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Aaron Slosberg

We want to share this note from Aaron Slosberg, Director of Student Programming, about the importance of the transference process for our students and instructors returning home and for all those adjusting to the current state of the world.

Dear Spring Semester Students, Instructors, and Dragons Community,

What initially started as an emergent epidemic in China, soon morphed into the global pandemic that is sadly bringing an early end to your semester this week. Dragons has gone through public health scares in the past, but none as far reaching as COVID-19. The scope of the pandemic is crossing and closing international borders in ways that are truly unprecedented because we are living in an unprecedentedly interconnected world. Fear can breed distance from the unfamiliar, which may be self-protecting and necessary in some cases, but also the roots of xenophobia and isolation in others. And we are living in fearful times with real problems to face.

COVID-19 is not a scarecrow threat. The potential health impacts are real and overwhelming in scope. Communities are struggling to mitigate the disease’s reach, and in doing so, are being faced with tough questions about the fabric of our society and values. Are public health and healthy economies at odds? Can we self-manage our response to the pandemic or do governments need to curtail personal freedoms in pursuit of a common good? Can we maintain open borders and movement or do nations need to close themselves off?  These are not abstract dilemmas; in fact, they have already personally impacted all of us and will continue to color conversations well into the future.

Being on a Dragons program can be paradoxically connecting and disconnecting experience. Connecting because you are so actively engaged with your surroundings, and the local & global themes manifested there, without the filter of screens or media. Relationships can feel uniquely alive and immediate. Disconnecting because you are apart from your community back home and from the technological waterfall of information available at your fingertips. We’ve heard that many  students this semester were only abstractly aware of COVID-19 because it just wasn’t a part of your daily realities. Although we know you each have already felt its influence, we also want to prepare you for the new reality you’re returning to…

You will feel the presence of COVID-19 everywhere you go in the coming weeks. Social distancing practices have shuttered schools, restaurants, and myriad public spaces. Once bustling areas are eerily quiet. Businesses and workers are struggling mightily to find a footing in this novel economy, Dragons included. The coronavirus is on center stage in all forms of media. People are scared and anxious about what the future holds.

Most travelers already feel overwhelmed returning from abroad. Re-entry culture shock and separation from your Dragons group can result in a rollercoaster of emotions. We want you to know that whatever feelings come up for you in the coming days have most likely been (or are being) experienced by Dragons students and instructors around the world. What is unique to your return experience is the added layer of coming back to a society in the midst of some tectonic shifts. We often say that a common disconnect in returning home is that the traveler can feel so different inside, filled with new experiences and perspectives, but their old surroundings still seem the same. You may find that just as you have changed, so has the context of your home.

And in those changes, we encourage you to practice caution, patience, and compassion with your loved ones.

Caution because these circumstances absolutely demand it. Follow health protocols not only for your own safety, but also for the safety of your community. You may not be in a high risk demographic; however, your behaviors can determine the level of risk posed to those around you. Don’t take it personally if loved ones are intentionally distant from you, or even a bit scared of the risk you may pose as a newly returned traveler; everyone is doing their best to navigate this situation. Keep up with the sanitation and safety guidelines from your course, and heed the established advice of health experts.

Patience because your transition back home will take time. Don’t expect for everything to immediately feel the same. Don’t expect for everyone around you to readily understand your experiences and emotions. And know that with time and patience, you will form newly familiar routines and norms. Your experiences abroad, and the expression of them, will gain clarity and traction in your life at home.

Compassion because your experience is uniquely yours. Your family and friends back home have not been exposed to the same realities, perspectives, and insights. Don’t let that difference become a barrier to connection or a cause for judgment. Compassion because we have the power to turn this moment into something other than a cause for fear of people and places different from us. Compassion because we are all doing our best to cope with a world often beyond our control, and while we can’t always change what’s outside of us, we can choose to respond with kindness.

I want you to know that even though your Dragons semester is coming to a close, you are forever a part of this community. We are here for you now, and always. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us whether that’s in a week, or years down the road.

Wishing you all the best in your return home.

Aaron Slosberg

Director of Student Programming


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