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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

A note on technology

Dear Comrades,

As you gear up (literally and figuratively) to head out on our upcoming adventure, we wanted to speak more on a very important aspect of our non-packing list: your smart phone.

Dragons as an organization has a blanket policy that strongly requests all students leave smartphones at home. You can read more about that in your materials, but in short, we’ve found phones detract from the experience and can create risk management issues for the group. Please carefully read and consider what Dragons has written about smartphones, but here is what you need to know for our Mekong program…

We are asking you to please leave your devices at home. It is amazing how dependent we’ve all become on technology and your time on the Mekong course might provide one of the few opportunities for you to truly “unplug” from the constant pressures of social media/electronic connection. It is a truly liberating feeling if you haven’t tried it, or don’t remember the last time you didn’t have a phone at arm’s reach. We encourage everyone to please read this article from the NY Times. It’s not the same “technology is corrupting our youth” judgmental piece you’ve seen before, but has some really thoughtful insights on how technology can most affect our ability to be alone. We’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

All that said, we also know that no matter how much we emphasize it, sometimes one or two students still show up with their device. And heck, we get it… no one here is “anti-tech” (we have to carry our phones with us for communication purposes). So here we are, kindly asking you again to please leave your devices at home and also reminding you that if you do choose to bring a smartphone/mp3 player with you we ask that you be honest with us; there is no judgment, but we want to be fair and consistent with all students. We will collect any devices (mp3 players, phones, tablets, etc.) at the beginning of the course when you land.

What we don’t want is for you to enter a home-stay, pop in your ear buds, and tune out of the experience around you. We’ve seen electronic devices completely tear students away from their present surroundings, increase homesickness, and keep one foot in Asia and one-foot longing for their Snapchat or Instagram feed happening back home. Even our longest and most arduous travel days, precisely when you want to listen to your favourite tune to help time pass more quickly, can hold some of the most amazing and unexpected cultural interactions; however, we need to keep our eyes and ears open (i.e., not looking at a screen or listening to music) to engage those unplanned moments.

If you disregard this request and choose to bring a smartphone-type device or mp3 player, do not plan to use it and know that instructors will hold on to any devices. Do not come with an international calling/data plan and do not plan to get a local SIM card. If your smartphone is your only camera, please bring a separate camera; smart phones are not ideal as your primary camera and we don’t want to hear the “I need my phone because it’s my camera” line. We also want to be clear that we are not responsible for your devices. We are going to be in dirty/wet/humid conditions, if our packs are stolen/lost or are somehow damaged, and your phone is inside and gets say, flooded, then we are not responsible/liable.

Kindle-type e-Readers are fine like the Nook Glowlight or Kindle Paperwhite, but please do not bring an iPad-like tablet that doubles as an e-Reader, again that draw to connect in every WIFI zone is just too tempting! In summary, please leave your tech devices at home. If, despite all this, you still choose to cart them along, please respect these expectations that the entire group has agreed to and will follow.

Yours sincerely,

Marcus, Som and Jess.