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

An Introduction to your Instructor, Claire

A heartfelt Namaste from the pre-monsoon hazy heat and storms of the Kathmandu valley!

My name is Claire, I am originally from the UK although I have for many years called Nepal home. I have the great privilege of being one of your instructors for this journey around this wonderful country and this venture into global leadership education.

I have a very special relationship with Nepal, which started when I first came here as a teenager. That trip was more or less the first time I had travelled outside my home country, and it totally blew my mind. The year was 2001, a challenging and eventful time for Nepal, the year when the royal family were massacred amid speculation and intrigue. Those first few months I spent in Nepal were not easy. I was challenged, I reassessed my values, and ultimately I became disillusioned with many things from my previous life. However through that disillusionment I somehow became empowered too. Many of my assumptions about my values, worldview and identity had been smashed, and it was down to Nepal.

I learned so much from the country and many people in it. I experienced the extremes of sorrow and joy, of despair and hope, of death and rebirth. Many of the guidebooks will tell you that Nepal is a beautiful country, of majestic peaks and subtropical jungle, the people humble and smiling. I would say that these qualities are meaningless unless you open yourself up and reflect on your deepest values of your authentic self. This is what I hope we can all learn and rediscover through this trip.

After falling in love with Nepal, in the most literal sense, the first time I came here, I have spent my life finding ways to meaningfully return. My deep bonds with the Nepali people I know found me spending increasing amounts of time in this country, to the point where I now consider it home. In 2005 I became a founder member of an NGO, called PHASE, an organization working towards the empowerment of some of Nepal’s (and the world’s) most remote and isolated communities. I would love to share more about the work that they do when we are together.

I have spent a large part of my life working in the field of international development, with all the richness, frustration and complexity that accompanies that. However, over the years I have become a little disillusioned with the “industry of helping people”, and these days I am much more comfortable working in education – specifically the kind of immersive, experiential education exemplified by Dragons. While development tends to impose solutions (often the wrong ones), education allows us to ask the questions, and possibly end up somewhere very different to where you expected.

Nelson Mandela said at a Make Poverty History rally in London in 2005, where I was humbly in attendance: “Education is the greatest weapon we can use to change the world.” What a big task to have been set by such a great leader. This is ultimately why I think our journey together this summer is going to be so important – because it has arguably never been so important as it is now to shape student voices and activism in our roles as educators.

These days, when I am not working with Dragons I work as a consultant, usually in the fields of international volunteering and service learning. I am an author of the book “Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad.” Learning service is an approach to international travel where learning comes first and is of primary importance to any community engagement program. Dragons has fully embraced this philosophy and has it as a core component to all its programs – and as it is a key learning theme for our trip, then it is something about which we will be learning more as we travel together!

I want to thank you for making the choice to come on this program. Our hope is that this trip will challenge you to step outside your comfort zone in a big way, and if you embrace it, you are likely to have a most profound learning encounter.

I can’t wait to meet you in a few short months, to discuss our hopes and goals and views of the world over a hot cup of ‘chiya’ (something that the British and the Nepalese have in common – the cultural significance of TEA!)

With excitement for the trip ahead, your instructor