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Photo by Emily Shahrzad Rahravan, Indonesia Semester.


I have finally had some time to reflect and transcribe my journal and notes. Not sure who is still reading this Yak board, but if anyone replies, I will continue to post. I’ll start in Borobudur, where we had our first group meetings for preparation for homestays:

Friday, June 15. I am in Borobudur at a beautiful Buddhist retreat engaged in calm centered listening, being present and safe, learning about group culture and creating a positive container. What works for groups like this? Where is home? Where is here? Where am I? So many times in airports, I literally had to check – where am I – because so many airports are exactly the same. But today is about mindfulness, health and safety. We talk about the need for frequent hydration, dengue fever, malaria, regular meals, a good night’s sleep – be gentle with yourself in order to acclimatize. Expect illness. Look under your mattress. Watch out for venomous sea snakes. Leave the dogs and cats alone. Keep your feet clean and dry. 50% of the problems we will encounter are gastro-intestinal. Maintain your hygiene rituals: wash your hands, use hand sanitizer – in fact take some right now. Don’t share your drinks. When you wash down below, use your left hand, and greet people with your right hand. Here, have some baby powder to keep yourself clean and dry. Stay away from drinks in little plastic baggies. Wear your hat and sunblock. Do not pour alcohol on an open wound. Bring clean water and wash it out with soft soap. Use the med kit for infected wounds. Stay away from alcohol. Don’t give to beggars. Physical touch is OK. But it’s Not OK for men and women to be alone together. Do not reach out and touch a woman. Don’t touch anyone with your feet. Don’t show the bottom of your feet. Keep the soles of your feet down. (I took a picture of Pak Rajuni with the bottoms of his feet pointed toward me. I didn’t think when I did that – it just seemed like a nice picture. I could see him stop smiling, but we didn’t talk about it.) Greet with your right hand. What makes Indonesians smile? What makes them similar? What makes them different? Indonesians favor indirect communication.

Saturday, June 16: There is no other place in the universe where we can see this combination of colors: the blue sky, the green trees, and the earth.

What is a container? It is everything that includes the integrity and experience of the course. It is a shared mental map. It is a sense of safety. The individual is a container. The instructor team is a container. The student group is a container. The course is a container. This is about sharing norms and understanding boundaries. The first few day of orientation can be a bit regimented, but as the group becomes more savvy and aware, the container gets bigger. Adolescents in particular need guard rails, and it is disorienting not to know where the guardrails are.

Risk: we don’t avoid it. We are trying to manage it. We don’t wall it off.

The admissions process, the webinar, the yak board – it’s all setting a tone – it’s all part of the container.

Beginning with the end in mind, set your intention: This trip was a meaningful and educational experience for me because… I learned from living with a family in another culture, and I learned from fellow experienced educators – how they run trips. I was aware of having high expectations.

This is an opportunity to be out of your comfort zone – to help students mature – to communicate without using language…


Spoken                               Unspoken

Met + Spoken

Met – Unspoken

Unmet + Spoken
Unmet – Unspoken


It is normal to stop and talk, stop for food and drink with your neighbor. It is impolite to wave and walk by. I did EXACTLY that so many times – hearing cries of “Hello! Hello!” And I kept walking. You can read about travel, but when your body is in a new world, it’s a totally different thing – it’s good for you. New tastes and smells builds greater empathy with others. How do other perspectives affect our own?

So what do we do when students don’t meet expectations: for example they are late to a meeting or not in bed by their curfew. The real underlying question is: what unmet need is being rewarded by their behavior? Why are they doing that? All behaviors are attempts to get need meet. Then there are cultural norms.

When students are acting out, a formal written agreement is agreed to and signed in order to modify behavior. This agreement can become grounds for dismissal if they are not able to modify their behavior. Expectations: be aware of your privileges, represent your school. We often unknowingly offend people. In India, students of color see disparity between high caste and low caste people immediately. Talking about socio-economic differences between people can even be taboo. Indonesians try to avoid conflict. There are different sets of expectations: expectations for instructors, expectations for self, expectations for groups. It is good to try to include students in plans so they feel like they have more agency. Instructors provide role modeling, boundary setting, space to make mistakes – they are mostly non-judgmental. Instructors model an assuredness, they show confidence, they create kinship with their students who they see as human beings and provide a sense of being valued, and a space to be heard. They listen to understand. Don’t assume you understand someone. Limit negativity and model confidence. Be mindful of differences in the group. Respect where we come from. Be aware of cliques forming.

We talked about the group dynamics of “Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing”.

I translated that into M. Scott Peck’s, “The Different Drum”: “Pseudo-community, Chaos, Emptiness, and Love.”

Four types of students: Prisoner, Pirate, Vacationer, Learner.

Creating an Adat: Green are things we want to promote, Yellow are things we discourage, and Red is Not OK.

Red activities include: drugs, sex, riding a motorcycle, scuba diving, piercing and tattoos – any kind of self-harm.

Read To Hell with Good Intentions by Ivan Illich. This is a powerful critique of service learning. Is service learning a form of neo-colonialism?

Experiential Ed 101: David Cobb’s Cycle

DO –an activity, build a container, observe, experiment

REFLECT – WHAT are the actions and effects of doing?

CONNECT – SO WHAT? – finding meaning

DECIDE – NOW WHAT? – Carrying your learning forward, applying or adapting change.

Be aware of toxic masculinity. It is not safe to dress as you like in someone else’s space.

I have lots of pictures, but have to upload them to my PC to share them here. So… forthcoming…