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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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pretty people doing pretty things

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

03/22/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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I saw my first transvestite yesterday. Crossing the Friendship Bridge was anti-climatic. I miss Cambodian tuk-tuks. I want to learn how to make sticky rice. It rained for the first time since we've been here yesterday. It was beautiful until it leaked through the window and soaked my pants. I bought a yellow shirt that says "I Love White-cheeked Crested Gibbons" and have worn it 2 days in a row because it's the cleanest article of clothing I currently posess. I feel truly homesick for the first time in my life.

My favorites from the week:

1. Jumping off rocks into the river. Gabe, Jonny, and I dumped Robbie out of his tube by flooding it with our weight. We climbed back up the rocks and jumped in again and Taylor judged our form. We let the rapids push us down the river to where our boats were waiting.

2. Trekking up the mountain in the National Protected Area with my backpack, a sleeping bag, a tent, and carrying the med kit, feeling more physically strained than I had in a while and every step was an effort. There was no problem with concentrating on the present moment. Finally reaching the spot where our trekking group stopped to rest without once complaining outloud.

3. Pranking Robbie and Jonny. We sneaked (snuck?) into their room after they'd fallen asleep and hid under their beds, then reached our hands up and scratched them creepily. They were confused and started talking to each other, and Robyn and I held it in until Robbie exclaimed, "Somone grabbed my ass!" and we had to scuttle out saying "Abort Abort!"

4. Proudly belting out Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" for the locals at the village where we spent the night because it was one of the only songs most of us knew. They tried to clap along but the rhythm changed too often for them to get one steady beat. But once our trainwreck was finished they took up the music and played local instruments made from bamboo and beeswax and we clapped along.

5. Waking up to a rice basket that was extra full, stuffed specially for me because Gabe and Robyn know how I love it so much.

6. Playing beach volleyball with the locals and watching their intense enthusiasm every single time they got a point. We lost, twice, and had to buy them all Pepsis.

7. Watching "Planet Earth" and feeling inspired to go into an occupation of discovery and appreciation of the natural world.

8. Reading in a hammock overlooking the water, rocks, mountains, and sunset. Occaisonally swaying and hearing the distant laughter of the rest of the group bathing in the river. A few minutes later Nick came over and asked if he could sit with me. Later he was replaced by Heather and we occaisonally exchanged quotes from the books we were reading that we liked. I finally finished Faulkner's "Light in August"

9. Telling ghost stories around a big fire on a slanted rockface, and feeling so scared that I got goosebumps.

10. Eating breakfast this morning after 2 days of rice fasting.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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my top 10 from the week

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

I saw my first transvestite yesterday. Crossing the Friendship Bridge was anti-climatic. I miss Cambodian tuk-tuks. I want to learn how to make sticky rice. It rained for the first time since we’ve been here yesterday. It was beautiful until it leaked through the window and soaked my pants. I bought a yellow shirt that […]

Posted On

03/22/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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The Dragons office just received an update from the Mekong crew. Everything is going well, and we want to share the good news with those following the Yak Board.

We're currently at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Research and Training Center in the Pak Kading National Protected Area. Last night at dinner a few of us said "Well, today was the best day of the trip thus far!"

A typical day:

Yesterday a few of us ran through the park at dawn, then we all ate a massive breakfast, then all helped move stones and repair roads for most of the morning followed by a short workshop on butterfly biodiversity, research and biodiversity monitoring.

We enjoyed an enormous lunch followed by setting up butterfly traps and running through the park with butterfly nets like crazy people. We swam across the river to meet the rangers/center staff for a game of Lao vs. Falang (foreigner) beach volleyball, followed by soccer (Lao winners - prize a glass bottle of Pepsi). Huge dinner followed by Planet Earth Biodiversity screening.

Today a few students are baiting the butterfly traps and are busy identifying and labelling the butterfly catch from yesterday. Others are creating/maintaining a Medicinal Plant Walk the center is trying to set up. Still others are in the kitchen cleaning up after breakfast and preparing for lunch. As you can see our days are filled with massive quantities of food and exercise, lots of quality service and learning, and plenty of fun with our new Lao friends. Students are cooking and clearning alongside Lao staff and are loving it.

Life over here is good. Very, very good.

-Allana

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Update from Laos

Allana Hearn,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

The Dragons office just received an update from the Mekong crew. Everything is going well, and we want to share the good news with those following the Yak Board. We’re currently at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Research and Training Center in the Pak Kading National Protected Area. Last night at dinner a few of us […]

Posted On

03/18/10

Author

Allana Hearn

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    [post_content] => AsI awaited my turn to run, Gabe started to sprint towards the Mekong. His feet flew across the sand and into the shallow water. Would he trip and fall? O yes. But not from the shallow water. He ran through the shallow water with grace. His downfall was the drop off that loomed just ahead of the shallows. Suddenly the sand gives way to the murkyMekong water, in a steep descent. He sprints, and then crashes into the water with a look of shock on his face.As I,and the group joined in the throng of laughter, I prepared for my tumble into the water. Idarted from my standing position and began to sprint towards the river. Almost there. What will it feel like?Whoop! I'm gone.As my foot reached the drop off my stomach disappered with the sand. Itwas the ultimate rollar coaster. Thenthe river took my body and all that remained were the splashes I had made before I went under. The river was quick to release me. Maybe she foundour newfound activityjust as amusing. I came to the surface with the jubilee of laughter in my ears.The excitement dimmed.Without a glance or a hint of hesitation, we climbed out of the water. To do what? Well, to do it again of course. 
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Dong Deang

Robyn Reeder,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

AsI awaited my turn to run, Gabe started to sprint towards the Mekong. His feet flew across the sand and into the shallow water. Would he trip and fall? O yes. But not from the shallow water. He ran through the shallow water with grace. His downfall was the drop off that loomed just ahead […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Robyn Reeder

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I am lying on my two cushions/pseudo mattress with Taylor sleeping next to me on sheeted cushions of her own. A pink mosquito net hangs over us both, with the bodies of a mass army of bugs clinging to its exterior. Some have succeeded in their invasion and I can hear occasional short spurts of frenzied buzzing from the area near our feet. The room is empty save our backpacks, a small white refrigerator, and the bed I’m lying on. The room feels spacious and expectant, as if waiting for the guests of a ball to glide in and across its tiled clean floors. A door separates where we sleep and the rest of the family’s living space. It feels almost like they tried to set up a quarantine in preparation for our visit, like they were giving the foreigners a room of their own to wreak what havoc we could. Not that I feel unwelcomed or unwanted by our host family. We smile and offer the Lao greeting of “Suh-bi-dee,” (which translates literally to “Happy good” and conveniently serves as “Hello,” “How are you?” “I’m fine,” and “Goodbye”) whenever we see each other, but without a larger vocabulary it’s hard to get past what connections just laughing and friendly body language will get you. A used-to-be-white fan offers relief from the hot stickiness of the night. I close my eyes and let the nightly festival play itself out on the back of my eyelids. Wisps of sights, smells, and sounds swirl together in the chaotic and unrestrained manner of a three-ring circus contained in a cauldron of bubbling memories. Tonight the festival goes: Sprinting into the river barefoot and entirely clothed. The light of the late afternoon sun slipping into the ripples of the water, making the Mekong look like a farmers small plot of corrugated earth. The pure hilarity of flopping face-first into the water just after the sandy drop-off. Running with Robyn in the morning, feeling like an army recruit in my hiking boots and long shorts. Unintentionally herding the fleeing cows and water buffalo ahead of us off the path. Playing cards on the table after dinner. Receiving ice coffee in a mini plastic pouch from Michael because it was Women’s Day, but more because Allan guilted him into it. Watching Michael’s own pouch then break and seeing the look of horror and urgency in his eyes as he twisted his body so he could capture every escaping drop of coffee in his mouth. Balling sticky rice with the first three fingers of my right hand. Nick shining the way with his cell phone flashlight like a gremlin on a sugar high as he led us to a patch on the beach where we could stargaze. Watching Thai music videos with the giggly old man in our house whom I suspect to be slightly senile. I smile involuntarily, showing my teeth to the darkness. The loving force emitted from Paige’s eyes, like beams from a lighthouse searching for a kindred spirit. Michael’s habit while speaking to pull up his shirtsleeves as if reassuring himself of the existence of his biceps. Robyn’s absent-minded stroking of her right eyebrow when she’s lost in thought, as if in an attempt to coax the wisdom out of her head. Taking a walk on Don Daeng Island and passing cracked egg shells perched on the tips of cacti for decoration. Allana picking her favorite berries from the tree in her front yard before asking me to help because she ate all the ones she could reach. The kids on the beach who followed me as I walked down to read and stared for minutes before I gave up on solitude and played them in tic-tac-toe, repeated the words for sand and hair they taught me in a bad accent, and read them three pages of Faulkner that I don’t think even an English speaker would have understood, the whole time they sitting patiently regarding me with a deep curiosity. Sitting cross-legged on the floor at dinner describing our parents personalities, remembering I love them. Washing laundry in a tub and noticing a small heart etched in to a brick in the wall of the bathroom. What memories will the festival display? What moments, what visions, will be extracted from the past and embed themselves in my consciousness? What will my mind choose as lasting, as important? What was it I heard said today that made me want to reach out and hug the speaker in gratitude for expressing the feelings I couldn’t make into words? What minute details do I want to bring with me tomorrow? What from today will I tell my parents at the dinner table two months from now? Whose words will I enjoy hearing repeated by my own mouth when I have the choice to say anything? I wait a few minutes, indulging in blissful undirected consciousness, before allowing one of the wisps to remain long enough in my mind so that it may grow into something concrete, like a floating dandelion seed alighting on the ground in a manner neither voluntary nor preordained. But I am interrupted and reminded of my presence in the room in which I lie: Taylor’s watch chirps a declaration of ten o’clock, a precise reminder of the passing of time with a harsh certainty similar to that of a dropping guillotine – inescapable, full of momentum, and sure to end in a silence I’ll never get to hear. My own watch never makes such declarations; rather it sits patiently like a half-submerged crocodile, waiting for me to approach it willingly before it strikes (get the pun?). I’m reminded of noting the time two days ago when my watch read 4:14pm, which means it was actually 4:12 because I set it, in response to my untimely habit of being late, two minutes fast (which ironically increases the difficulty of not being late because it takes me longer to calculate the real time). I was sweating and could feel the moisture soaking through the back of my maroon collared shirt, forming what I imagined to be like a large “Foreigner” bull’s-eye for the local Lao children sitting behind me, not that they needed it to discern that I am not from here. This afternoon I had the half-hearted goal of being peacefully alone, half-hearted because I knew it was virtually unaccomplishable. I remember my feeling of resentment toward the world, for making me be an active part of it. It felt like a nagging mother, hovering over my homework when all I wanted it to do was leave the room and close the door behind it so I could be left alone. I was writing in a Wat facing the Mekong. An old monk half dressed in orange came out and presented me with a bottle of “Phoukao Drinking Water,” as naturally as if I were a frequent guest in his home. I sat at a square table on a marble bench that was too short for my sprawling legs, underneath a large tree with four main branches stemming from its thick base. There was a breeze – wonderful. A blur of blonde halved my left eye. The little black specks maddeningly close to my face that I knew to be gnats continued their flight pattern of annoyance, me having given up swatting them away days ago. A comical procession of chickens passed by, a rooster, a hen, and five awkward adolescents, all strutting proudly across the open dirt area in front of me with an apparent sense of purpose, only to turn back minutes later and strut across the dirt to the grassy patch from whence they came. The rooster spread his wings and stood on his tip-claws to better display his meager excuse for feathers. I guess you have to flaunt what you’ve got. I blew what must have seemed like an apocalyptic wind to the ant nearing my moving pen, pushing him off the page out of sight and out of mind. Paige, Heather, Jonny, Robbie, and Gabe called out to me as they passed by on the dirt path outside the temple, as if reminding me the world can and will never leave me alone. I envisioned myself as a grumpy old man, shouting out his apartment window on a Saturday night, “Would you hooligans stop hollering?!” This thought brings me to another memory, of sitting at a table on Koh Preah Island, trying to nap for the fifteen minutes before we would st art work on the home garden again. Fifteen minutes hardly seemed like enough time to get a good nap in or to get all the rest I wanted. I looked at the people around me, who seemed perfectly content in hammocks or sprawled out on the table. I tried to rest, but all I could think of was the movement I would be doing in the future, and the thought that even if I did rest I’d just have to get back up and be in a state of “non-rest” again. What was the point of sleeping so I could rise to work, and work so that I could reach the time for sleeping again, and then sleep so I could reach the time of work? It was that same feeling of frustration I felt in the Wat with the impermanence of any state of being I wanted to be in. When I wanted to be alone, maybe I could for a short while, but the world would always call me back. When I wanted to rest, I could do that for fifteen minutes, but it would inevitably end. Throughout the past few weeks impermanence has frustrated me. Of course I realize the point of existence isn’t to be comfortable doing one thing your whole life, but I still feel resentment at not being able to hold on to any one feeling – and if I do, it slips almost immediately away in favor of a new one. Plane ride to tuk-tuk to guesthouse room to restaurant to squat toilet to bus to homestay to morning dirt road to afternoon heat to watery relief to dinner table conversation to mid-meal silence to fast boat to slow boat to sitting down to standing up to lugging backpacks to sprawling on the floor to running in sand to walking on wood boards to showering to dressing to sleeping to waking to beginning to ending. Anticipation to excitement to enthusiasm to relief to hunger to satisfaction to confidence to insecurity to curiosity to fatigue to calm to energetic to solitude to company to self-belittlement to self-righteousness to sentimentality to cold detachment to compassion to stubborn independence to regret to inspiration. One description can never exist on its own. Each sensation feels only fleeting. I think of what one of my high school teachers described as the meaning of life: “enjoying the process.” I know I shouldn’t be caught up on how one state of being will end, but instead enjoy that state of being while I’m in it, but I still can’t deny my intense desire to have the ability to push the “Pause” button in life, even if it’s just once. To stop in one place and in one mindset. I guess stop isn’t in life’s vocabulary. Maybe it’s largely because the nature of traveling is constant movement that I feel so unsettled by change, maybe if I were at home partaking in my daily routine I would feel less disconnected from permanence. Maybe if I could just carry one thing with me as I go from place to place I would feel less like every new moment was spent losing what I had the moment before. And of course that one thing could never be external, but maybe some peace of mind, some inner layer of my mind that stays stable when the outer layers fluctuate…Taylor mumbles softly in her sleep. From the tiny thud I hear near me I guess a fly has bashed himself against the window on my left trying to get out. I return to the present moment without having resolved anything, but having hovered around a point and not ever landing squarely on it. But the beauty of musing before sleep is that my stream-of-consciousness need not have a point or moral; rather it can drift like a wave venturing onto foreign shores before receding back into the familiar fluidity of the ocean. I recede, this time into sleep, thinking of the quote Allana read us recently: the only constant is change.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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how now brown cow

Kimberly Kenny,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

I am lying on my two cushions/pseudo mattress with Taylor sleeping next to me on sheeted cushions of her own. A pink mosquito net hangs over us both, with the bodies of a mass army of bugs clinging to its exterior. Some have succeeded in their invasion and I can hear occasional short spurts of […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Kimberly Kenny

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Five Photos

Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Michael Woodard

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On God’s Island, we taste life on the Mekong for the first time. On God’s Island, we put our hands in the dry, hard-packed earth and wrap our palms and fingers around tools that too quickly give us blisters. On God’s Island, we eat salty omelets and morning glory at every meal. We bathe dawn, noon, and dusk in the Mekong, the latter being my favorite-- watching the sun slide away over the far bank of the mainland and the light turn ethereal as all the figures and shapes become silhouettes. On God’s Island, we are invited to a teenage wedding where we know not a soul, a fact that matters not to anyone, least of all us. Again we eat eggs and morning glory, drink soda pop like eight-year olds, and laugh endlessly at the crew of adolescent boys on the dance floor who, inspired by cans of Klang beer, gyrate and twist and shuffle and flail to the thumping squelchy music. The dance is pure testosterone, and yet, the young men are so playful, so unconcerned with who is watching, so joyfully unselfconscious, they hardly seem like teenage boys at all. In a short while, we are all dancing with them, and some village elders too, unsuccessfully trying to match their fervor. On God’s Island, we pile in small canoes, guided by 6HP engines and proud young drivers, to search for rare river dolphins, rewarded by our own gasps and oohs and ahs when the creatures surface for the briefest of moments. On God’s Island, we sit in shallow rapids and pools talking about the big questions, while our hosts bring us broken chunks of watermelon and tart pods of tamarind that reminds us of fruit leather. On God’s Island, we discuss service at length, and yet we seem to do most of the receiving. On God’s Island, we ride rickety bicycles along the sandy track, smiling at all who care to stare and exchange sok sabai’s with all who are willing. On God’s Island we watch sunrises and moonsets, and moonrises and sunsets, sometimes at the same time; our days are measured only by these events and our shared meals—all the rest blurs into a rush that flows as quietly by as the Mekong herself. On God’s Island, we slow down enough to smell the flowers, we pause long enough to pick a fallen frangipani from the path and plunge our noses to the blossom like a drunken bumblebee. It is here that we cast our anchors into the wide river, if only for a few sweet fleeting moments, and become islands in the stream.

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Koh Preah

Michael Woodard,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

On God’s Island, we taste life on the Mekong for the first time. On God’s Island, we put our hands in the dry, hard-packed earth and wrap our palms and fingers around tools that too quickly give us blisters. On God’s Island, we eat salty omelets and morning glory at every meal. We bathe dawn, […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Michael Woodard

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    [post_content] => I missed out on posting a yak last week out of sheer incompetence. So here is making up for it. We spent our last day in Stung Treng near the border with Laos. It is a common stop off point for people heading north through the border and people coming south. One of my goals was to get my Dollars and Riels changed into Lao Kip before heading out. So I walked throught the market looking for the money changers. There were about ten to choose from so I selected the one that had the obviously photocopied $100s in the small windows. I walked up to the lady greeted her in Khmer and requested an exchange to Kip. While the transaction was being processed I started looking at the bills she had placed in her little window. out of the normal scattering of $1,5,10 and 100s was nestled a pristine $2 bill. WOAH! I haven't seen one of those in ages. The last one I can remember is buried deep within my Dad's dresser next to the passports and social security numbers. I stared at the scene of the singning of the Declaration of Independence with pride. As my eyes wandered I saw three or four more two dollars bills. WOAH again. I was distracted by the lady who had refused to change my dollars for reasons unknown. I shrugged this off and merely wandered to the next money changer where the same scenario happened. More two dollars bills and still unable to change my money. I visited 7 of the 10 changers and counted eighteen $2 bills in the windows of the stalls. I was amazed. Unable to change my money into kip I walked down the road back to the guesthouse. Then it hit me. I had seen two dollars bills everywhere in Cambodia. Taped to guesthouses, restruants, even Tuk-Tuks. It was incredible. How did they make it there? How did I just realize this now? How do I get some? I went back to the money stalls and tried to exchange my large notes for their Jeffersons. However it was lost in translation and I was unable to get any but I guess for the best. Perhaps when a $2 bill has lost its novelty in the USA and has lived its life it goes to Cambodia, to be taped to a wall of a tuk tuk, guesthouse, restaurant or money stall to baffle and amaze future american tourists just like me.
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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Where Jeffersons go to die

Gabriel Maletta,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

I missed out on posting a yak last week out of sheer incompetence. So here is making up for it. We spent our last day in Stung Treng near the border with Laos. It is a common stop off point for people heading north through the border and people coming south. One of my goals […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Gabriel Maletta

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The roller coaster at times has more ups than downs, but I know that looking back on my experiences all the downs will have taught me the most. The ups are always the most fun because they are comfortable and exhilerating, while the downs are emotionaly draining, and at times, down right depressing.

Learning how to take in the present moment, and live by it, is what I strive to gain from my roller coaster ride. In the end, that ability will allow me to turn my whole ride into a positive journey, along with the rest of my life. Come on Nirvana, hurry up and hit me!

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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The Ride

Jonathon Luckett,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

The roller coaster at times has more ups than downs, but I know that looking back on my experiences all the downs will have taught me the most. The ups are always the most fun because they are comfortable and exhilerating, while the downs are emotionaly draining, and at times, down right depressing. Learning how […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

Jonathon Luckett

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    [post_author] => 39
    [post_date] => 2010-03-10 00:00:00
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This is a note for all the parents, friends, grandparents, teachers, guardians, and scholarship granting organizations who made it possible for this incredible group of students to take part on the Life Along the Mekong semester. Thank you. Thank you for inspiring in these youth a desire to learn from people of different cultures and an ability to laugh at themselves in difficult moments. Thank you for raising your sons and daughters to have compassion, humility and gratitude not often seen in people their age. Thank you for motivating them to make this difficult journey and inspiring them to jump right in. Thank you for financially making it possible for them to do this. Thank you helping them develop into such beautiful human beings and for letting us to spend many beautiful moments with them.

Tomorrow we are off to Thakek to head out on a trekking expedition, ready to fill our days with more inspiring and beautiful moments. We may squeeze in a quick internet session on the 14th to post yaks. If not, know we're thinking of you and expressing gratitude for making this trip happen.

Best,

Allana

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Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

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Thank you!!!

The Instructor Team,Mekong Semester, Spring 2010

Description

This is a note for all the parents, friends, grandparents, teachers, guardians, and scholarship granting organizations who made it possible for this incredible group of students to take part on the Life Along the Mekong semester. Thank you. Thank you for inspiring in these youth a desire to learn from people of different cultures and […]

Posted On

03/10/10

Author

The Instructor Team

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