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Instructor Introduction: Elke

Salaam Alekum,

اسلا عليكم

In less than a month, we’ll be meeting each other at Arrivals in Casablanca. Some days, it feels that it’s just around the corner, and other days, it feels still so far away. As I think of the adventure ahead, it feels like I am returning – to Morocco, to Thacher, and to immersive travel. I first traveled to Morocco with Where There Be Dragons in 2018, and I was intrigued by its history, its ethnic and geological diversity, and the way modern Morocco reflects this. I still have so much to learn about this country and its people. I can’t think of any other group that I’d like to learn alongside! I first joined Thacher in Senegal in 2016, and I was impressed with the students and their engagement on course. I am incredibly excited to join you all for my second adventure with Thacher and in Morocco. An opportunity to return to both, but also to learn and discover more of this country and its people, learning alongside you.

I am coming up on my 8th year working with Dragons, and the question that I still come back to is, Why do I travel? I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the place where I grew up and went to university. It often feels familiar, which can be both comforting but at times mundane. Travel, for me, is a time to reset, to be reinvigorated, and re-inspired. I always return with new questions about the world as well as my home.

I came to Dragons from the world of international development. I had been working in Dakar, Senegal, at the international headquarters for an organization dedicated to community empowerment through non-formal education. I was living in a place that I loved, alongside a team that I adored and respected, on issues that I cared about. But I still wanted something more. Jennifer Lee (a screenwriter and director whose work includes Frozen and A Wrinkle in Time) said, “Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” I couldn’t believe that I had somehow made my way back to Senegal after having studied abroad there during university. But yet, my office felt far away from the Senegal that I knew, even though I was living in the country. And I didn’t feel that fire – that soul-touching fire that Jennifer Lee referred to.

At the time, a participant of the Bridge Year Program (a partnership between Where There Be Dragons and Princeton) was volunteering in my department. And, oh the tales he would tell! He would come into the office with wonderful stories of his homestay family and learning Wolof around the shared lunch bowl. He would come back from week-long treks, telling the stories from nights exchanging tales with villagers over the campfire. When an opportunity came up to join Dragons, I was hesitant to leave the familiar, but I was starting to feel that fire-in-the-soul again.

I have been with Where There Be Dragons since 2013. And, when I look back, I know that each of those days, my soul has been on fire. In learning local languages, I have learned different ways of expressing our reality. By cooking with my homestay mother, I have learned the beautiful gift of food and the joys of sharing the fruits of our labor. In making tea late at night, I have learned the sweet rewards of patience and the ability of conversation to make the hours slip by unnoticed.

Why do we travel? Dragons has shown me a way of traveling that asks us to be engaged, active learners. Eleanor Roosevelt (yes, that Eleanor Roosevelt) said, “Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively, unless you can choose a challenge instead of a competence.” This course will ask you to lean into discomfort, meet challenges, and encounter the unknown. And that is what I love about working for Dragons.

But, I want to ask you: Why do you travel? What are your goals for this course? Where are you coming from and where do you want to end up? This course will engage us with diverse points of view, challenge us to reframe our thinking, and ask us to go deep and to question further. And this course will continue to live with you beyond your time in Morocco – in the words of Miriam Beard (author and advocate of social justice), “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.”

To close, in the words of Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes: “It’s a magical world, Hobbes, ol’ buddy… Let’s go exploring!”

Until soon,

Elke

Picture 1: Hiking through the mangroves of in Casamance, southern Senegal.

Picture 2: My Senegalese host father, whom I first met in 2009, and I during Tabaski (or Eid al-Adha). He has taught me so much about hospitality and generosity!