Operating In Challenging Environments / Umm Qays Retreat

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  • Regular price $3,350.00

An intensive training programme on the processes and soft skills required to operate in challenging environments, hosted in a beautiful residence in Umm Qays, Jordan.

While most courses on working in challenging and hostile environments emphasize process, we balance this with the softer skills required for meaningful work-travel including navigating cultural norms, coping with and mitigating culture shock, blending in, reading body language, physical and emotional resilience, negotiating with officials and other local actors, and ethical considerations.

Mornings are focused sessions, afternoons include immersive activities that make the most of the locale to reinforce learnings. The setting provides an opportunity to reflect on your own career and realign to what’s next.

We've booked a beautiful villa that backs onto a nature reserve, close to the Israeli and Syrian borders. Visitors to Jordan will appreciate the combination of Southern Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine. 


5th - 8th October 2020 (3 nights)


Sessions are highly interactive and draw on the hosts and attendees experience of operating in challenging environments.

Attendees will learn:

  • Advanced planning
  • Techniques for rapid cultural calibration
  • Understanding and mitigating culture shock
  • Ascertaining risk—tolerance for, mitigation of, versus the value of spontaneity
  • Rationalising threats
  • Working within and beyond organisational protocols
  • Managing oneself and teams—physical and mental wellbeing
  • Cross cultural team dynamics
  • Understanding team attributes
  • Identifying, hiring and working with fixers and guides
  • Finding the right balance between ethics and hustle
  • How to read situations—understanding the impact of your presence, social dynamics and social engineering
  • Border crossings and other tension points
  • Evacuations
  • Navigating corruption
  • The psychology of higher risk travel


We’ve booked a sprawling comfortable villa for our private use. 

The venue is in the village of Umm Qays, Jordan, close to the Israeli and Syrian borders. It takes two and a half hours' drive from Amman airport. 


Space is limited to fifteen attendees.

Studio D Retreats attract people from diverse backgrounds and life stages. Past attendees have included designers, researchers, filmmakers, strategists, founders, VCs, and security specialists, from independents to those working for some of the world's most interesting organisations. All have an international mindset and many are looking to broaden their network of likeminds, skillset and world view.

We also offer a scholarship for a local attendee. Suitable candidates can apply here.

Umm Qays


We will post instructions on how to get there in our Welcome & Logistics document shared with attendees after booking.


The retreat includes:

  • Informing and inspiring talks and walks

  • Three nights accommodation

  • Breakfast, lunch and dinners

Excludes: flights, travel to/from venue, alcohol, visa, insurance, optional activities.


We’ll operate popup studio-style accommodation, including taking turns to cook breakfast and generally look after ourselves. Attendees will share gender split rooms. We have full run of the villa, so if you want more privacy take your mattress to a corner and make it your own.

Sessions will be in English. For newcomers to Jordan, we’ll provide ample instructions on how to get there.

Free time can be spent in the nature reserve that backs onto the property, exploring local ruins, or wandering the border area. Or simply kick back and enjoy being in a traditional Jordanian home

For those that wish to extend their trip, a few of us will be heading overland to Damascus, Syria for a few days post retreat. This will be self-organised as a group and pay-as-you-go—we'll coordinate well before the event. There's also the option to explore Jordan and the fabled ruins at Petra.

Please read our cancellation policy before booking. All attendees are required to sign a risk waiver. Reach out if you have any questions.


The event is lead by Jan Chipchase founder, Studio D, and Grant Rayner Founder of security consultancy Spartan9.

Through Studio D, Jan provides research, design and strategy services to clients with a global remit and has developed an extensive methodology to operate independently in challenging environments. 

Grant has spent the last seventeen years working across Asia and the Middle East as a security and crisis response consultant, solving difficult problems in challenging environments. Prior to this, he served thirteen years in the military in a range of special operations and intelligence roles. He is an advisor to Studio D and in the summer of 2020 will be leading one of our expeditions in Afghanistan.

We hope to see you at Operating In Challenging Environments / Umm Qays.

—Jan & Grant


Terms & Conditions | Cancellation Policy