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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013


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As our Ban Xiang Mian homestay wraps up I have learned an important distinction between spending time with your family and really spending time with your family. During a homestay you spend about half your time living and sleeping in your families house along side them. If you only spend time cowering in your room or little area that they happen to have for you then you don't really end up spending time with them. Even if you're in your living room and you don't make an effort to converse with your family you don't really spend time with them. The key is to engage your family and talk to them. Even if you don't speak the same language or you end up motioning something you get closer with your family. Learn how to say " "what is this" or "how can I help" and you will get to know your family. Once you engage your family and you get to know them they stop being the strange family that you live with and they start being your actual Ban Xiene Mian family.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Family Time

Neel Cole,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

As our Ban Xiang Mian homestay wraps up I have learned an important distinction between spending time with your family and really spending time with your family. During a homestay you spend about half your time living and sleeping in your families house along side them. If you only spend time cowering in your room […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Neel Cole

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I suppose the best place to start is passion. When the I-team challenges you to teach a one hour lesson about anything Mekong related, where do you begin? With passion. With energy. With the thing that's been irking you day in and day out since you first touched down in Cambodia. 
The beauty of Team Mekong is that we are all thinkers. We're all questioners, discussers, debaters. We have strong opinions and are excited to hear everyone else's, and potentially change our own views in the process. I knew that this one hour was my chance to determine what was discussed, to ask the questions that I wanted to know Team Mekong's opinions on. And that's exactly what I did. 
It's near impossible to spend time in Cambodia and Lao and not see, hear and generally witness evidence of the impact of the American war and its effect on the people and landscapes of these two nations. What bothers me, the thought that festers in my head without solution, is the guilt. Should we as a nation feel guilty for what went on? Do different citizens hold different levels of guilt? Or is war simply a result of living in a globalizing, naturally violent world?
Multiple times throughout our journey, I've talked with Hillary and other members of the group about the dangers of guilt. Lili points out that guilt is a dangerous emotion because it turns the attention back towards yourself, rather than putting it on the person actually affected. She says that the importance of guilt is to use it to move to the next stage, whatever that may be. This made me realize that simply asking if we as a country are guilty is not enough. The natural next question is, if we are guilty, how do we make amends? Through openness and honesty? An apology? Economic support? Holding those responsible for violence accountable? And what can we as Dragons do 40 years later?
It goes without saying that these are questions without one simple answer. In all honesty, I left the discussion more uncertain than I had entered; my Mekong crew brought up a thousand points I hadn't even considered before. But in many ways, that was what made the class so beautiful. I was teaching teachers. For an hour in which I was supposed to be imparting knowledge on them, my Mekong family taught me and forced me to consider more viewpoints and ideas than I ever could them. I entered the class as a teacher and came out as a student, having learned so much more than I taught.
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Best Notes From The Field, Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Teach the Teachers

Katherine Krey,Best Notes From The Field, Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

I suppose the best place to start is passion. When the I-team challenges you to teach a one hour lesson about anything Mekong related, where do you begin? With passion. With energy. With the thing that’s been irking you day in and day out since you first touched down in Cambodia.  The beauty of Team […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Katherine Krey

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So for the past week our group has been on X-Phase. For those of you not down with the Dragons Lingo, X-Phase is a period of time when the students take over the planning and execution of the trip. Earlier in the trip our X-Phase entailed taking a boat from Phnom Pehn to Kratie and then getting to the Laos boarder. This X-Phase was a bit different, as we are all comforatablly situatied with our homestay families. We didn't need to go anywhere physically for this X-Phase, instead we each taught classes to the group about things we are intersted in. 

For my class I taught about the Myers Briggs Test, and how we can use it to better understand one another in the group. The test itself was abreviated to make it possible to be taught in the community space of the village, without internet access. The test aims to show how you respond social stimulation, make descisions and view the world around you. The results are in the form of a 4-letter personaily type. Each letter shows a dominant trait of either Extroversion or Interversion, Sensing or Intuiton, Feeling or Thinking, Judging or Perceving. It was really intersting to see how different and similar everyone was as far as results. Hopefully it will help us to undrstand each other better!  

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Personality Tests!

Marguerite Wiser,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

So for the past week our group has been on X-Phase. For those of you not down with the Dragons Lingo, X-Phase is a period of time when the students take over the planning and execution of the trip. Earlier in the trip our X-Phase entailed taking a boat from Phnom Pehn to Kratie and […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Marguerite Wiser

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Initially, I struggled with choosing a topic or subject for my lesson. I thought a painting class would be interactive, creative, stress free, and most of all, easy. Then it occurred to me I could teach the group how to play volleyball, which would be active, fun for me, and easy to instruct.

While these ideas were debated in my head, of course I knew I was choosing these classes based off of one common theme: ease. However, throughout this mental battle, in the back of my mind, I had the idea to initiate a class discussion about a book I am currently reading called, The Book: on the taboo against knowing who you are by Alan Watts, published in 1966. This book “delves into the cause and cure of the illusion that the self is a separate ego, housed in a bag of skin, which ‘confronts’ an ‘external’ universe of physical objects both alien and stupid.”

I eventually chose this topic because it is something that twists my mind in a peculiar way, and I somehow end up on thoughts I’ve never experienced before. I don’t have all the answers to something as Big as this, therefore, I was immensely interested into what my group members and instructors thought about this- maybe they could give me some insight into Alan Watts’ thought provoking philosophy. I chose sentences here and there throughout the first chapter titled Inside Information and wrote out a passage for everyone to read.

The conversation was eerily slow, as I was told afterwards it was because when people weren’t talking, they were thinking; perhaps about a line in the passage, a question purposed, or something a group member had just brought up. Silence was something I worried about; I didn’t want the topic to be too big, that in turn no one would really know what to say. However, this was only a struggle for me at times considering I had a brilliant group of people for students, whom hardly kept the conversation stagnant. I guess if I got people to stop and think about our place in the universe and our equality with nature and the things around us, I did my job. Silence isn’t all that bad. 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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lesson

jane jordan,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Initially, I struggled with choosing a topic or subject for my lesson. I thought a painting class would be interactive, creative, stress free, and most of all, easy. Then it occurred to me I could teach the group how to play volleyball, which would be active, fun for me, and easy to instruct. While these […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

jane jordan

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The first word that comes to mind is frustration, the second is disgust. Disgust because Laos was bombed by the USA more times than Germany and Japan combined in WW2. Frustration because one third of those bombs did not detonate, causing 40% of UXO victims to be children due to the high selling price of scrap metal and lack of education. “Take them back” said a small boy in a documentary we watched while visiting COPE, an NGO in Vientiane. To put this into perspective, every 8 minutes, 24 hours for 9 years a bomb was dropped in Laos. Although Laos was declared neutral during the Vietnam War (or as they call it here, the American war), the CIA ran into the shadows to run gorilla operations. The CIA recruited soldiers of the Hmong ethnic group residing in the northern mountains of Laos. The Hmong were used to fight against the Pathet, a communist group in Laos. Child soldiers were recruited and resources abused. Cutting off rice supply, the CIA realized that if you control food, you control life.

 

All over Laos there are people going about their lives with missing limbs and homes propped up by B-52 bomb casings. Everyone in the world was completely in the dark about what was going on here in Laos, and everyday Laos is still fighting their own war against UXOs. The USA gave 51 million dollars to Laos. Two million tons of bombs and acres upon acres of land lost to useless explosions. Two million tons of bombs and a child holding the memory of his mother burning alive. Two million tons of bombs and having to live the rest of your life in wheelchair, out of work and starving.

 

Two million tons of bombs, 51 million dollars.

 

“Take them back” the boy said.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Secret War

Sarah England,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

The first word that comes to mind is frustration, the second is disgust. Disgust because Laos was bombed by the USA more times than Germany and Japan combined in WW2. Frustration because one third of those bombs did not detonate, causing 40% of UXO victims to be children due to the high selling price of […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Sarah England

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Hello there!

 

Today is the last day of our 5 day X-phase. This week students were completely in charge of deciding our schedule and activities and planning fun and interactive ways for us to involve ourselves within our lovely village community. Each week we rotate group leadership roles, and this week I was the 6-pack manager. If you're thinking drinks, then no, you're wrong. I plan the sports activities each day (at least I was supposed to) and make sure that by the end of the trip each person is "ripped"
 with a 6 pack of abs. Awesome stuff. So today I led the group in a painful but awesome workout! It involved lots of push-ups, sit-ups, rap music in the background, and people crying out in work-out agony. For me, it was pure pleasure to put my group through this much pain. [Insert evil laugh] But actually I know the group will someday thank me.

 

I also had the opportunity to plan a lesson this week.  Since my Independent Studies Project is on the effects of the tourism industry on the local people and their economy, I decided to hold a discussion based on an article in the New York Times which discusses exactly that. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/world/asia/15laos.html?_r=0 The link for that article is here. We delved into questions about tourists and our relationships with locals, and the influences we think we have on the region and more specifically this city. Without coming to any definite conclusions, we did decide that it has it's positive and negative effects, and tourism simply will always be a part of this region. I was pleased with the participation and the points brought up by every single member of the group. I'm definitely looking forward to engaging in more of these discussions for the remainder of the trip. 

 

To everyone on my trip who is reading this: AWESOME JOB THIS WEEK! I love that we are able to dive so deeply into discussions and engage ourselves fully in our activities. I was super impressed by everyone else's lesson/activity and I hope we can do this again! Love you all!

 

(Thank you reader, for bearing with me and my long and confusing post.) 

 

Elise :) 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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An X-ellent X-phase (clever eh?)

Elise Emil,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Hello there!   Today is the last day of our 5 day X-phase. This week students were completely in charge of deciding our schedule and activities and planning fun and interactive ways for us to involve ourselves within our lovely village community. Each week we rotate group leadership roles, and this week I was the […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Elise Emil

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You say I have to teach a class pffff, righhhht. 

Oh... I actually have to teach a class, well damn. 
The thoughts that went through my head as my lovely I team informed my companions and I that as part of the x phase we had plan and instruct a class. Once over the initial feeling of "why the hell are you here if I'm  teaching the class"( this is overly exaggerated). I jumped into lesson planning, my lesson was over the secret war in Laos and UXOs, if you don't know what UXOs are you should travel to South East Asia or read more, but I'll bail those of you who still don't know. UXO stands for unexploded ordinance. But this yak is about the act of teaching the lesson and not the lesson itself so that's  all you get. The lesson involved a 30 minutes lecture on both subjects followed by a fun game which I called" the UXO family goes to market". It was a race between three teams with various limbs missing and ailments like blindness and speechlessness  that involved carrying and egg with a spoon in an individual's mouth. Yeah it went something like that. Following the game each team was tested on the knowledge they acquired during the lecture. The winning team was Jessei, young William, Sarah E, and Marguerite. They earned themselves some well deserved cafe yen.  The lesson was a success and I didn't offend anyone to my knowledge. I will always appreciate the wonderful job my instructors even more so than I did before. Thanks for listening. 

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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My lesson

Henry Manning,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

You say I have to teach a class pffff, righhhht.  Oh… I actually have to teach a class, well damn.  The thoughts that went through my head as my lovely I team informed my companions and I that as part of the x phase we had plan and instruct a class. Once over the initial […]

Posted On

04/8/13

Author

Henry Manning

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Article 29

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

In many this subsection brought a lot of confusion to our group, both from its contrast to the previous 29 articles, but also its own wording. Every other article mentions the rights of each individual, the entitlements of each individual, but this article speaks of the “duties” we have to the “community”. We as a group reflect on our own communities in America and its great affect on our personal growth. We feel as though these communities have helped us grow in a “free” and “full” way. Some of our group fell as though, yes, we have a duty to the community that helped us develop in a “free” and “full” way. However, is helping to maintain community that already helps develop people in a free way more important than helping such a community  that helps people develop in a “free” way without imposing our western values on another part of the world? Is the “community” mentioned in the article in fact the global community? Do we have a duty to this global community and homes in general as we have more means and information than other? What is our responsibility to the rights of others? This UDHR would argue that it’s our “duty” to preserve and protect the rights of others. This leads to more confusion within our group. Does this give us permission to intervene in violent conflicts, to impose our help on others? What does this imply in terms of international peace keeping and aid, specifically our country’s involvement in so many others?

                As we sit here on a quiet Wednesday afternoon, in the most heavily bombed country in history, we think on the local community that exists in front of us. People got to the market daily to meet with friends and to prepare a family meal. Houses are inches away from each other and meals walk through doors. This way of life, so locally focuses, makes it seem like they have a better understanding communities then many Americans do. And their voice is so suppressed, we can’t help but wonder what community means in a greater context. Do people who have more of a global connection live unhappily without the ability to voice their thoughts. Do we as global citizens have a responsibility to protest the rights of those who don’t realize they are lacking them in our view?

 

Throughout our writing of this yak, we were reminded of a poem by Jonne Donne:

 

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe

is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as

well as any manner of thy friends or of thine

own were; any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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No Man is An Island

James Brady, Sara Brodski, Will Mass, Marguerite Wiser,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Article 29 (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In many this subsection brought a lot of confusion to our group, both from its contrast to the previous 29 articles, but also its own wording. Every other article mentions the rights of […]

Posted On

03/27/13

Author

James Brady, Sara Brodski, Will Mass, Marguerite Wiser

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    [post_date] => 2013-03-27 00:00:00
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Hey All! 
Just checking in to update you on our first week of the homestay. It's been almost 6 full days and I feel as though my concept of everything has twisted. We've had so many discussions that have blown my mind and then forced me to retreat to my room for many hours of deep contemplation. Some of my favorite moments have been the meditation at the Wat upon the hill peak in our village, exposing us to the breathtaking view of the region around us. The documentary we saw about the repressive Burmese government and the changes that country has been going through the past 40 years. The continued discussion about how we view culture as  Americans and what our values are compared to the rest of the world. We talked about values that all humans share and behaviors that are universal vs. unique for each individual.  And I've done three yoga classes, 4 maybe 5 Lao language classes, eaten many a bowl of sticky rice, and have taken 2 trips across the river to Luang Prabang, where I am right now. Sitting in an internet cafe, next to Louisa, listening to the many stereotypical backpacker-looking tourists speaking their native tongues while attempting to Skype their loved ones, tolerating a ridiculously slow internet connection. 
I must not fail to mention one of the greatest academic explorations of my life. Okay. It was just a discussion. But it spurred so many questions in me and put so much of my world-view into perspective yesterday. Hillary led a class on Human Rights. First we tossed around the concept of a "right" and what rights we think every human should be entitled to. We each received a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We learned about how the United Nations was created and the effort that was put into creating the UDHR. Although I am fully incapable of transferring our group's thoughts onto this yak, I will leave you with one quote that stuck with me.
"So many people know of rights, only through painful violation." -Hillary
Moments here are precious. Time here is sacred. The weather is perfect (yes, I have finally adapted!), and opportunities to engage oneself are endless. I have a mother and two sisters in their 20's. My house is a palace compared to our last homestay experiences--the squat toilet is actually in the house! My mother pampers me and serves me about 5 times as much food as I need to eat. Although I've been force-fed food before on this trip, every time my mother puts the overflowing plates of rice-based foods in front of me I am daunted by the mountain-climb of the challenge. But things are great here, and I'm trying to live in the present as much as I can. Its a wonderful experience to be living here with the 15 other people on our Dragons trip. We are slowly becoming one unit, but every day still learning fascinating facts about each other's lives. We've started a nightly ritual of sharing our "life stories", which so far have been incredibly touching and beautiful to hear. And we're beginning to fall in-step to the rhythms of one another, and the rhythms of this region that was so foreign to us just 7 weeks ago. To 5 weeks left!
Elise
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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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Cramming this week into a yak

Elise Emil,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

Hey All!  Just checking in to update you on our first week of the homestay. It’s been almost 6 full days and I feel as though my concept of everything has twisted. We’ve had so many discussions that have blown my mind and then forced me to retreat to my room for many hours of […]

Posted On

03/27/13

Author

Elise Emil

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 Article 25, Section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, dissability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in cercumstances beyond his control. 

 

As a group, we've been exploring the concept of human rights and the violation of human rights. Each of us have had the opportunity to read through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and consider these guidelines as they relate to people in this village, Ban Xiang Maen. When we got together to discuss these articles, we all mulled in the general struggle. How does one discuss the validity and merit of declared rights without the lens engrained in our perception clouding every thought? Human rights are an easy thing to talk about, argue over, and form opinions on as Americans when we have been raised in a time and place when they are exactly that: rights, not privileges. What becomes more difficult is when we are forced to view the world through a non-American lens and in a place that is not America. "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family...etc, etc." We can agree with that. Who wouldn't want this right? "Not I!" said no one who's ever read Article 25 of the UDHR in the history of the world. But after living in Ban Xiang Maen for the past five days, we recognize that questions can be raised regarding the global applicati nof this article. The tenth word of this article caught our attention right off the bat - adequate. What is an adequate standard of living? Who determines this? How do we classify adequacy without casting a value judgement? 

For example, running water. In the United States, our water should, theoretically,  go through a number of steps regarding steralization and treatment. Here, in Ban Xiang Maen, there is running water but it is quite possible that the water is only running because there's a pump that draws water from the river directly to the faucet. From our lives back home it's easy to see this as inadequate. But we turn to ourselves here, the "vagabonds" and "world travelers" braving bucket showers and squat toilets. We turn to the wonderful people around us who have welcomed us into their homes. We have lived here. Are we in any way unhappy in this standard of living? Out of our comfort zone, maybe, but in no way are our rights voilated. 

So now, two hours later, we remain befuddled by the concept of adequacy. Yes, we are happy here. But we know happiness awaits us upon our return to our hot showers and western toilets as well. And is happiness not a capable measurement of an adequate standard of living? This question may have an answer, but the path to discovery remains unclear. 

We hope these next six weeks will lead us closer to understanding.  

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Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

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We Hope This is Adequate

Katherine Krey, Henry Manning, Elise Emil, Louisa Kane,Life Along the Mekong Semester, Spring 2013

Description

 Article 25, Section 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, dissability, […]

Posted On

03/27/13

Author

Katherine Krey, Henry Manning, Elise Emil, Louisa Kane

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