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Photo by Sampor Burke, Mekong Semester.

Welcome and introductions

Hi crew!

No doubt you are mid-preparation for what is likely to be one of the most eye-opening, transformative and memorable adventures.  I imagine there are a lot of questions in your mind around the experience, the others in the group, the foods we will eat, the modes of transport we will catch, the photos you’ll return home with, the homes you will stay in, and the things that will make you laugh and, perhaps, shed a tear!  In many ways, the experience has already begun as you navigate these pre-departure butterflies.

My mother (a wise woman!) always told me that butterflies are one of the most powerful motivators once they ‘fly in formation’.  For me, setting intentions, reflecting on what I have to offer any given situation, and resolving to look and listen before speaking and doing help to establish this formation and enable nerves to evolve into excitement.  So I really do encourage you to spend some time setting intentions and mulling over what makes you, well, you!  Because you can’t be anybody else.

Over the next few months, the exposure to new cultures and ‘ways of being’ are likely to create shifts in how you contextualise yourself in this dynamic and fascinating planet.  Even though much of what we experience may feel pretty foreign, in many ways, these experiences will act as reference points for you throughout the rest of your life as you ask big questions like: What do I want to contribute to the world as a global citizen?  How can I do this?  What are some key ingredients for sustainable happiness?  How can I use what I’ve learnt from others to be my best self?

These are certainly questions that have constantly returned to my radar after many years living and working in Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, the USA, South Africa, amongst other places.  For instance, the resilience I saw in characters I met while working on a capacity-building project in post-conflict Sri Lanka influenced how I carried myself and approached an instructional design role at Stanford University; the approach to creating calm and still I learnt through exposure to religion in Cambodia influenced how I handled stress in the frenetic Hong Kong!  The list could go on here – but the point I want to make is that this program will help you discover parts of yourself that will act as a toolkit long after the experience itself.  So congratulations for taking the brave first step by choosing to challenge default ideas about who we are, how we should be, and what we can contribute to the global dynamic.

I grew up in South Africa during both my and the nation’s formative years.  This instilled in me a sense of reflection on the role of a citizen in diverse and transformative environments.  And, to be honest, may of the environments we find ourselves in fit just this bill!  I had the wonderful opportunity to apply these youthful reflections by leaving my comfort zone for an exploration of culture, language, religion, global dynamics, and – most of all – a deep look into myself!  Driven by cultural curiosity and an evolving career in education, development, and language, I had the opportunity to work in progressive environments, including lecturing in higher education, aid, and charity organisations.  This has helped me evolve my sense of self and understanding of what it means to be a global citizen.  Importantly, It has also helped me to develop a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for what we share rather than what divides.

With that, enjoy the final wrapping up of loose ends at home, getting those butterflies to fly in formation, and the excitement of taking a jump into something that will only be understood through experience!

I so look forward to getting to know you all.

Warmest wishes,

Steve.