Hello fellow students and explorers!
My name is Ian and I am sooo excited and honored to be joining you all on this adventure. I grew up in Freeport, Maine with a brook and a walk in the woods at the end of the lane. I now live on the other side of the continent in Portland, OR, where I’ve made home-base for the last 7 some years. In sitting down to write this introductory letter to you all, I find myself with some resistance to narrativizing my life in a few strokes. My life feels like it has organized itself as a quilt-work of distinct experiences with the consistent thread uniting them being curiosity and thirst for human connection.
The quilt patch I’m presently tying off has been working through AmeriCorps doing parent and student engagement in a public elementary school in a low-income neighborhood in Portland. This has meant teaching after school courses for kids as well as coordinating adult classes and parent leadership opportunities. It has meant diving headlong into realities of deep-set racial inequity in our public institutions and exploring practices for decolonizing how we teach, learn, and share with each other. The work has challenged me to further examine my social positioning and how the same spheres of privilege that insulate my experience have spelled oppression for many others. I write this because I believe the responsibilities of global citizenship do not begin at some distant frontier but rather right outside our front doors.
China and Chinese culture has figured a large part in my life since I started studying Mandarin in my freshman year at Reed College. Aside from curiosity to dig deeper into a cultural fabric that produced or curated Daoist and Buddhist texts that drew me in, I was attracted by the economy of signification in the language and literature, and humble beauty in the Chinese interdependent sense of self. Midway through college I took a year out to study Chinese in Taiwan where while taking intensive Mandarin courses at ICLP (International Chinese Language Program) I began studying Tai Chi with a group there. Tai Chi has subsequently become a very important personal self-care practice for me; it is an art I would be thrilled to share with you all. In my senior year of college my studies turned to contemporary Chinese media and I wrote my thesis on social activism in independent Chinese documentary film. I won a scholarship that year to travel to Beijing over winter break to study with a Tai Chi master there and create a short documentary film exploring that process.
This will be my first course with Dragons, and my first time in Southwestern China; and I’m thrilled that I will get to share it with you. I’m honored to be joining Long Yun and Madeleine, whose extensive local experience, expertise and commitment to this work will make this a tremendous course.
I, like you, had the amazing opportunity to do a leadership course abroad when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. I took a semester course with NOLS in the New Zealand back-country and that decision refined to a significant extent my core values and opened pathways I may have never otherwise known. It equipped me to wear many hats, including those of a seasonal sea kayak expedition guide, trail maintenance crew leader, and TEFL educator. That is to say, I’ve been in your shoes; waiting anxiously and for the course to begin. I am extremely excited and glad for you all because I know the transformative value of getting out of our comfortable domestic ruts to lean boldly into the unknown.
I should make clear to you all at the outset that I consider one the underlying mission of my job this summer to make sure that you all stay safe and uncomfortable. Safeness is the space of support, community, and co-leadership that we will be cultivating in the group. Uncomfortability is challenging you each individually and as a team to push your boundaries of comfort; to see, feel, and try on new ways of being that are foreign to you.
Cross-cultural exchange and understanding is one of the core missions of Dragons, and is one of my most fundamental values. It challenges us to discover ourselves in all the exhilaration, doubt, joy, and uncertainty of being in unfamiliar territory. We will not be old school anthropologists taking those we encounter as objects of study, we are rather the very objects of our investigation. It is only in willful, humble and brave immersion in a culture foreign to your own that you come to understand yourself, and the unspeakably thin membrane that separates you from every other living thing.
I feel sincerely grateful for the opportunity to embark on this consciousness-expanding journey with you all. Please bring your questions, trepidations and musings to the Yak Board. And if you have anything you would like to correspond personally about, please do not hesitate to contact me at my personal email: [email protected]
Looking forward to learning from and growing with you all!