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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Hi from Pennsylvania!

Selamat Tahun Baru! Happy New Year!

Apa kabar? How are you?

My name is Colin and I will be one of the instructors this spring, along with Bradford and Rita. I have been working with Dragons in Indonesia for the last few seasons, and I am excited to be taking this big step with each of you to travel to new places, to figure out how to get our bearings, and to see some of the most unique nature and culture on Earth! In this post I will share a little bit about my background, and I look forward to reading your introduction yak posts and meeting in person in early February.

I’m writing this greeting from my parents’ home along the Delaware River in southeastern Pennsylvania. It is chilly here, and I have been busy this winter break reveling in not being busy. For the past few weeks, I have been going on walks along the Delaware Canal (listening to the frosty crunch of my footsteps break the cold silence, occasionally also broken by a chorus of honking geese overhead), playing variations of duck-duck-goose with my niece and nephew (for example, narwhal-narwhal-unicorn; mouse-mouse-hawk; tomato-tomato-sauce; and on and on and on), playing with my parents’ coffee grinder, watching the fire in our woodstove, and catching up on some novels, short stories, and podcasts.

I grew up in this rural village of about 400 people here in southeastern Pennsylvania, and I started seeking travel opportunities as soon as I could convince my parents to let me go out exploring. After high school, I moved toward the big city (Philly) to study anthropology and peace and conflict studies at Haverford College. During my first semester, I was searching for creative outlets and got involved in a mural project with group of visiting artists. It was a fun project and since I really bonded with the artists, the professor who organized their visit helped me to apply for a fellowship from the college to spend my summer break working with the artists in Indonesia. I was awarded the fellowship and spent the summer in Jogja (aka Yogya, aka Jogjakarta, aka Yogyakarta) painting, living in a boarding house with local university students, studying the national language, trying as many new foods as possible, and falling in love with the country. While I kept finding chances to return to Indonesia, I also wanted to keep visiting new places. I studied abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, taking courses in environmental studies and critical theory. I took every chance I got to explore another corner of the South African landscape, and traveled with friends up through Namibia to see its stunning desert coasts.

After undergrad, between trips to Morocco and the Persian Gulf, I returned to Indonesia on a Fulbright fellowship to study mural arts and the production of public space as a guest researcher with the Center for History and Political Ethics at Sanata Dharma University. After completing the project, I moved to southern California to get a PhD in anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. During grad school, I spent my summers doing preliminary research in Indonesia, and my project quickly shuffled to cultural and biosecurity issues facing the country’s growing kopi luwak industry. I now know way too much about kopi luwak, aka civet coffee, aka “cat poop” coffee, having spent years researching with kopi luwak producers across Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Sulawesi. I also learned an odd amount about civet biology, small carnivore conservation, and the history of the Indonesian coffee industry. Since filing my dissertation, “Feral Natures and Excremental Commodities: Purity, Scale, and the More-than-Human in Indonesia,” and getting my doctorate in December 2017, I had been managing a specialty coffeeshop in West LA while working on academic journal articles, getting back into reading novels, and growing my small collection of the plants of Madagascar (whose brethren I visited on a Dragons summer program in Madagascar) and the Socotra archipelago (between Yemen and Somalia). On a whim, I joined Dragons and am not looking back!

I spend a lot of my time playing around with coffee and thinking about the relationship between flavor and the unique environments of production. I also spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship between nature and culture. I’m a nature-lover, and there is arguably no better place to be captivated by plants and animals than in Indonesia. Each semester is an opportunity for me to think about the kind of life I want to be living, to meet new people and to learn about new ways of living, and to keep falling in love with the natural environments of Indonesia.

I’m so excited that you are taking this leap with us, and I’m looking forward to traveling to see some incredible nature with you all this Spring! It has been an amazing privilege that I get to spend time and travel in Indonesia, and I can’t wait to share this experience with our group.

I leave for Vietnam in a little over a week, and I’ll be traveling there until the start of our program, but I will be checking the boards and my email regularly, so don’t be shy about posting any questions!

Sampai bertemu di Jakarta! Until we meet in Jakarta!

Colin