I hope this note finds you and your families well, wherever you may be at the moment. I write to you from an airplane somewhere over the Pacific, as I return to my current home base of New York to prepare for our journey together this summer. It may be hard to imagine that in a little over one month, we will be in Myanmar together, perhaps trekking the Shan Hills to meet our homestay families; sharing bowls of mohinga at the morning market; or learning about Theravada Buddhism and meditation at an ancient monastery.
My name is Hannah Joy Sachs and I will be one of your three instructors, along with the wonderful Siang and Greg. Although I have spent time working, studying, and exploring Southeast Asia over the past several years, this will be my first time instructing a course with Dragons. As our departure date approaches, I am filled with joy, excitement, anticipation, gratitude, and a hint of nervousness. Just as I gather you may be feeling, too.
A bit about me: Raised by a multiracial, multicultural family in a relatively homogenous suburb of New York City, I have grappled with my identity and sense of belonging for as long as I can remember. Beginning in high school, I actively sought out opportunities in which I could learn about new cultures, visit new countries, and meet new people with backgrounds dramatically different from my own. I found self-confidence yet humility, purpose yet endless questions, and a new critical understanding of the world and myself through travel—and it made me want to explore the world even more.
I earned my BA in sociology from Davidson College before pursuing an MSc in human migration studies from University of Oxford. My research has focused on identity and community building across borders. I am particularly interested in marginalized communities and their stories of resistance and resilience. These topics have led me to study abroad experiences in China, Thailand, Laos, and England. I’ve also had the pleasure of program leading critical issues and community service programs for young adults throughout Southeast Asia, China, and the United States.
While I have been privileged to visit many places in this world, I always gravitate back to Southeast Asia because of its complex ethnic group dynamics, its raw beauty, its rich history, and its peoples’ boundless hospitality. Despite the international news focusing only on the devastating and the violent (don’t get me wrong—these are very real issues and concerns), I have found that at its very core, Myanmar is truly a mystical, magical place filled with diverse communities who coexist and interact peacefully, generously, and kindly. I applaud you all for enrolling in this Myanmar course and challenging yourself to visit a place where many do not. I cannot wait to witness the country through your eyes and share this unique journey with you all.
A few things to consider as you prepare for our course. While travel is, to me, about embracing the unexpected and adapting accordingly, there are a few things you can expect. You should expect to leave your comfort zone—repeatedly. During our program, you may feel unsettled and you may feel fulfilment you’ve never before experienced. What we witness and learn may bring tears of pain or joy. And—if Greg, Siang, and I do our jobs right—you will hopefully return from Myanmar with more questions than answers.
You have undoubtedly all chosen this program for different reasons. Nevertheless, over the course of a month, we will become one community. Until then, keep an eye on this Yak Board for important updates about our course. Also, I encourage you to use this space to introduce yourselves. Enjoy your spring and look forward to getting to know you all in person very soon!