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Central America Semester, Fall 2010

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    [post_content] => Estimados Fellow Travelers, 

Les escribo from my little cement patio in a village on the north side of Lake Peten Itza. There is a “pila” for washing clothes and the doors of the rest of the rooms are painted a really good blue. Five palm trees watch me from above and the lake silently boasts its awesomeness in the distance… This landscape is one of my favorite things about Guatemala. And the fact that in a few short days my summer Dragons group will be heading toward the Western highlands where everything will be much different; in Guatemala, you can travel just a day – or even a few hours – to a whole new ecosystem, tradition and climate. Amazing! I look forward to meeting you all here… in what feels like my adopted home… Guatemala!

When I’m not in Latin America I feel the absence… the daily greetings on the streets, “buenos dias”… “buenas tardes”… but mostly just “buenaaas,” or when people pass your table at a meal they’ll wish you “buen provecho” even though they did not dine with you. Or a “si, pues” peppered between any sentence it sounds good in, and the way I still laugh when I catch myself saying “taaweno” and nodding my head, somewhere between sounding local and being a gringa poser - jaja. Either way, Central America is where I have spent much of my last six years; it rarely feels strange anymore and I miss it when I’m away.

In Guatemala my friends call me Doña and the folks in the village where I lived for two years call me Seño Coli. But the rest call me Colleen and I am originally from Seattle, by way of an early childhood in the California bay area. I went to college at the University of Washington and graduated with a BA in Social Advocacy. Things really started for me when I joined the Peace Corps and lived in rural Guatemala from 2004 to 2006. Since then my work and travels have taken me to Ukraine where I taught for awhile, then back to Guatemala in 2007 starting my work with Where There Be Dragons, and around the US teaching Spanish to high school students and English to immigrant workers, the US/Mexico border documenting the stories of migrants, then finally to New Mexico where I started graduate school in 2008. I’ll finish up and earn a Master of Social Work and Master of Public Health (MSW/MPH) with minors in Spanish and US/Mexico Border Health by spring of 2012. I have led four Guatemala 6-week summer courses with Dragons and this fall will be my first semester course. This past February I packed up my old tank of a Land Cruiser then hit the road from New Mexico – my dog and I drove down to Guatemala, where we’ve been ever since. I’ve been continuing my coursework online and happy to be on “summer vacation” leading a summer Dragons course these days. For a long time I’ve followed my path and have somehow wound up pretty darn happy to be traveling, learning about public health, on the way to becoming a social worker, and basically living each bunch of days knowing I’m meant to be wherever I am. In my spare time I like to take hikes, swim, read books, chill with Norma (the dog), listen to music, daydream about making reggaeton workout videos, stare out the window and eat good food.

I feel so very lucky to be able to do this work with Dragons! I always get very happy meeting students who have the courage to embark on Dragons journeys. A wise fellow Dragons instructor once wrote, Pack for who you want to be. I love that and I do that. Before each Dragons adventure, or even adventure on my own, I subconsciously pack for the person I want to be, where I want to go. I guess I can see that this summer, my summer reading has become directed, my clothes are few and my toiletries even fewer, I carry 2 notebooks and 5 pens. When I pack for our Central America semester, I’ll probably throw together something a little different. I love the excitement that is flowing among all of us even though we are far apart and have not met – but somewhere in the world a small group of individuals will meet up soon, backpacks “puesto,” and hit the road for Central America. What we are about to do is incredible. We are blessed to have this opportunity to travel and to learn from people across the globe.

Once the comforts of our Western homes and schools are left behind, I have learned that one must let go and jump in. Concepts of time, work and happiness are different in Latin America and further differ among its regions and countries. The beat of Central America is unique and humble, complex and heartbreaking, but beautiful and inspiring. Time will flow around us as we assume the role of ambassadors of our culture but with wide eyes and open hearts we also become students of history, culture, and humanity learning on ground, in the fields, around the fires and wandering through the streets. It can be daunting to approach this fall uncertain of the personal changes that may come, but my advice to you is to take it – take this opportunity to start that dream, continue that dream or find that dream. I have learned that my role as instructor is not so much to teach you about the country where we are traveling and living, but rather to lead you to ask the important questions yourselves. This is your adventure, and I invite you to choose the beauty and challenge of diving into it completely, to ask questions, to dance, to be authentic to the person you really are when “home” is far away.

Two years ago I had the chance to run a Dragons Guatemala summer course with Luispe and now, this fall, I’ll finally get to work with Adelaide – the three of us are stoked to be leading together in the inaugural Central America semester! Luispe is an amazing character as varied as his “madre tierra” with an incredible understanding and respect for others, while Adelaide is dynamic, super passionate and, basically, a hoot to be around. The take home point here is that you are in for an awesome semester with the three of us! Our first priority this semester is to keep you safe and healthy while we travel. And my second priority is to help you stay present, awake, and aware – I’m usually the one who bursts out, Wow look where we are!! One of the best things about traveling is that we get to leave our current lives behind in order to dive fully into the “once in a lifetime” experience. Give yourself this fall in Central America. Pack for a person who is ready to experience life at its fullest, all the grit and despair alongside with the joy and freedom that life has to offer. A fellow Dragons instructor said it best: pack lightly and plan to tread lightly, plan to listen more than you speak; plan to dance and laugh more than you worry.

Truth is I have high expectations of my Dragons students – because I know students who choose these programs are looking for a challenge, the chance to really learn through experience, and expand their views of the world and its inhabitants. We will do this. You chose to spend three months traveling in Central America – but not just this – you chose to live with the people, help work their lands, hear their stories and hold their children – that is awesome…and very Dragons.

In the upcoming two months or so, as we prepare ourselves for our journey, we will be posting many Yaks right here on this Yak board. Please stay up to date by checking the board often – as instructors we’ll be posting some required reading, some packing and preparation tips, and small assignments to prepare you for your journey. And, of course, please post your introduction letter here! We are looking forward to knowing more about you all – and your “compas” will be interested, too.

Please feel free to post questions on the Yak board, too. If y ou have any questions that you would not like to share with the world, you can email me at

Pues, sí….Nos veremos pronto,
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Central America Semester, Fall 2010

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Colleen Rice: Instructor Introduction

Colleen Rice,Central America Semester, Fall 2010


Estimados Fellow Travelers, Les escribo from my little cement patio in a village on the north side of Lake Peten Itza. There is a “pila” for washing clothes and the doors of the rest of the rooms are painted a really good blue. Five palm trees watch me from above and the lake silently boasts […]

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Colleen Rice