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Dragons Travel Guide

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This week we are giving away 5 FREE Learning Service books written by star alum Dragons instructors Daniela Papi-Thornton and Claire Bennett on Instagram.

To enter the contest, go to Dragons Instagram Feed: 1. ❤️ this post (pictured right) 2. Follow Dragons on Instagram That’s it! We’ll randomly pick names of those entered (via both steps above) and announce the winners on Monday December 10th! Learning Service answers tough questions like: What does it mean to serve? Who benefits? How do you do more good than harm? For those engaged in service and volunteer work, it’s a must-read. [post_title] => Learning Service Book Giveaway on Instagram [post_excerpt] => This week we are giving away 5 FREE Learning Service books written by star alum Dragons instructors Daniela Papi-Thornton and Claire Bennett on Instagram. Read on for details on how to enter the contest... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => learning-service-book-giveaway-on-instagram [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-12-05 15:42:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-12-05 22:42:16 [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] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [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] => 640 [name] => Dragons Instructors [slug] => dragons_instructors [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 640 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [parent] => 0 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 640 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [cat_name] => Dragons Instructors [category_nicename] => dragons_instructors [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons_instructors/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 31 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 31 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Dragons Instructors ... )
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    [post_date] => 2018-11-29 12:43:44
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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_153975" align="alignnone" width="1080"] Photo by Christy Sommers, Madagascar Summer Program.[/caption]

 

ESSAY BY MICAH LeMASTERS

Follow the trade winds southwest out of Indonesia, keeping the Indian subcontinent to starboard, and you will eventually find Madagascar, adrift, at the edge of the Indian Ocean. It floats alone, a dust-red crescent moon, stretching nearly a thousand miles from north to south. Traveling from the central highlands to the coast, one is never quite sure whether the massive island is drifting slowly westward toward Mozambique or slipping slowly south and away from the great African continent. It is known for its astonishing endemic flora and fauna and, of course, as the only place on earth where lemurs live in their natural state.
If you want to travel to Madagascar to “save the lemurs” then you should have come 20 years ago.
If you know anything about Madagascar, it probably has something to do with the eponymous animated film series or, more likely, the lemurs—the most endangered primates on the planet and the principle force driving the Malagasy tourism industry. The situation for these prosimians is so dire that scientists estimate up to ninety percent of the population could face extinction within the next 20 to 25 years. If you want to travel to Madagascar to “save the lemurs” then you should have come 20 years ago. Madagascar has a single digit percentage of its original forest left and that number is shrinking by the day. Generating tourism dollars or publishing spectacular photographs may buy lemurs some time, but it won’t prevent their extinction. The challenge is much greater than a marketing campaign can solve. In order to stave off extinction, Madagascar—a country with a per capita income around $450 dollars, approximately 30 percent less than North Korea—needs to provide viable alternatives to impoverished farmers who have few options to generate a meager subsistence other than clear-cutting forest timber to sell as charcoal.
Unless significant and strong action is taken to stem the upsurge in unsustainable and illegal logging and exploitation of other natural resources, the ultimate risk may be irreversible loss of forest and biodiversity for Madagascar.
According to USAID, “The illegal export of...threatened and endangered species that are found nowhere else on earth will result in the loss of globally renowned biodiversity. Unless significant and strong action is taken to stem the upsurge in unsustainable and illegal logging and exploitation of other natural resources, the ultimate risk may be irreversible loss of forest and biodiversity for Madagascar.” Although Madagascar is listed as the seventh poorest country in the world, the travel and tourism sector contributed $1.16 billion to the economy in 2014, one-sixth of the country’s revenues. Tourism isn’t suffering from a dearth of funds, the people of Madagascar are. The problem is economic inequality. According to the World Bank, 99 percent of Madagascar’s population lives on less than four dollars a day. Poor policy has led to mass poverty, and the resultant desperation has led to the destruction of critical ecosystems.
Tourism isn’t suffering from a dearth of funds, the people of Madagascar are. The problem is economic inequality.
A small cadre of both amateur and professional scientists and intrepid explorers spend thousands of dollars to travel across continents to see the few remaining lemurs that still live free and wild in the dwindling forests of the Red Island. These people touch down in the dense, polluted air of Antananarivo clad in adventure-grade pants, floppy-brimmed hats and vests made to hold rolls of film no one has carried in years. They are whisked from the tiny airport in air-conditioned 4x4 trucks and set off on a small predictable loop that takes them to the few well-known spots where they stand a reasonable chance of seeing what they came to see.
A person traveling to Madagascar for the sole purpose of seeing a lemur runs the risk of missing an incredible number of amazing things
A person traveling to Madagascar for the sole purpose of seeing a lemur runs the risk of missing an incredible number of amazing things that can’t be found in the dwindling forests. They will miss the inviting smell of rice cakes cooking in an early morning market. They will miss the singsong of an excited seller loading unsold bread at the end of a long day or the choke and cough of an ancient taxi running out of fuel on a steep hill. They will miss the way the sun slides across a terraced rice paddy as a day quietly  ends. They will miss the warm embrace of a sincere handshake. They will miss the taste of too much sugar and condensed milk in the tiny cups of coffee sold on the back streets of Antananarivo. They will miss the heavenly taste of freshly fried bananas. They will miss long afternoons chewing sugarcane under the shade of a small tree. They will miss the loom of ancient baobabs in the distance. They will miss the warmth of burnt-rice tea. They will miss the excited laughter of children racing water carts down the dirt-and-stone roads of some forgotten highland village. They will miss the scent of saltwater and the sound of a traveler’s palm bending in the breeze. They will, almost undoubtedly, miss the actual essence of what it is to be someplace as preternatural and wondrous as Madagascar. The problem is that Madagascar’s chances to attract attention, international aid and tourism dwindle with each passing year, and each year fewer lemurs remain in their natural habitat. Sadly, most people who make it to Madagascar end up missing the real beauty of the place. And in missing the beauty, they miss an opportunity to learn about and draw attention to the conditions and factors that are perpetuating irreversible harm to the fragile ecosystems that support the last remaining lemur populations. What the tourist or scientist misses on the preordained journey is tragic because it neglects the human factor. To neglect the human factor is to ignore the agent singularly responsible for the extinction of the lemurs.
To neglect the human factor is to ignore the agent singularly responsible for the extinction of the lemurs.
Madagascar, like so many countries in the world, is infinitely more important and fantastic than we think. As Westerners, we tend to push our own values and expectations onto the places where we travel, and because of this we tend to build a very narrow and unstable idea of what a country should be and what it should offer us. Long before we board the plane, we tend to decide what an experience should look and feel like. We imagine photographs of dirt-stained farmers and coy children half-hidden behind open doorways. It is unfair and unsafe to allow a place as unique and beautiful as Madagascar to be pigeonholed as some sort of tropical bazaar or uncanny nature park. It is home to around twenty-five million of the most welcoming and compassionate people on the planet. People that will, without fail, invite you into their homes to share whatever they have (although often they have next to nothing) with you. A few months back I was traveling from the capital city of Antananarivo to Lac Aloatra, about 250 kilometers away. A friend of mine heard I was going that way and came over to ask if I would get her a couple of fish from the lake and bring them back for her. In making the request she held up her right arm, bent at the elbow like a Hula dancer, to indicate that she wanted a fish at least as big as the distance from her elbow to the tips of her fingers. I agreed to keep an eye out for some nice fish and bring them back for her. While I wasn’t crazy about the idea of hauling any number of fish 15 hours from Ambatodranzaka to Antananarivo without a cooler or ice, I did wander through a couple of fish markets just to see what was available and maybe snap a picture that could serve as a surrogate gift. I immediately noticed a lack of fish and when I asked around I quickly found that the lake had been drying up at an alarming rate and that huge parts of what used to be open, fresh water, were now just a mixture of muck and silt run-off from the deforested hillsides. My friend, who lives just a few hundred kilometers away, had no idea that what once was Madagascar’s biggest freshwater lake and the center of what was referred to as Madagascar’s “rice bowl” is but a glimmer of what it used to be. Similar stories can be told of the beautiful remnants of forest that streak down the eastern coast of the island and the bizarre and unique moonscapes of the western deserts. Madagascar’s unique beauty is slipping away and not many people seem to be noticing. If you ask a Malagasy person what is unique about their country, they will tell you about their beautiful forests and their lemurs. They are proud of those things and rightfully so. However, Madagascar is losing huge amounts of forest every year, most lemur species are near extinction and too few realize it. One of the best things that can be done for the lemurs and forests of Madagascar is to create space and opportunities for people to truly understand and appreciate all of what the island has to offer and not just the few things that we expect it to provide for us.
One of the best things that can be done for the lemurs and forests of Madagascar is to create space and opportunities for people to truly understand and appreciate all of what the island has to offer
Frankly, there is more at stake in Madagascar than the prolonged existence of the lemurs. Madagascar, like a ship caught in a storm, wildly sliding down the face of a churning wave, is jettisoning its last few precious resources in hopes of keeping her bow pointed into the wind and sea. Madagascar, an island in distress, is frantically holding on, tossing endangered species and precious hardwoods overboard in desperation, because there seems to be no other way to stay afloat.  
MICAH LeMASTERS is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and led the first Dragons summer course in Madagascar. He graduated from IU with an MA in Education. Read more about Micah.
[post_title] => Don't Save the Lemurs. The challenge in Madagascar is much greater. [post_excerpt] => "As Westerners, we tend to push our own values and expectations onto the places where we travel, and because of this we tend to build a very narrow and unstable idea of what a country should be [...] Madagascar, like so many countries in the world, is infinitely more important and fantastic than we think." READ MORE... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dont-save-the-lemurs-the-challenge-in-madagascar-is-much-greater [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-29 12:54:50 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-29 19:54:50 [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] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [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] => 675 [name] => Map's Edge Newsletter [slug] => mapsedgenewsletter [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of Dragons Map's Edge Newsletter [parent] => 0 [count] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [category_description] => Archives of Dragons Map's Edge Newsletter [cat_name] => Map's Edge Newsletter [category_nicename] => mapsedgenewsletter [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/mapsedgenewsletter/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Map's Edge Newsletter )
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    [post_content] => We recently asked five people what they love about Guatemala and why they return year after year.

Here's what they said:

ON LEARNING SPANISH

"As an intermediate Spanish learner, I love traveling to Guatemala because it's a great place to practice my speaking and listening skills. The people are friendly, laid back and patient. It's also a short flight from the States and since Guatemala is on the same time zone as Colorado, I can dive right in without needing to recover from jet lag." - LIZ WIIG, Partnerships Program Coordinator

ON THE BEAUTY OF THE EVERYDAY

"Guatemala is a place that holds so much history, tragedy, joy and renewal in one land that it's sometimes hard to take in. Waking up to the smell of woodsmoke and the sound of tortillas being made is my idea of home, a sensation I get no where else in the world. The small beauty of the everyday held within the bigness of her story is what makes Guatemala a land I will always return to in my heart." - LUIS ALVARADO, Guatemala Instructor

ON ART AND CULTURE

"From turquoise blue hot springs to riotously painted chicken buses; from cemeteries color-coded in symbolic pigments to celebrating the dead with enormously vibrant kites; from ancient tales of the underworld to modern weavings of exquisitely patterned textiles... It's impossible not to be inspired by the people, land, spirit, and culture that make Guatemala so uniquely prismatic." - ERIN KING, Graphic & Multimedia Designer Guatemala & Nicaragua Dragons Gap Year Program

ON COMMUNITY ACTIVISM

"Movements towards social and environmental justice are alive and thriving!  Communities actively resist the commodification of land, water, and culture and are working to reshape the globally dominant narrative of materialism, wealth, and poverty." - SIMON HART, Director of School Partnerships To heal a land scorched by 36 years of civil war, this man planted 20,000 trees by hand. Meet Armando Lopez, founder of the Chico Mendes Reforestation Project in Pachaj, Guatemala. Photo by Cate Brown, Guatemala Summer Program.

ON HOMESTAYS

"In my weeks traveling to communities around the country and staying with host families, I was introduced to concepts of hospitality and generosity in a way that I had yet to witness in the world. These lessons in the meaning of connection ended up having a lasting, powerful, and profound affect on my perspective and worldview." - CARA LANE-TOOMEY, Director of College Study Abroad

Did you know we are offering a 10-day journey to Guatemala for Adults this fall?

October is the perfect time of year to venture to Central America. It marks the beginning of the dry season and yet avoids the hustle of peak tourism. So, if slowing down and taking the time to experience an authentic cultural exchange in Guatemala sounds enticing, we have an special offer just for you.

SAVE 25%*

(Tuition was $3495, with 25% discount, Now $2621)

ON GUATEMALA: LAND & SPIRIT USE YOUR DISCOUNT BY SEPTEMBER 25, 2018 * 25% off tuition only. Airfare not included.

 
WE'RE HERE TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS
We know you're the kind of person in search of a meaningful adventure. We also know that busy schedules, financial responsibilities, and other real-life obligations can hinder your ability to make planning for international travel a priority. That's why we've created Dragons programs for adults, and you're exactly the person we've created them for.
-
Let us know how we can help you plan the experience of a lifetime.
303.413.0822 EXT. 124
303.413.0822 EXT. 118
[post_title] => Reasons to Love Guatemala [post_excerpt] => We recently asked five people what they love about Guatemala and why they return year after year. Here's what they said. "Guatemala is a place that holds so much history, tragedy, joy and renewal in one land that it's sometimes hard to take in. [...] The small beauty of the everyday held within the bigness of her story is what makes Guatemala a land I will always return to in my heart." - Luis Alvarado READ MORE... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => dragons-blog-reasons-to-love-guatemala [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-10-04 09:30:56 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-10-04 15:30:56 [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] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [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] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 31 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 31 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/announcements/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Announcements )
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    [post_content] => 

This week on Instagram, we featured a story soliciting Alumni student tips on how to deal with the reintegration to life at home after returning from a Dragons program.

The past participant answers were so smart and insightful, we've decided to repost them here on the blog.  Read on for tips from people who have been there before, and know exactly how it feels.... Dragons Instagram Story Soliciting Tips for Reintegration
  1. Stay in touch with host families! The connectedness is something really unique.
  2. Don't go on your phone right away! Reminisce on your time while being at home first.
  3. Don't be afraid to talk with others honestly and transparently about your experience.
  4. Read lots of books, they felt like home to me.
  5. Remind yourself what truly brought you joy from ur trip, aim to sustain that feeling at home.
  6. Your Dragons family is the best resource. They understand cuz they're also going through it.
  7. See your hometown with "travel goggles." Enjoy the little things like you did abroad.
  8. Don't try and rush 'normality.' It takes time to get used to being home (a culture shock 4 sure).
  9. Don't do everything at once. For example, meet up with only one friend per day (or less)!
  10. Talking to your fellow dragons members--as much as humanly possible.
  11. Enjoy for a day. And then set new goals. Keep the direction forward or suffer in stagnancy.
  12. Journal on the wisdom you want to hold onto from the cultures you visited.
  13. Make sure any "what did you do this summer?" conversation goes both ways.
  14. It was hard! I said 'namaste' to everyone for a few weeks on my return home from Nepal.
  15. Write a lot in your journal and get a good nights sleep.
  16. Be patient, home won't feel the same but that's ok. Travel changes your perspective in unexpected ways.
  17. Home cooked meal and self-reflection.
  18. Have a small "elevator speech" to share until you feel ready to talk about specific experiences.
  19. Look for new ways to explore wherever you are now. Keep being curious!
  20. Tell your families and friends about it. Show pictures!
  21. Stay connected with other Dragons.
  22. Reconnect with all your friends and family and ease back into the Western culture.
  23. Don't feel rushed to reintegrate: take your time and enjoy the experience.
  24. Reach our to your Dragon's friends if you are feeling alone. They can relate and help.
  25. Take time for yourself, reflect, & journal!!!
  26. Cook your favorite food from your host country, keep learning that language, write!
  27. Immediately start planning your next adventure.
  28. Embrace it.
  [post_title] => 28 Bits of Advice on Reintegration from Dragons Alumni [post_excerpt] => This week on Instagram, we featured a story soliciting Alumni student tips on how to deal with the reintegration to life at home after returning from a Dragons program. The answers were so smart and insightful, we've reposted them here... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 28-bits-of-advice-on-reintegration-from-dragons-alumni [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-08-23 09:54:23 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-08-23 15:54:23 [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] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [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] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 21 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 8 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 21 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Alumni Spotlight )
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    [post_date] => 2018-05-23 11:23:47
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    [post_content] => 

Will LeVan (Alumni of Dragons Peru Summer Program) decided to pursue a Gap Year in 2018-19. And he was kind enough to answer some questions we posed of his decision making process. Take a look...

Q: How did you come to the decision to take a Gap Year? Was it an intuitive or calculated choice?

A: During junior year I began to consider taking a gap year.  I was fatigued from a challenging high school education and hoped that a gap year would revitalize and re-inspire my education.  However, my decision was quickly made after my six-week Dragons trip to Peru. After the trip, I realized that traveling and working abroad as I did in Peru would teach me in ways that a classroom no longer could.  Additionally, the opportunity to increase my Spanish proficiency and enter college with work and service experience abroad were integral in making my decision.

Q: What were/was your biggest questions going into the process? How did you get them answered?

A: Would it be affordable?  Could I find programs that would make it meaningful?  What would I do? These were my biggest questions going into my gap year.  Through a lot of research, and I mean a lot, I scanned through dozens of programs. The trips ranged from three weeks to eight months and included volunteer work in Philly, education aboard sailboats in the Pacific, and hiking the Camino in Spain. By skimming these programs, a picture of my gap year manifested, including a Where There Be Dragons Semester program in Nepal, volunteering on a sustainable farm in Spain, helping build converted vans in Washington state, and hiking the Camino de Santiago. Websites like WWOOF and Helpstay were very helpful in my search.

Q: Did you have any regrets after making the decision?

A: I only wish I could do more.

Q: Do you know anyone else that's taking a Gap Year? Do you ever feel lonely in the decision?

A: I have a few friends who are considering it, but never have I felt lonely in the decision because others have been so supportive, and sometimes envious, of my choice and plans.  

Q: How did your parents respond to your decision?

A: They were very supportive.

Q: Is it hard to stay committed to your Gap Year vision when all your friends are talking about their fall school plans?

A: Not really.  Since I applied to college during this school year and have deferred my enrollment, I’m not too jealous about my friends’ fall plans at college because I’ll know that I’ll have those experiences eventually and don’t have to worry about the stresses of college applications in the meantime.

Q: Do you have any fears regarding your Gap Year?

A: Part of me is worried that I’ll enter college behind in my studies.  I think this is a common fear among students. However, I’m confident that I won’t be too far behind and can make it back up quickly.  Additionally, I think the lessons I learn over my gap year will be just as valuable, it not more, than anything I can learn in the classroom.

Q: Did you already know where you wanted to go for your Gap Year?

A: I really had no idea where I wanted to go.  I did a lot of research and looked at places like Chile, Jordan, Madagascar, South Africa, the Galapagos, Australia, and eventually ended up on Nepal in the fall and Spain for the spring.  How did I decide on these places? First off, I love to hike and the opportunities to hike in the Himalayas and along the Camino in Europe are hard to pass up. Additionally, the ability to study Spanish in Spain was a big pull for me.

Q: What do you hope to learn from your Gap Year that you couldn't learn in school?

A: How to live independently, work with others from different backgrounds, and be more aware and conscious of the world around me.

Q: Did language study play a role in your Gap Year decision?

A: Yes it did.  After my Dragons summer experience in Peru, I knew that I wanted to experience more Spanish immersion in a non-classroom setting.  I also believe that going into college and feeling more confident in my Spanish proficiency will only be beneficial. Therefore, I plan on volunteering and interning in Spain in the spring of my gap year and then hiking El Camino de Santiago in Spain to cap off my year.

Q: Will you be pursuing any type of internship or particular study of craft during your gap year?

A: Due to busy summer schedules throughout high school, I haven’t had many job experiences.  This in part played into my gap year decision because I wanted to have more work experience before college.  There isn’t a specific type of craft I’ll be pursuing, but instead just volunteer and work experiences in general.  To fulfill this, I plan on working on an organic or sustainable farm in Spain.

Q: What would you say to someone on the fence on if they will pursue a gap year or not? A: There are very times in life when you will be able to shed responsibilities for a year and just go travel and learn. A Gap Year is one of those opportunities. Additionally, the experiences you have and lessons will be long-lasting. If you can design a Gap Year that will be productive and constructive, I think it’ll be an amazing experience that you won’t regret. Thank you Will!

Are YOU going to do a Gap Year in 2018-2019? If so, we encourage you to share the news of your plans via a social post with the tag #gapyeardecisionday. If you'll be a Dragons students next year, include the tag #wheretherebedragons so that we can find and potentially feature you!

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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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