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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Follow Us On The Yak Board! (A Note on Communication and Connection)

Dear Friends and Family of Bridge Year Participants,

As this year’s Bridge Year Cohort sets foot in foreign lands and begins their journey for the next nine months, we wanted to update all the parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, teachers, alumni, administrators, and fans who are eagerly awaiting news and updates from their favorite Bridge Year participants.

During the travel-intensive first weeks of the Bridge Year program, participants travel to remote areas where internet access is often unreliable. Many of our students choose to accept an invitation from on-site staff to “detox” from the omnipresent influence of social media and smart phones in our lives as they get oriented to a new language, culture, and pace of life. Most participants decide not to travel with their personal devices during this time, and so may not respond to texts with the lightning-fast speeds that many of us have become accustomed to. You may have noticed on-site staff posts with compelling messages about the benefits of being more present and engaged, especially during the critical adjustment period in the first few weeks of Bridge Year.

A frequently asked question: Does this mean that I’m not going to hear from my favorite Bridge Year participant for the first month? On the contrary! Participants are highly encouraged to share their experience by posting photos, reflections, poems, and other updates right hear on the Yak Board, which serves both as a group blog, a way of staying connected, and a collective archive of the Bridge Year experience. During the first busy travel months, we aim for a new post roughly every four days (sometimes this means an instructor hiking to the top of a mountain to get reception and texting Dragons admin a photo or voice message for us to post, other times it might be a flurry of deep, wordy, reflections from students).

We hope that reframing technology use will help you feel more connected to our Bridge Year experience, and that the ways in which we stay connected feel thoughtful, intentional, wise, and richer in content. If you are an avid social media user, you are also highly encouraged to take a look at the Bridge Year (bridgeyearprogram) and Where There Be Dragons (wheretherebedragons) Instagram pages, where each group’s “designated Instragrammer” will post snapshots of their Bridge Year Journey. During September travel, students will also have the option to access the internet via local cybercafes for things like personal email catch-up roughly once every 7-10 days (this varies depending on itineraries and is usually not possible during most treks).

Another common question: Is it safe to be in these remote areas without access to communication? Important question! The answer is that while student access to communication is often limited, Dragons HQ has daily contact with on-site staff and have clear communication plans for emergencies (or sharing urgent communications from home) even during the remote parts of group travel (such as treks and homestays in rural areas).

Throughout the year, we will support students to ask critical questions and develop wisdom (and their own opinions!) around the use of the many wonderful communication and information technologies available to us. We invite you to join us in these conversations as the year goes on— what feel like the most meaningful ways to connect? What is the balance between technology pulling us out of the present moment and technology helping us share, learn about, or connect more deeply with the themes we explore on Bridge Year? How do we make sure we are fulfilling our important responsibility to honor relationships back home and share this educational experience with others? How can my tech use potentially facilitate my integration in a new culture?

A message for BY participants: Believe it or not, your Yak board has a following! Past BY participants, parents, friends, Princeton administrators and alumni, other BY groups, on-site staff, etc. all love to see what’s going on. To all you brilliant writers, thinkers, poets, and photographers: please know that your posts don’t have to be perfect— we love to see anything and everything you have to share, even if it feels like a work in progress!

A final invitation: To friends and family, we invite you to help us out so that participants don’t feel like their reflections and updates are ending up in a vacuum, we invite you, if you wish, to post something here on the Yak Board if you have appreciated the updates from the other side. Please see some guidance below for “best practices” re: Yak Board posting.

A Guide to Using the Yak Board for Friends & Family

GOOD (Examples of excellent friend/family Yak participation):

  • Dear Bridge Year Group, My name is Adelaide and I am Mark’s grandmother. It has been such a pleasure to see all your photos from the group service project in Uttarakhand. I watched the video you posted called “The Story of Stuff” with the women from my Mahjongg group and it sparked a lovely and interesting conversation. I recently saw a great TED talk on Women’s Entrepreneurship in India and I have included the link here in case you are interested. Please keep posting to the Yak Board— we all love seeing your photos and reading your stories! 
  • To this year’s Bridge Year Cohort: My name is Nicolina and I participated in the Bridge Year Program three years ago. Not long ago, I was reading my journal from the first month of Bridge Year, and I came across this quote from Rumi: “The cure for pain is in the pain.” I know that you’re probably still in the honeymoon phase of your Bridge Year, and I also know that at times during my nine months abroad, I sometimes felt a little bit lost. If I could go back and speak to the girl writing in that journal, I would tell her this: figure out whatever it is that truly scares you about being here, and that is your starting point. For some people in my group it was language. For me, it was worry about getting lost in the city. Guess what? I ended up working on a mapping project of the local area with my homestay father, who used to work as a civil engineer! So… find that thing that makes you feel uncomfortable, because you never know what can happen!

NOT SO USEFUL (Examples of Yak posts that are probably better as personal messages or direct questions to the Bridge Year Office):

  • Hi Mark! Happy Birthday Mark your Dad loves you so much! Your mom and I took Kylie to the pool today– she misses her big brother. Tell your friends we say hi. Your trek sounds amazing, can’t wait to hear all about it!
  • To the on-site staff: Hello, this is Wendy, Mark’s mom, can you tell him to call me? He just received his W-2 form at the house from his summer job and I want to talk to him about taxes.

We hope this gives you a good idea of how to get involved. Don’t worry— if you post something that we think is probably best sent as a personal message, we will email you directly to follow up!

Lastly, thank you so much family & friends for everything you continue to do to make the Bridge Year possible for these amazing young people. And… thanks in advance to the BY cohort of this year for generously and thoughtfully sharing your experience with the rest of us!

With Care,

Jenny & Elizabeth (Dragons Admin & loyal daily readers of all Bridge Year Yak Boards)