s dark side? Now for the good news: we can relate to difference in ways that aren’t dominated by threat. It just takes a lot of awareness and hard work.
We can relate to difference in ways that aren’t dominated by threat. It just takes a lot of awareness and hard work.
When I returned from China in 1992, I had a lot going on in my brain. During my year in China, my brain had started out in full-on threat mode, reacting negatively to the confusing behaviors all around me. Over then next nine months, my brain gradually created a sense of coherence, as I began to understand all the new patterns I was seeing, and to empathize with the people around me. I was starting to understand why people did what they did, and even though it was different from what I was used to, I could at least see the logic. New worlds were opening up to me, and it was thrilling. I was a new person in a new world, eager to return home and share my bounty. But when I came home I found a place that looked exactly as it always had, inhabited by people whose worldviews hadn’t budged an inch. The “mistake” I made is a common one for returnees from abroad: I had replaced a single view of the world with a different, single view that I’d judged to be better than the “old” view.
The “mistake” I made is a common one for returnees from abroad: I had replaced a single view of the world with a different, single view that I’d judged to be better than the “old” view.
And this is where the brain’s good news begins to come in handy. Thankfully, we’re not slaves to the amygdala and to our brain’s tendency to create a single, coherent story. As humans we have the ability—thanks to the prefrontal cortex and other more recently evolved regions of the brain—to see the world from multiple perspectives. And it turns out that this is the key to reintegration—indeed, to what reintegration is all about. Joseph Campbell wrote, “‘The Cosmic Dancer,’ declares Nietzsche, ‘does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another.’” We don’t have to fear “other” ways of being. Fear is natural, but we don’t need to let it rule us. What we need is to thank our amygdala for keeping us alive, and to ask it to please quiet down while we listen and look for what there is for us to learn.
What we need is to thank our amygdala for keeping us alive, and to ask it to please quiet down while we listen and look for what there is for us to learn.
We all can, in Walt Whitman’s famous words, “contain multitudes.” Indeed the future of our species depends on it. So let’s keep asking, keep reaching, keep learning.

JASON PATENT, Ph.D., is a leading cultural interpreter on China-related issues and previously served as American Co-Director of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, China. He is a former Dragons instructor (China ‘98-’01) and co-founder of the Dragons China Semester Program. Currently Jason is Chief of Operations and Director of the Center for Intercultural Leadership at UC Berkeley’s International House. He lives in the Bay Area with his wife, Colette Plum, and their two daughters.

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    [post_date] => 2018-03-07 08:00:17
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Selected by peers, family, friends and strangers via Facebook, we're excited to announce the winners of Dragons Fall 2017 Photo Contest (featuring our Nepal Semester, China Semester, and South America Semester).

Be sure to visit the WTBD Facebook page to view photos and captions from all of our finalists!

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    [post_date] => 2018-02-07 11:23:04
    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-02-07 18:23:04
    [post_content] => 
"...what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives..."
I recently had the pleasure of eavesdropping on a conversation between two of my students huddled together in a sweet, sweaty puddle in the back of a bouncing taxi in Delhi. I overheard both of them express honest relief in how nice it was to take a break from their phones; how free they felt from not having to worry about maintaining their Instagram feed; and about how they could see, feel, hear, and smell things in a way that was new to them. I was struck by their uncomplicated reflections. The demands of today’s adolescent world transecting the era of social media seems so messy, so thorny, so impossibly hard to navigate. I’m left to assume how challenging it must be to keep up with unrelenting social ultimatums at school and online, and I’m also left wondering how readily it can be cast off by removing a device. Is it really the simple arithmetic my students just proposed? Removing the phone removes the drama? Researchers and experts tell us plenty on the negatives associated with being glued to our devices: more screen time means more disturbed sleep; too much time on our phones yields reduced memory and recall; even having a cell phone around makes us less present (guilty). Some tech critics even go as far as to say that our technology and reliance thereof has made entire generations dumber. In addition to the experts, we’re ironically bombarded daily with articles written by well-intentioned non-experts (hi!) cautioning us against the negatives of screen time. Perhaps more absurd are the apps we rely on to send us a reminder to stop relying on apps that send us reminders (#meta). Our screens are onions, it seems: complicated, improbable intersecting layers of social hierarchy, neuroscience, game theory, engagement, and the arbitrary assignment and arrangement of hearts and upward-pointing thumbs. When we engage with others through a screen, we aren’t necessarily being antisocial, though. Nor is it correct to readily discount the depth of screen-to-screen connections, as evidenced by the millions who find the sacrament of holy matrimony on an online dating platform. Indeed, a screen in and of itself is harmless. But, when we replace a palpable experience, a laugh, a knowing glance, or even a glimpse out our windows for a glance at our phone, we cheat ourselves from the power and magic of being where we are now. It leads one to wonder if devices are the problem, or perhaps a symptom of something grander that’s merely triggered by screens. As a humble non-expert, I wonder if it’s a fear of unscheduling- consciously keeping precious, vacuous, spacious time that remains terrifyingly unoccupied in the midst of a busy week- that consumes us. On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. We join in on local gamelan practice with village seniors in Kedungmiri, watching hands move deftly over instruments we’ve never seen before. We are witness to the ensemble of car horns, singing bells, and cows in the streets of Bhaktapur, ears mesmerized by implausible harmony. We live and work with families in the Andean highlands, pleasantly surprised we are capable of working so hard even the tendons of our fingers are weary. We stare in awe as the sun breaks over a remote area of the Great Wall, delighting in the deliciousness of the moment. Snapping and quickly posting photos of any of these things would surely yield some likes, but we’d also be abruptly jerked from the “right here” of the human realm to the “over there” of the digital realm, where those little hearts and upward-facing thumbs validate (or not) what we saw, what we did, how we felt, and what it meant. Instead, we deliberately keep open space in our itineraries and invite magic into unscheduled hours. While on course, instructors commonly use the phrase “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” In the moment, this might mean braving a multi-hour bumpy bus ride over a high pass on the generously unpaved highways around Leh. Or trying cuy (guinea pig) for the first time. It might mean prodding your obstinate camel forward in the midday heat of the dunes of Wadi Rum. Or practicing giving one of your peers-turned-friends feedback. Or it might mean leaving home behind, sitting with your experiences, and processing their meaning and value and worth before sharing them. It might mean not knowing what your friends are doing or what feels like blindly trusting that your experience, your time, and your days away are valid in and of themselves. It might mean sitting on a bus with empty, idle hands with only the grandmother to your left and the swaddled infant to your right. It might even mean missing your phone or your social media accounts. Admittedly, a Dragons course can make it easy to leave things behind. We don’t allow phones on our courses, and without the choice to even have a device, it’s decidedly simple to see what’s in front of us. Dragons programming inherently augments human interactions and diminishes digital connection. It’s when our courses end, when we are reunited with the things we left behind during our course, that we forget the sentiment of comfort amongst discomfort. We become quickly unaccustomed to embracing those rich hollow moments, favoring ease, automation, and habits we were sure we’d shirk when we returned home (using our phones before bed, idly scrolling our thumbs through miles of square photo worlds, diddling into the depths of YouTube, and so on). We fall back into a routine of filling the emptiness with something, anything. We fill our schedules, fill our brains, fill our thumbs until we’re a bit numb. But, what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives, as we do while on a Dragons course? What if we intentionally left vacant moments in our days? What if we paused to hear our own street’s symphonies, mirroring those that seem so tantalizing to our ears in Nepal? What if we took a break from our homework and wandered down a street we’d never been as we have done with our homestay siblings before dinner? What if we stepped outside our bedrooms to marvel at the night sky as we did on trek in the Andes? I propose we get uncomfortable. Let’s challenge ourselves to unschedule, to rest our thumbs, to lean into idle, and leave sacred vacancy to be filled with uncharted magic. Let’s dig into what seems familiar and unearth the unfamiliar. Let’s see our neighborhoods with undistracted eyes, romanticize the details of our everyday, and marvel in the smells and textures that adorn our routine. And once we’ve had those moments and savored comfortable discomfort, let’s keep connecting. Let’s keep talking and sharing and inspiring the remarkable in the unremarkable.

Essay by Sara Russell, Dragons Partnership Programs Curriculum Coordinator

  We want to hear more about your sacred offline moments and be inspired by our community that seeks the uncomfortable. Tell us, show us, connect us to your moments of disconnecting by hashtagging your stories and images with #dragonsunplugged (we’ll be watching and ready to re-share!) [post_title] => Full Moments with Free Hands: Finding the Value in #UnpluggedTravel [post_excerpt] => On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. We ask: What if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => full-moments-free-hands-finding-value-unpluggedtravel [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-07 08:11:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-07 15:11:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 22 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 2 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 22 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 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] => 34 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 34 [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/ ) [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] => 32 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 32 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, For Parents ... )
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    [post_date] => 2018-01-04 10:26:40
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    [post_content] => (The following is part of Dragons Travel Guide Series: Essays and Tips from our Community on Why and How to Travel)

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

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

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

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

  • What is your ratio of instructors to students?

  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff?

  • Do your instructors speak the local language?

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

  • What’s the average age of your instructors?

  • How many of your staff return year after year?

  • How do your proactively manage risk on course?

  • How do you manage an emergency?​

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

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

  • How do you foster a safe student dynamic?

  • How do you define ethical travel?

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

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

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

  • What does your financial aid program look like?

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

 

Ps. And here are Dragons answers to these questions!

  • How many years have you been running international programming for students? Over 25-years. 
  • What is the maximum number of students in each of your groups? 12 students. 
  • What is your ratio of instructors to students? 1:4 or one instructor for every four students. 
  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff? Do your instructors speak the local language? They are experienced, career, professionals! Typically, when a Dragons instructor team heads into the field they collectively represent multiple languages, ten or more years of in-country experience, and years managing student groups abroad. 
  • What’s the average age of your instructors? 30+
  • How many of your staff return year after year? We have a large number of return and veteran staff, with an annual return staff rate that typically hovers between 60%-90%.
  • How do your proactively manage risk on course? See our Risk Management page.
  • How do you manage an emergency?​ See our FAQ page. 
  • What type of emergency response team is on-call at your offices? With Administrators based domestically and internationally, our support team—with acute attention to the safety and security of our participants—is on-call 24/7 while students are in the field.
  • Are itineraries fixed before the program?  Are they the same from season to season? Every program is custom-crafted and unique! Dragons itineraries are flexible to create space for unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise and discovery. Learn more about what makes us different. 
  • What tools do you use to facilitate reflection and dialogue on course? How do you foster a safe student dynamic? This is a great question to ask of one of our traveling instructors. You can request a home presentation and meet one! 
  • How do you define ethical travel? See our About Dragons page. 
  • How do you approach the theme of “service” and manage the dangers of “voluntourism”? See our Position Paper on Service Learning
  • How do you manage the sustainability of your programming on local communities? See our Position Paper on Responsible Travel
  • How do you help students apply what they've learned abroad at home? See the Transference section of our Blog for examples!
  • What does your financial aid program look like? Here's all the details on our financial aid program.
  • Can you put me in touch with an alumni student? Absolutely! Just send us a note requesting references to past students!
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