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Instructor Introduction

Hello Dragons Students!

My name is Zack Siddall (he/him) and I have the distinct pleasure of being one of your instructors this fall on the Rio Grande Semester. Way back in 2012 while serving in the US Peace Corps in Rwanda a friend of mine told me about this group of “Dragons” that was traveling around the country, living with Rwandan families and learning about Rwanda’s rich and complex culture/history. I remember as clearly as if it was yesterday walking into the tiny Musanze restaurant to see a group of foreigners struggling to consume a mountain of ubugali, a Rwandan staple of cassava flour boiled into a gelatinous blob. With a smell of sweaty feet and the texture of stale marshmallows ubugali is an acquired taste to say the least. Meeting their instructors Jamie and Emmanuel was like meeting Ruth Bader Ginsburg (or whoever you young people think is cool these days). They dove deep into controversial topics, leaned into spaces of vulnerability, challenged the students to see past the single story of Rwanda. I wanted to be like them. Upon finishing my time with the Peace Corps I applied to Dragons and was given the opportunity to lead their 2013 Rwanda summer program alongside the rockstar Emmanuel himself. That first program was like a slap to the face, in the most beautiful way possible. I learned so much about myself and developed an even deeper understanding/love for Rwanda.

Since Rwanda I have been working with Dragons in Central/South America, China, Kyrgyzstan and here in the Boulder office. This will be my 19th program with Dragons but my first one in the United States! I’ve worked with other travel organizations in the US and I’m excited to help expand this new side of Dragons. Through my work with Dragons in Latin America, working as an EMT for refugees seeking asylum in Greece, teaching Congolese refugees displaced in Rwanda and my work against the inhumane practices of the ICE Detention Center here in Colorado, immigration rights has become a topic near and dear to my heart. I’m excited to dive into that topic and many others with y’all this semester.

Even after all these years I still get nervous before a program. I’m in my 30s but part of me still wonders, “oh man are the other folks on this trip going to like me?” That nervousness is natural and part of the excitement of the adventure. As your excitement, and nerves, grow as the start date of this program rapidly approaches I remind myself and encourage y’all to take comfort in the fact that we got insanely lucky by being teamed up with Luis Alvarado and Maddie Melton. You really could not have asked for a more solid team. I met Luis back at the very beginning of my Dragons career in the Guatemalan town of Quetzaltenango and he was already one of Dragons’ most veteran instructors back then in 2013. I’ve been blessed to work with him on multiple occasions throughout Latin America over the years and each time I work with him he teaches me so much. I’ve never worked directly with Maddie but we’ve both worked extensively in China. Her back country skills, medical training, teaching experience and the impressive number of stamps in her passport will teach us all so much about ourselves and the world around us.

As you gear up for this upcoming semester I’d like to ask you a couple quick favors:

  1. Please post an introduction here on our Yak Board. Let’s get to know each other a bit. If you don’t know what to post you can look at some of the examples from students that have already posted on the Colorado River Basin Semester Yak Board. Or you can do whatever speaks to you.
  2. This one’s a bit more abstract but even more important. Doing a program like this takes courage and the decision to do it is a heavy and intentional one. Please take some time in these next couple weeks leading up to our course to set some goals for yourself for our time together. The point of a Dragons program is to learn about the world around us and about ourselves. Come with questions. Come with an open mind and willingness to make mistakes. Remember that everyone else in the group is likely just as nervous as you are, but also like you they are excited to make new friends and experience personal growth. This trip truly is what you make it.

In a few days Maddie, Luis and I will be reaching out to y’all to get to know you better. If at any point you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me at [email protected].

I’m so excited to meet you all soon and start this epic adventure together.