Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Instructor.

Posts Categorized:

Global Community

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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] => We are so excited to announce the 2022 Dragons Video Interns! This summer we'll have five interns traveling across the globe, capturing the day-to-day experience, exciting moments, and beautiful stories that make up Dragons' programs. We spoke with a few of the interns to show you what they're up to and why they are excited for this project! Some interns are Dragons alumni and we have some folks who have been around the Dragons community — and we're so lucky they're here with us this summer to tell the Dragons story.

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

Danielle Mullings, 2019 South America Semester Alumni  

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

Adrian Tomar, 2022 Video Intern 

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

Benjamin Swift, 2016 South America Semester Alumni 

Where are you in life now? What are you currently up to? After two gap years (one after high school during which I did my Dragons semester, and one last year during Covid), I am in my last semester at Colorado College where I am studying sociology. Why are you excited for this project?  In addition to my sociology studies in college, I completed several filmmaking courses and learned to love telling stories through film. However, many of my films thus far have not directly related to my interest in activism and social change, which is one of the components of Dragons I am excited to explore through this project. I have always seen film as a way to share important stories in an engaging way, and am thrilled to begin doing that as a video production intern. [post_title] => Announcing the 2022 Summer Video Interns! [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => video-interns [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-05 11:17:49 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-05 17:17:49 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, About Dragons ... )
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    [post_content] => Few skills are more empowering than being able to communicate in a foreign language. About one in four adults in the United States can hold a conversation in a language other than English. But even if you speak multiple languages, chances are your high school didn’t offer classes in Bahasa Indonesian, Aymara, Khmer, or Wolof. 

[caption id="attachment_158763" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Language Classes in Guatemala  Students taking Spanish language classes in Guatemala[/caption]

So what happens when you want to travel to one of the many interesting places in this world where you don’t speak the language? Here are the top ten tips we’ve learned over 30 years facilitating language study for beginners.

A little goes a long way. If you don’t have much time to study before you travel, consider focusing on a few key phrases that are helpful in any language. Hello. Thank you. Sorry. Where is the bathroom? Do you have ____? How much does it cost? I don’t understand.

Loosen up and practice, practice, practice. Imperfection is your friend when learning a language. Don’t stress about small mistakes, and feel free to fill in the gaps with whatever is available. It’s okay to break the rules— people who grow up speaking multiple languages often mix them together in the same sentences.

Don’t let words get in the way of meeting people. One of the best ways to motivate yourself to communicate is actually having people to talk to. Communication experts agree that the majority of human communication happens through body language and tone of voice. Use non-verbal communication skills such as hand gestures and facial expressions to interact with people.

[caption id="attachment_158760" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Taking time to learn Arabic on the flight.[/caption]

Set yourself some daily challenges. Pick one small language task for yourself every day. Go buy some basic necessities in the local market. Memorize a phrase to repeat to a taxi driver. Introduce yourself to someone and ask them their name. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even try learning a local joke or tongue twister.

Stay with a family. Learning a language is about more than just learning words. Languages are born out of cultural contexts, and living with a family means steeping yourself in the many subtle ways of being that are deeply connected to communicating in a new language. This is one of the many reasons homestays are a core component of every Dragons program.

Kick off your travels with a basic class. Even a single hour-long class with a local teacher can go a long way. Try to find a teacher who uses a communicative approach and gives you chances to practice your skills in class or on field trips outside the classroom. Take advantage of your time with your teacher to ask questions about cultural norms.

Learn from someone who understands both cultures. See if you can find someone who is willing to unpack some of the cultural differences you might encounter in your new environment. In addition to being multilingual, many of our instructors play the role of intercultural mediators, helping language learners understand the “why” and “how” of language alongside the “what.”

[caption id="attachment_158761" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Mandarin language classes[/caption]

Give yourself a break. Do you feel like you’re hitting a wall with your language learning? Take some time off to give your brain a break. Sometimes when there is a lot of new language input, our mind needs time to digest and process. Don’t be surprised if a week later you experience a sudden explosion in your language skills! Language learning takes time, one of the many reasons why our programs emphasize slowness and depth.

Have fun! Learning a new language opens up new experiences, friendships, ways of thinking, and maybe even a new favorite song, film, poem, or proverb. Don’t forget to take a moment to delight in it all!

Find a penpal. Staying in touch with friends you meet during your travels is a great way to keep your language skills from disappearing once you return home. A video call can transport you back into a homestay experience, and social media, texting, and emailing are all low-pressure ways to keep a new language alive in your brain. 

We wish you the best of luck in your travels, and hope you find it fulfilling to cultivate meaningful connections with people you might not normally be able to communicate with!
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Disconnecting (digitally) to Connect More Meaningfully

I closed my computer screen, grabbed my journal, and found a sunny spot outside—thank goodness for Tucson in December, where I live. It felt appropriate to take a break from my screen to write about disconnecting from technology.  Over the summer I visited the Guatemala 4-week Spanish Language program. I had just joined the Dragons Administrative team in a new digital marketing role—managing social media, blog, and email marketing. I was really excited to be part of the Dragons team and visit a program for the first time. Having worked in the educational travel industry since 2015, I’ve only seen an increase in the dependence we all have on our phones, and the interference they cause with immersive travel programs. I was especially excited to see how a program looked without the use of mobile phones for students.   In Guatemala I spent time with my phone, taking photos and communicating with the other instructors and admin via Whatsapp. Sometimes students would ask to see the photos I took, or requested to see an Instagram post that included them (here’s a beautiful photo of the group at sunrise, actually). But mostly, the students seemed content without their phones, and this was about 2.5 weeks into the program. 

"I don't really miss it."

So I asked the group what it was like being without their phones, iPads, or computers for the last few weeks. To my pleasant surprise they responded with “I sleep so much better,” and “It feels so good to take a break—I know it will still be there when I get back.” Some said, “ I don’t really miss it. I love having conversations at dinner with the group instead of being on my phone.” I thought, Heck. Yeah. I need more of this in my life.  While it always feels important to take breaks from technology, it feels incredibly timely as we’re in the holiday season. The end of the year typically represents a time of gathering and reflection, and a great reason to be more present with our current surroundings rather than our screens. I surveyed the Dragons Administrative Team and our Alumni Ambassadors about how they disconnect to connect.

Best tips and tricks for taking a break from our devices: 

  • I plug my phone in to charge in a different room so I'm not tempted to look at it last thing at night or first thing in the morning. I actually bought a nifty new alarm clock with one of those slow rise lights so that I'm not dependent on my phone for my alarm. When going out on a hike or drive somewhere, I'll try to consciously leave my phone behind so that I'm not dependent on the GPS at every turn. —Aaron Slosberg, Director of Student Programming 
  • With family, we do try to keep our phones off and away from us so that they're not at the dinner table or part of the conversation. One thing that is a pet peeve of mine is when someone is telling a story and they say, "Oh, let me show you the photo of this..." and while it's relevant to the story, I think it just kills the conversation because they pull out their phone, scroll to find the photo, and then the description and storytelling kind of just grinds to a halt. —Dragons Admin Team Member 
  • I've started trying to unplug as much as possible during the weekends. I go hang out at my mother-in-law's house. She doesn't have wifi and I won't touch my phone all day— just play with kids and drink tea and sit around talking and laughing. —Jenny Wagner, Staffing Director
  • I like to set time limits on my phone and also temporarily delete some apps when I feel like I’m going on them too much. —Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
  • Communicate with others that you’re taking a break so they know not to worry. Additionally, let them know your preferred way of getting in touch or when you’ll be checking your phone/email/messages. —Alex Biddle, Digital Marketing Associate 

Benefits we experience and activities to do when taking a digital detox: 

  • Surfing is the ultimate unplugged activity for me, my digital free safe space. —Aaron Slosber, Director of Student Programming 
  • I take detox breaks when I spend time in nature, go for hikes, and when I can go camping I rarely use my phone and it works wonders for me and my life. When I’m not on my phone, I try to journal, talk with friends, connect with family, make music or other art, go outside, workout, hike, etc. I feel it helps me feel more clear headed and more present. —Lily Conquanto Alumni Ambassador
  • The benefits of disconnecting allows me the chance to take a few moments to reflect on the past year as I enter into the new year. Not to set "resolutions," but to reflect on my experiences, who I have become, and life's transitions. It forces me to sit with the uncomfortable in order to enter the new year with clarity. —Sarah Bennett O’Brien, Programming Associate 
  • A great way to disconnect is spending in person time with friends and family. Sally Thomas, Alumni Ambassador
  • I absolutely love reading books, enjoy painting in my free time, and I often take walks in nature. It definitely makes me feel less lazy doing these activities than being on my phone, and I feel more connection with everything and everyone around me. —Julia Borque, Alumni Ambassador 
  • Playing board games! —Eva Vanek, Director of Outreach 
  • Baking, to fill the house with scents of cinnamon & comfort! Helps the brain disengage from the chaos of everyday life and focus on the simple pleasure of being "home". Lisa Smith, Administrative Associate 
  • I love to post up at the breakfast table with my sketch pad and draw cabins in the woods. We have some land up on Lake Superior and one day I hope to build an artsy and soulful home for our family. Simon Hart, Director of Partnership and Educator Programming 
  • For me, disconnecting leaves room for surprise and spontaneity. I can't help but view this through the lens of young children. There's a cycle to this process, which is disconnect, then comes boredom (which usually leads to anger/frustration), and then spontaneous action…I love when we get to the final stage. Often it involves trashing the house to build a fort or an obstacle course. When they choose to draw quietly, it's blissful. Whatever it is, it's never something that I foresee, which is what I love most about disconnecting. I think the key is boredom. When they say they're bored, I know we're about to break through to something funky. —Reed Harwood, Executive Director 
  • My favorite things to do when I need a break from the internet are go outside or read! Neither of these activities require any technology so I can get a full break. —Alumni Ambassador

It feels good to take a break.

Even handwriting this post in a journal before typing it out was a joyful experience. I feel better. Don’t get me wrong, technology is a huge help for my day to day work and life, but it feels so good to take a little break. I hear the birds singing in the mesquite trees, I feel the warmth of the December sun, and see my dogs Bert and Ellie sunbathing and happy.  From all of us at Dragons, we’re wishing you a warm holiday season and hope you take time to disconnect digitally so you can connect to yourself and your loved ones. Here’s to soaking up the present moment.  Eager to keep reading about the power or disconnection and unplugged travel? You can check out this article for what it’s like to be on a Dragons course without your devices.  [post_title] => The Power of Disconnection [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => the-power-of-disconnection [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-21 20:03:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-22 02:03:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [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] => 28 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 28 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 670 [name] => Recommended [slug] => recommended [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 670 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [parent] => 0 [count] => 13 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 13 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) [3] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 1 [name] => Uncategorized [slug] => uncategorized [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 1 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 26 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 16 [cat_ID] => 1 [category_count] => 26 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Uncategorized [category_nicename] => uncategorized [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Global Community ... )
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    [post_content] => This story is from the field and written by Jacquelyn Kovarik, a Dragons instructor who is currently leading a group of students from Tufts University through a semester in the Southwest (USA). Jac shares her story of the group's time in New Mexico, celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day. Her reflection speaks to the importance of traveling and seeking out lesser known realities in the United States.

Monday, October 11th, 2021 was an eventful day for the Southwest Tufts Civics Semester. It was our last day in northern New Mexico, which had been our program base for the first half of the semester. It was also Indigenous Peoples Day 2021, and the first year this day had been federally recognized by the so-called United States. As we began to say our goodbyes to the dramatic and recently snow-capped Tewa Kusempi peaks (the so-called Truchas Peaks), it felt fitting to head to a Tewa-led community celebration of Indigenous excellence in O’ga P’ogeh (so-called Santa Fe). We spent all day Sunday cleaning and packing so we could pile into the van and Jeep on Monday morning to head an hour south for the celebration. 

“Indigenous Peoples Day: Back to Our Roots - Celebrating Indigenous Excellence” was a community celebration put on by the Three Sisters Collective (3SC), a collective of Pueblo, Tewa, Diné, and other native women. Dr. Christine Castro, who also goes by “Dr. X”, is a founding member of the collective and first let us know about the celebration five weeks prior, when we met with her in so-called Santa Fe during our orientation week for a native-centered tour of the city. Dr. X is a tribal member of two Tewa Pueblos and has dedicated her life to educating her communities and the greater Santa Fe community about Tewa culture and the ongoing fight against neo-colonization and neo-colonialism. Seeing Dr. X that Monday afternoon, completely in her element and often being trailed by laughing native children, was so joyous—she was surrounded by her community of native and non-native friends and loved ones, and the day’s activities were dedicated to celebrating Indigenous excellence. This was radical joy in the face of colonization and violence. It was tangible and so so sweet. 

The celebration was hosted by Reunity Resources, a farm and community center in Agua Fría, Santa Fe. This was not our first time at Reunity—we had come first with Dr. X on that Sunday five weeks prior and had also returned in mid-September for their Fall Festival. Returning again for Indigenous Peoples Day really felt like we had become a part of the northern New Mexico community in a meaningful way, despite five weeks having flown by. The sun was shining and native vendors were selling their art and work in rows along the rows of corn and wildflowers. Solange Aguilar, a queer Apache/Yo’eme/Kalnga/Kapampangan artist, sold us stickers that said “My Queerness is Ancestral” and “Protect the Land with Me.” Students bought jewelry and handicrafts for their friends and loved ones back home. Sticky sweet paletas dripped down our forearms as we gathered in the performance space to listen to the Indigenous open mic. Everything felt so abundant, immediate, vital. 

Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms

[caption id="attachment_158251" align="alignnone" width="2049"] The student group attends an open mic for Indigenous Peoples' Day[/caption] The performances started off with a young native Japanese girl named Ishi. Her voice was breathtakingly beautiful and carried over the vendors and blooming crops: You cannot eat money, when the rivers are poisoned and the fields are barren you cannot eat money. What if we lived in a world that valued the earth and sustenance over monetary gain and capitalism? These are Indigenous futurisms and Ishi was generously giving us a taste.  Israel F. Haros Lopez was sitting nearby, beside his pregnant spouse. About a month prior we had gathered on this same farm with Israel to make art and commune with the earth. Israel is the founder and director of Alas de Agua, a grassroots art collective in so-called Santa Fe run by and for Chicanx, Latinx, Indigenous, queer/trans, immigrant, and BIPOC artists. I was surprised to see that Israel’s spouse had not yet given birth - when we met with him nearly a month prior he had said the baby was coming any day now. “Alas de Agua” translates to “Wings of Water” in English. Israel jumped up and walked to the open mic, a water glass in hand. He grabbed the mic: “Together we are going to call forth the names of our baby - multiple names because we have not decided on one yet. He is overdue and we so badly want him here with us.” His voice cracked and there were tears in his eyes, and he looked directly at his spouse and began to perform spoken word, calling on Water to deliver their baby. Water is our blood. Water is our bodies. The water we shared the first time we made love. The water that is holding our son now. The water that is our love. Water is our baby. Water is life. Let the Water break now. Israel was calling on Water to deliver their baby, sharing the glass of water with his spouse at the end. What if we lived in a world that valued water as our teacher, our lover, our elder? What if we lived in a world that revered water as a sentient being with personhood and rights? These are Indigenous futurisms and Israel was generously giving us a taste.  To the left of the stage were a group of people sitting in a circle and harvesting amaranth seed as they listened to the performances. Two people stood up, brushed the amaranth seeds off their laps, and headed to the mic - Beata Tsosie-Peña and Frayer of Tewa Women United. TWU is a collective based in Española that works to build the Tewa community and end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Mother Earth. We had met Beata and Frayer a few weeks prior in Española, when we met with them for an afternoon at the Española Healing Gardens Oasis and learned about the intersections between seed sovereignty, Indigenous sovereignty, and reproductive/gender justice. In addition to working as the Environmental Health and Justice Coordinator at TWU, Beata also works as a doula and is a Pueblo representative for the New Mexico Governor’s task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. That day we harvested beautiful purple and pink colored beans in the field, laughing with our hands in the dirt. Beata and Frayer took the mic for a spoken word duet: The elm tree did not ask to be planted along our Río Bravo shores. They were brought over without their consent, by white men who knew nothing about their seeds, their branches, their root systems. What if we lived in a world that treated seeds and plants as our elders? What would it mean to ask a plant for consent, to form a loving relationship with the ecologies around us? And what if we lived in a world where native women could give birth the way they wanted, and lived without fear of violence? These are Indigenous futurisms and Beata and Frayer were generously giving us a taste.  As the open mic came to a close, a DJ started mixing The Bee Gees and a dance party broke out. We hopped and stomped and spun around in the late afternoon sun with everyone else who had just witnessed all the beautiful wisdom of the Indigenous open mic, and as we moved our bodies there was an undeniable wave of irresistible joy.  The site and organizational visits we have been doing on this program are often heavy. From nuclear colonialism and the effect of Los Alamos and the Trinity Test Site atomic bomb testing on the immediate surrounding Indigenous communities and on the whole planet; to environmental racism and the incarceration of Black and Brown youth in underserved Albuquerque neighborhoods; to the struggles of immigrants to obtain legal protections in our country’s broken immigration system; to the violence that trans, non-binary and femmes migrants face while trying to cross the border for a better life - liberation for all often feels far from our current reality. Beata herself shared with us that the reason she got involved in environmental health and justice work was due to the daily realities of living next to a nuclear weapons complex. There is much healing to be done.  The celebration at Reunity Resources this Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a reminder of the power of radical hope and joy—the need for this in the healing process. Despite ongoing colonization and violence, we danced. We danced together, and together we witnessed —with our own eyes and ears and bodies—what Indigenous futurisms hold, for us all, if we are willing to listen and learn.

Hear what students had to say about the celebration

[caption id="attachment_158247" align="aligncenter" width="2049"] Students from the Tufts Civic Semester celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day in New Mexico[/caption] Lily Feng, 18, Farmington, Connecticut: “There was a moment where we were in the courtyard listening to the open mic, and I looked around and saw all the diversity of people there, and it struck me that we were taking part in something revolutionary. It was the first time Indigenous People’s Day had been recognized by the Biden administration, and it was the first time the Three Sisters Collective had put on this celebration, and it felt powerful. It also felt like our first portion of the trip had come full circle - all the Indigenous people who we had met while in northern New Mexico were there, and it felt like we had created longterm and meaningful relationships. We were able to participate in these radical Indigenous futurisms, as Dr. X said, and that is powerful.”  Caroline Bewley, 18, Willamette, Illinois: “What made this day particularly memorable was that it was our last day in northern New Mexico so it was a day that was already filled with so much emotion. We got to go for an Indigenous People's Day celebration at the farm that we went to on our first day, so going back really was a full circle moment and felt like the perfect way to end this chapter of the program. We also got to listen to spoken word poetry, music, and singing from Indigenous creatives which I really enjoyed. Additionally, at the celebration we got to say goodbye to some of the people that had taken the time to meet with us and teach us more about what they do and how they are contributing to the betterment of their communities.”  Biani Ebie, 18, Lagos, Nigeria and Boston, Massachusetts: “I really enjoyed the celebration. Just being able to witness Indigenous excellence was something special. Seeing Dr. X and Israel and Beata and Frayer again, it felt like a full circle moment and felt like the best way to end our time in northern New Mexico. It felt cyclical in the best way possible.”  Ben Chisam, 18, Atlanta, Georgia: “It was really powerful because Dr. X shared about how the particular Indigenous community that was coming together for the day’s celebration was a new community. It was powerful to see that space being created. We witnessed a lot of the colonialism of Santa Fe as a city during our time in northern New Mexico, and it felt powerful to see a decolonial space created by Indigenous people and for Indigenous people. It was also a testament to the fact that Indigenous people are not just a figment of the past, but are very much a force of the present and will be in the future as well. It was a safe and radically inclusive space to be in.”  Learn more about our domestic Summer Programs and Gap Year Semesters for the 2022 season. The program most closely related to this story is the Rio Grande Semester, offered next in Fall 2022.  [post_title] => Indigenous People's Day in O'ga P'ogeh: Celebrating Indigenous Futurisms  [post_excerpt] => Learn how the Dragons - Tufts Civic Semester group celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day in northern New Mexico. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => indigenous-peoples-day-in-oga-pogeh-celebrating-indigenous-futurisms [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-06-21 19:44:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-06-22 01:44:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 36 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Global Community )
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[caption id="attachment_158047" align="aligncenter" width="762"]Lake Superior: The Good Life  A group photo from Dragons' Lake Superior: The Good Life program — Summer 2021.[/caption]

To better support students coming from all backgrounds and identities, we’re excited to share two resources: Allyship Abroad & “Traveling as You: A Guide for Specific Identities”.  It’s our hope to create a culture and community that supports each participant to travel as their fullest self. These resources, and pedagogical approach, help all participants learn more about themselves, and how to be better allies in the world. 

We walk through the world carrying our experiences and histories. Some aspects of ourselves are visible, but much goes unseen, to us and others. When we travel, we gain more understanding of all that we are, and all that we are not. We begin to learn that while there is certainly a shared human experience, we’re also individuals that have unique and nuanced identities. Although we leave home, we still carry these identities with us when we travel. 

Diversity, Inclusion, and Allyship Abroad: Fostering a more just, compassionate and inclusive world.

The Allyship Abroad webpage is full of information on how to support individuals with specific identities and general resources for diversity and inclusion. It’s broken down into these five sections: 
  • For families: Discover why it’s important to talk through your family values and be aware that we facilitate and welcome conversations around these topics on our programs. 
  • Glossary of terms: A helpful tool for defining the key words related to diversity, equity, and inclusion work. 
  • Identity and you: Through a series of questions, you’ll be guided through defining your identity and why it’s so important for everyone, even people from dominant identities who might not have reflected on this much before. 
  • Skillbuilding for allyship abroad and at home: Discover the tools that will help you become a better ally through podcasts, online resources, books and articles, and more guided questions from our team. 
  • Identity related risks and travel: All travel involves risks and challenges, and some participants might have different challenges abroad based on factors such as gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. This section is designed so you can equip yourself with helpful skills and resources to stay safe, informed, and thriving on your Dragons program.

Traveling as You: a Guide for Specific Identities

The goal of Traveling as You is to serve as a resource for allyship. The webpage walks you through different identities and explains what might come up for each specific identity while on a Dragons or student travel program. It goes more into depth for the following identities:  
  • Race, Ethnicity, Nationality 
  • Sexual Orientation (LGBTQ+)
  • Gender 
  • Religion 
  • Political Ideology 
  • Disability 
  • Body Size 
  • Low Income and First Generation Students
For each identity, the guide provides example scenarios of situations that may come up on your Dragons program, and reflection questions to get you thinking about how to prepare. Of course this is helpful for your own identity and for being aware of all the identities around you, especially those on your program.  And no Dragons guide would be complete without providing extra resources — which can be found at the bottom of this webpage. This list was designed to be your one-stop as a quick place to get an overview of the amazing and comprehensive resources out there to support diversity abroad. Whether you’re eager to learn how you can become a better ally at home and while traveling on a program, or you want to know more about your identity in the world, then these resources are here to help. We hope to continue fostering a more just, compassionate, and inclusive world, one student and one program at a time.  [post_title] => How to Become a Better Ally, at Home and Abroad [post_excerpt] => At Where There Be Dragons, we’re always striving to improve diversity and inclusion within our student body and travel programs. That’s why our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee created two resources for becoming a better ally as well as a guide to traveling as you. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => how-to-become-a-better-ally-at-home-and-abroad [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-04-23 17:18:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-04-23 23:18:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 653 [name] => Global Community [slug] => global_community [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 653 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Featured International People, Places, Projects. [cat_name] => Global Community [category_nicename] => global_community [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 43 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 43 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [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] => 25 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 15 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 25 [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] => Global Community, About Dragons ... )
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