21, August 2017
Mbola-tsara avy amin-ny Madagasikara, ny nosy mena. It is with a tremendous amount of gratitude that I am writing this introduction. I am sure that you are all aware that you will soon be joining the first ever Where There Be Dragons semester program in Madagascar. I am tremendously excited about this course and can’t wait to explore one of the world’s most amazing places with you. Thank you for choosing to come on this journey and thank you for choosing Madagascar.
I recently completed leading the third summer course here (I lead the first two as well) and am still here in Madagascar working on developing future program sites and expanding the places we go in this amazing country. Before working with Dragons in Madagascar I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the far north and in the lake region. I have been here a little over three and half years in total and am still astounded and what there is to discover every day that I am here. Aside from working here in Madagascar I have had the privilege of running three semester courses for Dragons in the Indonesian archipelago.
One of the things that Dragon’s pride’s itself on is that fact that we never run the same trip twice and we, as instructors and traveler’s ourselves, are constantly pouring over maps and making changes to our itineraries to explore new places and take advantage of new contacts. There are several places on our upcoming trip that will be new to Dragon’s which will allow you to have an even more unique and personal experience in one of the most unique places on earth.
I know that you will all be very busy in the coming weeks before your departure but I would invite all of you to take a little time to introduce yourself here on the Yak board and let us know a little bit about yourself and where you are coming from. As you all know we strongly encourage students to refrain from contacting each other on Social Media before the trip. We feel that this allows each student the opportunity to introduce themselves, in person, as we begin our journey together. A few paragraphs and maybe a picture is certainly enough. Thank you for taking the time to post your introduction and I look forward to seeing a little glimpse of your life before we meet in Antananarivo.
As for me, I grew up in a very small town in northern Indiana surrounded by endless corn fields and a inordinately large number of lakes. I first left the country my freshman year of college and was immediately infected with an urge to keep traveling and exploring that has not subsided yet. Having spent most of the last four years traveling and living abroad I decided to return home to the U.S. last January for a 13,000 mile solo road trip that took me from Key West, Florida to Bellingham, Washington (the longest point to point trip you can make in the continental United States). Along the way I made stops in the south and the southwest. I crisscrossed the Rocky Mountains, camped out among the goblins in the Utah desert and the ancient redwoods in California. I hiked along the granite-blue rivers of the Cascades and the high deserts of eastern Oregon and walked too close to the wild buffalo of Yellowstone and was transfixed by the diamond shaped face of Long’s peak.
I had spent so much time in the far flung places on the planet that I found myself wondering more about my own country. I was overwhelmed with just how incredibly beautiful, diverse and awe-inspiring the United States are. Truly, there is beauty everywhere, though sometimes it takes a few days of driving through the endless expanses of central Wyoming to see the subtle beauty of the rolling, verdant, hills of Iowa.
At the end of that trip I passed through Boulder to visit the Dragon’s office and see some friends. One morning I was out getting coffee with Aaron Slosberg, our Director of Student Programming, and I overheard him telling someone about Where There Be Dragons. We are all aware that it is a rather strange name and we generally explain that the name comes from old Chinese maps where Dragons were drawn in the places that were unexplored or dangerous. What stuck in my mind was what he said after that first explanation. He went on to say that we are not only exploring the geographical places that are ‘off the maps edge’ or shadowed by misunderstanding and fear, but we also aim to explore those same types of places within ourselves.
I look forward to meeting all of you in Antananarivo and greeting you after the long trip from the United States (or Belgium) to Madagascar and seeing that first little glint of red dust on you after you walk across the tarmac and into Imerina.