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Zhongdian Hauptplatz, Yunnan, Gebetsmühle in Shangri-La

Welcome to the Middle Kingdom

Dear students, teachers, parents and friends,

Welcome to the McCallie Yak Board!

My name is Mark Lumley and I am one of your instructors for this coming summer program. This will be my 16th Dragons program and words can’t describe how excited I am about our imminent adventure!

I am absolutely delighted that you have chosen to come and explore and learn about China this summer; we certainly have a wonderful adventure ahead of us. In no time at all you will be dusting off your backpacks, bidding farewell to family and friends and setting off on an amazing adventure through a place I feel honoured to call my home from home.

During our journey we will have the opportunity to bask in some of the many, vastly differing landscapes that China has to offer. We will trail the streets of some of the world’s fastest growing cities, explore the agrarian hinterlands and play in the mountains of Yunnan. Most of all we will have the opportunity to fully ensconce ourselves in one of the oldest cultures known to mankind.

I am sure you are all filled with an abundance of differing emotions at the moment ranging from slight trepidation to excitement of the unknown. Of course, this is perfectly normal and I can assure you that we have a wonderful program lined up that will challenge and meet your every need. In my experience, it’s when I am challenged and forced to step outside my comfort zone that I learn the most profound lessons in life.

As I’m sure you already know, China is one of the fastest moving countries in the whole world and her meteoric rise to the top sees little chance of abate; her economy has exploded and grown at an unprecedented rate, and recent years have seen the largest peaceful migration of humans in the history of the world, as China’s millions of migrant workers helped transform metropolises into megalopolises.

That said, China’s unparalleled rise comes laden with consequences. As she leaps headlong into the 21stCentury, China is struggling to maintain balance; she is a world of unique and mesmerising contradictions. Old values and traditions do battle with China’s new world ranking: Five star hotels stand shoulder-to-shoulder with hole-in-the-wall noodle joints, top of the range Mercedes Benz cars vie for road space with 100 Yuan bicycles; China’s nouveau riche find unique and more extravagant ways to spend their new found wealth, while the rural masses continue scrimp and save for every Jiao.  To me, these are the things that make China such an amazing place to live and why after nearly 15 years I am still in love. These are the types of issues we will be discussing on our journey through China and it is my hope that you too will fall in love with the captivating Middle Kingdom.

Although I am English by descent, China was my home for 10 years and I’m so excited to be back there sharing experiences with you all. I lived in Yunnan for a long time and I am so excited to see Kunming and and Lashihai once again. It’s been a few years since I’ve been back and I am super excited to see old friends and home-stay families. More than anything, I miss the food so much!

Since I first moved to China in 2004 I have been heavily involved in education. My life with Dragons started in 2007 and I instantly fell in love with experiential education. For me, there is no better way for students (and myself) to learn; hands on and learning from the people and culture of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to work in. In Dragons we have an expression, ‘Failing Forwards’. This epitomises experiential education for me. When we have the courage to step out of our comfort zones, open ourselves up to new experiences, and try new things –  regardless of how fearful they may be – we learn so much. Inevitably when we do this we will fail sometimes. I strongly believe that it’s these failures that help us grow as people.

I am also hugely interested in development issues and I have worked with numerous charities and NGOs helping to raise money and awareness about a multitude of differing issues in the developing world.

I am really looking forward to teaching you all about Chinese culture and what it is like to live in this amazing country, and I am very keen and eager to converse with you all on every aspect of China.  I have travelled to many, many places in the ‘Motherland’, though I love returning to Lashihai where we will be doing our home-stay. I am so excited about treading unfamiliar paths, discovering new places, meeting new people, making new friends and feasting on sumptuous Chinese dishes until our distended bellies swell and groan with satisfaction. I am really excited for us to get out there and experience the real side of China. I love rural China and I can assure you that the warmth of the Chinese people extends to all.

It is my love of all things China, travel and working with young people that I believe makes this my ideal job and that’s where you come into the equation. As instructors we can only lay down the details of the program, but this course is your course and it is you that will make this the experience of a lifetime.

I urge you to say a big hearty ‘welcome’ to the Yak board. Posting on this board goes hand in hand with the Dragons experience. Yaks are a way of letting the world share our unique experiences, are an amazing reflection tool and a vital document of our unique journey together.

My amazing co-instructor, Zhao Ling will be posting her own Yak soon, so please take the time to read her introduction.

So, I will leave you all for now and I can’t wait to meet you all in Kunming and embark on our adventure together.

I can’t wait to finally meet you all.