Here is a quick note about our electronics policy on course. Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to post a yak.
First…We know it’s tough. We know it’s rough. But the trip will be better without this stuff.
Over twenty years ago, when the first Dragons program headed over to China, almost nobody had or needed cell phones, even when traveling abroad. With that in mind, let us clarify: PLEASE DO NOT BRING cell phones, computers, tablets, i-pod touches, or any other personal electronic that allows you to surf the Internet or be in constant contact with home. If you need to bring your cell phone for communication with home during your travel to and from your rendezvous point with the group, that’s ok (although we’d encourage you to think about writing down phone numbers and calling from airport/pay phones along the way), but please understand that your instructors will be holding on to it once the program begins (more below).
Even if you use your cell phone as a camera, we ask that you please seek an alternative. If you bring any of these devices, we’ll ask you to turn it in to us, and it will be returned to you at the end of the program. We will do our best to care for any phone we hold for you, but we’ll be traveling across the enormous country of China and any loss or damage will be your responsibility.
You can bring: MP3 players (such as iPod Minis), cameras, and Kindles or other E-readers (whose primary function is reading, not surfing the Internet). These devices are OK. Everyone needs their alone and comfort time, and we love reading and music too! Still, these items do have the potential to become crutches, allowing us to disengage especially when things feel difficult but when we might benefit more from staying in that difficult moment. We’ll just ask that you use these items only at appropriate times, such as on long train/bus rides or when you’re lying in bed at the end of a day. When deciding what to bring, we just ask you to consider how it may affect your engagement and presence during this summer.
This electronics policy is in place to help our trip and us in a few ways:
Over the years we have accumulated data that shows that students who are in too frequent contact with parents (via Skype or cell phone) will report health issues, especially seemingly embarrassing ones such as diarrhea, to parents and not to instructors. It doesn’t help us help you when your parents know you have a cut, but we only find out three days later after your parents have called our administration in Boulder and then administration calls us. By then, that small cut could have become infected. That diarrhea could have led to serious dehydration. If you report these small issues to instructors directly, we can solve the issue before it turns into a problem. It is simply a fact that all too often cell phones and constant access to parents via the Internet leads to this sort of breakdown in communication.
Another thing we’ve learned running courses for so long is that students who feel homesick continue to feel homesick when they stay in close contact with friends and family at home. On the other hand, those students who push themselves to leave home behind and engage in the course feel less homesick. We don’t ever want to discourage you from checking in with loved ones, but if you’ve got that easy access to a phone or internet device, you will contact loved ones more, and as a result, you will have a harder time engaging fully in the experience and will feel more homesick. On program, we will organize times for you to call home to speak to your parents and loved ones – and if you need to be in touch any time, we will help make that happen quickly.
We will be traveling to places where people get by with few, if any, luxury goods. Having a group of teenagers whipping out their iPads all the time to take photos isn’t the kind of impression we want people to have of us. We’d rather engage these people in a conversation or take part in their routines. In addition, we’d like to cultivate a group that focuses on things beyond material possessions. Less stuff helps us to do this.
Theft and Damage:
We don’t want your stuff to get broken or stolen! So if you’re bringing things that won’t survive being mashed underneath other peoples’ bags on an overnight bus or rained on during a muddy hike, know what you’re getting into. Also, pick pocketing is a common problem in crowded public spaces, such as busses. Another thing to consider is what is the effect on the local community when something of ours is lost or stolen? Especially for rural host communities, you losing or having an iPhone stolen while a guest of their homes can be very awkward for our hosts and might even prevent that community from hosting future groups.
Mobile phones and Internet devices rack up roaming charges. Students can accidentally be charged huge amounts of money using their phone or downloading things outside of the U.S. You don’t want to receive a call on that cell phone from your parents who are calling to say the monthly bill has just arrived and you owe four hundred dollars for downloading a book and two episodes of Game of Thrones while in China.
Engagement in Your Experience:
One of the biggest reasons to leave as many of your electronics home as you can is that having fewer of these buzzing, beeping, notifying, messaging, attention-dividing things in our life allows us the mental quietness we need to engage in deep conversation with ourselves. An essential step in growing up is learning to be with yourself, regardless of whether you are struggling or looking a beautiful landscape or having an overwhelming moment of being able to see the world from a completely new perspective. You’ll also be challenged to sit through those quiet or awkward times where you might want to pull out your phone as a way to protect yourself from discomfort. Through all this, you’ll grow. We guarantee. In short, less access to technology will help you more fully engage yourself, your peers, the local communities, and the land we travel through.
We spend so much time explaining our electronics policy because we want you to be on board with it. We want you to see why we ask you to leave these things behind. It truly is for the benefit each student, all your classmates, the whole group, the instructors, our host communities, and your loved ones back at home. Leaving home at home will allow you to be fully engaged in China and will give you the freedom to grow into a greater version of yourself.
Please note that instructors also carry cell phones as well as laptops/ipads at all times and can be in touch with our Boulder office immediately in case there is urgent need. We also work very quickly to put students in touch with their families by phone if there is urgent need. Our course will have at least one laptop that students will be able to use even while traveling to write Yaks and check emails.
Marcus, Maddie, Tindy, and Pei