Hi everyone, I’m Carolyn Cheng. I graduated high school in the spring of 2017 and decided to delay going to college to establish a solid foundation of well-being and self-knowledge and explore my interests experientially so I could better take advantage of the educational opportunities offered to me.
I’ve been drawn to experiential education in intentional communities after being a student at the High Mountain Institute, an experiential and environmental education school in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. I felt so healthy and alive—I loved being outside all the time and learning through fieldwork, and I was inspired by the community’s commitment to living out their values. Since then I wanted to seek out more environments like that—hence Dragons.
I spent the fall of this year on the Dragons Andes & Amazon semester traveling around Peru and Bolivia, and learned so much because close connections Dragons has to local communities. My favorite parts of the trip were the moments when I felt most connected to the people and the place, whether it was making my homestay family laugh at my blundering through Spanish or being in the presence of a glacier on a sacred mountain calving before our eyes. I was especially fascinated by learning about the various ways people were connected to where they lived—through their livelihood, cosmovision, culture, history, etc.
I didn’t have any plans in place for the next segment of my gap year, but I knew I wanted to continue to travel and learn more about Buddhism to live my life in accordance to its teachings. I’ve always been interested in Buddhism because of my family background (my dad is Taiwanese), and my interest further deepened because of an English teacher I had in 11th grade, who introduced the practice of sitting meditation to our class. He suggested I spend time at a local zen center, so May of 2017 I spent a week at a local farm & zen center. I really enjoyed being part of a sangha and grappling with the difficulties of Zen Buddhism. Afterwards I wished to travel to places where Buddhism had a larger influence on society’s broader culture—I felt like at home (San Francisco Bay Area) Buddhism was at odds with it. I was able to continue to learn about Buddhism and practice meditation through reading and through one of my instructors on my previous semester, and became surer and surer I needed to travel to a place where Buddhism was more prominent in the country’s religious landscape.
I decided to travel with Dragons again because of the opportunities it provides students to truly get to know communities in ways most Western travellers can’t. I’ve never been in a place where the dominant religion isn’t Christianity, and I’m looking forward to learning more about Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism, which are relatively unfamiliar to me. I’m pretty much looking forward to everything else as well—I’ve been wanting to learn more about permaculture; I love being outside and in rural communities; I’m excited to challenge myself through trekking; I’m excited to be able to spend a longer chunk of time in one place and get to know the community on a deeper level. I’m also looking forward to be learning and travelling alongside you all, to people who are committed to learning as much as they can from Nepal, from our instructors, and from each other—learning for the sake of personal growth and for the betterment of the world.