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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Our semester has parted ways in Kunming

Dear friends and family,

After a wonderful 3 months traveling up the great Mekong River, our semester has parted ways at the international airport in Kunming. Students flying on the group flight to Los Angeles will be arriving in California late in the evening on May 1st to transition to domestic travel. Some students’ itineraries branch off from the group flight to travel independently at the first layover in Hong Kong, and those students have checked in with the group. For students who are staying in Kunming, the “City of Eternal Spring”, we have helped them find the transit route to their accommodations. If you have any questions or concerns about travel, please contact the Where There Be Dragons office in Boulder.

These three months together have been a powerful time for all of us. As you prepare to welcome returning students, we ask for your patience and understanding as they work through the immediate challenge of travel fatigue and the slower process of integrating into a home culture that may now seem foreign. We often like to talk about reintegration as similar to a splash landing—there’s an initial, disorienting wave when you land abruptly in a new space, and then the longer term challenges of integrating our new learning, shifts in values, and shifts in perspective. We’ve talked over the past few days about how to stay on our feet while the initial waves settle so that we are grounded, calm, and oriented enough to address that integration in an intentional way.

  • On our final day together, students wrote some of their anticipated challenges in re-integration. All of their fears fit into 6 main points. To help you understand what your student may be feeling, here are those categories with a few quotes from our activity.
  • Culture surrounding electronics and social media: “I worry about everybody being on their phones.”
  • Difficulties in communicating the experience: “I worry that I won’t be able to pass on or inspire others with my experience because I’m not able to fully articulate about my semester. I won’t be able to express the importance of the changes within me.”
  • Difficulties in continuing this kind of learning and maintaining intention: “I worry that I won’t continue the practices learned here…” “How do I keep expanding on my learning from this trip without getting caught up in my previous ways of life?”
  • Differences in values: “I’m worried about non-patient ways of being.” “I’m worried about going back home and realizing my friends and I don’t share the same values. I’m worried about going to college and trying to find friends that have similar mindsets to me.”
  • Feeling overwhelmed by what used to be familiar.

We hope that in the days following your student’s arrival, you can slowly find the time to ask them about their huge variety of experiences and their perspectives on the world gained from foreign places. Our group thrived in asking the big questions: probing into why the world is the way it is, about social justice, about how we treat those different from ourselves, about economics and government, about how we build happy lives and happy communities, and about where our world is going and our personal role in it, both through our personal actions and through larger, systemic actions. We did so much in these three months. Students have had experiences in an incredible array of cultures, ecosystems, and communities. Many times, the biggest learning from Dragons courses comes in the weeks after returning home and experiencing that extreme contrast.

Each of your students carries with them a plan they wrote for themselves for their immediate shift in environment and culture shock, and also their goals for the next weeks and months. We encourage you to use these plans as a touchstone to connect to you student’s experience. We know that they will appreciate your help and support as they move forward in the effort of integrating their learning into a life that encompasses both new and old interests, perspectives, values, and ways of being.

With love and care,

The Mekong Semester instructors:

Gai, Madeleine, and Jeff