Back to WhereThereBeDragons.com
Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Instructor Introduction From Kelsey!

Hello friends! I’m counting down the days until we embark on this extraordinary adventure, and I’m honored to be a part of the instructor team with Angelica and Som.

I grew up in the countryside of Northeast Ohio, exploring the woods surrounding my home, swimming in our pond, building snow forts, eating wild raspberries, gardening, catching frogs, and rescuing turtles from nearby roads. After taking a field-based oceanography course the summer before starting college, I began to fine-tune my fascination with water and earth science. Since then, I’ve researched impacts of road salt, climate change, and extreme events on Ohio, Antarctic, and Rocky Mountain river and stream ecosystems. Through these stories, I gained an understanding of anthropogenic factors that impact global fresh water resources on short and long time scales. As a graduate student in Colorado, I led an undergraduate internship that entailed backcountry skiing to an elevation of 11,000 ft weekly to measure and sample snowpack as part of a long-term environmental monitoring program.

From these experiences I acquired an appetite for the following interests: watershed science and human land use, conservation, global change, the water-energy-food nexus, water rights and policy, environmental justice, sustainable agriculture, homesteading, political ecology, and (micro)climatology. As I’m also drawn to history, culture, spirituality, literature, poetry, music, mindfulness… I yearned to transfer the science, perspectives, and dialogues that so greatly fueled my fervor for life to others. I sought out volunteer experiences teaching science at community events, and I helped develop and lead a pre-college conservation workshop in Colorado. The mutually beneficial relationships I formed with students, collaborators, and communities left me more fulfilled than any “job” I had undertaken before, so I continued down the experiential education path with intention. Most recently, I’ve led student expeditions in Belize and Hawaii, collaborating with NGOs to conduct beach cleanups, remove invasive species from national parks, prune sugar cane fields for agricultural research, and carry out marine biology surveys. Between trip leading and development, I’m a bit of a nomad, having camped out of my retrofitted truck for a period of time in Utah while exploring the desert and now traveling between family and friends in Arizona, Ohio, California, Illinois, and Colorado. I’ve gained a strong sense of place living this fluid, adventure seeking lifestyle, continually optimizing and shedding material belongings and learning how to take care of myself so I can better serve others and the world.

This will be my first course with Dragons and I’m beyond grateful to contribute to our collective experience – I can’t imagine a more fertile setting for such an adventure than along a mighty river! The beautiful structure and function of our natural world inspires and sustains me, having many similarities (and some important differences) with that of human systems. In exploring socio-environmental issues through the lens of Southeast Asia and connecting to local communities, I hope to help you find your own way into these important dialogues. It is my role as your instructor to provide a safe vessel for your voyage, to repair any leaks in the boat along the way. A question I like to ask myself often is: what is the most beautiful thing I can imagine? Then I try to do it. That being said, it is my hope that you leave our Mekong chapter with a lasting appreciation for the eternal balance of nature, a set of skills and perspectives to nurture a sustainable lifestyle, and a desire to use your creative capacity to meet the world’s needs.

In preparation, leave expectations and assumptions at home. Pack light. While we should anticipate processing information, acquiring and organizing countless facts and experiences, we must be equally ready to pour out our cups a little – or a lot. We must be ready to empty and quiet the mind, apply the heart, relish in the alchemy of reason and feeling, be a channel for compassion, be fluid. We must be fearless, and in doing so face our fears. We must be willing to redefine our comfort zones and make lifelong friends. I am preparing personally by focusing on health – physically, mentally. I am stretching and engaging my muscles, practicing gratitude, and reading and writing to my heart’s desire. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me directly over the upcoming weeks at [email protected] if you have questions. In the meantime, I highly encourage you to introduce yourself here on the Yak Board too. Who are you? What made you want to embark on the Mekong semester? What does a gap year mean to you? We want to know!

Angelica, Som, the Mekong, and I eagerly await our journey! As all water is endlessly cycled throughout the atmosphere, the earth, and the biosphere across time, the river is already a part of you, part of the 50% of your body that is water. Atomically, part of each and every one of us is returning home! I want to thank you for your courage and your curiosity, for committing yourself and your energy to this experience. In the words of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver: “It is the nature of stone to be satisfied. It is the nature of water to want to be somewhere else.”

See you soon!

Kelsey