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Indonesia Update #3

January 21, 2016

A late flurry of photos and partial bits of story have arrived in the last day or so — for now here is a little photo gallery.  More photos and stories to come soon!


Getting around can be an adventure in itself.


Explorations teachers pose with orphanage staff.


Working on a collaborative mural project with the kids.


Batik artwork handmade by one of our group during the batik workshop.


Visiting a school provided great opportunities for connecting with Javan youth.


Explorations alumna Adel Uktubara, an exchange student from Java, shares cultural insights.



Another image from the visit to the school.


Having fun together is an important part of citizen diplomacy.



Indonesia Update #2

January 16, 2016

Trying to stay cool…

Our group has now had a couple of days to explore the city of Solo in central Java. They are staying at a modest hotel, nothing elegant, but clean and pleasant enough and – most importantly – equipped with air conditioning. This last feature is the key to getting decent sleep in an inhospitable climate; daily temperatures (and relative humidities) have been in the 90s. Perhaps they will get used to that feeling of always being damp and sweaty and sticky; in the reports received, the word “hot” is the one most frequently used!  Lisa writes:


The humidity is thick in the air and clings about everything with heaviness. Temps at 7 am are in the high 80s. The morning haze precludes direct sun — which is fabulous, because when the sun does break through, its effect is profound.


Making gamelan bells

Students are spending significant amounts of time at the Yayasan Gunungan orphanage, getting to know the kids, doing some academic support activities with individual kids, and engaging in various play and recreational activities. However, with the children at school during the day, the Explorations students have had time to explore and learn around Solo.



Josie celebrates a birthday

One highlight was a bicycle tour that took the group around a variety of neighborhoods and showed some of the many ways of life that are normal to Indonesians but unfamiliar to us. They saw a batik workshop, a variety of markets, and a forge where the traditional Indonesian brass Gamelan bells are created. This trip offered great sights, very friendly people, and only moderate sunburn.



Creating batik patterns

Yesterday was an all-day batik workshop. Students each got to create theiir own work of art under the careful guidance of Imoh, an expert in this traditional Indonesian art form. Batik involves creating images or patterns on fabric using thin beads of wax, which then resist the dye when the fabric is dyed. Often multiple cycles of waxing and dyeing are used to generate intricate and multicolored artworks. Coop writes:


Getting ready to apply wax

Students put good effort into their designs and gained a greater appreciation for the process, patience and skill it takes to create the incredibly detailed local art we have been seeing on a daily basis.

Overall, reports are that our group members are well, though several have faced some intestinal discomfort (expected) and some hesitancy in trying to communicate with the locals (also expected). Over the coming weekend, there will be more time for our students to spend time with the children in the orphanage. They will hopefully be able to stay out of the blazing sun and perhaps become more acclimatized to the heat of Java. Everyone has been impressed with the warmth of the people – not just of the climate – and the incredible beauty of their surroundings.  This is clearly an amazing opportunity for each of these fortunate students!


Batik bedspread made using a stamping pattern




A World of Fear

January 14, 2016

In the past few hours, Jakarta has been rocked by violent attacks.

Our natural and immediate urge at a time like this is to seek reassurance: was anyone I know and love affected?  For at least the eleven students and three teachers traveling in Indonesia with Explorations Academy, the answer is that our loved ones are safe.  They are settling in for the night in the city of Solo, 250 miles away from where the attacks took place.  The phone call I made to check on our group, in fact, provided them with their first news of the situation in Jakarta.

So our loved ones are in fact safe.  But they, like all of us, are affected by this kind of wanton violence.  It’s called terrorism for a reason, since the widespread distribution of fear — for those who feel wronged by the world — calls attention to their cause. It is a sick and destructive strategy, but nonetheless extremely visible.

After reassurance, we feel the urge to find information.  This column cannot provide up-to-the-moment journalism, and we know that further details will surely follow, and perhaps in some ways contradict, the information currently available.  But it appears that two attacks took place, one at a police station and one at a Starbucks store.  Several people and most of the attackers died, with numerous additional people injured.  Media speculation is that the attackers sought to target foreigners and police, since those groups make for bigger headlines.  For now, the scope of the violence is limited.

After information, we seek to find meaning.  Why?  Why must people pursue violent paths in pursuit of their goals?  This is a far harder question to answer than the first two, and again reaches beyond the scope of what can reasonably be addressed in this venue.  But it is hard not to acknowledge that when inequity and injustice are so prevalent, when political and religious fervor are the norm, and when the tools for killing and maiming others are ubiquitous, terrorism becomes a factor.  Whether this makes sense or not, it doesn’t really answer the question of why, and we are still left hungry for answers.

And finally, the question arises of what can we do.  As terrifying as it is to hear of a bombing in Jakarta, a world away from us but just a few hundred miles from our loved ones, for this particular moment we are ‘safe.’  But when safety is under fire — in Jakarta, in Istanbul, in Paris and in San Bernardino — we must seek to envision and then implement a world in which understanding and compassion prevail.

Fortunately, understanding and compassion already do prevail in most places.  Our students, oblivious of events in Jakarta, had a great day today, exploring Solo, visiting markets, learning to speak Bahasa Indonesia, getting to know orphans in the orphanage, and eating delicious meals.  They report warmth and welcome everywhere, and as a result of this kind of connection, backed up by thoughtful academic study, are growing as citizen diplomats to become part of a positive and hopeful world.


Getting to know children at the orphanage, and learning to speak Bahasa Indonesia!

Why Indonesia?

December 2, 2015
Tree planting in Borneo

Tree planting in Borneo

As an experiential high school with a focus on global awareness, we are often asked how we choose the countries we visit on our international expeditions.  This question has arisen again as we finalize plans for our trip to Indonesia next month.  Thus, it seems sensible to address it:  “Why Indonesia?”

For what it is worth, that question is often followed, explicitly or not, by another:  “Why don’t you pick out a nice safe country to visit… like Britain?”  In truth, many schools do just that, commonly signing groups of students up for preplanned, prepackaged trips to Europe.  What it really comes down to is the purpose of the trip.

Explorations student (now alum) Theo at an orphanage

Explorations student (now alum) Theo at an orphanage working with Javanese kids

At Explorations Academy, our intent is to prepare students to be global citizens.  This means helping kids gain understanding of complex ideas such as geopolitics, religious sectarianism, economic disparities, and ecological disruption.  For all the wonderful cultural amenities available in Europe, we have found that visiting less-developed countries and those less familiar to our home culture has significantly greater impact on students’ capacity to cultivate understanding of complex international issues.

It often surprises people to learn that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world.  This island nation is also the largest Muslim-majority nation on earth.  Both those characteristics make Indonesia a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to understanding the world.  Of course there are other notable characteristics of this country, like a very rich array of artistic traditions, a vibrant history of Buddhism and Hinduism as well as Islam, and the troubled interface between population pressure and fragile tropical ecosystems.

Buddhist icons in a Muslim country

Buddhist icons in a Muslim-majority country

Given the political climate of late 2015, it seems worthy to focus for a moment on the role of the Islamic faith in the world and what Indonesia can tell us about cultural differences in Muslim countries.  There is a powerful minority pushing, at least in my home country of the USA, to vilify Muslims and conflate Islam with violent extremism.  I, for one hope that a saner narrative prevails, Indonesia offers such a saner narrative.  A recent New York Times article explores how moderate Muslim organizations in Indonesia — a democracy where religious plurality is a widely accepted norm — are beginning to advocate for a broader understanding of Islam.

One of these Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama, is seeking to promote religious tolerance within the faith; their leader states that “every aspect and expression of religion should be imbued with love and compassion, and foster the perfection of human nature.”  This is clearly not the creed of a religious extremist.

And the very nature of Indonesia, as an amalgamation of hundreds of independent island cultures, is one of tolerance and diversity.  The national motto, “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika”  translates as “many, yet one.”

We cannot pretend that international travel does not entail a certain risk.  However, in-depth study in and about a country like Indonesia is a powerful way to help young people gain the capacity to bring about greater understanding between cultures.  As such, our modest risk in exploring Indonesia is undertaken in the name of a rich global education that will hopefully help create the conditions for a more peaceful world.

(The photos in this post are from Explorations Academy’s 2011 Indonesia expedition.)

The Great Mystery Concludes!

May 22, 2015

photo 3A most sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of you who joined us at Boundary Bay Brewery and Bistro for the Great Mystery Culminating Affair!  We want to congratulate the following teams for their awesome success:

Family Edition Culminating Mystery:  Team Brownie Hounds

Super Sleuth Edition Culminating Mystery:  Team Mystery Solvents

Bike Prize:  Team Four Hayeks and a Turk

Shameless Marketing Prize:  Team Sherlock Holmies  

photo 5We also want to honor all the supporters and prize donors that made The Great Mystery 2015 so successful:

Avenue Bread, Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro, McKay’s Taphouse, Mallard Ice Cream, Village Books, The Willows Inn, Kulshan Cycles, The High Mountain Stringband, The Pickford Cinema, The Upfront Theatre, Good To Go Meat Pies, Alley Cat Bike Shop, The Whatcom Museum, Terra Organica, & Mindport Exhibits.

We are completely and humbly grateful to all these businesses and organizations for supporting experiential education opportunities for youth!

photo 5[1]Let’s also give a shout out to our staff here at Explorations Academy who have helped put this crazy event together:  Ariel Brownstein, Anni Kamola, Bethany Denton and Paula Leach — an amazing team of folks!

Finally, please help us spread the word so that The Great Mystery 2016 will be the biggest and best Great Mystery ever!  Thanks!


Week 4 Hints

May 19, 2015

Intrepid sleuths! Some mumblings have made their way to Command Central requesting hints for Week 4. You will find them below! Use ’em to find your 4th week final answers…if you need ’em!

ALSO:  NEWS FLASH!!  It has come to our attention that there was a misprint in the Culminating Mystery Instructions sent out last week.  The key to the Super Sleuth Culminating Mystery has SEVEN digits in it, not FIVE as erroneously printed.  The key is in the place as correctly identified, but look for a seven not five digit number.  Multitudinous Apologies to all!

Family Edition Week Four Hints
1.  This spot is pretty close to Cornwall Park, and the double letter streets are north-south streets.
2.  At the edge of the woods is this cool little box of books; within a stone’s throw the clue sits.
3.  This bridge is over a creek soon to be daylighted, part of the state highway system!
4.  How many places in the city center have poems mounted on metal signposts?

Super Sleuth Week Four Hints
1. One lighthouse sits near the water, one near the freeway.  Both are more for marketing than illumination.
2. These numbers are political designations, the boundaries of which can be obtained from the government.
3. This metal thing sings and rings just below the Museum, next to the creek…
4. This big round thing contains water — but don’t cross the fence!

Bring your final clues to the Culminating Affair on May 20 to win the GREAT MYSTERY! Boundary Bay Brewing Co. is hosting our Great Mystery event from 6-8pm, and the High Country Stringband will play away our querying woes from 8-10pm (cover $5; a portion goes to Explorations Academy!).

We will see you there!

Congratulations Week 4 Winners!

May 11, 2015

In an exciting race to the finish line, two teams won this week’s spoils! Congratulations to the 4th Corner Network who won the Super Sleuth prize for the second week in a row! Wow. And a big congratulations to Family Edition team Last Ditch for their exemplary weekly win!

The 4th Corner Network is pleased as punch.

The 4th Corner Network is pleased as punch.


Check out that glee! Go team Last Ditch!

A big thank you to this week’s Super Sleuth sponsors, the Pickford Film Center, for their generous donation of movie passes, and to the Family Edition sponsors, the Whatcom Museum, for their donation of day passes. Please support these wonderful organizations and help our community thrive.

Pickford (Week 3 FE)

whatcommuseum (Week 4 FE)So! All of the clues have been sent out, and all of the weekly clues have been won. Whether or not you won the weekly clues, you are still in the running to win the Culminating Mystery. If you have not finished finding any of the weekly clues, keep searching. The weekly answers together will help you solve the final Great Mystery.

Keep your eyes peeled and your senses alert for the postcard coming to YOU this week in the mail that will explain EVERYTHING you need to know about how to win the culminating prize.

And then join us on May 20th at Boundary Bay Brewery Co. for the culminating event from 6-8pm. Free appetizers will be provided, along with a no-host BBQ and bar. Together, we will dive into the challenge of the culminating prize together, and to the Sluthiest go the Spoils!

Then, from 8-10pm, The High Mountain Stringband will play! What a wonderful way to wrap up an awesome Great Mystery year. The cover is just $5, and 25% of the night’s music proceeds will be donated back to Explorations Academy. So come out and enjoy the evening, bring your friends, and your dancin’ shoes. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Culminating Affair Poster