“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and science.He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”-Albert Einstein
For me, this quote captures why I have spent 5 years of my life in China. This ancient place is full of mystery.Every day is something new, every week is something different.It is always a challenge, and tackling that challenge has allowed me to grow in ways I would not have if I had stayed safe and comfortable at home.I am so happy that you have all also embraced the challenge that China represents and signed up for this adventure.It is a big step to take, and I am honored to be a part of it with you all.
So, a bit about me.During my first year in college I started studying Mandarin, and decided on a major in International Studies and a minor in TESOL.I knew I wanted to spend time in China, and this seemed like a good way to get that done.I spent a semester studying Mandarin in the ancient silk road city of Xi’an.I chose the city partly because of the strong Muslim presence in Xi’an, a religion I was and am fascinated by.As a graduate student I pursued this interest further, spending a year doing research in the far flung city of Urumqi, the provincial capital of Xinjiang.Here I continued my study of Mandarin, and also studied the local language, Uyghur.Since leaving Xinjiang in 2007 I have been back pretty much every year.I started working for Where There Be Dragons in 2009, leading groups on the summer Silk Roads program based in Xinjiang, Qinghai and Gansu.Western China holds a special place in my heart, and I am really passionate and knowledgeable about minority issues in China.
I moved to the land “South of the Clouds” specifically Kunming, in 2008.I have been here ever since. This city is so much fun.There are flowers everywhere, 365 days a year.That is one of my favorite things about the city.You can buy sweet smelling chains of jasmine from old ladies on the street for less than 10 cents, or a big bundle of lilies for under 2 dollars.The people are more laid back than in other Chinese cities- I think it is the influence from Southeast Asia. I can’t wait for you all to get here and share your own observations of the city with me. My jobs here have been varied- I’ve worked as an English teacher, a science teacher, an editor, recorded English language textbooks, been a translator, and an actress to name a few!But for the past year I have been working at an NGO called the World Agroforestry Center.My job was to coordinate for a small group of scientists from the North Korean Ministry of Land and Environmental Protection.I teach them English, help them with their scientific research, and make sure their needs are met during their one year Swiss sponsored research fellowship to China.
I am really looking forward to getting to know each and every one of you as we travel and learn together this fall. I have some final tips to offer before I finish this letter and send it off around the world to you. First of all, I want to remind you that things rarely go as planned, and this is all to the good.Please bring your sense of adventure and your sense of humor along, and don’t get to attached to any one place or activity, as it may not happen as you anticipate.One of the most valuable skills I have been forced to acquire while living abroad is an ability to throw my well laid plans out the window and go with the flow.You all will have to have some flexibility on this trip as well.I hope you will all bring a respectful and open mind with you, and an adventuresome courageous heart which is open to new experiences, ideas and places. There will be times on this trip where you will really be pushed out of your comfort zones, and so it is important that you are mentally prepared for the challenges ahead.
If you have any questions please feel free to post them here on the Yak board, there is a good chance that other students may have the same questions.Also check out pictures and posts from last years’ group, and keep your eyes out for new posts made by me or your other instructors this year. We will use the yak board to keep you updated, post notes about what to pack, etc. I look forward to meeting and traveling with you all, and can’t wait to meet you in person!
In closing, I will leave you with another quote, this one by Nelson Mandela.
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head.If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
Dear South of the Clouds Semester Students, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead; […]
To those who are new this year, I’d like to welcome you to the Dragons community and to the journey ahead! And to those who have joined us for another year, we are excited to have you back!
This is a momentous time of year for us, and we know that it is for you as well. We hope that the Yak Yak forum encourages you to voice your excitement, anxieties, thoughts and questions. It’s a great way to share a bit yourself, and if they haven’t done so already, your instructors will also do so shortly. From here, discussions will begin to build and your instructors will guide you with their best advice for preparing for the course – regarding packing, recommendations for readings, the itinerary, and topics to consider for your on-course Independent Study Projects (ISPs). As your Program Director, I’m going to be working closely with you as well, although mostly to support the program and the instructors and be a contact for parents while the group is out in the field.
As someone who has been privileged to live in communities outside that of my own country, it is my pleasure to support your own discovery and learning in China this coming autumn. The first 23 years of my life saw me grow up in Australia where, like any typical Aussie kid, I enjoyed the beach and the outdoors. After my first overseas trip to the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea, I knew that living abroad brought a whole host of learning opportunities. Whenever the chance presented itself, I was overseas exploring cultures different to my own. After graduation university, I moved to China for work where I spent a total of 5 years. During this time I gained language fluency, visited most provinces, and made lifelong friends. It was almost 2 years ago when I packed my belongings and memories and moved to the US where I currently reside. This job allows me to help others discover the country I once fell in love with.
So as we begin to pack our bags for this semester’s adventure, keep in mind that you are now an intricate part of a much greater process; one that contains stories of past students and their feedback, of instructors who have brought their contacts, knowledge and passion, and the dedicated individuals working in country to facilitate a powerful cross-cultural experience. Lastly, but certainly not least, come your parents, who generously send you off in to the world to find your own path. A lot has already gone in to the experience you will create this semester, and your energy and presence will greatly impact the experience of future Dragons participants.
Dragons prefers to keep our hands in the dirt, allowing us to sculpt courses that are represent our unique goals of profound cross-cultural learning and self-cultivation. When it’s all said and done, and you finally gather in early September at your course’s point of departure, you should know that you are about to embark on an adventure that is intensely personalized and has been many months, and in many cases, years in the making!
Of course, the launching of the Yak Yak forum also encourages YOU to become a participant in the process. We want you to share with us and your fellow students your intentions for joining a program like ours, and as you dig through your Lonely Planet guidebooks and crack open a few of our suggested pre-course readings, we’d really like to hear what catches your attention. You are welcome to throw out contributions to the itinerary – whether there’s a particular monastery that catches your attention, a non-governmental organization that you know you’d like to take a few days to learn from, or a trekking route that seems to pass through impossibly beautiful terrain. Although our instructors have already defined most components of the course, we’d like to work to incorporate your ideas when and where possible. So join in, shout out, and partake in this forum!
The Yak board is the most appropriate place to address your pre-course questions and concerns. We hope that you will discover the magic of the Yak Yak forum, and learn to love it! It’s a powerful tool for communication and community building, and once you head into the field, it will undoubtedly become the default homepage of your parents and friends at home – all of those who WISH they could be out there with you!
Again, welcome to Dragons. I look forward to hearing from you all, and vicariously journeying alongside you over the autumn semester.
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China Semester, Fall 2011
China Program Director Introduction
Matt Burton,China Semester, Fall 2011
å¤§å®¶å¥½ï¼Œ To those who are new this year, I’d like to welcome you to the Dragons community and to the journey ahead! And to those who have joined us for another year, we are excited to have you back! This is a momentous time of year for us, and we know that it is for […]