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Nepal Semester Student's Catherine Von Holt's photograph of the Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu.

Greetings From Your Instructor

Namaste Fellow Traveler,

Very soon we will be journeying together in a country and culture probably very different from that which you have known.  We don’t know each other yet, but by the end of our program, we will have shared so much– the thick and thin, ups and downs, hardships and joys of traveling, learning, and living together sometimes twenty-four hours a day– that we will know each other quite well indeed.  We will have shared the bonds of challenges overcome, hardships endured, memories shared, strange sights seen, different places visited, and hopefully, a lot of shared joy and laughter.

Nepal! I hope that you are excited and nervous to explore that country as I am. I trust that thoughts and dreams about early-morning hiking in the Himalaya Mountains, dusty travel and long, bouncing bus rides, Nepali classes, meeting your homestay family, and strange foods have started floating around inside your mind.  You likely have a lot of questions: What should I pack?  What will my fellow travelers be like?  Where will we go and what will we do?

This Yak Board is the place for you to ask these questions and to get to know your fellow travelers.  I am Parker and, along with Sharon, I’ll be you instructor for your Nepal Study-Abroad Program.  Along with our introductions, we will be posting other important information to this Yak board, so please keep an eye on it.  We eagerly await your introductions. Please tell us a bit about yourself, where you are at in your life, and what you are excited to learn, explore, experience, or study while in Nepal.

A bit about me:

I grew up way out in the countryside— among the swamps, pine scrub, and crystal clear springs of North Florida.  I grew up with hundreds of acres to run around in; I didn’t wear shoes much, and we had lots of animals.  I went to a small progressive school in which we were given lots of freedom and responsibility with which to explore and find out what we liked.  At Dragons, we want to give you similar opportunities to explore broadly and learn deeply, develop your passions, and live a full life.

My educational background and experience is most deeply rooted in China where I have lived and worked for many years and studied while at the University of Florida and Harvard University. But I have also been studying and traveling extensively through much of Asia and the rest of the world for the last fourteen years.  Over the last six years, I’ve led many Dragons programs in China, India, Myanmar, Southeast Asia, Morocco, and Central and South America.  Prior to spending the last year exploring the Andes Mountains in Bolivia and Peru and the volcanic peaks and Mayan culture in Guatemala, I was largely based in north India—living in India’s oldest, holiest city of Varanasi along the banks of the Ganges River and trekking in the Himalayas in Sikkim and Kashmir/Ladakh.

Other than two short trips there, I do not have deep experience in Nepal, so I will be learning about that place and culture along with you.  Since I will be a learner in that place, please be patient with me as I learn the language, the dos and don’ts, what is good to eat, history and politics, and many other things. (Luckily we have Sharon who is from the region and has tons of experience in Nepal, along with a cohort of other local coordinators and contacts to interact and learn from).

I enjoy slacklining, reading, being silly, and getting lost in new places.  Two summers ago I hiked the 2,650 mile-long Pacific Crest Trail, which took me five months and caused me to lose over 40 pounds.  I enjoy long-distance overland travel.  I once traveled overland (no planes allowed) from Indonesia to the United States by way of Eurasia via bus, train, and ship (including the week-long Trans-Siberian railway through Russia). I am in a relatively new, serious relationship which has become a big part of my life. You’ll learn more about her soon.

We will soon embark on our journey together. We will travel as a group that supports and encourages one another, but we will experience the music of the world as individuals. We leave behind the four square walls of the classrooms that we have inhabited for many years in order to go out into the world: to see and hear; to explore and question; to make mistakes; to learn, grow and laugh.

If you return home unsettled by what you’ve seen– having more questions and less answers– then I will consider it a trip worth taking.  Living in rhythm with daily Buddhist and Hindu prayers and rituals; endless cups of chai tea; young cab drivers working to support a younger sibling’s education; locals playing music and dancing; farmers leaving early in the morning to do seasonal agricultural work.  These haunting memories make up the invisible side of our lives.  Some, even, will never leave you.

Throughout my travels I have come to identify two interconnected aspects of travel that I find crucial. First, when confronted by the foreign and the “Other”, we are newly attentive to the myriad of fascinating details that surround us always. Only by escaping our familiar environment and self-comforting routines do our eyes truly open and grow clear; our prejudices and narrow-mindedness become overthrown. The things that you think you know about the world will meet with new uncertainty.

The traveler must confront questions and challenges that he would never see at home. Truly “the destination is never a place, but a new way of seeings things.” I ask each of you to begin your time in Nepal with an open and curious mind, what we could call the Beginner’s Mind.  The more you are able to leave pre-conceived notions of South Asia, and family, and society, the Developing world, and poverty, and all the rest behind and experience our trip first hand– in the moment– the more you will get out of this program.

Imagine: you are sitting in a diesel bus, going from Kathmandu to a small village. You are surrounded by locals– maybe they are taking vegetables to market or seeing a friend or family member not seen for quite some time– they are chatting in a language you don’t yet understand; out the window is unfamiliar scenery. You are dirty and sweaty; maybe your stomach hurts a bit and you are tired too. And all of a sudden, a feeling of peace and serenity overcomes you. Who cares whether you are dirty or tired? What does it matter that your bag of clothes just might tumble off the top of the bus? There will be other clothes. In that moment, as your many worries and cares fade into the background, you become more attuned to the myriad of senses surrounding you. You are in the moment and present in a way that you experience but a few times in life. That is the second part of travel that I find indispensable.

Finally, I want to leave you with supreme gratitude for choosing to undertake this learning adventure.  There is so much that I hope to learn from you during our time together.  I look forward to getting to know you better as time passes.  To that end, I look forward to reading your introductions on the yak board soon!

Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions or post your questions directly to the Yak Board.

Parker Pflaum
parkerpflaum@gmail.com