Our amazing group of instructors at our all-staff orientation in the High Sierra mountains, California. Photo by Parker Pflaum.

Posts Categorized:

About Dragons

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If you haven't seen our Instagram Story on our move to a new HQ, here's some shots of the action...

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Did you know Dragons is accredited by the Gap Year Association?

Where There Be Dragons Gap Year Association Certified What is the Gap Year Association? (From the AGA website:) "Accreditation by the Gap Year Association represents a commitment to the highest standards in safety, quality, and integrity. They have agreed to consistently abide by the Standards of the Gap Year Association, which typically means that a student can count on an experience with the highest caliber of field leadership, the best degree of office support, and the highest standards of safety. [...] The process involves both GYA staff and the powerful Board of Advisors to ensure the best in Gap Year education and the highest consistency in programming." "Founded in 2012, the Gap Year Association is a 501(c)3 nonprofit accreditation and standards-setting organization for gap years that is recognized as such by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. We continue to advance the field of gap years because we have seen their profound benefits on students from all backgrounds, and believe an intentional gap year can be part of the welfare for us, our nation, our neighbors, and our fellow global citizens. The Association collaboratively pioneers research on its outcomes, as well as serves as an information and advocacy hub for university admissions personnel and educational counselors..." Read more. 

Learn more about Dragons approach to Risk ManagementCourse Design, Responsible Travel or What We Believe!

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Have you heard that we now offer Dragons experiences for adult travelers?

If there's someone in your life, who upon hearing about Dragons, has said, "I wish there were programs like that for adults..." please share this digital catalog with them! (Or request a catalog sent by mail.) The catalog below includes details on the adult travel programs we'll be offering in PeruNorth India, Senegal, Guatemala, Cambodia and Nepal in 2018-2019. (And if our catalog courses don't fit, we can always work with you to design a custom course!) On our adult excursions, you can expect the same caliber of expertly crafted small group travel that has made us the leaders in the field of cross-cultural education for the past two decades.
Ps. Those referred to Dragons by friends or family of past Dragons participants receive a 20% discount off tuition on our upcoming August Peru: Sacred Valley program if they sign up by July 1st, 2018. Just include the name of your reference in your application
Like many Dragons parents, we had always hoped to experience that intangible Dragons elixir of immersive and transformative cultural experience on a trip of our own. So glad we did; our family of Dragons at home now shares this fabulous spirit together. –MARK BAUHAUS, PARTICIPANT & ALUMNI PARENT
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[caption id="attachment_153119" align="aligncenter" width="970"] Photo by Tim Hare.[/caption]
Bistate jannus. “Walk slowly,” advises the Nepali goodbye bidding.
One of my early expeditions in Bolivia involved a fairly ill-conceived plan to hike 700-kilometers across the southwestern altiplano region with three donkeys to Sajama, Bolivia’s highest peak at 22,000 feet. We thought a month should be sufficient. Along the way we passed through a village every 40 kilometers, creating a constellation of humanity in an otherwise desolate high desert. One of the most memorable interactions was asking a local farmer how far it was to Pisiga, one of the larger towns along the route. It was late morning. Looking up from his quinoa fields he squinted off to the distance, “Son 4 horas, no mas.” We raced off towards Pisiga, eager for a good meal and maybe a bed for the night. We ended up having dinner over a camp stove in the middle of a salt lake, under the southern cross constellation, rather than in Pisiga. We arrived to Pisiga the next day, at sunset, after 16-more hours of hiking! We sold our donkeys in that town and never made it to Sajama.
...how strange it is to chop our days into hours and our hours into seconds. To the majority of humans that have inhabited our planet, time is the sun rising, arching in the sky, and setting just as the stars and moon come out to trace their long path across the heavens. Time is a changing leaf, the coming rain, and the migration of birds.
What was most memorable about the exchange was just how different our perceptions of time were. I reflected on how strange it is to chop our days into hours, and our hours into seconds. To the majority of humans that have inhabited our planet, time is the sun rising, arching in the sky, and setting just as the stars and moon come out to trace their long path across the heavens. Time is a changing leaf, the coming rain, and the migration of birds. In such a spacious and dynamic structure of time, there is little need to ambitiously pack as much into each tick of the clock. Time is not transactional and economic; it is not “money” but, rather, it is one measure of the elegant and often unpredictable arc of existence which demands our respect rather than our control. In order to fully appreciate time in these terms we need to get lost in it. We need a lot of time on our hands to fully lose track of it and start observing these other, ancestral measures of time. One of my favorite bands, Elephant Revival, sings

“Well what is time? It’s when the sun goes down The moon comes up The people dance all around”

[caption id="attachment_153118" align="aligncenter" width="864"] Photo by Tim Hare.[/caption] AT DRAGONS we opt to run courses that are a month or more in length. We hear from our students all the time that they wanted to do a Dragons course for years but weren’t able because they had competing summer activities and camps. Other prospective students may choose a program that takes place in two weeks but promises all the same places and highlights. So why would someone elect to do something in 4 or 6 weeks that they can “do” in 10 days? We ask participants to join us for 4 or 6 weeks, or even 85 days not so they can do more things in that time, but, often, so they can do less.
We ask participants to join us for 4 or 6 weeks, or even 85 days not so they can do more things in that time, but, often, so they can do less.
At Dragons we try hard to travel less, do less, have more space, be bored at times, and take the time to know a place well. We encourage others to do the same. We know that deep learning and connection comes not from quantity but from quality - and quality takes more time.

ON DEPTH

Learning, these days, seems to be chopped up into increasingly small bites in order to meet our diminutive attention spans. According to one study, attention span in students currently runs around 10 minutes. Education and travel compete with other fast-paced aspects of our lives. What is gained in breadth of learning is often at the cost of depth. Broad, “landscape-level” learning is useful. On course, however, we want to combine this broad learning with deep dives into the weeds in order to look at intricate connections and more profound meaning. Travel is so intimate it demands depth. Depth takes time.

ON BOREDOM

While Dragons courses are far from boring, we do hope that students have the time on our courses to be bored. We hope they can space out on a long bus ride, wander around local parks or temples, wake on a Saturday morning with no plans other than to accompany their host family to the river to wash clothes. We expect that students may be bored while washing the clothes. Boredom is a forgotten art. We actually may need to schedule it in.
While Dragons courses are far from boring, we do hope that students have the time on our courses to be bored.
Some amazing research is being done on the value of boredom, as outlined in Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant, and its role in opening the mind to contemplation and creativity. When was the last time you were bored? Social media rarely lets us be bored. And the 24 hour news cycle works tirelessly to keep our attention. Boredom helps us to to explore our own minds and our own creativity.

ON BEING FRUSTRATED

We repeatedly see that a group experiences a life cycle where students begin with politeness and interest in each other and the place. Students generally engage each other with curiosity and respect and are open to learning. But we all begin any experience with a level of naivety. It’s like a new relationship, and we often call this the “honeymoon phase,” or forming. Things will almost invariably turn south. And they should, or at least they must if they are to be authentic and honest. So, both in the group and with a student’s experience of place, the group begins to storm. Individuals might start to dislike the local food, or each other, or the smells; they begin to grow tired and frustrated in general. But they will grow beyond that. Students will see each other and the place not with the rose-colored glasses they started with, but, rather, as the multi-faceted interactions they are. Most meaningful interactions are pleasant and unpleasant, fun and also challenging. Students begin to norm when they don’t just see the idyllic version of the place or their peers, but rather their wholeness; they are learning to relate to them in this complexity. Finally, if all goes well, students may arrive at a performing stage, where they are in step with each other and the place. They know how to navigate with confidence. They speak the language. They work through conflict with skill and grace.
We want our students to get frustrated with each other and with the places they are traveling through. Ultimately we work to help them to transcend that frustration.
This dynamic process moves in fits and starts, and is more cyclical than linear, but it generally moves forward and is essential to meaningful learning. As courses get shorter, however, it is far easier to simply avoid conflict and remain in the honeymoon phase - in a fun but rather inauthentic space, both with one’s peers as well as a place. At Dragons, we want our students to get frustrated with each other and with the places they are traveling through. Ultimately we work to help them to transcend that frustration. This deep learning is inaccessible if one chooses to hop from one place to another, one experience to another, one country to another, never having the time or space to be frustrated. [caption id="attachment_153120" align="aligncenter" width="970"] Photo by Tim Hare.[/caption]

ENVIRONMENTAL AND CULTURAL IMPACT

It would be tragically ironic if our desire to see the Amazon rainforest, to live with communities on the fringe of intensifying desertification or seasonal floods, or our passion to walk in the icy glaciers of the high Himalayas actually hastened their demise. It is. A flight from Denver to Kathmandu creates 4.9 metric tonnes of CO2. That’s more than double the required per person yearly average which will slow or reverse climate change. Do we typically then take a two year break from air travel after taking one of these intercontinental flights? Probably not. If we’re going to take such long flights, we should do so less frequently, and we should aim to make the experience as meaningful as possible by slowing down and truly immersing ourselves. In addition to the huge environmental impact, travel has massive cultural impact. By staying longer and going for depth over breadth, intercultural exchanges become human-to-human affairs rather than a kind of objectifying experience that tourism all too often becomes. Familiarity breeds care and concern; thus, the more familiar we become with a place or a culture, the more care and concern we are likely to foster.
By staying longer and going for depth over breadth, intercultural exchanges become human-to-human affairs rather than a kind of objectifying experience that tourism all too often becomes.
Wade Davis describes the ethnosphere as, “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, intuitions and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.” At least half of the world’s roughly 7000 languages spoken today are likely to disappear this century, according to the National Geographic July 2012 article. One language dies every 14 days. According to Davis, the loss is the canary in the coal mine, in that, as the languages die, so do stories and ways of living on the earth. There are a lot of forces at play here, but tourism and travel can add to this decline. By spending the time to learn languages and affirm beliefs and world views we can push ever so mildly against this trend of homogenization. But by sweeping through a place in a short amount of time, never learning the language or truly immersing in the culture, we perpetuate the global power dynamic that is creating this loss. Perhaps the best way to understand this is with a quote from an alumni of our longest course - the 9-month Princeton Bridge Year program:

"Travel, for me, used to be a time to get away and experience something different from my daily routine. However, being in Bolivia for such an extensive period of time has required me to not think of this experience not as "getting away," but setting a new normal. The amount of time I have spent here has pushed me to not use home as an escape. When I face something hard, I cannot just resort to the fact that I will go home where things will be better. When I don’t understand what my host family is saying I am propelled into studying Spanish in more depth. When my service work was not productive I was pushed to ask more questions, take on more projects, and dive into the community further, instead of just accepting the way it was. It is an incredible learning experience that I must face these challenges head on and figure out how to resolve them or live with them." - Sarah Brown, Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia Program

In other words, Bistate jannus. “Walk slowly,” advises the Nepali goodbye bidding.  

Tim Hare is Dragons Director of Risk Management and Staff Training. He calls the mountains of Colorado home, while having made a life for himself climbing, exploring, teaching, and learning throughout the mountains of the Americas.  With Dragons, Tim has instructed or supported courses in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Nepal and SE Asia. He lives in Boulder with his partner and two children.  Read his full bio.

     

Interested in learning more about some of Dragons longer-term programs? Take a look at our 3-month Gap Year programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America, or Dragons 6-week Summer Programs in China, Indonesia, India, Peru, and Madagascar.

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Slow Travel: The Benefits of Longer-Term Programs and Immersive Experiences Abroad

Posted On

05/22/18

Author

Tim Hare, Dragons Director of Risk Management and Staff Training

Description
"At Dragons, we ask participants to travel longer, not so they can do more things in that time, but, often, so they can do less. We try to move less,… Read More
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    [post_content] => Hopefully by now you know that Dragons offers travel programs for Teachers, Administrators, and Faculty? Our Educator Courses immerse participants in hands-on exploration of global issues, while training to key skills in program leadership. Learn about our programs for 2018/19 via this handy, flip-able, sharable, Educator Course Catalog!

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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_152709" align="alignnone" width="974"] Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Gap Year Program.[/caption]

Many study abroad programs provide a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) trip schedule used year after year. At Dragons, we keep our programs flexible and dynamic: each itinerary is uniquely designed and implemented by the instructors who lead the program. We believe some of the best experiences can come in the unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise. It's a novel approach to travel and best explained by our participants. So here's how our past students define Dragons "flexible" itinerary concept:

“Unlike American life regulated by precise and punctual schedules, life abroad is hectic and ever-changing, which is the beauty of it. Pre-program, I was concerned that the larger and central aspects of the trip may be changed, but this isn’t at all what they meant by flexible itinerary.  Flexible itinerary refers to smaller, more logistical changes. You’ll still get to the end destination, just perhaps by a different route. The itinerary will never be changed in a way that detracts from your experience, but will instead always improve it for you or the group as a whole, whether it is balancing out the hiking days to make it more manageable or taking a quick side-trip to the hot springs to refuel as a group.” - Will LeVan, Peru Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152708" align="alignright" width="452"] Photo by Stefanie Daehler, Custom School Program in India.[/caption] “The flexibility allowed my group to turn hikes into classes about religion. It allowed for us to get lost, which then turned into lessons on how not to get lost. We were given the freedom to explore like a traveler, not like a tourist.” - Alyssa Hilb, Silk Road China Summer Student Travel Program “To travel with a flexible itinerary is to travel with an open mind and receptivity to the realities of travel. During my program in Morocco, there were numerous occasions in which sickness, navigational difficulties, or side trips caused unforeseen delays in our daily plan. While ordinarily, this would be a huge logistical and emotional headache, the ease with which my instructors took it in stride and adjusted our plans made all the difference. The benefit of a dynamic itinerary is bypassing the regimented, anxious parts of travel, to embrace the wild, unplanned fun that exploration can be.” - Brett Cohen, Morocco Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152710" align="alignleft" width="364"] Photo by Ngun Siang Kim, Myanmar Summer Program.[/caption] “Ultimately, embracing the possibility of candid experiences—those that lead you into the waters of coursing Himalayan rivers and into the corridors of 500-year old monasteries, as mine did during my programs—are what have been most influential in shaping me into the confident, prepared and wise traveler I am today.” - Olivia Sotirchos, North India Summer Study Abroad Program “The most important part of embracing the flexible itinerary was recognizing that our safety was a priority over strict travel and time constraints, and the comfort of knowing we could adjust the plan to fit our needs.” - Silvana Montagu, Eastern Himalayas Summer Student Travel Program “I wasn’t sure what “flexible itinerary” meant at the beginning, but by the end of the trip I grew to appreciate the spontaneity it brought. Our itinerary stayed mostly true to the original outline, but changed in small, beneficiary, ways. For example, we had been staying in a very rural town, Cotzal, where we were doing service projects. We decided to leave a day early, and instead spend the last day at a beautiful waterfall with the homestay families, eating lunch together and swimming. It’s important to let yourself be surprised.”  - Maggie Needham, Guatemala Summer Student Travel Program “The best part about being able to mix up the schedule is that you have the ability to invest your time in areas you are most passionate about. For example, during my trip to China we stumbled upon a shamanism festival with rich colors and new experiences. On the spot, our group decided that spending more time at the festival would be the best for our educational and cultural journey. The best days are those that aren’t 100 percent scripted.” - Liana Flecker, Silk Road China Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152711" align="alignright" width="423"] Photo by Nils Skattum, Nepal Semester Program.[/caption] “I’m normally a very planned out person, and was a bit anxious about the flexible itinerary. When I got to Indonesia, I soon realized their concept of Jam Karet there—essentially meaning, "rubber time." People we were supposed to meet, and transportation we were planning to take, often ran late and sometimes never even showed up. This at first drove me crazy, but throughout my semester I learned to “santai saja” (or “just relax”) and just accept the situations for how they were, and everything always worked out. Dragons trips are highly immersive and intensive, and can be exhausting. Being flexible allows the group and its members to get what they really need—whether that’s time to rest, or time to engage and participate longer than the planned amount of time.” - Crissy McCarthy, Indonesia Gap Year Semester Abroad Program “To put the experience into a specific set of bullet points would seriously harm the whole meaning of this voyage in the first place. The world is open to so many possibilities waiting around the corner.”- Will Jamieson, Guatemala Summer Student Travel Program [post_title] => Q&A: What's a "flexible" itinerary? [post_excerpt] => Many study abroad programs provide a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) trip schedule used year after year. At Dragons, we keep our programs flexible and dynamic: each itinerary is uniquely designed and implemented by the instructors who lead the program. We believe some of the best experiences can come in the unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise. It's a novel approach to travel and best explained by our participants. So here's how our past students define Dragons "flexible" itinerary concept... 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