Photo of the Week
China Search for Meaning 6-wk
Photo Title


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    [post_content] => Hello Search for Meaning Students!

You should already have received an email message from me welcoming you as you get ready to join Dragons in China this summer, but just in case you missed it, I wanted to say hello here on your Yak Yak board as well. Along with my colleagues in our Admissions Department (Eva, Shannon, Liz, Alexis, Anne and Anna), I've spoken with many of you on the phone and corresponded with others via email. As China Program Director, I spend most of my time in our Boulder, Colorado home office, with a few trips to China every year to help keep programs running smoothly on that end. I'll be working closely with our Kunming-based China Program Coordinator, Annie Jiao, and our summer instructors to help all of our students get the most they can out of their time in China.

I first visited China in 1996, during my junior year at Oberlin college. The people I met and the places I visited in Yunnan Province had a major impact on my understanding of the world and of myself. After graduating with a degree in East Asian Studies, I returned to China to live and work for many years. Living in China allowed me to have a variety of jobs that I'm not sure I would have had the chance to do anywhere else, from being a guide on a Three Gorges cruise ship, to singing in several bands, working as an advertising designer, and as the host of a television show (nope, it's not available online...I hope.) Eventually, I decided I wanted to pursue academic research in Chongqing, the city that had become my home in China. As a doctoral student in Anthropology at Stanford University, I collected hundreds of personal stories from people in Chongqing who made a living on the street (from porters and food vendors to healers and fortune tellers.) Before starting my work with Dragons at the end of 2013, I spent two years in Xi'an, running a program for American university students with a Silk Road focus. In 2013, I married a woman from Chongqing and we'll have our US wedding this August. What's the point of sharing this condensed autobiography with you? My first visit to China, and the total of about 11 years I spent there subsequently, shaped my life in ways I could never have predicted. Who knows what's in store for you?

As you may already be discovering, your instructors have many fascinating stories of their own to share. I think you're lucky to have them as teachers, and I know they're looking forward to meeting all of you. As mentioned above, we're also excited to hear about YOU!

Thanks so much for joining us, and get ready for an unforgettable summer ahead!

一路顺风!(May the wind be at your back!)

p.s. The photo is of me and a very kind grandmother whose home I stayed at during a scouting trip deep in the bamboo forests of northeastern Guizhou last fall.

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Just in case you missed my email….hello one more time….this time, in Yak-format!

Jody Segar,China Search for Meaning 6-wk

Description

Hello Search for Meaning Students! You should already have received an email message from me welcoming you as you get ready to join Dragons in China this summer, but just in case you missed it, I wanted to say hello here on your Yak Yak board as well. Along with my colleagues in our Admissions […]

Posted On

05/22/15

Author

Jody Segar

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Dear China “Search for Meaning” Team, Welcome 欢迎你们! Greetings from the pristine, desolate, and still freezing shores of Lake Michigan. My name is Brendon Thomas 田宇 and I am truly honored to be one of your instructors this summer. I hope that this course will be an opportunity for you to embark on an adventure to discover your personal identity, what you care about, and what you want to do with your life and career. No pressure! I am writing this letter from my hometown in Western Michigan, where I am visiting family and friends before our departure. Having recently finished my Masters degree in international development at Georgetown University, that saw me traversing Cambodia and Myanmar to monitor Chinese hydropower investment, I currently find myself enjoying some down time to reflect and prepare for what lies ahead. We will explore China together and with two other amazing instructors: Parker Pflaum and Sarah Bolasevish. My China story began in 2011. The day before I was to graduate from Michigan State University I received a packet from the Peace Corps, within which I knew was a letter detailing where I would serve as a volunteer for the next two years. I excitedly tore open the envelope with great anticipation and found that I would be an education volunteer in The People Republic of China. CHINA? Huh, WHAT!?!? But China is totally developed with modern cities like Shanghai and Beijing. What is Peace Corps doing there??? I had envisioned my Peace Corps service consisting of a placement in the tropics with palm trees, exotic fruits, and a relaxing village lifestyle where time was inconsequential. I wanted to get my hands dirty and do development work. I also yearned to rid myself of the long and glacial Michigan winters, and viewed Peace Corps as a temporary escape. What I ended up with though, instead of a tropical paradise for my Peace Corps site, was a volunteer site in the far Northwest of China where the frigid winds of the Gobi Desert and lack of central heating/insulation put me through the harshest winters I have ever experienced. At the time of my departure for China I knew next to nothing about the country and had very modest expectations. In full disclosure, I was completely ignorant with never having been to Asia or even focused on the region as part of my studies. I didn’t even know how to use chopsticks and was constantly spilling oily noodles or knocking over bowls of rice. To say that my first few months in China were a mix of culture shock and work-induced stress would be an understatement. The constant flurry of activity, array of smells, and a cacophony of NOISE completely overwhelmed me. After a month of Peace Corps training in a massive and polluted city of over 10 million people I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. This was also the point at which I began to live in the moment, let go of pre-conceived expectations about my volunteer experience, and develop a fresh perspective and open mind. Little did I know how fortunate I was to be placed in China and the amazing experiences that were to follow over the course of the next two years. These experiences consisted of: running two marathons on the Great Wall of China, competing in a bike race on an ancient city wall surrounding Xi’an, developing a lifelong friendship with my ping pong coach, exploring holy mountains and monasteries in Tibet, organizing an Eco Camp/Eco Club for my students, and expanding their career and educational opportunities. I truly look forward to helping you navigate the culture shock that we are sure to experience and embrace the beauty of everything that is China. What comes to your mind when you first think of China? Is it the tall buildings and congested highways of the mega-cities? Or is it the mountains, rivers and beautiful scenery of rural China? My experience as a Peace Corps volunteer, in which I traveled, cycled, and ran throughout much of rural western China exposed me to the incredible diversity that China has to offer and that I never dreamed of before my service began. I arrived in China with few questions or expectations about what I was getting into, but after two years my curiosity and desire to learn more about China is relentless. Whatever you are looking to find or get out of this experience, you will no doubt be able to find a semblance of it somewhere in the complexity and diversity of Chinese society. There is so much more about China that is left for us to explore and learn about together, which has me stoked to get on a plane to Beijing! This summer will offer you the mind- blowing and life changing experience of a rapidly developing China, perhaps a version of China that you would have never expected in your most outrageous dreams. I encourage all of you to arrive with an open mind and curious heart! Again, I feel supremely honored to be part of the instructor team for your course and could not be more thrilled to be heading back to China again with all of you. In many ways I feel as though I am headed back to a place that once felt like home and where I have a deep spiritual connection. Please feel free to contact me if you want to share your questions, worries, fears and hopes (brendonhahns@gmail.com). Looking forward to meeting all of you very soon! Warmly, Brendon田宇 P.S. If any of you are budding environmentalists or have any interest in climate change issues I look forward to discussing and ranting about my true passion, China’s domestic and global environmental impact. -“Because past environmental destruction was the result of ignorance, we can easily forgive it. Today, we are better informed. Therefore, it’s essential that we make an ethical examination of what we have inherited, what we are responsible for, and what we will pass on to coming generations. 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Instructor Introduction – Brendon

Brendon Thomas ,Picture of the Week, China Search for Meaning 6-wk

Description

Dear China “Search for Meaning” Team, Welcome 欢迎你们! Greetings from the pristine, desolate, and still freezing shores of Lake Michigan. My name is Brendon Thomas 田宇 and I am truly honored to be one of your instructors this summer. I hope that this course will be an opportunity for you to embark on an adventure […]

Posted On

05/20/15

Author

Brendon Thomas

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    [post_content] => Dear Fellow Traveler:

I suppose that this is our first point of direct contact. Soon we will be journeying together in a country and culture probably very different from that which you have known. We don’t know each other, yet, but by the end of our course, we will. By the end of our trip together we will share the bonds of challenges overcome, hardships endured, memories shared, strange sights seen, and far-flung places visited. We will have learned and traveled together and, hopefully, we will have grown, each in our own way, and be changed, forever.

China! I hope that you are as excited and nervous and stoked to explore China as I am! Although it may still be a bit over a month away, the Search for Meaning course will come up fast. I trust that thoughts about courtyard houses, delicious and strange food, and meeting your fellow travelers have started to enter your mind. Do I need to get things for the trip? Should I bring this or that or not this or not that? There are a lot of questions you must have as you prepare to embark on this journey and this Yak board is the place for you to ask these questions, to get to know your fellow travelers, and to share experiences and thoughts. Please don’t be shy, let’s get to know each other.

You must be wondering who I am. I am Parker and, along with Brendon and Sarah, I am one of your three instructors for your China sojourn. I grew up way out in the countryside– among the swamps, pine scrub, and crystal clear springs– of North Florida. I grew up with hundreds of acres to run wild in; I didn’t wear shoes much and we had lots of animals. I went to a progressive, free-play school that had 90 kids from kindergarten to 8th grade and we were given lots of freedom and responsibility with which to explore what we wanted and find out what we liked. We at Dragons want to give you the opportunity to find out who you are as a person, where you fit in in the world, and to develop as a learner and a leader, one who “approaches life with a sense of wonder, an appreciation of simple beauty, and one who is delighted by the animal spirit of all Things.” I hope that this course will be an opportunity for you to embark on a pilgrimage of self-discovery.

It’s surprising, I know, that I chose the frigid northeast of China (dongbei for those of you that already know some Chinese), an area so different from my childhood home in Florida, in which to first experience China. I went there in 2006 to study abroad at Jilin University. I did not know except the most basic Chinese and I possessed very little knowledge about the place that I had chosen to spend the next six months of my life. I wanted to be “off the beaten path” and I sure was! It was hard that semester: the frustration of not being able to fully (or even partly) communicate; the extreme cold and long winter; the unfamiliar food; missing home, and all the rest. The city I was living in, Changchun, means “long spring”, but only someone with a sense of irony would have named it that. You will face the same trials and tribulations that I have experienced– and some unique to you– but know that you will come out stronger and with a clearer vision because of them.

I have traveled to many areas in China and have had the opportunity to study that country from many different angles in formal academic study, but I keep being excited and inspired by newly discovered areas. Some years ago I fell in love with Sichuan Province; I hope that we will have a chance to visit that province and that you will similarly become Sichuan-lovers. More recently I have been inspired by the rise of counter-culture among Chinese young people. I think that there is a real search for meaning; for a belief system; for something more in a culture in which so much traditional belief systems have been systematically destroyed. I have similarly fallen in love with the wild landscapes and beautiful people of China’s west—its autonomous regions located in the deserts and mountains that fall along the edges of its map.

Throughout my travels I have come to identify two interconnected aspects of travel that I find crucial. First, when confronted by the foreign and the Other, we are newly attentive to the myriad of fascinating details that always surround us. Only by escaping our familiar environment and self-comforting routines do our eyes truly open and grow clear; our prejudices and narrow-mindedness become overthrown. The things that you think you know about the world will meet with new uncertainty. The traveler must confront questions and challenges that he would never see at home. Truly “the destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” I ask each of you to begin your trip in China with an open and curious mind; what Zen Buddhist master Shunryu Suzuki calls the “Beginner’s Mind”, which according to him is the same as the mind of a child. It means coming with fresh eyes, open to experiencing probably a completely different way of living than you may be used to at home. The more you are able to leave pre-conceived notions of Asia, and family, and society, and poverty and all the rest behind and experience China first hand– in the moment– the more you will get out of this course.

Imagine: you are sitting on a small diesel bus, going from one small Chinese village to another. You are surrounded by Chinese locals– maybe they are taking vegetables to market or seeing a friend or family member not seen for quite some time– they are chatting in a language you don’t understand; out the window is unfamiliar scenery. You are dirty and sweaty; maybe your stomach hurts a bit and you are tired too. And all of a sudden, a feeling of peace and serenity comes over you. Who cares whether you are dirty or tired? What does it matter that your bag of clothes might just tumble off the top of the bus? There will be other clothes.  There will be a chance to shower at some point in the future. In that moment, as your many worries and cares fade into the background, you become more attuned to the myriad of senses surrounding you. You are in the moment and present in a way that you experience but a few times in life. That is the second part of travel that I find indispensable.

We will soon embark on our journey together. We will travel as a group that supports and encourages one another, but we will experience the music of the world as individuals. We leave behind the four square walls of those classrooms that we have inhabited for many, many years in order to go out into the world: to see and hear; to explore and question. We at Dragons firmly believe that experiential education provides more for the individual, but experiential education only works if you agree to approach this journey with open eyes and an open mind. Albert Camus believed that “the music of the world finds its way more easily into the heart grown less secure. Finally stripped bare, the slightest solitary tree becomes the most tender and fragile of images.”

We will each of us have unique experiences on this journey, and it is up to us as individuals to incorporate that into our lives and to find our future path. If you return home unsettled by what you’ve seen, then I will consider it a trip worth taking. The smell of stinky tofu being cooked by an old street vender; the unbelievably slow movements of the old men practicing Tai Chi in the park at five in the morning; the cloud of gas fumes hanging over the young motorcycle taxi drivers trying to make enough money to send some home to support a younger sibling’s education. These haunting memories make up the invisible side of our lives. Some, even, will never leave you.

Some advice to make the most of the pilgrimage:
• Let go of expectations. Things will never go as expected— that is in fact the point of pilgrimage.
• Walk humbly, give of yourself and accept the gift of others. Pilgrims by definition are foreigners in the environments in which they are found. By being humble, your eyes will more readily witness the many ways in which human beings are connected and interdependent.
• See the world from a new perspective.
• Use the journey to embrace both community and solitude. On our trip it will feel natural to relate to your Dragons peers and consequently our community will become strong, but look beyond them also, in order to build connections with locals and other travelers. At the same time, pilgrimage is also about self, to be by oneself, to have one’s own experiences and to focus on that inner quest.  Make time on this journey to do a solo, to journal alone, or to go on an adventure by yourself in a strange town.
• Dare to ask. During this scientific age, a pilgrimage is about daring to ask whether those spiritual things which we cannot prove, still have meaning in our lives.
• Finally, take something home with you. It is never too early to start thinking about what you want to get out of this experience. The memory of your journey will resonate long after you return home. What do you want to take home with you? What do you want to learn from your pilgrimage? What do you want to feel? How do you hope to change? What experiences are you searching for?

And remember, sometimes the wrong train will get you to the right station. Expectations and goals are different. Your expectations coming into this trip will undoubtedly change; your goals may similarly change, but preemptive goal setting is important as a way to keep us honest, to keep us growing, and to keep us mindful in seeking out the experiences we want.

Finally, in the coming weeks, we – your instructor team – will be posting letters of introduction, a tentative course itinerary, packing suggestions, and other information relevant to course preparation on this Yak board. So please keep an eye on this board for information in the weeks to come. We will also be calling each of you by phone to chat and to make sure that your questions have been answered. In the meantime, please do take a moment to introduce yourselves here on the Yak board and get to know your fellow travelers a bit better or ask questions that are on your mind. And feel free to contact me directly, too; I’m always here to answer questions or just chat about China. (My email address is written below).

With gratitude to you for choosing to take the leap and spend this summer abroad,
Parker Pflaum
parkerpflaum@gmail.com

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View post

Greetings!

Parker Pflaum,China Search for Meaning 6-wk

Description

Dear Fellow Traveler: I suppose that this is our first point of direct contact. Soon we will be journeying together in a country and culture probably very different from that which you have known. We don’t know each other, yet, but by the end of our course, we will. By the end of our trip […]

Posted On

05/20/15

Author

Parker Pflaum

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Dear Summer Students,

Welcome to the Dragons community! Welcome to your Yak board!
With summer just around the corner, we are excited to begin the final stages of course preparation with you. Launching your course Yak board marks the first step towards building your summer community, as this interface will help us bridge great geographic distances and connect you with your course instructors, your fellow Dragons students, and the Boulder Administration.

You can think of your Yak board as a virtual bulletin board.

  • Pre-course, your instructors will use the Yak board to introduce themselves, tack up packing lists and respond to any of your pre-course departure questions.
  • On course, you can use the Yak board to share photos with your fans back home, jot down vignettes of your life abroad, or share longer reflections about your unexpected adventures in an overnight train, at a meditation retreat, at your home-stay sister’s birthday party… It’s hard to capture everything that happens over the course of a summer, or expect to share it all for the first time when you arrive home. In many ways, your Yak board will become a collaborative journal, curated by members of your group and enjoyed by your friends and family back home.
  • Post-course, your Yak board turns into one big adventure log that will commemorate your group’s experiences abroad.

Over the next week, you should expect to hear from your Course Director, and over the next month, we look forward to reading a bit more about each of you. Please use the Yak board as an opportunity to dive in and start building a new community. There are no “dumb questions” when it comes to packing lists, only students that wished they had a backpack cover or an extra water bottle.

Thanks so much for beginning this journey with us. We encourage you to post on your Yak board early and often, and we look forward to being in touch with you over the coming months.

With love,
The Boulder Admin Team

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Welcome to The Yak Board!

The Boulder Admin Team,Bolivia 6-week, Cambodia 4-week, China Comprehensive 4-week, China Language 4-week A, China Language 4-week B, China Language 6-week, China Search for Meaning 6-wk, Guatemala 4-week A, Guatemala 4-week B, Indonesia 6-week, Bolivia 4-week, Madagascar 6-week, Myanmar 4-week, Nicaragua 4-week, North India 4-week, North India 6-week, Peru 4-week, Peru 6-week, Senegal 4-week, Sikkim 4-week, Silk Road 6-week, Jordan 4-week, Thailand 4-week

Description

Dear Summer Students, Welcome to the Dragons community! Welcome to your Yak board! With summer just around the corner, we are excited to begin the final stages of course preparation with you. Launching your course Yak board marks the first step towards building your summer community, as this interface will help us bridge great geographic […]

Posted On

05/12/15

Author

The Boulder Admin Team

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