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Dragons Travel Guide

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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_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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    [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? We’d love to hear from you in the comments!  [post_title] => The Nuance of What to Wear While Traveling - A “Dressay" [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-nuance-of-what-to-wear-while-traveling-a-dressay [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-10 14:39:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-10 20:39:45 [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] => 669 [name] => Engage [slug] => engage [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 669 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Activism, Advocacy, Leadership & Organizing. 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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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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_158655" align="aligncenter" width="2560"]Senegal Travel Program Students in Senegal[/caption]

To travel internationally for the first time is both exciting and nerve wracking, especially for those who haven’t left home for an extended period of time before. Have you been dreaming about traveling abroad for years? There’s no experience quite like immersing yourself in unfamiliar places and cultures, and many declare it as life-changing. We agree. 

Dragons believes in the power of exploration and immersive experiences through intentional programming and community connection. First time international travel elevates perspective and compassion for our planet, and for many, it inspires a life of journey. If you’re on the fence about traveling or are getting started with your first international travel plans, consider our guide for an easeful experience. 

How to Travel Internationally for the First Time

1. Prepare your important documents well in advance

Be sure that your passport is up-to-date and valid for at least six months after your return to the U.S. If you need to get a passport for the first time or renew the one you have, allow for 10 to 12 weeks for your application to be processed. If you’re renewing your passport, the State Department recommends that you renew your passport no less than nine months before it will expire.  You will also need a valid visa. Dragons Admissions provides support and detailed instructions but advises program participants to research the visa process independently. 

2. Ensure you are financially prepared

Ensure you have ample funds available to you prior to your departure. While you shouldn’t have to exchange currency prior to your trip as stateside ATMs often charge high fees, consider finding your bank’s ATM network to withdraw cash once you arrive.  It’s also a good idea to alert your banking institutions of your travels so there are no unnecessary holds on your accounts. If you’ll be using a credit card to pay for things, check for foreign transaction fees and always opt to pay in the local currency if you’re given a choice. 

3. Plan your pack appropriately.

It takes a lot of organizing to pack all the essentials you need without over packing for your trip. Consider versatile and comfortable clothing that you can layer and shoes that are suitable for the local conditions and the activities you’ll be doing. Leave any valuables and unnecessary luxurious items at home. Don’t forget your daily essentials including your contacts, glasses, toothbrush, toiletries, and anything else you will need. Be mindful and pack with intention.  Dragons asks that cell phones, laptops, and tablets be left behind to encourage a fully immersive experience. If you’re bringing electronic devices for travel days, bring a charger and appropriate power adapter.  Be sure your bag has the appropriate baggage tags with your name, address, and phone number clearly written on the outside of your luggage. 

4. Get required vaccinations and fill your prescriptions.

Prior to your departure, check to determine if there are any required vaccinations that you need to obtain. You’ll need to get vaccinated four to six weeks prior to your departure, so be sure to research in advance what types of vaccinations are required. Getting vaccinated before you travel will help ensure you’re safe and healthy while you’re away and don’t bring any serious diseases back home.  If you’re going to the doctor, be sure all your necessary prescriptions are filled appropriately to last the duration while you’re gone. 

5. Prepare yourself for potential jet lag upon arrival at your destination. 

Jet lag is certainly possible, and oftentimes very likely. Extended travel can throw off your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm, which can impact your first few days in your new destination. If possible, slowly adjust your sleep schedule prior to leaving so your body is used to the new schedule, and try using a light alarm clock to artificially adjust yourself to a new timezone. If you’re taking an overnight flight, do your best to get some sleep on the plane.  Long flights can also cause dehydration, so hydrate as best as you can prior to, during, and following your travel days.  [post_title] => How to Travel Internationally for the First Time [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-travel-internationally-for-the-first-time [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-04-06 15:59:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-04-06 21:59:04 [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/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide )
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The Importance of Checking the Weather

I remember the moment when I decided where I would be going for my Dragons trip. I was sitting on my couch watching an 80’s movie marathon with my family, and I gazed at the snow and ice whipping through the air on the screen as big text appeared marking the location as Kathmandu, Nepal. As the howling wind echoed around the wooden buildings of the city, I turned to my parents and pointed excitedly, “I’m going there!” Three months later, I was flying over to Kathmandu and feeling like I was in an adventure movie of my own. I had prepared everything for the cold weather that I had expected. I had gloves, hats, heavy pants, even a neck warmer. Growing up in New England, I had always loved the cold and constantly looked forward to the first sign of snow. Judging from my catalog of 80’s movies, I was going to be trudging through a blizzard for the next three months. The darkness clouded my view of the city as we touched down, and I moved excitedly through the airport, expecting a fresh blast of cold air to greet me when I stepped outside. Instead, as I walked through the sliding doors, I was met by a wall of heat that stopped me in my tracks. I had been on countless REI and Target runs and had spent weeks packing my bag, but I had never once bothered to check the weather. Although I had the trip of a lifetime, I recommend doing some research and planning before deciding where to go on your gap year. Here are 3 things to consider when deciding where to go on your gap year or study abroad program… [caption id="attachment_155986" align="aligncenter" width="1555"]High School Summer Abroad Nepal Photo by Amrit Ale, Instructor.[/caption]

The Big Picture

Start broadly. You’ll want to travel everywhere during your gap year, and it helps to look at the big picture to avoid getting overwhelmed. What side of the world do you want to explore? What continent do you want to visit? Is there a certain geographic area that you’ve always wanted to go to? The Himalayas? The Andes? The Mekong River? Are you looking to trek across high peaks or explore the depths of rainforests? Think about what cultures you want to learn from. Is there a language that you’ve always wanted to study? A religion? A history? A cuisine? Conversely, is there a culture that you never thought you would get the opportunity to learn about? Gap years are the perfect time to have new and unexpected adventures. If you’re having trouble choosing where to go on your gap year, then it’s helpful to ask yourself — where would I have never gone if I didn’t have this opportunity? It’s important to keep in mind that your gap year will be filled with unexpected moments. You may go into your year looking for a certain experience and find that you’ve entered an entirely different world from what you expected. It’s vital to start broadly and keep an open mind. The best trips are the ones that surprise you! [caption id="attachment_155994" align="aligncenter" width="5184"]High School Summer Abroad Nepal Photo by Amrit Ale, Instructor.[/caption]

The Experience

You’ve somewhat narrowed it down. You’ve chosen your general region, but you’re torn between learning Mandarin in Chengdu or Dzongkha in Thimphu. How do you decide? First, ask yourself what type of experience you want. Different programs have different focuses, adventures, and opportunities, even those within the same region. Do you want a trip with more homestays or more trekking? What type of Independent Study Project (ISP) are you hoping to try? What do you want your program to focus on? Does the program offer classes that interest you? Next, consider logistics. What types of travel are you comfortable with? How rugged do you want it to be? What type of environment do you want to be in? Are you more of a warm or cold weather person? Are you prepared to sweat through your clothes for weeks on end? Do you want to have more of your trip structured or are you looking to explore? Don’t be worried, traveling is one of the best parts of the trip! Try to stray from your comfort zone. What would you have never done beforehand? What ideas lie in the recesses of your imagination? Traveling far from home can be daunting, but every layer of unfamiliarity hides another life-changing experience. While safety is an important consideration for any adventure, the trip leaders are more than prepared to handle any emergency. I can attest to this personally after fracturing my tailbone during my first week in Nepal. While getting an x-ray definitely did not fit into my adventure movie fantasies, I was well taken care of and back with my group after some rest and a copious amount of momos. However, if you have any other questions about safety or other concerns, you can find them here. [caption id="attachment_158479" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Photo by Annika Kendall, Student.[/caption]

The Journey

You think you’ve chosen your region and the type of experience that you want. However, there’s one more thing to consider- the journey. Your gap year is a time to learn more about the world, but it’s also the time to learn more about yourself. Who do you want to be after your gap year? What are you trying to gain and what are you trying to change? Your gap year trip will change you regardless of where you go, but there may be moments or experiences that can help you on your journey. Do you want to challenge yourself physically by trekking across snow-capped peaks? Do you want to deepen your spiritual side by spending time at a monastery? Is there a fear that you’re trying to overcome, or a passion that you’re thrilled to explore? Likely, you won’t know exactly what you want and that’s ok! Deciding where to go on your gap year is a leap of faith but know that you can never be wrong. The destination is only a part of your journey. It’s the people that you meet, the friends you make, and the memories you share that make every gap year destination the perfect one for you. If you're ready to start exploring Gap Year Programs, check out Go Overseas for the best site for searching accredited Gap Year Programs around the world.  [post_title] => Where Should I Go On My Gap Year? [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => where-should-i-go-on-my-gap-year [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-03-10 06:33:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-03-10 13:33:44 [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] => 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/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide )
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