Monday, September 19, 2011

180 degrees

The whiteboard schedule that sits above my desk is color-coded. Red is for sessions that the students have without us. Black is for sessions we have without the students. Blue is for sessions we have with the students.

For the first month of the semester, the schedule was mostly blue. Every once in a while, there was Thai class scattered in there in red but those were always simultaneously scheduled alongside a black planning session, and were always followed by something blue. We thought that was intense, but that was nothing compared to the Mock Unit which literally four days of straight blue.

But not four days later, the schedule is all red. Orientation is officially over and we've passed the batons. The semester is in the hands of the students. They've chosen their process and unit facilitators. The former remain constant throughout the entire semester and oversee the ups and downs in the group's process in working and living with one another. The latter switch every unit, and are responsible for facilitating the learning process for the group in terms of content. Currently, the Unit 1 facilitators are plowing away at planning the first Reading Activities and Discussion and Briefing session for the agriculture unit. We sit and wait in our office for them to come up with goals, brainstorms, agendas so they can check in with us, and then we help them do run-throughs, but ultimately it's their gig. We have no control over what happens in there. We guide and suggest, critique and evaluate, facilitating the small group to be able to facilitate the large group. It's terrifying at times, because empowering others means letting go of control, letting go and allowing people to learn from their mistakes and improve themselves. Having us up there facilitating sessions may have taught them something about whatever topic the session entailed, but it didn't teach them how to teach themselves and others, how to truly work as a team to achieve something.  Now they have the foundation and need to run with it.

When we're not checking in with them, we complete other tasks in our office, overwhelmed by what we can't do in order to get people through the learning process. Our involvement hinders the learning; every time we fix  their process means one less time that they were able to fix it themselves. Man, it's so crazy to be on this end of things- understanding the structure, the learning phases and model, the end goal; not just going through the motions because there's a program set up for me to do so. Then I think how much more fulfilled I am as a P'Fac, and realize that I'm just one level up in the cycle. This is a learning process for me too; these structures are here to push us as well, but it's easy to forget that, when you're bopping around from meeting to meeting with staff, making decisions about larger program structures, accessing things you weren't able to as a student. I think about Miles and Shayne, the P'Facs I worked with as a UFac, and what they must have felt like letting us go make our way through this ag unit - how they sat in this office waiting for us to figure our stuff out, improve our process. I hate it, because every time I wonder what they must have thought, I realize that it's exactly like how they students want to know every moment of our student experience. "But it's not about us, it's not about the comparison, it's all about your student group," we tell them. "It's just the cyclical nature of the program- you need to figure it out for yourselves." It's easy to tell them that, but do we get stuck in the same situation? Do we beg for answers from p'fac alumns? We base our sessions off theirs, off deltas we had for them as students, off Josh's advice from our semesters. Is that hindering our learning process as we believe their obsession with our student experience would hinder theirs? Or is there a difference in the nature of the cycle we're in?

We got feedback on our facilitation from the students today - I think of the 24 (students) x 5 (evaluations - one for each of us, plus one as a team), there was a maximum of 6 comments that could even remotely been construed as constructive criticism. The rest was gloriously positive. Most people would think this is wonderful news and take it splendidly. We read it and grunt - how are we going to learn if everyone thinks we're doing everything well already? We know we're not perfect, why won't they figure it out already? Granted, the other scary part about giving them control is the potential for backlash; the potential for them to gain so become so empowered that they don't only not need us, but they reject us. Rendering us useless- great; disrespecting us- more problematic. Don't worry, we're nowhere near that point, but just another balance to strike.

What else do I have to rant on about? I am so excited to be headed back to Yasothon, where my favorite host family lives - here's another one of those things, sharing host families, roommates, peer tutors, with students - as a student, I always knew that other students had stomped in my stomping grounds, but I had no perception of them, I had no perspective to realize what that meant, I was so stuck in my experience. I get it now, but I still have to check myself - PFacs have been here before, sharing favorite restaurants, sharing Thai friends, sharing office spaces, with me, just defying a small space-time continuum. Being part of the larger picture is mind-blowing, but exhausting, trying to separate what is your experience and what is the simultaneous experience of others who walked in your footsteps before.

I reflect on this in a lot of ways - high school and college were the same way - you make your mark, but you leave it for someone else to come into, have their experience, and go on. There are permanent residents of all those places - staff, residents, buildings - that remain constant and overlook the cycle of people coming and going, but your experience is transient and has been experienced by so many before you and so many to come. It's not invaluable by any means, it's actually much more valuable to realize the common ground that you share with people you may never have met. In a culture of such individualism, it's easy to forget the collective experiences that we share. I spend time trying to reject that collectivism, trying to make my experience different, better, than every one that came before me, when I could be creating connection, seeking out people with whom to share our differential experiences amongst the shared space.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Things that suck:

  • driving home on the metropop in a monsoon
  • not being able to find our hot water heater

Things that don't suck:

  • having dinner with Ajaan Sriphapa, a badass Thai Human Rights activist/academic, and listening to her and Aj. Dave commiserate about really high up people in Thai politics - for context, she was the first women professor to wear pants to class (in 1997)
  • finishing a banana split with Becky in 30 seconds

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Mmmm Deeeee

I swear every time I try to start this blog post, I get a few sentences in and then stop. Trying to convey the simultaneously volatile and mundane life I've been leading for the past month is quite difficult. Volatile because the students are here and present a new challenge and excitement every minute; mundane because our days have been transformed to hours in the office in meeting after meeting about the students.

That's really what it all comes down to and I love it. I try to explain this job to others outside of it, and it always just comes back to the fact that there's an incredible staff, all of whom are so imperative and carry so much weight, in making this program what it is. When you think you're working too hard, you look to the Thai ajaans, translators, program directors, our own our coordinator, and realize that you're a part of this crazy, mildly dysfunctional, but totally loving family whose one goal is to get students through the learning phases of our educational model, as happily as possible. "Forced, but enjoyable."

Today is our first personal day in at least a month - I can't quite remember the last one - oh yeah, we gave ourselves two half personal days so we could go see Harry Potter. Point being, it's been a while. Before the students got here, we were writing and editing their program guide, planning and running through orientation activities, meeting with different staff members, memorizing names, compiling reading packets. However, that too seems like the distant past. When we picked them up from the airport on 17 August, they moved from being nebulous entities to real-life humans. The students have spent the past two and a half weeks in a mixture of a Bangkok hotel, orientation resort, KKU dorm rooms, and village homestays. We've had almost daily orientation sessions with them, introducing them to life in Thailand, program themes and structures, contemplative education, reflection and evaluation, among other things. It's been incredible transferring our plans to real-life activities that need to be responsive to the general mood and composition of the group, all things that we had no way of taking into consideration before they arrived. We've been meeting our goals of every session, but definitely have improvements to take away from each one, and their program reviews help guide our next step.

I'm constantly reminded of the parallel learning process that I am undergoing alongside the students. We are not part of their group, but we're not completely separate. Their group affects us and we affect them. Reciprocality. We evaluate ourselves and them as they evaluate each other and us. We reflect on critical incidents in both our group's process and theirs, as do they. Right now, they see us as authority figures, I think, if not authorities, then experts at least in all these things that we bring to them. It's not really true - we have more experience at least with this learning model - we need it to guide them through - but we learn from them, from their past experiences, and just through the very nature of them being here and having people to engage with about the every aspect of the program.

In addition to our general "Program Faciliator" role, we all have additional responsibilites as liasions for certain staff-led sessions. I've managed to pick up all the pilot projects, which has been exciting since I have a lot of ownership in shaping their direction. We've started doing frequent program evaluations and I've been brushing up on my SPSS in order to conduct these extensive program reviews. Also, I've been continuing my Sustainable Study Abroad work, and we have a committee of eight students who are stoked on the project and taking tons of ownership over it, which is so exciting. Lastly, I'm the intern point person for the Community Public Health program as well, which meant completely splitting my time between our two programs for the first week or so, but has subsided a lot since then - there program is much more traditional academically, as those students are directly enrolled into KKU. CIEE also hired a Global Health fellow to overlook their program, so once he arrived, I haven't been out for as many sessions.

Let's see - that's basically been my life for the past month - how to find some big overarching way to sum it all up? "Mmmm. Deeee."*

*"Dee" means good. "mmmmm deeeee" has become our phrase for whenever something is really pleasent and satisfying - adopted from Ajaan Decha, the program's advisor, who feels like that when he's meditating.  

Friday, August 5, 2011


So crunch time is upon us, as we get ready for student arrival on August 17. We've designated the past two days (mostly because I was in Bangkok taking the GREs) to completing orientation readings, something that could be accomplished without me in the room. The readings are split up into the four themes of the program: Education, Development and Globalization, Human Rights, and Anti-Oppression. Although I've read most of the readings before, the latter struck me particularly hard this time around. Many of the A.O. readings revolve around race, although some have a gender twist to them as well. Upon reading Bell Hooks and other radical thinkers and writers, who have been the recipients of blatant discrimination, and its greatest critics, I reflect upon my own life. I read about accounts, mostly in the Southern region of the United States, of violent and abusive racism, and feel fortunate that I grew up in an area where this was the exception as opposed to the norm.

[Because most of my critical thinking and social engagement has occurred over the past four years of my life, I am going to focus on Maine, although I know that Long Island, and Southampton, especially, has its fair share of racial injustices often hidden beneath the cloud of wealth with which it is associated. However, since I have not studied or come to know the communities there, like I have in Maine, I am not going to attempt to speak to the oppressive forces that exist there.]

So back at it, feeling fortunate. It is not difficult to find anti-racist allies in Maine, especially at Bowdoin. When hate crimes occur, such as they did this past spring, the campus springs to life in protest and discussion. I feel lucky that equality of races, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, are tenets of my family and my communities, without needing to stretch myself or go against the grain.

However, that blessing has its pitfalls. I don't know how to deal with race. I have spent a large portion of my life in the whitest state in the country. We have ethnic and socio-economic differences, mostly stemming from Irish and Franco immigrants, but it wasn't until recently that Somalian refugees and other groups started to make their home in Maine. When I think about it, I reap the benefits of living in a society tolerant of differences, without actually living amongst them. I have rarely been challenged by the complications of diversity, especially not to the extent that I've been reading about in the A.O. articles, and this I feel is a disservice. I didn't only grow up without racism, I barely grew up with other races, other cultures. We all laugh about how I am the "darkest" person at the theater, once I get tan, since Italian and from NY is as diverse as we get, but what are the consequences of that? For one, an inability to truly overcome the deepest historical, institutional, cultural, and societal oppressive forces. In the socially engaged work that I've done, I've tried to follow all the rules - be collaborative, reciprocal, sustainable, understanding - but I've never been challenged by working in a community in the US where I am strikingly different on the outside, where I can't relate to the problems that people are facing solely on the basis that my skin is white. One of the Hooks pieces that we read talks about white allies and the stigmas that they face working in black communities because they are distrusted immediately. I am in no way prepared for that,  but I think it's an important reconciliation I need to make for myself. How can I preach such a life of tolerance without having truly lived it? I always talk about working within groups that you know, don't try to come in from the outside, don't try to solve problems for communities that you don't know - that I'm not relinquishing, it's more of a stretch to experience, to truly understand what anti-oppression is and how to lead a life dedicated to it. Do I perpetuate or passively ignore oppression by living in my typical white New England town, while allowing myself to feel OK about it because I, myself, don't actively engage in discrimination or violence?

[I was thinking about it, and this is totally premature, but maybe Arizona's the right move. I am scared about leaving family and the northeast, because I'm comfortable in the sameness of the things I love. It's time to see how strong my convictions hold when it's not all liberal and open-minded. It's time to see how I manage to work with communities with whom I share very little common suffering. It's time to learn about oppression and anti-oppression.]

[Please keep in mind that this is all relative, and I'm trying to make a point after reading some very intense articles and theoretical pieces. Let me know if you want any interesting reads, and I'll send them along.]

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Thai beaurocracy at its greatest

Today, I had to get my motorcycle license. Granted, I've been driving without it for weeks now, and the vast majority of Thais never get them - it's just not that big of a deal. However, the program wants me to get it, so when the students come, I can show them my license and say, "No, sorry, you can't drive the motorcycle- you need one of these." Even the DMV-equivalent knows that everyone drives illegally - there's no permit, so you have to have been on a bike before in order to pass the road test without any previous license, plus they watch you drive in on your motorcycle in order to take the test, and drive away if you fail.

So even the very basis of acquiring a license is a total scam. We tried to convince them that our American drivers licenses should count, as the last intern group did, but to no avail. You arrive at 8:30. At 10, you are shuffled to a room to watch a 90 minute video in Thai, farangs included. There's no English option and there's no way of getting out of this obligation, even though they know you will not understand a single word. After the video, they tell you more information in Thai, so you're done with at around 11:30. Then they don't offer the written test until 1, so you have an hour and a half to do whatever you do when you're stuck at the DMV - we found food. Then comes the written test - Its 30 questions, you need to get 25 right. There is a poorly-translated version in English, but all the information is from the Thai video for which they had no substitute. How do we know the Thai rules of the road, which no one follows because no one has a license? The test repeats questions because it's on random assortment, so if you get it wrong once, you get it wrong six times. Also, you might get one question twice, with completely different answers both times - how can a road sign mean two different things? Who knows? There are these tiny little diagrams that are supposed to show you different situations on the road, but they're maybe the size of a passport photo, and completely indistinguishable. It's a complete crapshoot. Anyway, you have two chances and if you don't pass, you can't take it again until the next day. Maybe Thais will be able to study the book in that time, but what is an English speaker going to do? So now, its already 2 and we've been at the DMV since 8:30, and haven't accomplished anything. Cait managed to pass the written part, so we wait for her to take her driving test at 2:30, which she, unfortunately fails as well. UGH. 

So we walk out of there, completely license-less, knowing that we have to come back and do it all over again. I was feeling dejected and less confident about my motorcycle skills, which was stupid because I didn't even get to the driving part. Josh let me drive him home on the bike (see what I mean about the failing and not caring?) all the way down the MetroPop (the equivalent of the highway here) for the first time, so that was exciting! Such a stupid system - I will never complain about the DMV again. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

a centimeter is the width of your pinky

So I left you off in a sentimental place last night, but it's not only 24 hours later, and I have some absurdly epic stories about the time where we were supposed to plant rice in Udon.

It started as soon as I got back from the office last night, and exhausted ready to pass out from our trip to Chaiyapum. Clearly that wasn't going to happen. I rode the motorcycle back so got home first and realized that the lock on our house which is usually vertical is now horizontal, and the key that used to fit in the vertical lock is much too small for the horizontal one. Thailand is the only country in which your landlord would change your locks on you and not tell you until you return home after three days away and find your key doesn't work and a note in the door with Thai and a phone number. Luckily, it's the only country where if you call that number, someone will show up at 11 at night with your key in hand and a smile on his face.

Thailand's also the only country in which you can just show up to someone's doorstep a province away and ask them if you can help plant ("bloog") rice ("cow"), and they just might let you. Maybe. That was our mission today. Each intern group has a solo trip, where they have to get to a certain destination that the office sets up, and work with the villagers planting rice for a few hours. Of course, we happen to go on the day that no one is out working, and the NGO we were supposed to meet is sick, so we hang out with his assistants, 27 year old activists and researchers, who have no desire to spend their morning planting rice with us. They show us the field, the basics of transplanting rice, and the stream that the villagers use to fill the rice patties, and call it a successful trip. Out of pure interest, we go see the site of the potential potash mine in the community, and call it a day. The two guys were really nice, but clearly had no idea what to do with us. We wait on the side of the highway for a bus- somehow we manage to get on the right one, and then the real adventure starts.

First, there's a monk on the bus. You always have to wai to the monk. I do, and then keep saying "wai, wai, wai, wai" to the others, but they think I'm saying, "Why? Why? Why? Why?" so that's the end of that. Then, this is the best part, Becky leans on the emergency exit door, which is not closed tightly, and almost falls out of the bus. The monk has a field day over it, and tries to teach us that it's the "Emergency Door" which we understood, obviously. He continues to us, well Anne really, but for sake of the conversation, lies to the monk about a few things, including the fact that we helped plant rice with farmer's today, so she's sure to come back as something wretched in her next life. Somehow we made it back home by 2, and successfully completed our mission without any help.

Also, the weirdest things about Thai buses - the attendant feels no embarrassment in leaning over and adjusting your window curtain or air conditioner to see fit. For a country with so many cultural rules, who knew it was OKrai (our new favorite word) to change someone's locks or control their personal bus settings? Collectivist culture influences? Arai Godai (whatever)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Herb is a gift from the earth, and whats from the earth is of the greatest worth.

Samun Praiee - Herb
Pac - Vegetable
Ba - Forest
No Mai - Bamboo
Hen Jai - Empathy

I don't really know how to start this blog post - I've been reflecting about the amazing past few days for a few hours, and it hasn't even helped that much. We just spent two nights in Ban Huay Tap Nai Noi, a potentially dam- affected community that CIEE had never visited previously. Therefore, there were two aspects of this community that were different than typical homestays, in addition to the fact that I was there as one of four interns and not as one of thirty students. That, in and of itself, was incredible - I almost wish the four of us could just do the semester over again by ourselves - we had so much fun together, and managed to pull off three exchanges, reflections, check-ins, planning sessions, and community chill time, by ourselves - well of course, with the help of our wonderful translator and friend, Poi. Our intern coordinator, Josh, was sick so he couldn't come, so it gave us confidence that we really have the ability to facilitate ourselves and have a successful community stays, which is only going to get more challenging once students get there.
The fact that it was CIEE's first time in the community presented additional challenges, but another level of excitement as well. We didn't have previous knowledge, pass-ons, reports, or final projects to fall back on when we needed information about the community - it was on us to be able to tell the rest of CIEE, students and staff, about what's going on this community. At first, we were getting bogged down in details and really intense stories about the village's history, which was extremely interesting, and we were so interested in and loved hearing about, but we needed to go back to our goal of being able to provide a concrete, big picture snapshot of the community to our own people back in Khon Kaen. There would be potential for student’s to go back and fill in the details later. It was the first time, where I really felt the presence of the bigger structure of the program, and how I fit in. We weren’t making any promises, but both the community and CIEE were relying on us to be successful liaisons, and we only had two-ish days to build brand new relationships and figure out the complicated chronology and current organizing strategies in an unfamiliar place.
I think we did a good job – In a check-in sandwiched between a really overwhelming, information- heavy exchange and an extremely efficient, passionate one, we took a step back and asked ourselves two questions that Aj. Dave would want to know when we get back. “What is the learning potential for students?” and “What are the organizing needs and current status of the community?” I think I’ll answer these in this blog, which will come full circle with the ways that this homestay was different from previous ones, which I mentioned briefly earlier.

What is the learning potential for students?
Endless obviously, but two things stuck out in my mind as especially profound. Firstly, this is a community that has not yet been affected by a dam. They have been fighting for twenty years so as not to have the dam constructed. Unfortunately, this is not a fight that students see often. CIEE often takes students into communities that are already struggling from the negative effects of a development project, like a dam or mine. The fights are often retroactive – How do we close the mine that’s already torn off the top of our mountain? How do we preserve our culture despite losing our wetlands? Organizing is still so strong, but it’s of a different nature. The long term goal of Huay Tap Nai Noi? To cancel the construction of the dam. End of story. All are valuable organizing lessons for students, but this is of a unique nature. Secondly, when we talk to villagers from Rasi Salai or Pak Mun (dam-affected) or Na Nong Bong (mine-affected), we hear stories of how incredible the wetlands or mountains were, how much they provided for the villagers, how independent and self- sufficient they were before the project, but for American students, who did not come from a culture of living off the land, it is difficult to imagine a true supermarket in the wetlands or forest. However, after this trip, I will never forget. We went on a five- hour hike through the jungle, on the mountain, where you can’t take five steps without a paw or meh stopping to explain the value of a certain herb, root, vegetable or animal. You literally can find something to cure every ailment from back pain to allergies to tape worms in your dog to constipation to lice. We picked practically our entire dinner that day, bamboo shoots, pumpkins, and gra teo, a flower that they mix with a spicy sauce or soups. We were taken to bat caves, and followed the dogs when they dug up a lizard that lives underground. We were shown all the land that would be flooded, which brings me to my third student learning opportunity. At CIEE, we learn about a lot of connected issues, but often in disconnected spaces. We learn about agriculture, land issues, dams, and mines, in separate contexts, in separate communities. Often, students make the connections between issues, but it is so blatant in Huay Tap Nai Noi. The land that would be flooded would not only be the jungle with all the resources that the community needs, or the protest village they set up in flatter land so as to prove to the Royal Irrigation Department they were serious about stopping the dam, but also the huge fields of cassava plants, a cash crop that brings them income, but also has them spraying large amounts of land with canisters of chemicals. This community has all the same problems as our agriculture communities, but that’s not on their radar necessarily, because of the dam problem. Similarly, these villagers have been getting manipulated into paying tax or rent to various government entities and private investors due to their tribal ethnicity and lack of land titles. Same issues that are happening in Baw Kaew, but again, the dam is the bigger deal here. The houses set up in order to prevent the dam are amidst cassava fields on rented land – see, you can’t miss it – oh, and the water from the dam might be going to a potash mine… really, you can’t miss the connections.

What are the organizing needs and current status of the community?
Huay Top Nai Noi is the most prominent force between Chiang Ta Preservation Group, which consists of villagers from three other potentially- flooded communities. One of these communities is Huay Top Nai Yai, the original community of the villagers we stayed with, the village they left to set up the protest village. Although the Preservation Group consists of four different villages, there are still two other communities that will be affected that have not joined the group, and the group’s numbers are dwindling. The RID has become increasingly successful at convincing villagers that their houses will not be flooded, not mentioning their livelihoods, or the true destination of the diverted water. The Preservation Group, who has been fighting the dam since 1989, when it was approved by the cabinet, has had (clearly) a successful campaign, but that has been marked by a plethora of struggle and violence. Once, police shot a villager in his farm, and barricaded the road out, so other villagers could not drive to the hospital to save him. On another occasion, some government officials burnt down the sala, kitchen, chicken coup, and other communal properties of Huay Top Nai Noi. However, despite fear of the dam and fear of the RID and government, they have continued their fight. They had been working with the Assembly of the Poor, a strong national organization, which started fighting with Pak Mun dam, and has now reached out to communities all over Thailand who are suffering from development projects. AOP has a lot of pull in the government, and has had many successes. However, with the recent deaths of their founder and another AOP leader, as well as the political instability, AOP has had a lot of internal turmoil and has had difficulty supporting smaller communities such as Huay Top Nai Noi recently. Whereas Paw Wilai, the head of the Preservation Group, used to go to meeting monthly with AOP leaders and groups all over the country fighting potential dams, those meetings are currently paused. Instead, the group has begun working with the Friends of Activist Network (FAN), which is based in Bangkok, but their organizing strategy hasn’t been well defined yet either. It seems like the group is in a transition period between organizers and networks, which has been affecting their organizing potential. Right now, they’re working on fighting the Environmental Impact Assessment, which was recently published, but not completed, because the villagers have not accepted it yet. The RID wasn’t even going to complete one, but the villagers were successful in demanding that the study be completed. However, it completely underestimates the value of the land on which the villagers subside. They offer compensation for flooded land, but only 50 baht for naturally growing trees, such as the lan, which provides the villagers with food, shelter, and income – one leaf is worth more than 50 baht, never mind the entire tree. However, imported tress that investors would be able to bring in, would be compensated to a much greater extent. Have you ever heard of investing in land that you know is going to be flooded, because you know you could make money off of the compensation? It’s sick – these investors would buy one tree, and just take pictures of it in different places, so it would look like they had more trees so they’d get compensated more. Meanwhile, the villagers can’t get one leaf worth of compensation, nevermind that the villagers have never been told where they might move if their houses and livelihoods are flooded. It seems like they’re taking things step-by-step, working on the EIA, and then fighting for the completion of Social and Health Impact Assessments, as well, keeping the long term goal of project cancellation in the front of their minds always.

I was nervous at first to go into a community that had never had farang students before. I often think that the reason I feel so at home in villages is because they’re so used to CIEE students coming and going, it’s totally comfortable, so this would be more uncomfortable and distant. It was the complete opposite. Meh Et, Paw Wilai, Nong Bed, and others, took us into the forest and into their homes like we had known them forever. They shared their fears, their histories, their hearts, and their laughter. The “Land of Smiles” was truly alive in this community, and they were excited to teach us everything they knew about the forest, cooking, and fighting for their rights. Paw Briac (who had awesome pants, btw) said that they’re fighting for the future generations – there were these two girls under the age of two who were loved by the each and every villager – they had an entire community fighting for their rights, so they can live in an undisturbed environment, so they know they’re village will be safe. I apologize for the length of this post, if you’ve even made it this far, but when we asked how CIEE students could be most helpful in their organizing strategy, they asked us to share their stories, so here it is, intertwined with my own. I just talked to my parents, and shared how much I missed Maine and how much that walk in the forest reminded me of the back woods of Embden, but how happy I am that I decided to come back – it’s for communities like this, for finding new jungles to enjoy and new students to inspire and new perspectives to relish in.