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Andean priest and spiritual leader, Don Fabian Champi Apaza. Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Allillanchu

Allillanchu, students!

(¿Cómo están, estudiantes? / “How are you, students!” in Quechua)

I am writing to you from Villahermosa, Tabasco right now, a state in Southern Mexico near the border with Guatemala. I am on a road trip through Tabasco and Chiapas with one of my best friends, who I met when I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru four years ago. Yesterday we visited El Museo de la Venta, where the Mexican poet Carlos Pellicer Cámara moved the giant Olmec heads to in 1958 from their original site due to oil extractivism. On Monday, right before I flew to Mexico City, I moved out of my tiny apartment in lower Manhattan, where I had been living for the past six years. It is emotional and exhausting to root myself up from somewhere that I had been living since I started college, but it is also exciting!! And I cannot wait to meet up with all of you in the Andes in less than a month 🙂

I visited the Andes for the first time under similar circumstances as you all: on that study abroad semester in Cusco that I mentioned, when I was a junior in college. The experience would change my life in ways I never could have imagined. I was drawn to the Andes because of the mountains, but I fell in love because of the incredible culture, history, politics, and people — from whom I learned so much, and continue to do so. I returned to Peru on my own several times after, initially because I decided to study Quechua, the ancient language of the Incan Empire and the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages in all of the Americas. I spent half of my senior year living and learning in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia. This past May, I graduated from a Master’s program at NYU, a joint program between the journalism school and the Center on Latin American and Caribbean studies. During the program, I focused on Indigenous political movements and truth and memory justice movements, both in the Andes and in the lowlands of the Amazon. It was that first trip in Cusco that started everything for me, and is the reason I am who I am today—and I cannot wait to help foster similarly transformative experiences with all of you. And we will also be starting in Cusco!!!

This will be my first semester-long course with Dragons, though my two co-instructors have years of collective experience instructing with Dragons in Latin America, so you can rest assured we will be in good hands. In many profound ways, this is going to be just as much an exciting and new experience for me as it will be for you. I cannot wait for the rich and complicated conversations I am sure we will all share as we spend our time trekking through the Andes or walking through the streets of some of the most historically rich cities in the entire world. Be careful, or you may very well fall in love with the place and never want to leave, just like I did. Cochabamba, in particular, holds a very special place in my heart: from the food to the landscape to the people, it is hands down the most loving and beautiful place I have ever had the privilege of living, and I am grateful every time I get to go back. I am beyond ecstatic to return to the “City of Eternal Spring” with all of you. I also cannot wait to hear what excites each and every one of you about the incredibly special places that we will encounter in Peru and Bolivia, and I already know I will learn so much from all of you as well.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions, or any ideas you want to share about our course before we meet in mid September. In the meantime, I wish you peace in whatever streets, mountains, or rivers you may find yourself in today.

Tupananchiskama!    (“hasta luego! / “until next time!” in Quechua),

Jac