5:00am wake ups are easier when these mountains call for you to get out of your tent. Photo by Cecelia Palmquist (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest, 1st Place), Nepal Semester.


Where There Be Dragons

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    [post_content] => While we're not fully out of the pandemic quite yet, we are still able to find meaningful ways to travel. How do we ensure that we are running safe, meaningful, and responsible travel programs in the current climate? Read on to find out how and why we've returned to travel and where we go from here.

[caption id="attachment_158289" align="aligncenter" width="638"] Mario and Celestino, community leaders in the Parque de la Papa community in Peru.[/caption]

Para nosotros es como nuestros hijos y bueno hermano, tú nos enviaste tus hijos para cuidar y para compartir nuestra cultura de parque de la papa y nuestros ancestros de todo lo que vivencias de nuestra comunidad. Las puertas están abiertas y cuando usted puede enviarnos los hijos, estamos a la espera. 

For us, it's like our own children and well, brother, you sent us your children to care for and to share in our culture from Parque de la Papa, from our ancestors, and all the ways of life here in our community. Our doors are open and when you can send us your children, we are eagerly waiting. – Mario, Parque de la Papa, Perú.


On a Sunday afternoon in July 2021, my phone beeped with a video message from Luis Reyes, our Latin America Program Director, who was visiting a Dragons student group in the Peruvian Andes. Like a nervous parent answering a call in the middle of the night, I held my breath until I could be sure all was well. As soon as I opened this message though, two familiar faces reassuringly greeted me. 

Mario and Celestino, longstanding homestay parents and community leaders in Parque de la Papa, were dressed in their technicolored traditional ponchos and chullos (beaded hats). It had been a year and a half since Dragons students had been able to visit their community and even longer since I’d been there in-person. 

After so many months of navigating mercurial pandemic conditions, of meticulously mapping a responsible return to international travel, of thinking through the myriad ethical and safety questions, the sincerity and simplicity of Mario and Celestino’s message finally brought it all home: we can travel again. And, we can do it with integrity.

While no one needs a detailed play-by-play of the pandemic, we can all stand to learn from the unique challenges of the past two years and what they can teach us about creating safe, responsible, engaging, and original travel experiences in this new global reality. What I hope to offer to you is two fold:
  1. How did we get here? Let’s briefly revisit the sudden shutdown and incremental reopening of international travel so we can better understand what the future holds.
  2. How can we travel again with integrity? As an organization, Dragons has tried to intentionally learn from our successes and failures over the past three decades. Let us share some of what we’ve learned firsthand over this pandemic.  

How did we get here?

In February 2020, Dragons had student groups traveling in 14 countries across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. As COVID-19 rapidly escalated from a regional epidemic to a global pandemic, we worked around the clock to safely bring our students home as international borders and flights shut down with unprecedented haste. If you, or anyone you know was involved with international travel during that time, I offer you a heartfelt handshake and hug! Those were stressful times to navigate and perhaps a story for another day! By the end of March 2020, we had officially entered a new global reality in which once easily passable international borders had hardened into a seemingly ever-growing wall of COVID travel restrictions. By May, the US State Department would change the entire basis of its travel advisory system due to COVID concerns, essentially throwing 80% of countries into an alarming red “Do Not Travel” category. The cliché that the ‘only certainty is uncertainty’ had never felt so true. As the pandemic tragically surged at home in the US, remote work and virtual learning became the new norm. An emergent mental health epidemic swept across the nation, particularly affecting our youth, with dramatic increases in anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles. The Dragons mission to “cultivate meaningful connections through immersive and responsible travel” felt impossible to embody amidst a global pandemic. The virtual classroom was embraced out of necessity. While it's nothing short of a technological miracle, in the long run, we all know that screens can never substitute for real face-to-face human connection, especially when it comes to travel and experiential learning.

How can we travel again with integrity?

Dragons spent the summer months of 2020 collaborating with other travel providers and educational institutions to develop program protocols in-line with public health guidance. With the unpredictability of international travel, as well as the ethical responsibility to the places we visit, Dragons first focused our energies on developing US domestic programming rather than rushing to return to travel abroad. Over Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, Dragons was able to safely bring together student groups for our new Rio Grande and Colorado River Basin Gap Semesters In order to return to in-person programming at a time when nearly all school campuses still remained closed, we took extensive precautions to prevent the transmission of COVID while allowing for genuine community engagement and values based education. To highlight a few of the risk mitigation tools we initially implemented:
  • Students kept a daily health log prior to arrival, submitted a pre-travel PCR test, and agreed to adhere to our COVID Participant Agreement that outlined our expectations and best practices for prevention.
  • We offered pre-travel webinars openly sharing the risks, protocols, and need for adaptability under changing circumstances.
  • We designed COVID conscious itineraries to mitigate exposure risks by prioritizing outdoor spaces, minimizing time in urban areas, and considering COVID risks for each activity. 
  • Once together, student groups went through a multi-day “Pod Formation” phase before undergoing additional PCR testing and finally being able to relax protocols amongst group members.  
  • Throughout the program, our instructors were trained to uphold our detailed COVID In-Field Protocols & Management Manual, which in addition to common sense safety measures outlined a plethora of contingency plans.
For Dragons, the innovation of these US domestic programs were an unexpected silver lining in the ongoing pandemic thunderstorm. At a time when experiential education seemed like only a remote possibility, we were able to safely bring together students, turn off our screens, and dive into an immersive travel experience.

Returning to International Student Travel

A successful return to travel closer to home was also an important step for honing our COVID safety practices for the reopening of international student travel, which would happen in July 2021. As public health guidance and global travel restrictions evolved, we were able to adapt our extensive domestic travel protocols and response plans to the international context. For example, we added regular in-field testing throughout the program, extensive COVID safety briefings for local community contacts and host families, and protocols specific to each cultural context.  We also went through a rigorous country-by-country assessment for each of our destinations, developing a COVID Country Risk Assessment Matrix that accounted for the following key considerations:
  • COVID case numbers, testing capacities, vaccination rates, and trends 
  • Travel restrictions and COVID specific entry requirements such as arrival testing, quarantine measures, etc. 
  • Availability and access to general medical care as impacted by potential increases in hospitalizations 
  • Local restrictions and community norms related to social distancing, mask wearing, perceptions of foreigners, and public health practices
  • Activity limitations and modifications to program components such as homestays, transportation, independent time, etc. 
Drawing on a variety of resources--both objective metrics and more informal conversations with people on the ground--we grouped our travel destinations into Red, Yellow, and Green tiers. Importantly, we continued to revisit those assessments as travel start dates approached, and due to changing conditions in certain regions, even had to downgrade or cancel some programs based on new or unpredictable information. Having solid evaluative criteria and the adaptability to respond to regional circumstances have proven key to a safe and responsible return to international travel. 

Planning on Traveling Without the Support of Dragons?

The above is a very brief summary of how Dragons navigated a return to travel during the pandemic. You may now be asking, what questions should I be asking for my own independent travels? Here are some questions you should ask before departing on an international trip of your own. There is a lot to consider, but here are a 4 important questions and to get you started:

1. What are the current travel restrictions and COVID conditions in my desired destination?

In addition to the country specific factors outlined above, be sure to consider how often those restrictions and conditions have changed; knowing the history of how a country has closed borders or mandated lockdowns in the past is an important indicator of what could happen in the future. Limiting unpredictability as much as you can is very helpful!

2.   What risks do I pose to the people and places I plan to visit?

We require vaccination for all of our travelers and believe that perhaps even more significant than the risk of you contracting COVID is the possibility that you contribute to community transmission, particularly amongst vulnerable populations. Remember to always consider how you are mitigating your risk to others, not just to yourself, and travel accordingly.

3.  Are travelers welcomed right now in the places I want to go?

Some communities may be welcoming of visitors, while others are fearful of foreigners right now. It is important that you tune into local perceptions of travelers and receive informed consent before entering a community as a guest, especially outside of well-trodden tourist zones.

4.  What are my contingency plans should the unexpected happen on my trip?

Whether it be needing to quarantine abroad because of a positive COVID test or change your itinerary on the fly due to travel restrictions, we’ve learned to not only expect the unexpected, but to be well prepared for it too. Make sure you’ve thought through the possible scenarios and have at least a rough plan of what you’d do should things go wrong.

In Conclusion

Based on our most recent country assessments, we are able to now bring Dragons students to Guatemala, Bolivia, Peru, Senegal, Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Morocco, and Indonesia. We've come along way since 2020! You can read more about how our recent Dragons trips have gone in the words of students and instructors on our Yak Board. While we’re not fully out of the pandemic just yet, we are continuing to monitor program destinations based on the criteria outlined above and informed by a multitude of information channels. We’re excited to return to the communities that we’ve known so well for decades and once again introduce our travelers to the people and places we hold close to our hearts. 


Aaron Slosberg has been working with Where There Be Dragons since 2008 and is the current Director of Programming. 

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Considerations for Traveling Internationally in...

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Aaron Slosberg, Director of Programs

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While we’re not fully out of the pandemic quite yet, we are still able to find meaningful ways to travel. How do we ensure that we are running safe, meaningful, and responsible travel programs in the current climate? Read on to find out how and why we’ve returned to travel and where we go from here. Para nosotros es como nuestros hijos y bueno hermano, tú nos enviaste tus hijos para cuidar y para compartir nuestra cultura de parque de la papa y nuestros ancestros de todo lo que vivencias de nuestra comunidad. Las puertas están abiertas y cuando usted... Read More
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    [post_content] => If you’re planning a gap year but don’t know if traveling abroad is for you, consider exploring domestic gap year programs. International travel boasts numerous benefits, but you don’t have to travel far to be in a completely different reality. 

In domestic gap year programs, you’re immersed in a culture unlike your own right in your own backyard. Hear stories of the land and gain a brand new perspective of the abundant culture and history of what we now know as the United States of America.

[caption id="attachment_157307" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Photo by Erin King, Dragons Administrator[/caption]

Benefits of Domestic Gap Year Programs

All Where There Be Dragons programs offer meaningful education, and domestic programs are no different. Domestic gap year programs encourage students to learn about impactful issues and uncover a whole new world of culture and identity. This type of education delivers an unparalleled connection to the country’s roots while encouraging personal development and cultural exploration.  Students who are seeking non-traditional learning without leaving the country will find domestic gap year programs an ideal alternative to learn about social justice, sustainability, agriculture, land rights, and more. 

Learn About US Social Justice Issues

A key component of the Where There Be Dragons domestic gap year programs is social justice. Understand the narratives of the culture and hear stories from local communities to gain new perspectives of US policy and relations.  Learn about political and social considerations as it relates to border issues, as well as nationalism and US immigration policy. Students will benefit from learning directly from individuals and organizations at the front-line of immigrant-advocacy work. Relations throughout this region are constantly fluctuating and changing. Through studying in this region, students will uncover the stories of the past 600 years of colonization and life prior, as well as how to move forward.  [caption id="attachment_157027" align="aligncenter" width="2560"]domestic gap year program where there be dragons colorado utah Photo by Dave Haffeman, Instructor.[/caption]

Experience Sustainability Amid Changing Climate Conditions

The richly diverse landscapes throughout the Southwest United States are truly remarkable, from the mountain peaks to the flowing rivers to the naturally carved sandstone sculptures. The parks and open land of this region are among the most dramatic in the country, and students can connect deeply to the natural environment of the Southwest. Meet with stewards of the land to gain a deep understanding of ancestral heritage, indigenous rights, and issues present today.  Students will also dive deep into sustainability, food sovereignty, and cutting-edge regenerative agriculture and its potential. Learn the integral role the Rio Grande plays in sustaining practices and life throughout the past and present.  [caption id="attachment_157297" align="aligncenter" width="2100"]Big Bend Rio Grand Photo courtesy of the National Park Service/Cookie Ballou, Big Bend National Park, TX.[/caption]

Spend a Semester Along the Rio Grande 

Where There Be Dragons offers a semester program along the Rio Grande and beyond to study sustainability, permaculture, history, policy, and ecology. Students experience the beauty and wonder along the Colorado River Basin, the Continental Divide, and Big Bend National Park, as well as those who call this region home. Throughout the semester, students explore areas of Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Colorado studying natural and human history throughout the region.  This program dives into topics like food justice, food sovereignty, land use, natural resources, permaculture, sustainable farming, and more. This region boasts great history and today grapples with many controversial topics as droughts worsen and access to water becomes more sparse. Students learn about these topics and practical solutions amid increasing struggles related to climate change. Learn More About Our Domestic Gap Year Programs [post_title] => Domestic Gap Year Programs: Benefits and What to Expect [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => domestic-gap-year-programs [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-11 14:55:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-11 20:55:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news// [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 23 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/uncategorized/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Uncategorized )
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    [post_date] => 2022-05-05 11:35:44
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    [post_content] =>  Located in West Africa, Senegal is a cultural hub for the continent of Africa. Senegal is a mecca with robust arts, rich traditions, historic landmarks, and remarkable natural landscapes. Home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites and six national parks, Senegal is a country full of one-of-a-kind experiences. The beautiful and rich Senegal culture may feel much different from Western society, so it’s important to consider the roots and traditions of the country before visiting. 

[caption id="attachment_158113" align="aligncenter" width="1695"]Visiting Pulaar village in Senegal Visiting a Pulaar village in Senegal. Photo by Morgan Sutton.[/caption]

Elements of Senegal Culture 


While Senegal has some colonial influences, much of the country still embraces indigenous traditions and practices of the land. The official language is French although the native languages of Wolof, Pullar, Diola, and Mandigo are spoken as well. Senegalese people are most commonly Muslim, although roughly 6 percent of the population practices indigenous religions as well. The country boasts many ethnic groups with the Wolof, Fula, and Serer being the most predominant. 


The Senegalese people wear vibrantly colored clothing, and fashion is considered an important component of an individual’s identity. Dressing up for the day is the norm, so it’s common for locals to wear their creativity. Senegal is also home to a robust artistic community famous for jewelry made of gold, silver, and bronze.  [caption id="attachment_153726" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Photo by Elke Schmidt, Instructor.[/caption]


Food, like many cultures, plays an important role in the lives of Senegalese people. Culinary inspiration comes from French and North African cuisines as well as local indigenous traditions.  Popular dishes include Thieboudienne, Chicken Yassa, Caldou, Bassi Salte, and Mafe. Common foods used include chicken, lamb, beef, couscous, lentils, white rice, sweet potatoes, and a variety of vegetables. Traditionally, pork is not eaten in Senegal due to the large population of Muslims. While there is no legal drinking age, drinking is not a large part of the culture here. It’s considered offensive to be publicly intoxicated in Senegal. 


Religion is important to Senegalese people, and it’s common for people to be suspicious of those who do not practice religion at all. At the same time, many people in Senegal believe in spiritual guides, herbalists, and diviners, and the power of these supernatural forces. 

Senegal Travel Program


Senegal boasts six national parks with a diverse environment ranging from the savannah to mangrove ecosystems. Due to the vast array of landscapes, there are abundant species of flora and fauna. The country is home to more than 600 birds as well as the African bush elephant, panthers, cheetahs, lips, hyenas, leopards, and many species of monkeys. You may also see aquatic creatures like manatees, whales, and dolphins along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, rivers, and lagoons. 


Greetings are crucial in Senegal each time you meet someone and are believed to be an integral component of a good relationship. Senegalese people prioritize asking about the health and wellbeing of a person and their family and may consider an individual to be rude if they don’t follow that practice. Meeting etiquette will vary based on the relationship, but formal introductions are considered to be customary no matter the closeness.  When dining, Senegalese table manners tend to be formal. Individuals are shown to their seats and the arrangement is typically based on hierarchy. Food is often served communally. You are to only eat with your right hand and refrain from reaching across a bowl for something. It’s customary to sample and take seconds of a dish. Once the meal is complete, Senegalese people will typically continue conversion at the table. 

Immerse Yourself in Senegal Culture

Experience the culture of Senegal with Where There Be Dragons. Our Senegal programs include a four-week summer program, a West Africa gap year program, and 11-day adult immersion [post_title] => What is Senegal Culture Like? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => senegal-culture [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-05 11:35:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-05 17:35:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news// [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 23 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/uncategorized/ ) ) [category_links] => Uncategorized )
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What is Senegal Culture Like?

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Kimberly Manning

 Located in West Africa, Senegal is a cultural hub for the continent of Africa. Senegal is a mecca with robust arts, rich traditions, historic landmarks, and remarkable natural landscapes. Home… Read More
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    [post_content] => We are so excited to announce the 2022 Dragons Video Interns! This summer we'll have five interns traveling across the globe, capturing the day-to-day experience, exciting moments, and beautiful stories that make up Dragons' programs. We spoke with a few of the interns to show you what they're up to and why they are excited for this project! Some interns are Dragons alumni and we have some folks who have been around the Dragons community — and we're so lucky they're here with us this summer to tell the Dragons story.

[caption id="attachment_159150" align="aligncenter" width="566"] Danielle Mullings, 2022 Video Intern[/caption]

Danielle Mullings, 2019 South America Semester Alumni  

Where are you in life now? What are you up to?  Marrying her love for technology and the arts, Danielle is a The University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Scholar studying for a BSc in software engineering with a minor in film studies. Her dynamism currently finds her as the UWI Mona Guild President, youth leader, television host/producer and partnership and campaign officer for Transform Health. Exciting for Danielle is the opportunity to be working with youth groups for other key digital health initiatives, including the Governing Health Futures 2030 operated by the Lancet and Financial Times commission. A champion for advocacy, Mullings was also recognized as one of the Young Experts in Tech for Health in the Americas Region. In addition, Danielle was also a UNICEF U-Report Jamaica ambassador. She and her team worked assiduously to begin the development of a mental health chatline, which was recently launched in March of this year. Why are you excited about this project?  I have long been passionate about documentary making which I view as the gateway to cultural retention and the edification of a shared identity. Here within the Caribbean, I aim to advance our capacity to accurately represent our own stories through my work. Thus, I am excited to tell the story of Dragons students, instructors and the communities we engage with. To this day, I still carry the Dragon's spirit of a curious, conscious and socially aware traveler who is eager to meet and engage with new people. Thus, traveling with this team again is always a welcomed adventure and opportunity.   [caption id="attachment_159149" align="aligncenter" width="566"] Arian Tomar, 2022 Video Intern[/caption]

Adrian Tomar, 2022 Video Intern 

Where are you in life now? What are you up to?  My name is Arian Tomar, I am an international student from the land historically stewarded by the Wahpekute Dakota Band in what is now known as St. Paul, Minnesota. I am studying in so called British Columbia on the unceded territory of the Scia'new Beecher Bay First Nation at Pearson College UWC, one of the seventeen United World Colleges whose mission it is to use "education as a force to unite peoples, nations, and cultures for peace and a sustainable future." This fall I will be heading to Los Angeles to study film production at the University of Southern California. I am a documentary filmmaker and outdoor media creator who draws from my diverse interests and background as a Third Culture Kid to tell stories that connect audiences with the world around them, generate empathy, and motivate socially aware action. Currently I am finishing up a documentary project to uplift local perspectives from Vancouver Island to support salmon restoration and conservation across the Pacific salmon bioregion. I am also hosting this season of Coastal Insights, a webinar made in partnership between the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation. This season, our guests are speaking about hope, equity, and advocacy in the face of the climate crisis.  Why are you excited for this project? I am excited to be part of this project because of my experience with the UWC movement and my belief in the power of media to bring the world together. Through the cross-cultural, experiential learning model of UWC, I have learned so much about my place in the world and how I may make an impact on a global scale in a community of change-makers. Furthermore, I hope to use the power of media and storytelling to motivate audiences to take socially aware action for the betterment of all. Where There Be Dragons brings these two sides of me together to capture stories of resilience, growth, reflection, and community at a time in the world where hope feels distant. In working with Where There Be Dragons, I hope to highlight what makes us all human and inspire audiences to share Dragons' vision to foster a more compassionate, just, and inclusive world.  
[caption id="attachment_159151" align="aligncenter" width="566"] Benjamin Swift, 2022 Video Intern[/caption]

Benjamin Swift, 2016 South America Semester Alumni 

Where are you in life now? What are you currently up to? After two gap years (one after high school during which I did my Dragons semester, and one last year during Covid), I am in my last semester at Colorado College where I am studying sociology. Why are you excited for this project?  In addition to my sociology studies in college, I completed several filmmaking courses and learned to love telling stories through film. However, many of my films thus far have not directly related to my interest in activism and social change, which is one of the components of Dragons I am excited to explore through this project. I have always seen film as a way to share important stories in an engaging way, and am thrilled to begin doing that as a video production intern. [post_title] => Announcing the 2022 Summer Video Interns! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => video-interns [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-05 11:17:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-05 17:17:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/global_community/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/about_dragons/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 23 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, About Dragons ... )
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    [post_content] => Students choose to take a semester overseas for a myriad of reasons, and among those is the career benefits of studying abroad. Study abroad programs provide unmatched and unfiltered experiences that are irreplaceable on a personal and professional level. Not only does studying abroad benefit one’s own life, but it develops a deeper understanding of unique cultures, languages, perspectives, and ways of life. 

[caption id="attachment_159144" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Spanish Lessons in Guatemala, Photo by Dave Haffeman, Dragons Administrator[/caption]

Career Benefits of Studying Abroad

Studying abroad benefits a student's career path by opening up doors they may have never known existed. Students are able to learn about themselves and grow within their interests and skillsets, as well as take on brand new experiences. It can be a scary and challenging time in a student’s life, but it’s also exciting! 

Having a Multicultural Understanding

During study abroad, students are introduced to religious and spiritual traditions in a new setting. Where There Be Dragons considers local beliefs and spirituality as an important component of the immersive experience. Whether at their local homestay or while visiting monuments, students are encouraged to have an open mind, compassion, and empathy. This opens up the possibility for students to navigate their own personal belief systems from a new perspective. Similarly, students are encouraged to travel as the locals do and live with no impact on the community. Each student is paired with a local family to gain an intimate insight into the culture. We believe this offers a unique opportunity to engage and learn. Multicultural experiences give students a competitive advantage in the workforce because it broadens understanding and perspective.  [caption id="attachment_159142" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Laughing in Guatemala, Photo by Dave Haffeman, Dragons Administrator[/caption]

Gaining a Global Perspective

Studying abroad gives students a global perspective on social, environmental, cultural, and political issues. Being a global citizen provides a wider vantage point to understanding issues that impact the planet. Those who believe in the power of being a global citizen are often more engaged in their local community, have an open mind, are empathetic, and enjoy ongoing education. In the workplace, a global perspective can translate to offering insight and being open to new ideas and solutions. 

Learning a Foreign Language 

There are few other skills that can empower individuals as global citizens than knowing how to communicate in another language. Language skills also serve as a great addition to any resume. Students who have experience learning and speaking in another language are able to understand cultural context in more depth as well. This can be especially helpful when working in an international office or company.  [caption id="attachment_159143" align="aligncenter" width="1920"] Presenting in Guatemala, Photo by Dave Haffeman, Dragons Instructor[/caption]

Developing Personal Independence

When you travel abroad as a student, it might be your first time leaving home without your parents or family. It forces an individual to be able to handle situations without their traditional support system. For some, this can be very challenging at first, especially if they come from a home setting where they have constant support. However, it can be incredibly beneficial for people who want to learn how to think critically and have impactful interactions. This can translate to an increased ability to deal with stress and conflict.

Discovering Global Justice Concerns

Students gain an understanding of what environmental and social variables contribute to daily quality of life while traveling to international destinations. It also offers a perspective of privilege and the meaning of intersectionality when it comes to environmental and social justice issues. Students communicate with local activists and artists and have critical conversations about equity. Understanding environmental and social justice from a global perspective opens up the opportunity for a career path in a similar line of work. [post_title] => 5 Career Benefits of Studying Abroad [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => career-benefits-of-studying-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-04-28 11:52:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-04-28 17:52:47 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 655 [name] => Continued Education [slug] => continued_education [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 655 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Continued Education, Webinars, Curriculum, Transference. [parent] => 0 [count] => 11 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 655 [category_count] => 11 [category_description] => Continued Education, Webinars, Curriculum, Transference. [cat_name] => Continued Education [category_nicename] => continued_education [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/continued_education/ ) ) [category_links] => Continued Education )
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5 Career Benefits of Studying Abroad

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Kimberly Manning

Students choose to take a semester overseas for a myriad of reasons, and among those is the career benefits of studying abroad. Study abroad programs provide unmatched and unfiltered experiences… Read More
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    [post_content] => After five years of being a foreigner living in Dakar, Senegal, I think I’ve finally figured out how to dress. Today I’m wearing my favorite pair of form-fitting gray jeans, a black t-shirt, and a knee-length burgundy cardigan with no buttons. It’s 73 degrees Fahrenheit today, which honestly feels a bit chilly to me since my body has adapted to this warmer climate. This evening, when it’s time to break the Ramadan fast, I’ll upgrade my outfit with a knee-length kurta over my jeans and cover my hair with a light scarf. 

[caption id="attachment_159139" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Jenny Wagner, Dragons Administrator in Senegal during the Bridge Year Program[/caption]

We make many tiny assumptions about people daily because of their clothes based on our own cultural references — their beliefs, their lifestyle, their socioeconomic status, their value. In a foreign context, clothes sometimes hold new and unfamiliar meanings. 

For years I perplexed my Senegalese friends with my fashion choices. I showed up to chic restaurants wearing wax-print wrap skirts that maids generally wear while doing housework. And, like a grown-up wearing a Hello Kitty backpack to work, I wore my headscarf in a style only middle school girls use. These days I know more about how to calibrate my fashion statements so that they mean what I’m hoping they mean (Sexy? Flirty? Casual? Professional?). As a white foreign woman in my 30’s, I also understand the assumptions people might make about me and how this can impact the way others read what I’m wearing. It has taken me five years to arrive at this level of understanding, mostly thanks to some honest fashion interventions from Senegalese friends who weren’t afraid to offend me. 

Although I’m an American national (and grew up in Boulder, CO), I have residency in Senegal and no longer consider myself a “visitor” here. People in my neighborhood know who I am, the details about my story, and what my place is in our community. As my Wolof has improved, so has my ability to distinguish the messages others communicate -- and that I communicate to others -- through my clothing choices. I know what to wear to a naming ceremony, the office, the beach, the gym and a girl’s night out. I know many aspects of what clothing choices here say about age, class, religion, occupation, political beliefs, and values.  

Occasionally, as a part of my work in the Dragons office, I am asked to provide suggested edits to our student packing list for Senegal. I always struggle with this task, because “how to dress” in a foreign country is so much more subtle and complex than a packing list can communicate. 

At Dragons, our mission is to cultivate meaningful connections through immersive and responsible travel. How we dress on our programs supports this mission in a big way. It’s also a very sensitive topic for many people and brings up charged topics like class warfare, cultural appropriation, colonialism, sexual violence, and the patriarchy. Too often, conversations on this topic revolve around women. In our experience, while gender presentation is definitely a factor in how people might respond to certain clothing choices, all of our best practices for how to dress abroad apply to people of any gender.

I reached out for help to our Dragons instructor community for guidance on how to approach this subject, and I want to acknowledge that what follows is woven from contributions and ideas shared by Hanna Jacobsen, Teto Morales, Maddie Melton, Berta Gielge, Dave Haffeman, Kristen Gianaris, Anna McKeon, Claire Bennett, Ellery Rosin, and the Dragons JEDI Committee.

[caption id="attachment_159138" align="aligncenter" width="1080"] Jenny Wagner in Senegal with friends and family[/caption]

Why Dragons Dress the Way We Do

Students sometimes ask us why the recommendations we give them for dressing might be different from (and often more conservative or formal than) what they see some local young people wearing. There are so many dimensions to this!  You might not be saying what you mean to say. Think about the places you grew up. What are the different clothing styles you might counter? Where do they come from? "What do you hope to communicate to others through your physical appearance? Do others always perceive you the way you hope?" Short shorts or ripped jeans on local teenagers may be seen as young people pushing the envelope and boundaries of their own society. These young people know what they’re communicating with their clothing choices and why. The same clothes on foreign teenagers could be interpreted quite differently (example: culturally insensitive outsiders continuing the legacy of colonialism by importing foreign values and corrupting local youth). You might not agree with this interpretation, but it’s important to understand that it may impact the level of cultural access you’re afforded as a visitor. As Berta Gielge (Senegal instructor) explains it: “Clothes are a cultural language. You have a right to use your language, and your language is not wrong or worse than any other. But if you address people in your own language in a foreign country, there are likely to be some misunderstandings. When you first learn a language, you just repeat words and phrases. It is once you master the meanings that you will start to express yourself, and the more vocabulary and nuances you get to know, the more you can express your "true self" in that language. It is like that with clothing codes. When you are new somewhere, you copy the "standards". With time, you might find ways to dress in a style in which you can 1) feel comfortable, 2) feel like yourself, and 3) communicate the message that you want to communicate to your surroundings.” You may not understand how your clothing choices fit the context. Imagine an outfit in your own culture that you may feel uncomfortable wearing in certain contexts. Personally, I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit in the grocery store. Where I’m from, a swimsuit isn’t usually an appropriate thing to wear grocery shopping, and if I wore one I imagine I would have to deal with stares, comments, jokes, and even potentially being asked to leave and come back once I’m dressed more appropriately. Consider the possibility that your favorite summer outfit from home may be the equivalent of a swimsuit in the place you’re visiting. In every culture, there are outfits that aren’t appropriate for certain situations. In our experience, it’s almost always better to be overdressed than underdressed. This is not only true for obvious situations like a formal visit with tribal elders or stepping into a sacred cathedral, but also for everyday situations such as going to the market or walking around town. We usually advise students to wear clothes that are appropriate for most day-to-day situations, and to also pack at least one outfit that they could wear to a religious site or a more formal situation.  Dragons groups are invited into very sensitive spaces, including religious celebrations and sacred ceremonies that aren’t generally open to outsiders. Dragons instructors can help guide you to understand when and where certain clothing choices are appropriate— if you’re doing lots in a day, you may want to dress for your most formal event.  As an outsider, the way you dress can communicate respect to your hosts. Being good guests is essential to the ethos of how we travel, and sometimes that means adapting our behaviors. Claire Bennett (Nepal instructor) shares her thoughts on this topic:  Conforming to cultural norms that are not one’s own can be challenging for many students, as it can often feel like they are being forced to accept values that are not their own. This is not the case – you will never be asked to change your values as part of the program. You will, however, be asked to challenge your assumptions and withhold judgment when encountering different cultural expectations and practices. We encourage you to take your time to understand and assess the culture without initially judging it, in order to build relationships with people who think differently from you rather than instantly putting up walls. Ultimately we want to ensure that no-one is made to feel uncomfortable in their own community, remembering that traveling to the amazing places that we go to is a privilege; one that we hope will also be extended for others.  Dress can be tied to historical power dynamics between you and your hosts. In the words of Teto Morales (Guatemala instructor):  As humans, we can choose how we talk, behave, interact, dress etc. and we are free to do so in whatever way we want; however, some of the choices we do have an impact in other people that can be at some point not right, especially when this form is not part of a culture that we interact with. This exactly is what happens in some of the communities we as Dragons work and live with. Talking about the specific context in Guatemala, our people have been oppressed and imposed ideas from the exterior since the beginning of our modern history. These ideas have been with them since then and the lack of opportunities to explore new things are almost forbidden in terms of mostly religion and lack of education too. One of the only things that remains with them is their Mayan heritage and here dressing is really important.  Dressing is one of the only few things Mayan (indigenous people) preserve and Spanish conquerors could not take away from them. This and the conservative ideas from Christianism have made our people a bit skeptical to take new ideas from the “new” world. One thing that I really appreciate about working with an organization like Dragons is that the majority of our students come to these programs with the idea of immerse themselves in a new culture, this includes this culture customs and traditions; this is mostly why they learn from the beginning how to interact and properly dress without any problems, I have never had a problem addressing this and students always take the advice and history behind this that we share.” These host/guest power dynamics are perhaps even more important for our programs in the US. When we first launched our domestic programming, it was easy to assume at first that the packing list would not have the same cultural importance as they do for our international programs. We quickly realized that as an organization from the dominant US culture visiting a range of historically marginalized communities, showing respect via culturally appropriate clothing choices was a huge part of showing respect to and maintaining trust with our US-based community partners. Instructor Maddie Melton (US and China instructor) shares their experience supporting students to engage with conservative partner organizations in the US: “The biggest difference [on US programs] is that students perhaps feel more "right" to challenge norms in the US and less tolerance for just accepting that it's part of 'local culture.' They see it as part of an oppressive framework in their own backyard that it is their right, or even responsibility, to push back against. You can say that your right to expression is the most important thing to you. And that's your choice and certainly an understandable one. But the trade-off is that you're going to cut yourself off from communities that feel differently. You're not going to have the same opportunities for learning from people who are different than you. But you probably can't have it both ways—  the choice that is not an option is to expect meaningful engagement with others while simultaneously insisting that their community norms are immoral or oppressive.” You may not be emotionally prepared for the reactions your clothing choices might elicit. At home, you can probably imagine the types of reactions certain outfits might elicit from others and dress according to your own mood and preferences. Depending on where you are traveling, dressing in ways that expose certain parts of your body may elicit unexpected reactions, such as unwanted comments or looks. We don’t think people should ever feel guilty or responsible for this kind of attention, but we encourage you to reflect on whether you are emotionally prepared to deal with it.  Does this mean you should never wear clothes that reveal “culturally inappropriate” parts of your body while traveling? Not necessarily. You might be ready to wear those clothes if you feel emotionally prepared for the responses you might receive, and have the language skills and confidence to respond as needed. As Hanna Jacobsen ( Latin America instructor) shares: “The reality of being in a country with a lot of machismo where there are really different impressions of what’s appropriate. It does become a choice as to how you can deal with things. The communities my students were based in, it’s super safe, lots of men on the street, you get a lot of looks, a lot of comments. For someone who’s lived here for a while who can speak the language, can say some things back, or ignore it, doesn’t ruffle my feathers in the way it might shock a student of being addressed by someone who might be their father’s age.” No matter how you dress, as a traveler you are a potential target for harassment or crimes. Past Dragons students often share feedback on the importance of packing “nice, regular clothes,” so that you’re not always wearing the identity of a tourist. Be aware that drawing additional attention to yourself (especially as a foreigner) can make you more of a target. As a new arrival in the country, you probably aren’t emotionally or linguistically prepared to respond to these situations. Dragons instructors tend to advise students to dress in ways that won’t elicit any extra or unwanted attention because in most cases, this adds a layer of physical safety and emotional comfort that supports a positive learning experience. While victims of harassment or crime are never responsible for inappropriate actions directed toward them, the truth is that our clothing choices can and do impact how others behave towards us. Teto Morales (Guatemala instructor) shares: “I always let students know that we will be seen differently because despite always saying we all are the same, we do look different, especially in small communities. If we look different, dressing properly can diminish being targeted in a bad way.” It’s not actually about you. The main reason we tend to advise you to dress in ways that might be more conservative or formal than what you are used to at home actually has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with our deep respect for and commitment to the communities and organizations who host us. As Anna McKeon (Southeast Asia instructor) explains it:  In the dominant culture of the US, and some other industrialized nations, the cultural unit is that of the individual. It's all very Descartes 'I think therefore I am' - the whole way you think about the world is through the individual. So self expression is a big deal. In many other countries and in non-dominant communities in the US, the cultural unit is not the individual, it's the community. We are seen and shaped by those others we spend time with. So how we dress is not just about some simplified notions of modesty or patriarchy - yes, those concepts can be involved, but before that, it's about the importance (or not) of the self. For students, the challenge is first to realize that the cultural challenge is about changing from an individual focused mindset - basically it's not about them! It's about other people! If a culture places an importance on dressing modestly or in a certain way, if you choose to challenge that, you are likely to make the person or people you are interacting with feel uncomfortable. If you want to have a positive interaction with those people then you need to stop placing more value on your expression of individual self, and more on them and their community.” Dressing like a traveler, not a tourist. Past Dragons students often share feedback on the importance of packing “nice, regular clothes,” so that you’re not always wearing the identity of a tourist. Wearing clothes that express who you are can make you feel more like yourself and make you feel more at home in a place.  [caption id="attachment_159135" align="aligncenter" width="1890"] Cartoon by artist Malcolm Evans[/caption] Do you have any comments, thoughts, or wisdom to share on best practices for how to dress while traveling and interacting with different communities? 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    [post_content] => We know that packing for your program can be exciting but daunting, especially when there's a lot of unfamiliar gear that you'll need to buy. To help with this and to keep costs down, we have come up with a list of places where you can source second-hand or deeply discounted gear.

Here are some places to buy used/second-hand gear:

Here are some places where you can get new gear at a discount:

We also recommend that you look into whether there’s a used gear shop in your community. For example, Outdoor Gear Exchange in Burlington, VT would have everything someone would need for someone in Vermont, and for folks from the Front Range, they could try Boulder Sports RecyclerWilderness Exchange, or Feral in Denver. There won’t be one of those in every town, but it is worth looking.

Finally, you can become a member of the Buy Nothing Project (usually accessible through a Facebook group local to your own community), where you may be able to find what you need through the generosity of another community member. Facebook marketplace or NextDoor may be other places to buy second-hand from your neighbors.

Happy thrifting!
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