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Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Instructor Introduction

Hola Dragones,

I am writing to you from parents’ home in Maine where I am taking a brief rest after a month of travel in the Andes and Amazon regions of Peru. I just finished leading a four-week program for high school students and I am excited to return to Urubamba in a few weeks to prepare for your arrival!

This summer was my first time traveling in Peru. I was fortunate to lead the program with two Peruvian instructors, and focused my efforts on learning as much as possible from them and from community members about Peruvian history, society, culture, and ecosystems. I am excited to share with you what I learned and also to continue learning alongside you. In addition to facilitating program logistics, I will be instructing the Research Methods (ISP) course. I am looking forward to hearing more about the topics that interest you, and helping you craft your independent study projects.

My favorite experience in Peru this summer was in Paru Paru, where we stayed with a Quechua community high up in the Andes. We were able to learn about their methods of sustainable agriculture and their efforts to preserve potato varieties, as well as their use of plants for traditional medicines and dyes for textiles. We learned about their deep connection with Pachamama, the mother spirit of the land, and their ritual ceremonies with coca leaves. The communities we spend time with are the absolute highlight of Dragon’s program. There is no better way to learn about a culture than by sleeping in someone’s home and eating at their table. We are privileged to be able to learn through this type of immersion, and I am excited to share more experiences like this one with you.

To give you a better sense of my background: my childhood in Maine was community oriented, close to nature, and relatively absent of cultural diversity. I started to travel outside of the United States at a fairly young age with my parents, and then took every opportunity I could to learn from travel. I spent extended time living in Israel, India, and Costa Rica, focusing my formal studies on intercultural conflict and peacebuilding, but informally learning about so many different things.  Over time, I started to focus less on conflicts between countries, and more on conflicts between individuals and peacebuilding inside oneself and within one’s community.

I developed my capacity as a wilderness educator, group facilitator, and leadership coach through working with organizations like Outward Bound, World Learning, the Outdoor Academy, and the Alzar School, as well as Davidson College and Florida State University. I also hold a Master of Arts in Peace Education from the United Nations mandated University for Peace. Professionally, for the last ten years I have been guiding people through unfamiliar environments in order to foster self-discovery and personal empowerment; teaching tools for effective communication and conflict transformation; and coaching critical reflection, leadership development, and community engagement.  My personal passions usually take me outside – backpacking, paddling, bicycling, rock climbing, and skiing. I also love cooking, dancing, singing, crafting, and practicing yoga.

As an instructor on this program, I hope that I can inspire intentionality with our thoughts, words, and actions and that together we can practice humility, curiosity, and generosity as we travel in Peru and Bolivia. I hope we can support each other in digging deep into the process of self-exploration, community building, and cross-cultural engagement. I can imagine that you are feeling very excited and maybe also a little nervous – whether for the level of physical challenge, the new people you will meet, or the lack of familiarity and comforts of home. It takes courage to commit to this experience. Whatever you are feeling, you are not alone, and we will learn to support each other like family.

In addition to the physical preparations, I encourage you to take time to mentally and emotionally prepare: What are you hoping to learn about? What are you nervous about? What are you excited about? What parts of yourself do you want to share with our community? Is there anything you want to leave behind?

Please bring up any questions or concerns that you have on the yak board or when we talk on the phone in a couple of weeks. I am so excited to meet you! In the meantime, enjoy your last weeks of summer.

Hasta pronto,

Kaela