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Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India - Welcome & Introduction Letter

Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India
A girl from the rural Himalayan village of GingiPani, greeting with a Namaste.

Namaste Princeton Bridge Year India Participants! (“Namaste,” is a Hindi greeting, which can be translated to, “recognizing the divine in you.”)

We’ve already met (in your final video Skype interview), but this time I get to congratulate you on your acceptance; into the Bridge Year India program and of a journey that will undoubtedly change your life!

Again, my name is Christina, and I am so excited to have the opportunity of being able to work alongside your on-site staff, to support your group and help safely facilitate your exploration, understanding and connection to one of the most vibrant and exciting of cultures and countries of the world; India. While Daniel will be your primary on-site contact, living with you in Varanasi and offering guidance and leadership for the entirety of the 9-month program, I will be supporting the Bridge Year group, on-site in India for portions of the program (including the first weeks), and from an office in Colorado, from today through your life-long journey of transference (of your learnings and experiences in India, back to your communities at home).

Since you have each shared so much with me, it’s my turn to share a little of my story with you. I spent a fair majority of last year living in Varanasi, where I led two consecutive college-accredited semesters for Where There Be Dragons. The year was amazing; full of the dips and hills of excitement, fear, drama, growth, chaos, beauty, revelation and love that we always unearth of India’s soil. India happens to be my favorite country in the world and I can never quite get it out from under my fingernails. For this reason, I’m ever happy to get right back on a plane to return again, with you, and share this journey as we, together, authentically experience this beautiful country through connecting, directly and intimately, with the communities and cultures of which it is comprised and characterized.

Our collective focus on “seva” or “service learning” holds a special place in my personal life mission and travel history. When I was about 22-years old, on an intuitive whim, I sold everything I owned, strapped on a backpack and moved abroad. No one, least of all myself, knew that first step would eventually accumulate into seven years of adventures in community service and experiential education in the developing world. Traversing some forty-something countries I found myself happily getting the dirt of six continents under my fingernails; working with children living in the squatter community in the dumpster of Guatemala, building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Fijian villages, planting trees in a reforestation effort in Coastal Ecuador, strolling the beaches of Costa Rica at midnight keeping the eggs of Leatherback turtles safe from poachers, fighting off Lantana from overtaking the native plant species of Eastern Australia, giving massages to the crippled limbs of those left at the Mother Teresa House of the Destitute in India, preparing the gardens for feeding an orphanage in the Himalayas, teaching English to refugee monks who escaped from Tibet, and most recently (July 2008) climbing over several 17,000 foot passes to deliver shoes and medications to the most remote Tibetan villages of Northern Nepal.It was over the course of these years, attending this prestigious “University of Life,” that I found my path and passion in “service learning” and also in what Where There Be Dragons calls in its mission statement, “experiential education,” which simply means — using the world as our living classroom and our real experiences and interactions within it as the lesson plan. So having found my own life-driving inspiration abroad, I quickly realized that the only thing that matched my excitement in making my own reality-quaking revelations was watching, guiding, sharing and connecting the world with others — specifically, with young, enthusiastic and inspired people like you.

I’ve now lead seven experiential semesters abroad including Dragon’s Himalayan Studies and two semesters in North India. Each of these semesters (and more specifically, each of the students) has re-confirmed that this is exactly where I love to put my life energy. I can tell you what my favorite thing is about leading these trips without hesitation: Because of the seventy-something students I have led on these adventures, every one of them has since told me, “my experience abroad was the most influential, inspiring and life-changing experience of my life.” And I’m just so thankful and excited to have the opportunity to play part in such transformative experiences.

Our trip to India, departing in August, will be my eighth. Of all the countries I’ve travelled, none has ever held my captivation, intrigue, respect or love like the one within which we’ll be adventuring together in only a few short months. When people ask me why I love India so much, I often answer, “because it’s like walking on the moon!” Saturated in such vibrant color and culture, I have yet to find a country more intense, shocking, foreign or mysterious. Had you asked me, six years ago, “What is it that calls you to India?” I could only have shrugged, having no words to describe my desire to visit a place I knew nothing about. The “call” to “go to India” is usually indefinable, based heavily on intuition and an unexplainable “urge” to experience a world that you’re certain, only, will turn yours upside down. So if this is what you’re feeling and just the word, “India” sparks your curiosity or makes your heart leap for unknown reasons, then you’re not alone.

A whole new world is about to open up to you, and along with it, an entire spectrum of emotions and experiences. Living in India is not a totally easy or comfortable experience. There will be times when you’ll be nervous, and times when you’ll be thrilled, times when you might be cold, and times when you’ll be melting-hot, times when you’ll be in awe, and times when you’ll be in disgust, times when you’ll be homesick, and times when you’ll forget where you came from, times when you’ll be angry, and times when you’ll practice compassion, times when you’ll feel lonely, and times when you’ll feel you’re part of a new family, times when you’ll be exhausted, and times when you’ve never felt so alive. These are all beautiful emotions for us to embrace, for ironically enough, it’s rarely the memory of a comfortable couch that we treasure, but exactly those experiences that push us out of our zones of comfort and put us on cold and sharp ledges that transform our lives and perception of it. And don’t worry, for a lot of our trip will be spent supporting each other through the roller coasters of experience and emotions we’ll ride together.

Life is experiential learning. And I want to reassure you, that unlike the formal classroom, this journey is much more about the questions (yours, mine, ours) than the answers. Of all the things on the packing list, the most important thing you can remember to bring with you on this trip is your sense of Wonder. And so, along with your headlamps, journals and hats, please remember to bring your open mind, curiosity and rheto
rical questions.

I’m sure a few of you are starting to get nervous with anticipation. (Hold onto that feeling by the way, it’s an essential and fleeting part of the fun.) If you have any questions of logistical (or any) nature, we (your Dragon’s staff) are all regularly online and very happy to assist and answer. My contact info is as follows:

Skype Username: christina.dragons



I’m eager and excited to meet each of you in person!


Christina Rivera

Bridge & Gap Year Programs Director

Where There Be Dragons

“When you step off the edge of the unknown, you will either find solid ground, or learn to fly.” – Unknown