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Peru 4B group, summer 2019

Instructor Introduction

Hola Dragoncitos!

My name is Zack Siddall (he/him) and I have the distinct pleasure of being one of your instructors this summer in Peru. Far from Peru, 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 celebrities, I was star struck. 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 United States. This will be my 20th program with Dragons and my 9th in Peru. Each time I return to Peru I find more things to fall in love with. Humbling mountains, diverse rainforests, delicious food (don’t worry no ubugali) and most importantly the countless amazing people that call Peru home.

Last fall I helped create and then ran one of Dragons’ first domestic semester programs, the Rio Grande Semester. Our semester last fall in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas came with some challenges of course, as will this summer in Peru. Even if you’re vaccinated, we’ll have to take some very deliberate (and by now common practice) steps to ensure our own safety and more importantly the safety of our friends in Peru. While its sad that we can’t quite return to “normal” travel I can speak from experience that these programs are still incredibly powerful. I may even argue that this summer has the potential to be even more impactful than normal. This past year has been really heavy for all of us. The simple act of building an intentional community where we can process the pandemic together has proven to be incredibly beneficial. As well let’s just have some good fashion fun together! Let’s climb mountains! Camp out and cook backcountry meals together! Search for exotic animals in the Amazon! Learn from and be inspired by local teachers/guides/activists/etc!

As you gear up for this upcoming summer 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 on past programs. Or you can do whatever speaks to you.
  2. Brush up on your Spanish. I know its daunting and humbling to learn a new language but even a few phrases can go a long way in connecting with locals.
  3. Get out and hike/walk a couple times a week and get a handful of longer hikes (8+ miles) under your belt before we meet in July. Wear the hiking boots that you will bring on the trip on these hikes, in order to break them in. Our treks will be challenging but we’re not doing anything that requires technical skill or special gear. Many students get nervous about the idea of trekking. We’ll talk about this more but know that our approach is focused on connecting to the land and to each other, not about “conquering mountains” or “bagging 14’ers brah” as some folks say here in Colorado. You will be pushed physically and mentally but the goal is to enjoy the experience.
  4. 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.

Soon my team and I will be reaching out to y’all to get to know you better and answer any questions you may have. 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.

Zack