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Central America Fall 2013 Semester


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    [post_content] => From the beginning of my Fall Central America Semester, my peers speculated about how culture shock would affect them when they re-entered their lives in the US (or China, in Rebecca’s case).

“I won’t want to talk to anyone; they won’t understand me anymore.”
“I’ll basically be depressed.”
“I’ll feel like I have no purpose.”

All of these were common thoughts; though I was the odd one out. I did not think I would experience culture shock at all. My reasoning being that 1) adapting to change has never posed an issue for me even when it has for other people; and 2) I had lived for eighteen years in my house, city, state, country, and general society - three months could not break eighteen years of habit. Sure, I assumed I might have some different views on our society, but it would be easy - maybe too easy - to fall back into my same old routine.

When I voiced this opinion to my fellow travelers, most of them fervently disagreed citing past experiences of re-entry into our society after time away. I respected their thoughts yet still was not convinced.

The thing is, I only understood culture shock to be the extremes, as my peers had described - not being able to acclimate back into our society or wanting to isolate oneself. However, more than a month after my return, I now see culture shock differently.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

As I reflected over the past month and a half that I have spent back in the United States, I did not remember having the “symptoms” that my peers worried about for their returns. This realization alarmed me - did this mean my trip was contained in those three months and had no lasting effect on me?

After some time thinking, I soon realized that yes, my trip has deeply affected me and changed the way I view the world even though, upon my return, I did not feel alienated by US society. What I did notice, however, were little changes in how I thought- being in complete awe at the plethora of options at grocery stores, being surprised at how much trash we each produce every day, thinking twice about things I used to assume existed in all societies but now recognize as luxuries like dedicated times and places for exercise.

Even these simple observations illustrate that I no longer simply accept how society is but am on my way to being willing to struggle for change. These small, seemingly insignificant questionings, I now believe, were my “culture shock.”

The phrase “culture shock” can sound, as it did to me, overly aggressive. The word “shock” tends to connote negative feelings of paralysis in the face of something immensely surprising. I had always shied away from discussions about culture shock because even the mere words seemed hostile to me - so much so that, subconsciously, I did not want to be associated with them. To me, they held a stigma. I wanted my travels to result in positivity; not some destructive psychological problem that would alienate me from my “old” life.

We need to begin to break down the accepted idea of culture shock; change the way we view it. We need to stop limiting it to intense feelings of isolation but recognize each change in opinion or small, new observation as a sort of culture “shock” (though I hesitate to use that word). What if rather than having to deal with culture shock like some sort of sickness, we viewed it as our brain processing new ideas and becoming more apt to question the society that surrounds us - always remembering that questioning is the first step toward positive transformation.

Rather than trying to “cure” or "overcome" culture shock, we need to welcome it with open arms as a vehicle for change.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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Culture Shocking Us to Change

Caroline Fenelon,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

From the beginning of my Fall Central America Semester, my peers speculated about how culture shock would affect them when they re-entered their lives in the US (or China, in Rebecca’s case). “I won’t want to talk to anyone; they won’t understand me anymore.” “I’ll basically be depressed.” “I’ll feel like I have no purpose.” […]

Posted On

01/31/14

Author

Caroline Fenelon

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    [post_title] => The last supper - for real
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The last supper – for real

Yarden Garonzik,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

Posted On

12/8/13

Author

Yarden Garonzik

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    [post_content] => If you have been following my yaks, you might have noticed that quite a large percentage have something to do with food – from rosquillas to cheesecake to turkey and much more. It might seem obsessive, but the truth is food holds an interesting and important place in our world.

Think about it – humans across the globe eat three times a day (when possible). It's a common need that unites us. No matter where you come from, how old you are, or what your socioeconomic standing is, you physically have to eat. It's not an option. You will never grow out of it. In fact, Darwin would probably say it's a weakness of us homo sapiens.

Houses throughout the globe are constructed with this need in mind. Food brings families and friends together around a table. Even many holiday and religious celebrations revolve around the necessity.

Even a large part of our economies are based on this fundamental necessity with restaurants, food transportation, huge food production companies, ect. Many modern day issues revolve around this need – the debate over GMO's and monoculturing, for example. There is no argument that if we only had to eat a little bit once every couple of weeks, human society would look vastly different.

Because food is such a necessity, it has even become a huge part of traveling with adventurers excited to try the local foods. In most cases, this means going to a restaurant and ordering a meal. But how legitimately local and cultural is this? Restaurants revolve around pleasing the customer, so they are only going to offer the best. To go even further, most restaurants that travelers venture to focus largely on appealing to foreigners. In other words, these food venues tend to be tourist attractions only offering what travelers from great distances would crave rather than what true locals eat on a daily basis.

On the other hand, I would argue that we Dragons are some of the few travelers who truly experience how locals eat through our home-stay immersions– the good, the bad, and the …. interesting. Each day when our group would meet up after time with our host families, one of the first things we would chat about always tended to be food – more specifically our bizarre food experiences. These conversations have led to so much laughter that stomachs hurt (or was it that questionable breakfast a few hours ago?). Don't get me wrong, we have all enjoyed delicious and mouth-watering meals in our home-stays; however, none has completely escaped a few (how do I put this nicely) out-of-the-ordinary meals. Therefore, I have decided to chronicle each person's most bizarre meal experience in one of our five home-stays over the past three months. Let me clarify, these are not necessarily odd food items but often the time of day served or its combination with another type of food (or the lack of an accompanying food) deem it a bizarre meal. Provecho!

Alyssa: well, she is a vegan so not many odd things can be thrown at her – she ate boiled veggies and tortillas for the duration of the trip

Caroline (me): a bowl of just French fries for dinner

Damian: chicken head soup*

Eli: boiled plantains, boiled broccoli, and oatmeal for breakfast

Jack: rattlesnake soup – his host father killed the five foot long snake on his land that morning

Jess: sardine and egg cake

Kristy: chicken heart

Lital: a quarter of a raw snail**

Lucy: anus of a chicken***

Lydia: a heaping plate of steamed broccoli for breakfast

Rebecca: orange juice with a raw egg in it

Sarah: a cold bun-less hotdog for breakfast

Yarden: bean soup and spaghetti

*note: he asked for seconds after having a chicken breast and was served the chicken head. It was always risky to ask for more.
**note: she has been a vegetarian all nineteen years of her life but was feeling adventurous
***note: not actually consumed, just served
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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Food.

Caroline Fenelon,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

If you have been following my yaks, you might have noticed that quite a large percentage have something to do with food – from rosquillas to cheesecake to turkey and much more. It might seem obsessive, but the truth is food holds an interesting and important place in our world. Think about it – humans […]

Posted On

12/8/13

Author

Caroline Fenelon

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    [post_content] => The students have all now successfully boarded their flight AA966 to Miami. They are scheduled to land at 11:25 am. We shared a tearful goodbye and many hugs at the Guatemala City airport before dawn. We instructors will miss them very much.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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They’re off…

the Instructors,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

The students have all now successfully boarded their flight AA966 to Miami. They are scheduled to land at 11:25 am. We shared a tearful goodbye and many hugs at the Guatemala City airport before dawn. We instructors will miss them very much.

Posted On

12/8/13

Author

the Instructors

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As our course comes to an end I wanted to take a moment to thank the instructors and students of the Central America semester program. My name is Zack Siddall and for the past 6 weeks I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside some of the most competent instructors and hospitable students. I am a Dragons instructor but with the Rwanda summer program. Upon finishing the Rwanda program this past summer I moved to Guatemala to work for a school in the capital. When I heard that Dragons was coming to Guatemala I contacted Luis about visiting the group for a week (the Guatemalan school year ends in late September so I had some free time to travel and work on my Spanish). So one fateful night I met the group for pizza in the highlands town of Xela. Luis greeted me in the street with a huge hug and lead me into the restaurant where I was met by 15 smiling faces and a hearty rendition of Happy Birthday (it was nowhere near my birthday). One week passed and that initial sense of hospitality and quirkiness had only seemed to intensify. So I stayed another week, and then another. I began to realize this wasn´t some act they put on for new guests. I had stumbled upon something truly magical. To leave at this point would be ludacris. So I talked with the instructors and they graciously invited me to stay on for the rest of the course. That was one of the best decisions of my life.
In the weeks I spent with Dragons I saw a side of Guatemala I didn´t even realize existed. The students and I are so thankful for the connections to communities like Pachaj, San Lucas Toliman and Cotzal that Luis and Juancho have worked so hard to preserve over the years.
I´ve learned so much from everybody on this trip. Ranging from formal lessons like Jesse´s talks on permaculture to informal lessons in the form of learning the Catdaddy from the students during our epic dance parties.
Parents/loved ones you already know this but I´ll say it anyway, you have some really special young adults that are  flying back home as I write this yak. When you see them walk off that plane in Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Beijing, etc give them a huge hug and don´t let them go (regardless of how bad they'll probably smell). They've been through quite an experience and will need your love and patience while they work to process the past 3 months. Thanks again for this magical experience.
Much Love,
Zack
For the students- Never forget the lessons I taught you. Different Strokes for Different Folks and Dip it Girl are the only words of wisdom you´ll ever need in order to get through this crazy adventure we call life.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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The Mysterious 4th Instructor

Zack Siddall,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

As our course comes to an end I wanted to take a moment to thank the instructors and students of the Central America semester program. My name is Zack Siddall and for the past 6 weeks I have had the distinct pleasure of working alongside some of the most competent instructors and hospitable students. I […]

Posted On

12/8/13

Author

Zack Siddall

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    [post_date] => 2013-12-07 13:23:04
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    [post_content] => Greetings from Antigua, our last stop on this voyage. We soaked in the saunas one more time before coming here this afternoon and have been spending our time relishing our last moments together. We've all filled out our final feedback forms, written notes of appreciation to every other member of the group, wrapped up the academic content of the course, and written many journal entries and letters to self, to be mailed by Dragons at a future date chosen by the student. This evening, we shared a gratitude ceremony in which everyone offered thanks for something they have appreciated about the group as a whole.

We are mentally and emotionally preparing to disband our little traveling family, and everyone is experiencing a big mix of feelings: Excitement and nervousness about going home, pondering how to integrate the learning and lessons gained over the semester, anticipating both the happiness of reuniting with friends and family and the sadness of separating from each other.

During my time in Central America, I learned:

No matter how different the culture is in Central America, all human beings have the capability of relating to one another.

Smiles and other facial expressions are the true international language that everyone understands.

The importance of community and family.

To be in the moment and fully engaged with what's going on around me.

Tips for when I come home:

Don't ask how the trip was and expect a simple answer.

Give appropriate space and time to think, express, process. Ask questions but be patient because I might not be able to give you a quick response.

To my family - don't be offended if I say "my mom and dad" when talking about my host families.

If I don't come across as overly willing to share, don't take it personally. I am still processing and will want to share later on.

I think I'll need a hot shower and big comfy blanket to sleep in.

I need you to understand that I might not know how to articulate things. It might be hard for me to articulate my experience.

Everybody like a welcome home banner! But don't be surprised if I ask for tortillas with dinner.

Be patient and understand that I need space.

Offer me love, support and space.

I'm going to need a lot of loving because I'm losing my 16 new family members.

Be aware of how I feel concerning talking about my future and planning things that take me out of the present.

I've been constantly traveling for three months. Suddenly stopping may not be as easy as it may sound.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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Preparing for transition

Instructors,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

Greetings from Antigua, our last stop on this voyage. We soaked in the saunas one more time before coming here this afternoon and have been spending our time relishing our last moments together. We’ve all filled out our final feedback forms, written notes of appreciation to every other member of the group, wrapped up the […]

Posted On

12/7/13

Author

Instructors

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    [post_date] => 2013-12-06 09:30:23
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    [post_content] => Dear Central America Students & Families,

It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their planes back home. We are sure you are anxiously awaiting their arrival!

Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for eagerly awaiting families:

December 8th, 2013
American Airlines AA 966
Depart: Guatemala City (GUA) 8:00am
Arrive: Miami (MIA) 11:35am

We will have a Dragons Administrator on call for the duration of the travel day. Starting on Friday, 12/6, should you need any assistance after regular office hours, please call our “on-call” number at 760-709-0848.

We wish all students a great trip home!

Sincerely,

Boulder Admin
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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Return Group Flight Information

Dragons Admin,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

Dear Central America Students & Families, It is hard to believe that 3 months have passed since embarking on this incredible adventure! It won’t be long and students will be boarding their planes back home. We are sure you are anxiously awaiting their arrival! Below is a reminder of the return group flight information for […]

Posted On

12/6/13

Author

Dragons Admin

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    [post_date] => 2013-12-05 14:19:41
    [post_date_gmt] => 2013-12-05 21:19:41
    [post_content] => We've just wrapped up the final component of our core course curriculum - a nine-day stay in Comalapa, working at Long Way Home, a U.S.-based non-profit organization. LWH is managed by a group of former Peace Corps volunteers and has undertaken a long-term natural building project to construct a school on the edge of this town, which is known for being home to various well known artists, most notably Oscar Peren, whose Arte Naif gallery we visited on our last afternoon.

The students chose to work with Long Way Home for our Expedition Phase, in which they test out their new travel savvy by planning, budgeting and executing all aspects of the project. The only stipulation was for them to come to a consensus agreement on an activity to carry out that fits Dragons parameters. Over the course of a whole month, the students researched, contacted and debated what they wanted to do, and selected LWH for several reasons. We could all stay together in a volunteer house, we could help out with and learn various aspects of earthen building, and the organization seemed communicative, welcoming and helpful in our correspondences.

The partnership with LWH was interesting not only because of all the hands-on learning we got to experience, but because it was the first time we had worked with an organization run by foreigners. We learned about the unique challenges that cross-cultural development work entails, and it provided a strong contrast to the local organizations we had partnered with previously. This provoked a lively and ongoing conversation throughout Expedition about the appropriate role of foreigners in "helping," versus learning from, our neighbors in Latin America. It was a provocative chance for students to contemplate who they are as travelers, global citizens, and agents of proactive and positive change in the world. For instructors, we loved witnessing them so engaged in this learning process, which has continued to thrive up through the final days of this course.

The group is still full of love and enjoying our time together fully, though students are also starting to show some signs of stress about embarking on the transition home. Everyone is wondering what it will be like to disband the family we have carefully created together during these past three months. They are thinking about how to craft stories and anecdotes that can be shared with loved ones back home, and how to integrate the new sides of themselves that have emerged during this journey. Families, they request your patience and open ears to simply listen, hear their tales, and witness their growth.

Right now we are heading for Santa Lucia, where we will spend two nights at a spa owned by friends of Juancho's. We'll try to fully relax and unwind as a way to prepare for the transition ahead, and continue the discussion as we navigate the prospect of heading home. After that, we will spend two short nights in Antigua before heading for the airport on Sunday morning.
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Central America Fall 2013 Semester

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On to transference…

Instructors,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

We’ve just wrapped up the final component of our core course curriculum – a nine-day stay in Comalapa, working at Long Way Home, a U.S.-based non-profit organization. LWH is managed by a group of former Peace Corps volunteers and has undertaken a long-term natural building project to construct a school on the edge of this […]

Posted On

12/5/13

Author

Instructors

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    [post_title] => The Last Supper
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The Last Supper

Dragons family,Central America Fall 2013 Semester

Description

Posted On

12/5/13

Author

Dragons family

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    [post_content] => Choosing to defer from college and take a gap year is a major abnormality from where I come from – I was the sole graduate from my high school who was not to immediately enroll in a university the coming September. Clearly, this situation was just asking for questions upon questions.

“What is a gap year?”
“What do you mean you are not going to college next year?”
“What will you be doing?”

Some questions, like the first, were easy to answer. Others, like the third, were more difficult. How do you even begin to explain a Dragons course to anyone – let alone to someone who in reality is very close minded to the idea of a gap year and is not willing to listen to any explanation that will last more than twenty seconds? I ended up telling these people that I would be living in home-stays in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala and learning Spanish. I would pause for a reaction only to see a disapproving look -

“Wouldn't you be taking Spanish classes in college?”
“Well, yes, but I will also be volunteering.”

With that word, “volunteering,” the doubter's face would light up with a more approving expression of understanding.

I was always hesitant to throw around that word (volunteering) because I deliberately did not choose a program that's main focus was service – going to a place to construct houses for three months – no, thank you; yet it was as though because I was traveling to developing countries, everyone expected me to volunteer – like if I was not going to volunteer, I was doing something wrong, being selfish. I did not buy into such a belief though it prominently existed in conversations leading up to my departure date.

When I recall the past three months, I do not immediately think of volunteer work. Instead, I remember being welcomed with open arms into families' homes; I remember studying Spanish in a thirty-six family town; I remember learning so much about local cultures and life in general from the many characters we met along this journey.

The past two weeks before this one, however, have had more of this legendary “service” element; yet this “volunteer work” has been vastly different from what the doubters imagined. We did not come into a town with the mentality that we were there to help and teach the “less fortunate” how to construct “superior” buildings or live in a “better” way.

For example, in our first “service” oriented week, we partnered with IMAP (the Meso-American Permaculture Institute), a Guatemalan founded and run organization, to learn how to construct a solar composting latrine. While our friends at IMAP led the construction of the latrine, we helped where we could – from mixing cement to carrying rocks – all while taking detailed notes. We were not imposing our building techniques on the locals. No, they were teaching us.

The reason why we spent that week learning was actually so we could later act as a bridge. Luis, a few weeks prior, had received a call from his friend, Pedro, the leader of a women's weaving cooperative in Cotzal, Guatemala. Pedro inquired on how to get into contact with IMAP to learn how to build a solar composting latrine. Then it hit Luis – why not have our group learn to construct the latrine with IMAP then spend a week building one with the weaving co-op. And that is exactly what we did.

Though those two weeks ended up being focused on construction, or what many would label as “service,” in reality, we were working and learning side by side our Guatemalan friends doing what we could to act as a bridge – transmitting information from one local institute to another one that had asked for it.

These construction weeks contrasted our other weeks in the actual work we did, yet they were similar in the type of groups we partnered with – always locally grown organizations. In a way, I took these amazing groups for granted – they were the only type that I had interacted with during my time with Dragons.

Sometimes you do not truly appreciate something until you experience the opposite – at least that is what I found this past week.

The last ten days of a Dragons semester course is called Expedition phase – a time when the students are in charge of the plans. After countless group Expedition meetings, we finally agreed on partnering with an NGO in La Comalapa, Guatemala. The work this group, The Long Way Home, does seemed like the perfect culmination of our permaculture focused course in that it utilized natural building techniques in order to construct a school for local children. Perfect, right? Well, not exactly.

Once we arrived and dove into our first day of hard manual labor, we soon realized we did not truly know the organization. Yes, the fancy website and professionally made videos made it appear to be a gift from heaven, but the website most definitely did not mention the potential problems posed by the fact that the project is completely planned and run by foreigners. Though I am not arguing that The Long Way Home does not have positive intentions, I have come to realize that positive intentions do not automatically make something flawless – do community members even want The Long Way Home to impose its ideals on the town? A seemingly obvious question that, after a week working with The Long Way Home, I am not sure it has considered.

Our time with The Long Way Home flared many strong reactions within our group (me included). I was disappointed with myself for blindly agreeing to work with and send our Expedition money to a foreign based NGO instead of a more local project. Though I am not the biggest fan of the organization, in the end, I am thankful that we had this experience. It gave me the chance to truly appreciate the other organizations we have worked with, and it made me realize organizations are not all equivalent. It also made me start to think about how I am going to explain the past three months when I return home. I know if I take the easy route and boil the adventure down to being described simply as service work or volunteering, people will imagine me working with groups like The Long Way Home. Honestly, they would probably be impressed by me and admire what I did if I do give that easy explanation, but in reality the lessons I have learned and the relationships I have formed go so much deeper than a foreign construction group could ever provide. So no, these past three months have not revolved around service work, and I am not ashamed of it.
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Best Notes From The Field, Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Service Learning

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A New View on Service

Caroline Fenelon,Best Notes From The Field, Central America Fall 2013 Semester, Service Learning

Description

Choosing to defer from college and take a gap year is a major abnormality from where I come from – I was the sole graduate from my high school who was not to immediately enroll in a university the coming September. Clearly, this situation was just asking for questions upon questions. “What is a gap […]

Posted On

12/5/13

Author

Caroline Fenelon

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