Photo by Ryan Gasper, Andes & Amazon Semester.

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    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2019-08-15 12:09:10
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-08-15 18:09:10
    [post_content] => 

Twenty-two years ago I walked into a small town in southwestern China near dusk and realized I was in trouble. I had the equivalent of just a few dollars left in my wallet and the only bank in town was closed (there weren’t any ATMs). I had no place to stay for the night, no ticket onward, and knew no one in the area. Like most people at that time, I didn’t have a cell phone—even if I had, I’m not sure who I would have called. I stood on the steps of the (closed) bank, one of the larger buildings in town, and watched the warm, late spring sun sinking lower in the sky, considering my options and feeling angry with myself. I was also exhausted and hungry after walking all day. This wasn’t my first brush with the consequences of failing to think ahead (nor would it be my last!) but in a completely unfamiliar place, in a country then still very new to me, with Chinese language skills that might be generously described as “intermediate”, traveling solo… I was feeling both stuck and stupid. The days and weeks leading up to this moment had been some of the happiest and most exciting of my life. I’d taken a year off from college and worked all fall so that I could join a study program in China in the spring. This kind of travel, which was never in the cards for my family growing up, was something I’d always dreamed of. To explain why, I have to tell another story first… WHEN I WAS SEVEN YEARS OLD... The town where I grew up sponsored a group of Cambodian refugees who had fled the genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge. One of these refugees, a boy a couple of years older than me, named Kiri, became my friend, and something like an idol. Kiri’s life experiences were different from mine in pretty much every way. I grew up in small college towns in New England where life was mostly quiet and peaceful. Kiri’s family had all been killed in the chaos that enveloped Cambodia at that time and he fled with other children through the jungle, arriving eventually in a refugee camp before coming to the US. Kiri’s childhood experiences left him with scars I couldn’t see, but had some sense of, even as a kid. His experiences also left him with great survival skills—including what, to my seven-year old ears, was a knockout sense of humor. Kiri was still learning English, and one day when he was over at my house, he discovered the power of the phrase, “never mind.” From that moment on, every time Kiri and I needed a boost of extra entertainment as we played upstairs, Kiri would call to my mother downstairs. “Hey, Susan?” “Yes, Kiri?” my mom would answer knowingly. “Never mind!” (cue cascade of two boys laughing). My mom was very patient. Kiri also had concrete survival skills as a result of the time he spent escaping war in the wilderness. One day, Kiri came with my family for a walk in the woods and he and I went down to a stream below the path. I watched him pull a live fish, about six inches long, out of the stream with his bare hands. From that moment on, I did everything I could to emulate Kiri. Kiri had a habit of carrying photos around with him inside his t-shirt, “close to the heart.” One was of his parents. Another was of a tank. After he showed me the photos, I asked my parents for some photos to put inside my t-shirt. Through Kiri, I got to know other kids and families in the Cambodian refugee community in our town. Although I wouldn’t have been able to explain it quite this way at the time, I began to fall in love with people and things that were different from those I knew. I began to wonder about life in places far away from home. I began to dream about seeing the world. So, many years later, when Chinese was introduced as a language option at my high school (a rare opportunity at a public high school in 1991), I jumped at the opportunity. I loved languages, but even more so, I loved the idea of being able to communicate with people whose lives and cultures were profoundly different from mine. Eventually, in the spring of my junior year in college, I landed in China’s Yunnan Province—a place that felt to me like a wonderland: more than 30 different ethnic groups, biodiversity with ecosystems ranging from snowy mountains higher than any I’d ever seen to dense tropical rainforests, a long list of religious traditions, foods as familiar as fried potatoes and as unfamiliar as roasted cicadas. I was in paradise. The culmination of my semester was a month-long “independent project.” Working with my program advisor, I set out to follow the Mekong River along its entire path through Yunnan, from the Tibetan region of Kham in the northwestern corner of the province, downstream and south through ethnically Hui, Lisu, Pumi, Yi, Naxi, Bai, Wa, Dai (and the list goes on) areas to Xishuangbanna, bordering Myanmar and Laos. Carrying letters of introduction that I hoped would allow me to enter many counties then closed to foreign travelers, and cartons of cigarettes needed to win over skeptical local officials, I set out with the goal of covering as much of the route as I could by foot—a goal I soon realized was totally unrealistic given the distance I had to cover and the month I had available. Walking is still my favorite mode of transport. It’s the only way to move from one place to another slowly enough to really see things. It’s also the only way to move that leaves you with no choice but to stop and talk with people along the way. I discovered quickly how friendly, hospitable, and curious the people of rural Yunnan were, often stopping to offer me rides, and inviting me into their homes for meals. In the Meili Snow Mountains of northwestern Yunnan, a family pulled me into their shack near the road to offer me a small piece of fried fat and a plastic cup of orange soda—the most luxurious things they had to offer. In another town, I asked a girl on the street how to get to the post office. She looked at the items I wanted to mail back to my advisor’s home in Kunming and told me I’d need to have a container to mail them in. She then brought me back to her family’s home for lunch, found an empty grain sack, and carefully packed all of my things in it. I repeated all of the ways I knew to say “thank you” as she stitched up the sack and walked with me to the post office. When we arrived, she helped me navigate the maze of counters, fees, forms, and surly officers with red stamps that run the engine of the world’s oldest bureaucracy. Again and again, I was stunned by the level of hospitality and generosity I was shown. WHICH BRINGS ME BACK TO THE BEGINNING OF THIS STORY... As I arrived in a small town, at the end of a long day’s walk with no money, not even enough for a meal, and no place to stay. As I stood there on the steps of the bank, a man walked over to me. “Hello, can I help you with something?” he asked, “Are you lost?” Startled out of my own thoughts of how foolish I’d been, I explained I was looking for a bank. “This is the only bank around. It’s closed now.” “Too bad,” I said, then, thinking of another priority, “Can you recommend any very cheap places to eat nearby?” The stranger asked me more questions and I eventually began to explain my predicament, but before I had even finished, he opened his wallet and pulled out 100 kuai—at the time equal to about twelve US dollars, and more than enough for a room and a meal. He insisted I take the money. “Chinese people are hospitable,” he said, “and you are our guest from another country. I know you would help me if I were a visitor to your country.” I wondered if that last part was true. I hoped so. I wasn’t sure. Unfortunately, I didn’t think too many foreign young men in small towns in the US were approached by strangers offering assistance and cash. Then, the stranger spoke a Chinese phrase that was, by then, starting to become familiar to me. “It’s what I should do,” he said. I was tired, stress had been building, and I was choked up as he handed me the 100 kuai bill. I asked him to write down his address and promised (though he said it wasn’t necessary) to send him the money he’d given me once I could get to a bank. I thanked him profusely. I imagined how much better things might be for people everywhere if we all did what we should do. WHAT’S THE MORAL OF THIS STORY? I suppose the obvious answer might be: plan in advance and be prepared. Yawn. You’ve heard that before. If I hadn’t set out to “walk the Mekong in a month” (I mean, come on, really, kid?) I might not have been gifted the realization of my own incompetence and lack of knowledge, or the truth of my reliance on others. I never would have met that stranger who showed me such pure generosity, or been faced with the uncomfortable question: Would this ever happen where I’m from? If I hadn’t overshot in what I thought I could do, I wouldn’t have felt what I did in the moment that stranger said, “It’s what I should do.” And that’s a moment that I have always remembered. I remembered it through what turned into eleven years of living in China, and a lifetime of involvement with China and with Chinese people. I remember it, sometimes, when I send groups of students to the high mountains and deep river valleys of Yunnan Province, and to live with homestay families in villages just a short distance away from that small town and the steps of its only bank (no doubt, there are many banks and ATMs there by now!). These days, it’s my job to help those students and their instructors prepare, and plan, and manage budgets, and risk, and logistics. But it’s my wish that they’ll truly challenge themselves, and that sometimes things will go wrong, and that when things do go wrong, they may learn something powerful and unexpected. AND WITH THAT IN MIND... I want to turn this story back in a circle. It has been many, many years since I lost touch with my friend Kiri. My family moved away from that town in New England when I was seven years old. As I wrote out this story, I had the inclination to do something that wasn’t an option back then: I Googled Kiri. Kiri is not his real name. His real name is unique enough that on my first search, to my astonishment, I found a news story about him. It turns out life got complicated for Kiri as he got older and he became involved in criminal activities. His actions weren’t violent, but drug-related crimes led to years in jail. As a result of changing policies and more hostile attitudes towards immigration in the US, Kiri was deported. After growing up, marrying, and having children in this country, he was sent back to the country from which he had originally fled as a refugee. I felt tears come to my eyes as I read about Kiri being separated from his children in the US, and sent back to a place where he had no living family members, a place now as unfamiliar to him as the US had been when he first arrived. Because of what I learned, the process of writing this story down took a different turn for me. Since I learned about Kiri’s deportation, I’ve been trying to get more information, and to contact Kiri, trying to find out if there’s anything I can do to help. In short, I’m trying to return some of the favors the world has granted me and to figure out what I should do.

  JODY SEGAR is China Programs Director at Where There Be Dragons. He wants readers to know that he did get around to mailing that stranger’s money back, plus extra. (PHOTOS: Northwestern Yunnan, 1996) [post_title] => When Things Go Wrong - An Essay by Jody Segar, Dragons China Program Director [post_excerpt] => "Twenty-two years ago I walked into a small town in southwestern China near dusk and realized I was in trouble..." [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => when-things-go-wrong-an-essay-by-jody-segar-dragons-china-program-director [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-08-15 12:18:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-08-15 18:18:53 [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] => 15 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 653 [category_count] => 15 [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] => 675 [name] => The Dragons Journal [slug] => thedragonsjournal [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 675 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [parent] => 0 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => Archives of The Dragons Journal (formerly known as the Map's Edge Newsletter). [cat_name] => The Dragons Journal [category_nicename] => thedragonsjournal [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] => 10 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 10 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Global Community, The Dragons Journal ... )
WP_Post Object
    [ID] => 154550
    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2019-04-03 11:11:49
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-04-03 17:11:49
    [post_content] => 

We hope you enjoy this featured yak written by Fernanda Zorrilla, a student on the Mekong Semester:


For a short period of time I worked as an assistant teacher in a Montessori school, the same school that I went to as a child. I was working with kindergarten kids, children from four to six years old. Everyday was a little adventure, somehow they managed to fill every hour with drama, tears, and fights, and then quickly switch to laughter, games, and a lot of love.

I really believe I learned more from them that they did from me. One day, the teacher made a circle with the students and placed a pencil in the middle. Then she simply asked, “What is this?”

They all answered the logical way and said it was a pencil, then kept silent. The teacher asked again, “What else is this?” The 5 year old students where thinking, some where questioning what she meant, and some others started to get distracted with whatever they found.

Suddenly a boy said, “It is also wood!” Then another added that it also has yellow paint. And so on, and so forth, with all the materials and elements of the pencil. Another kid screamed (he even stood up from his chair), that pencil needs a tree because it’s wood, and that tree needs water to grow.

One clever kid concluded: This pencil is everything.

With little help from the teacher, the children where able to imagine the trees that needed to be cut down by a lumberjack, who needed food to be strong, so therefore someone had to grow the food and transport it to a supermarket so the lumberjack could buy it and eat it to cut the trees and make the wood to have a pencil. They imagined more and more. They had no limits, they started to question each other on what else needed to exist for that pencil to be there. Their imagination went so far that they ended up talking about planets. One clever kid concluded: This pencil is everything.

Watching 5 year olds explore and understand the concept of oneness left me in complete awe. Most people may not think about this in their entire life, and others (including me) tend to forget easily. This past month has constantly reminded me of this exercise, watching those kids understand something so complex, and yet so simple.

My time here has made me see this more clearly and closer than ever. It has also made me realize how frightening this idea is, especially since we act like individuals that are not integrated. When in reality, it is inevitable that everything is connected, and everything to be one. But it is beautiful too, being here in this little piece of land surrounded by water, that same water that marks the border between Laos and Thailand, that same water that feeds millions and kills some others, the water we pollute and then consume. The Mekong River is one, but it is not been treated as that.

how would we treat a pencil if every time we used it we saw the entire world participating on its existence?

So then I wonder, how would we treat a pencil if every time we used it we saw the entire world participating on its existence? How would we treat our rivers and resources? How would we treat each other and ourselves? I really don’t know the answer to this, but I’m a challenging myself to be more conscious, and right here and right now is the perfect time to practice. To be aware of this beautifully fragile concept of oneness. And I think to myself that if kindergarten children where able to do it, I must be capable too.

You can read more from the Mekong participants on the program Yak Board.

[post_title] => What is a pencil? - Featured Student Reflection from the Mekong Semester [post_excerpt] => "For a short period of time I worked as an assistant teacher in a Montessori school, the same school that I went to as a child. I was working with kindergarten kids, children from four to six years old. Everyday was a little adventure, somehow they managed to fill every hour with drama, tears, and fights, and then quickly switch to laughter, games, and a lot of love." [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => what-is-a-pencil-featured-student-reflection-from-the-mekong-semester [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-04-22 11:30:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-04-22 17:30:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [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] => 50 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 4 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 50 [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] => 670 [name] => Recommended [slug] => recommended [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 670 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [parent] => 0 [count] => 10 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 10 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Recommended )
WP_Post Object
    [ID] => 154370
    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2019-02-21 12:08:17
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-02-21 19:08:17
    [post_content] => 

We love to see research supporting the same conclusions our alumni students and parents have come to. If you're debating the pros and cons of a Gap Year, we highly recommend this article by Psychology Today.

Here's an excerpt:  

"Universities are starting to understand the benefits of the gap year and making deferrals easier, even offering their own gap year service experiences. Tufts and Princeton offer tuition-free international service programs. Florida State University, University of North Carolina, and Duke are offering scholarships to make gap years available to students of diverse backgrounds.

“Why should we live with such hurry ….?” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1846. This is a question we can ask ourselves today in our fast-paced society. The gap year may be a solution for some students to grow socially and emotionally, to gain maturity, or to get a stronger financial footing, so they can achieve success in the college years."

Read the full article, Is a Gap Year Good for Your Child's Mental Health and GPA? on Psychology Today.

[post_title] => Featured Article by Psychology Today: Is a Gap Year Good for Your Child's Mental Health and GPA? [post_excerpt] => We love to see research supporting the same conclusions our alumni students and parents have come to. If you're debating the pros and cons of a Gap Year, we highly recommend this article by Psychology Today... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => featured-article-by-psychology-today-is-a-gap-year-good-for-your-childs-mental-health-and-gpa [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-02-21 12:09:35 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-02-21 19:09:35 [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] => 22 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 2 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 22 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 34 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 34 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [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] => 10 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 10 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, For Parents ... )
WP_Post Object
    [ID] => 154135
    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2018-12-13 10:03:07
    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-13 17:03:07
    [post_content] => 
"It blends my love of cute things with India and this desire that I have for people to understand the rest of the world better," Sommers says.

This week, we are celebrating the recognition of Christy Sommers (Dragons South Asia Program Director) and her feature by NPR this week in a piece titled, "Dear Internet: Goats In Sweaters Are Cuter Than Kittens In Mittens." We encourage you to read the article and see for yourself seven "impossibly cute" photos of goats wearing sweaters!

From the NPR article:

"Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. Now she considers the project as adding "net happiness" to the world and helping to share a little slice of life from parts of the world that Americans don't often get to see."

PS. There's also a calendar. Sales of which benefit local organizations in Varanasi, India. Sounds like Christy quickly sold out after the NPR feature, but she's working on a re-print! More details here. [post_title] => Christy Sommers & Her Featured Goats in Sweaters! [post_excerpt] => This week, we are celebrating the recognition of Christy Sommers (Dragons South Asia Program Director) and her feature by NPR this week in a piece titled, "Dear Internet: Goats In Sweaters Are Cuter Than Kittens In Mittens." We encourage you to read the article and see for yourself seven "impossibly cute" photos of goats wearing sweaters!  [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => christy-sommers-her-featured-goats-in-sweaters [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-12-13 10:04:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-12-13 17:04:27 [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] => 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] => 23 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 8 [cat_ID] => 640 [category_count] => 23 [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] => ) [1] => 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] => 10 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 10 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 36 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 36 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Instructors, Recommended ... )
WP_Post Object
    [ID] => 152894
    [post_author] => 21
    [post_date] => 2018-04-11 08:23:40
    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-04-11 14:23:40
    [post_content] => 

When three EXPERTS put together a "Master Packing List" for Indonesia, you grab it and save it for your next trip to Southeast Asia! Ps. Thank you Luke Hein, Rita Sri Suwantari, and Olivia Werby! The following post is from the Indonesia Gap Year Program Pre-Course Yak Message Board.

Selamat Datang Dragons, It’s about time to start that first round of packing. This is when it all starts to feel real! It is less stressful when you consider that there is no “one way” to pack, just as there is no one way to travel. The three of us all have different styles of packing. You know yourself what will make you happiest. The mantra for our trip is “travel light.” It’s not going to be the “stuff” that makes your trip. In fact, it is very freeing to travel without so much stuff. The culture on our trip will not be one of fashion-sense. We’ll be wearing our clothes repeatedly (and learn how to wash along the way). THINK LIGHT! You will have to put whatever you bring onto the tops of buses and into the backs of trucks, and you may have to carry your bag for long distances. The lighter you pack, the happier you (and the rest of the group) will be! Pack your bag and then walk around the block three times. Seriously, ask yourself, “can I walk two hours with this on my back in 90 degree weather with 100 percent humidity?” If the honest answer is “no”, then open it up and decide what isn’t necessary. When you’re hiking through the jungle or weaving your way through a crowded port, you’ll be so happy you took our advice. Students who arrive at the airport drastically over- packed will be asked to send extra items home at their own expense. We will be taking flights with weight restrictions. Some flights may allow only 10kg (22lbs) of checked luggage per person. And although there will be many opportunities to do your laundry by hand, you’ll be happiest with light, wrinkle-free, quick-dry clothing that doesn’t easily show dirt. It is very important that you can fit all of your belongings into one backpack (and a day pack) that you are comfortable carrying on your own! Note: you will not have to fit your daypack into your backpack. When we are carrying all of our things, your backpack will be on your back, your daypack on your front. Additionally, you will be asked to help carry separate group gear bags in partners with your free hands. We will become adept at hauling our world! GEAR – The most important point here is that you should be comfortable with your gear. Be sure you know how to pack and adjust your backpack, and that you can carry it comfortably when it is full. We have made suggestions of possible companies that make certain items on this list; however, the same product is almost always made by other non-brand-name brands. Comfort is key! Each participant will get a phone call from one of the instructors over the next few weeks, to answer any questions you have about the trip, and about packing. If you’d like to ask it sooner, just post a public yak with your question. Below is the GO-TO packing list. There is another general list for Indonesia trips that was mailed to you. It’s close, but if there are discrepancies USE THIS ONE. REQUIRED EQUIPMENT:
  1. PASSPORT ideally kept in a plastic cover.
  2. PASSPORT COPIES: Scan your passport–the main passport page (with your photo) and print three hard copies: Two to carry with you to Indonesia, and a third to leave at home with your guardians. Pro tip: Email yourself and your guardians a copy of the scans so that you can access them online if necessary.
  3. STUDENT ID Having this with you will help us, as there are sites that will give us discounted entrance tickets. This needs to have an expiration date and be valid. If for whatever reason you don’t currently have a student ID, then bring a picture ID like a driver’s license as this often works.
  4. A BACKPACK around 45 liters is the best – Just remember that you will be carrying it, and the smaller it is the better. Your shoes (and everything else) need to be able to be packed inside your pack, nothing tied on to the outside—it’s culturally offensive to have your shoes showing.
  5. A BACKPACKCOVER: Waterproof slip to fit over your backpack is important for the group will be traveling during a rain and mud season. HEFTY trash bags (to layer both the inside and outside of your bag) can work equally well.
  6. Small, light DAY PACK with straps (15-20 liters). This must be well-made as it will be used daily and may be weighted down with books or gear and water for day hikes. It’s nice if it has a small hip belt to provide a bit of support despite its lightweight material and small packing size.
  7. A COMPRESSION SACK (stuff sack) for your clothes to pack down small, re-sealable quart-size ZIPLOCK BAGS to keep liquids separate from other items to prevent explosions and get through airport security, and a small DRY BAG. This will come in handy for our water time when you want to keep valuables dry. Having your things in stuff sacks or smaller bags within your giant pack will make packing, un-packing, and re-packing a lot easier as well as keep your valuables safe from water and rain.
  8. TWO REUSEABLE WATER BOTTLES about 1 quart each (like Nalgenes) – some students recommend one regular water bottle and one pouch-style water bottle that rolls up to save on space and weight. Regardless, make sure the cap-style you choose is not prone to leaking. A pro tip is to wrap some duct tape a few times around the middle section of one of your water bottles for later use. Duct tape is handy in a number of scenarios, and it feels great to be prepared for whatever you encounter: a small tear in your bag, a broken flip-flop, etc!
  9. MOSQUITO NET (only bring one that you have opened and tested). This is an important piece of safety equipment. Even if you are taking anti-malaria medication, it’s not 100% effective and there are still some nasty viruses (namely dengue fever) that we can contract from mosquitoes, not to mention they can make for an annoying night’s sleep! We want to develop safe mosquito practices early on so we all stay healthy for our 6 weeks of travel together. Most likely you will use your net over your homestay bed in Jogja, Langa, and Sampela. One of the most important aspects of a mosquito net is that it doesn’t touch your skin while you’re sleeping, and that it fits all the way around your sleeping space. It’s possible your homestay bed will be a wider mattress, and you want to make sure your net fits all the way around the bed, so we recommend a double-sized model. One version we recommend is the Sea to Summit Pyramid Double. This hangs from a central point on the ceiling and can easily tie to a light fixture, a beam, etc. If you are a large person or a rowdy sleeper you might consider a four-cornered version like the Mombasa Outback Double. Even if there are not hooks on the walls around you, this version is light enough to attach with tape, and doesn’t crowd your sleeping space.
  10. Small bottle/tube of MOSQUITO REPELLENT (1-3 oz bottle stored in a Ziploc bag) You can buy more there. Some choose natural ingredients, while others feel they aren’t as effective. If you choose to bring DEET, you do not need more than 30% strength. Anything over that is redundant in terms of protection. DEET is a chemical, so one must wash their hands with soap and water after each application to ensure it does not get ingested or near the eyes. Note: The best deterrent is staying covered by wearing long sleeves and pants.
  11. Small, lightweight HEADLAMP and extra batteries in a Ziploc bag. It is great to have a headlamp that has a locking function so that it doesn’t accidentally turn on and run itself out in your pack. Pro tip: Headlamps with a red light option (instead of just white) help reduce bugs at night.
  12. Waterproof WATCH w/ an alarm. Practice setting alarm before the trip to become familiar with your gear.
  13. A diary or JOURNAL and pens (that won’t leak/explode in warm weather).
  14. SUNGLASSES (Look for sunglasses that protect you from 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light) with attached cord to prevent them falling and getting lost during activities.
  15. SUNSCREEN, 45+, water-proof/sweat-proof, two ~3-ounce bottles in a Ziploc bag to protect them from explosions. If you have sensitive skin, make sure to bring enough of your preferred brand for the whole trip. If not, it’s possible to find generic replacements in Indonesia.
  16. CHAPSTICK with sunscreen.
  17. GLASSES or CONTACTS and contact solution stored in a Ziploc bag. If you wear contacts make sure you have enough for the entire trip (+ an extra case and enough solution too!), or if you wear glasses primarily bring a backup pair.
  18. Small travel size SHAMPOO that will last about one week. You can buy more there when you run out. Some use Lush bar shampoo which lasts forever, but can be messy to travel with as it takes awhile to dry out after each use. Your choice. Please note: it is possible to buy a variety of toiletries in Indonesia but not the exact thing you have at home.
  19. TOOTHBRUSH, small tube of TOOTHPASTE, and mini DENTAL FLOSS. These are also available in Indonesia. There’s no need to bring a tube larger than 1 ounce. Any more takes up unnecessary weight and space.
  20. Small lightweight HAIRBRUSH or COMB & any necessary hair elastics, headbands or pins
  21. Small travel size SOAP. Liquid or bar form, your preference. Bronners makes versatile biodegradable soap that can be used to wash yourself and your clothes. Most of the time, our bath water goes straight into streams and oceans. Keep it in a Ziploc bag or container.
  22. TAMPONS are hard to find in Indonesia. If you use these please bring a good supply with you. Pads are also available in cities, but we recommend that you bring your own supply. Pro tip: Look into a menstrual cup e.g. Diva Cup/Moon Cup, as these can be great alternatives too and reduce waste, which can be awkward to get rid of in a homestay setting. We highly recommend the Diva cup (but you must be comfortable using it prior to the trip). Don’t be shy asking your instructors about them!
  23. If you shave, a RAZOR that you like and a few extra blades safely stored. Small bottle or tube of shaving cream in a Ziploc bag. If you have facial hair, it’s appropriate to keep it well trimmed. A clean-shaven face is the cultural norm. On appearance and hygiene: While Dragons supports personal choices about appearance that don’t coincide with social paradigms in the US, it is HIGHLY encouraged to adhere to local cultural norms in order to have the best chance of deep and mutual relationships in a short time-frame based on respect. Most women in Indonesia don’t shave their legs or armpits, but almost all men keep cleanly-shaven faces.
  24. One travel size DEODORANT that you prefer. Many types can be purchased in Indonesia. While wearing deodorant is a personal choice, bathing, hygiene, and cleanliness during homestays is not. Most Indonesians take a bucket bath 3 times a day. We will learn how!
  25. SMALL kit of NECESSARY MEDICATIONS, prescription or over the counter, with instructions on its use and dosage (by your doctor if by prescription) bring a full three month supply of any prescription meds. Clear and correct labeling of bottles with prescriptions is important for proper identification when screened at airports during travel. The Instructor Team will carry a comprehensive medical kit with first aid supplies, over the counter medications, and broad spectrum antibiotics, but it’s nice if everyone carries a small personal supply of basic med items such as a few band aids, alcohol wipes, ibuprofen for pain relief and to reduce swelling, anti-nausea tablets for windy roads (non-drowsy!). You can also consider bringing probiotics, which are not available in Indonesia, to promote a happy GI tract, and Pepto-Bismol or a generic. If you are visiting a travel doctor before you leave, consider asking for ciprofloxacin (commonly referred to as cipro) for intense diarrhea, and azithromycin (commonly referred to as a Z-pack) for bronchial infections (and sinus, and diarrhea). Bringing these antibiotics is not required, as we can easily buy them in country, but some students like to have them for future travels. Pro-tip: request for the pharmacy to put your pills in the tiniest bottle possible to not waste space. Keep the cipro and z-pack in tiny bottles because they are the most important while other meds can just be in their individually labeled packets, torn apart so you bring only the amount you need. You should be able to fit your entire personal med kit in a snack-size Ziploc bag, 6 ½” x 3 ¼”. Bring a 7 DAY PILL CASE/ORGANIZER if you have any daily prescription meds including any anti-malarial meds. Look out for a separate Yak posting on health and medications.
  26. EARPLUGS(2-3 pair of the cheap foam ones are fine) Some of the places that we stay can be quite noisy. Having the ability to zone out when needed regardless of the environment is a great way to stay healthy in body and spirit. They’re also great for air travel. Some instructors also bring a sleeping mask to ensure peaceful rest.
  27. ELECTROLYTE PACKETS Bring a personal supply of Emergen-C, Airborne or alternative electrolyte packets. These will be important to replenish our bodies in the heat and humidity of Indonesia and fend off sickness.
  28. SNORKEL & MASK(we can rent fins in Indonesia). While it is imperative that you bring a snorkel and mask set, it is not critical to buy the nicest set in the world. You can sometimes even find masks/snorkels at thrift stores. We wouldn’t recommend bringing a “top line” mask because it will get beat-up in your pack and we only snorkel for a portion of the program.
  29. DICTIONARY and/or PHRASE BOOKWe strongly recommend the Indonesian-English pocket dictionary by Tuttle…it’s great! The Lonely Planet Indonesian phrase book is quite helpful too, but the dictionary will be more useful. They can be hard to find in stores, but you can order straight from the publisher below, or when necessary, on Amazon. You won’t regret having one of these in your home-stay when you’re trying to make conversation. Trust us, make the $10 investment!
  30. GIFTS FOR 3 HOMESTAYS – look out for a Yak post on this coming soon!
  31. SPENDING MONEY & ATM CARD Whatever you will need for souvenirs, snacks, laundry, post cards, postage, and airport taxes. We recommend $100-$200. Students can use the ATM or currency exchange upon arrival in Indonesia to access local currency. An ATM card is great to have as an emergency backup, just make sure you tell your bank you’re traveling to Indonesia. Pro-tip: Always having $20 US dollars in a hidden part of your moneybelt is a smart practice.
  1. WATER SHOES: We need to make sure to protect our feet from the sharp coral when we’re snorkeling. Most of us have found that wearing our strappy/sports sandals when swimming accomplishes this well, but it is optional to bring separate water shoes or neoprene socks if you’re more comfortable in those. Be prepared to have foot protection on at all times, so whatever you will actually wear on the beach and in the water.
  2. A LIGHTWEIGHT QUICK-DRY TOWEL – When you arrive, there will be opportunities to buy the traditional sarongs that are used by most people in Indonesia. Some instructors don’t bring a towel at all, but use a quick-dry piece of clothing in their wardrobe to dry off in order to not carry more than necessary. Do what will make you comfortable.
  3. SLEEPING BAG LINER or sleeping sheet – should be silk or cotton and lightweight. This will keep you warm on our one overnight trek, but you probably won’t use it again. Most students find they only use theirs a handful of times, but they can be nice to have on cold plane rides, etc. It’s up to you. NO sleeping bag is necessary on this course!
  4. Small ALBUM of pictures of family and friends including pictures of your house and school.  Pictures are great for starting conversations, using in English lessons, or just to ward off homesickness. Consider bringing extra copies to give away as gifts to homestays. Avoid pictures showing immodest clothing such as short skirts/shorts or bikinis as they are not culturally appropriate.
  5. CAMERA and memory cards. Bring some extra heavy-duty Ziploc bags as they pack easily and can keep your camera and other valuables dry in a pinch. Some instructors and students choose to go camera-free to better live in the moment and prioritize relationship-building and experiencing moments over ‘capturing’ them. Others love to be the group photographer and feel the camera is a part of their artistic expression. An awesome choice is to bring a Polaroid to be able to give away photos to those you create relations with. Students often set up a photo-share post-trip so that everyone has mementos, regardless of their tech choices on program. You choose what feels best for you. We will cover how to respectfully and safely carry and use cameras once in-country.
  6. SLEEPING PADThere will be at least one trekking opportunity where this will come in handy, but besides that, most students find they rarely use their pads on this course. But sometimes, especially if a homestay family only has a thin bamboo mat as a “mattress” they can make your stay more comfortable. It’s up to you, but if you do choose to bring one we recommend a compact version that can fit inside your pack for flying. It’s also perfectly fine to opt to be uncomfortable for those 3 nights in lieu of lugging around the bulk: again, your choice.
  7. SMALL TRAVEL HAMMOCK can be a fun thing to have along to lounge in, but don’t expect to be able to sleep in it regularly. This is important! Many students expect to sleep in their hammocks, and this is not a reality. Your homestay families will have dedicated a bed to you, and you will be expected to sleep there. If you choose to bring a hammock for lounging, make sure you have straps to hang it with.
  8. Bring a travel-sized INSTRUMENT if you play one: harmonica, travel guitar, mandolin, ukulele, mouth harp, etc. yes please, everyone loves music! It’s a great way to make friends with everyone quickly. You can also find some fun instruments in Jogja. For example, they have these mini travel guitars called “guitarlele”!
  9. GAMES, or something to do as a group- you will have many moments together as a group, it is nice to have games (ideas are cards, Uno, Set, Bang, banana grams, dice).
  10. Travel-sized HAND SANITIZER. Though nothing beats good old soap and water to get rid of germs, when in a pinch, hand sanitizer can be useful.
  11. LEATHERMAN MULTITOOL or POCKET KNIFE. This can be handy for cutting up fruit, etc, the trick is to remember to keep it in your checked baggage during our frequent flying.
  12. SECURITY WALLET/MONEYBELT: Instructors will collect and carry student passports, but some students still prefer to carry their money/valuables in a moneybelt. This is not required, so do what makes you most comfortable. If you choose to bring one, look for cloth options over nylon because they are cooler against the skin in humid weather. Alternatively, you could choose to bring a small soft COIN PURSE that is comfortable to wear in the bra – a sure way to not lose your valuables – or a hidden POUCH that is comfortable to wear against your body (as a necklace under your shirt or belt under your pants). Eagle Creek makes many. This is where you should have your student ID, emergency info card, cash, atm card, and photocopy of your passport. This should be comfortable, incognito, and accessible enough to use on a daily basis.
  13. Small CARABINERS to clip items like water bottles to your backpack so they don’t fall out.
  14. MALARIA PROTECTION Dragons does not issue a formal opinion on whether or not students should take Malaria prophylaxis, this decision is between you, your guardian, and your doctor. Like we mentioned before, the nastiest mosquito-borne illness dengue fever, cannot be prevented against by medication, so safe mosquito practices are important regardless of whether you choose to take malaria medication. If you do choose to take prophylaxis, please consult with your doctor about when to begin taking the medication, cycles, dosage, and any other pertinent information. Pro tip: You can access massive discounts via the website
CLOTHING: When it comes to clothing, keep it simple! You don’t need a lot, and if you find you’re lacking something, inexpensive clothing in Indonesia is abundant. Please make sure that any clothing you bring is CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE. Anything above the knee, or that exposes your shoulders, or that is low cut, or at all see-through is not acceptable. As a good rule of thumb, if you’re questioning whether a piece of clothing is appropriate, it probably isn’t. Sleeveless shirts are not appropriate for anyone. It can sometimes be frustrating to try and find clothes that meet the specifications below in the US, but you’ll be very happy you followed them. Please don’t bring shorts that go above the knees, or any tight leggings (except for sleeping in your long underwear if that’s your preference). Though some people wear shorts in urban Java, they’ll attract unwanted attention, so it is important you have capris/pants/longer skirts that you’re comfortable in. If you bring yoga pants, please bring the loose-fitting kind; no leggings/jeggings or tight fitting clothing. When it comes to shirts, no deep V-necks or loose-hanging, wide cut necklines. The styles in the US right now can be too low and often clothing will stretch out from frequent washing and humidity, meaning the neckline gets even lower which is not appropriate. Make sure that bras do not show through shirts (transparency can be an issue with lightweight fabrics), that your shirt is long enough to cover your midriff, and that bras also aren’t revealed through the armhole. Students who arrive without culturally sensitive clothing will be asked to buy additional clothes at their own cost. Indonesia is largely hot and humid. In general, you want lightweight, wrinkle-free, breathable, quick-dry, sun-protective fabrics that are not too dark (attracts sun and mosquitoes), not too light (shows dirt easily and may be more see-through), and very modest. This is the goal, do the best you can…
  1. One pair of walking OR hiking SHOES (you don’t need both). The best option is a light, low top, hiking or running shoe that can double as a street shoe. (These must be able to fit inside your pack). You do not need high top hiking boots. Make sure you wear them in BEFORE the trip so they shape to your foot. Trying out new shoes on a course is a sure way to get nasty blisters.
  2. One pair of walking SANDALS like Jambu, Chacos, Tevas, Keens, etc. (again, these should fit inside your pack). Please note: people either love or hate sandals like these. They often carry negative connotations associated with “over-geared” wealthy and disrespectful Western travelers, and yet are great all-around footwear providing protection and comfort. If you love them, awesome! If you do not want sport sandals you can use almost any other comfortable sandal, as long as you can walk long distances in them and they don’t give you blisters. They should have buckles and straps (preferably with a back strap across your heel). There is no need to spend a lot of $$ if you don’t think you will wear them. Same thing though, please wear them around prior to the course to make sure they feel good.
  3. A pair of inexpensive FLIP FLOPS is convenient and appropriate for homestays and time in rural communities, but they are not appropriate for trekking/wilderness exploration, NGO visits or travel days. You can easily buy these in country.
  4. HAT that blocks the sun (one that you’ll actually wear on course). Sometimes students show up with safari-style hats they don’t end up wearing because they feel silly. A hat you don’t wear will not protect you from sunburn, so bring one you like. Many instructors prefer baseball hats, but any style is fine.
  5. Lightweight RAIN JACKET breathable material that packs down small, or a plastic poncho that you can drape over yourself and your bag.
  6. Three to four presentable/polite T-SHIRTS. Keep in mind you will receive a Dragon’s t-shirt that can count as one of these, and more shirts can be purchased inexpensively along the way if necessary. Lightweight breathable wicking shirts help dry sweat, but cotton is often most comfortable. It’s important that these are NOT low-cut, and that bras are never visible. Many styles of v-neck or scoop t-shirts currently available in the US are not appropriate in Indonesia. Tank tops are never appropriate. Make sure that at least 1 of your four shirts (including the Dragons T) can be used for: hiking, everyday wear, mosquito protection, sleeping.
  7. One COLLARED button-down SHIRT OR BLOUSE. This can be short-sleeved if you prefer as it will be hot, but it is important to have one item to “dress up” in. Bring light colors, but try to avoid white entirely as it easily gets dirty. Make sure none of your clothing is see-through. This is part of your “nice outfit” to wear to NGO meetings and religious services/ceremonies with your homestay families.
  8. One pair of LONG NICE PANTS (lightweight like Dockers) and/or LONG SKIRT (must reach to the ankles but not drag on the ground) for more conservative or formal situations. It should not be possible to see underclothing through any of your items. This is part of your “nice outfit” to wear to NGO meetings and to religious services/ceremonies with your homestay families. It is lovely to feel “presentable” amongst locals and not out of place with only trekking gear.
  9. One pair of lightweight QUICK-DRY PANTS. Note: these do not have to be expensive zip-offs (which are good but sometimes pricey), just make sure the pants are comfortable and can dry out quickly. These are great for hiking. They must be full length to tuck into socks for leach protection in the jungle.
  10. One to two pairs of LONG SHORTS. One should be lightweight and dedicated for sleeping in while at home-stays and villages. The other could be for street and all-around wear. Remember these MUST go to your knee! Most students spend the majority of their time in their shorts and long skirts/dresses, so make sure you bring ones that are comfortable.
  11. One modest swim outfit – we recommend a RASH GUARD or QUICK DRY T-SHIRT AND a pair of BOARD SHORTS (to the knee) are required for swimming. Remember, Indonesia is a Muslim country and modesty is valued. Also, long sleeves and long shorts provide much needed sun protection. Your skin will thank you! Yet, it can be hard to find board shorts to the appropriate length, so it’s okay to get creative: many students choose to bring long basketball-style shorts, some swim in their hiking capris, and Indonesians swim in their clothes. Choose the modest option that is most comfortable to you. Keep in mind, if you put on your “swim costume” and think you look good, you’re doing something wrong. Some students choose to bring a bikini to wear underneath their Indonesian “swim suit,” a sports bra and underwear works just as well.
  12. WARM LAYERS:Even though most of Indonesia is hot and humid, we will be spending time in some colder regions too. Be sure to bring one WARM FLEECE PULLOVER or JACKET that packs down relatively small, LONG UNDERWEAR top and bottoms that are light to mid-weight capilene or polypropylene: basically some type of synthetic or wool, and a WARM HAT – you’ll be happy to have them for our home-stay in Langa, mountain hikes, and transportation days.
  13. 5 to 7 changes of comfortable COTTON UNDERWEAR (should not be visible in any cases). Cotton is more breathable than synthetic material and thus helps prevent rashes in the humid environment.
  14. 1-2 SPORTS BRAS and 1-2 regular BRAS (if applicable). Should not be visible through clothing. Some people will prefer to only have sports bras, in that case, bring 3-4.
  15. SOCKS: 2-3 pairs. One of these should be quick-dry wool or synthetic blend hiking socks. These can be ankle socks, tall enough to not slide down when hiking, but don’t need to be the full-on long hiking socks.
You can buy a lot of weather-appropriate, inexpensive, and modest clothing once you arrive in Indonesia. So, if you’re deciding between bringing two shirts or four, bring fewer and see how you go. However, for items like water bottles and headlamps we definitely recommend buying those in the US, where there is higher quality and more choice. ALL STUDENTS – DO NOT BRING:
  • More than 1 book (if everyone brings 1, we will have many to share); Kindle Paperwhite or Nook Glowlight are acceptable, though they are a risk for damage and theft. Tablet eReaders are not allowed. We will have our own traveling library on course that everyone will help to carry.
  • Any sort of electronic entertainment (Beyond what is specified in our electronics policy – Yak to come!)
  • Toiletries bigger than 3 oz.
  • Swimsuits or bikinis (unless to wear under your Indonesian “swim suit”). For a swimsuit you will always wear your board shorts (or capris) and the rash guard that you bring. It is never appropriate to wear a western swimsuit or bikini, so make sure you’re comfortable in these clothes, and have an extra sports bra (if applicable) to wear swimming.
  • Low-cut shirts or tight fitting clothes; not culturally appropriate.
  • Low-riding pants that show boxers or long pants that drag; not culturally appropriate.
  • Full size cotton towels; they are too heavy and bulky.
  • More than one pair of shoes, one pair of sturdy sandals, water shoes (if not sandals), one pair of flip-flops. Please remember that your shoes must fit inside your backpack.
  • Jeans—heavy and will not have time to dry in the rainy season
  • Anything made of leather that you don’t want ruined
  • Ratty, smelly, torn up shoes or flip-flops. The state of your clothing and shoes often determines how polite or respectful you are.
  • Items that have large monetary or sentimental value/Anything you don’t want ruined or lost.
We hope this is helpful. Please post packing-related questions to the Yak Board, and we’ll answer them as quickly as possible! Warmly, Your I-team (Olivia, Rita, and Luke) [post_title] => Master Packing List (Clothing & Equipment) for Indonesia (Southeast Asia) [post_excerpt] => When three EXPERTS put together a "Master Packing List" for Indonesia, you grab it and save it for your next trip to Southeast Asia! The following post is from the Indonesia Gap Year Program Pre-Course Yak Message Board... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => master-packing-list-clothing-equipment-indonesia-southeast-asia [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-05-01 10:23:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-05-01 16:23:06 [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] => 22 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 2 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 22 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 700 [name] => For Parents [slug] => for_parents [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 700 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [parent] => 0 [count] => 34 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 5 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 34 [category_description] => Blog posts specifically curated for parents wishing to know more about Dragons culture, programs, company, and community. [cat_name] => For Parents [category_nicename] => for_parents [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] => 10 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 11 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 10 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, For Parents ... )
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Trying to plan a gap year? Or get your parents on board with your gap year idea? Or need help understanding your gut instinct to take time off and travel? We’ve compiled reasons and rationale and stories from our gap year and student alumni. Read this essay addressing one of the most popular questions we hear from students and parents:  “WHY Gap?” as part of Dragons Travel Guide Series.
You’re reading this because you need to be convinced. Or you need to convince your parents. Or you just need words to explain a gut instinct to take time off and travel. Good news: We have research and experiences to share with you. And most importantly, we have 25-years of student alumni who can put it all into beautiful little summaries of well-earned advice. Let’s get to it.

Here’s 10 good reasons to consider a gap year or study abroad program...

#1: To catch your breath between high school and college.

Out of clutter, find simplicity.  ― Albert Einstein
Burnout from the intense scheduling and competitive pressure of high school is real. Jumping straight into 4+ more years of academic rigor can crumble the best of us. It pays in the longterm to invest in a re-set. A gap year program gives students a break from constantly juggling home lives, work roles, academic responsibilities, and even social media accounts. Time abroad and away from all those socially constructed ideas of who we are can offer just the quality of space to find a fresh perspective, to reassess goals, and to, ultimately, return to an education path more focused and dedicated. Some supporting research: [caption id="attachment_151487" align="alignnone" width="1695"] Photo by Amanda Lai, China Language Program.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“I no longer get impatient in lines in the grocery stores or complain about the long wait for my coffee. My world is bigger now, and my town feels smaller. I feel a little more caged in -- not a great feeling, but I know that it will push me to keep on getting out of my comfort zone and keep traveling.” - Kate Canning, Madagascar Program

“I am still the loud, direct, gregarious, person that I was before my program, but the sheer amount of beauty, difficulty, and happiness that I saw in Guatemala convinced me to look a bit closer. I realized it might be worth it to stop every once in awhile, be quiet, and see what life was trying to show me.” - Will Jamieson, Guatemala Program

"My semester with Dragons in​ ​Indonesia ignited a passion for environmental and social justice causing me to choose my specific majors and minors at school. It gave me so much direction for who I want to be. Even three years later, I think about my homestays, instructors, and friends from the trip all the time. ” - Crissy McCarthy, Indonesia Semester


#2: To escape the classroom walls, get out into the world, and access new stories and perspectives.

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. ― Augustine of Hippo
Our own worldviews can start to feel stifling. We hunger for stories different than the ones we’ve been told over and over and over again. Or we’re just tired of reading about it, and want to hear it in a voice that resonates with personal experience and human emotion. And not everyone's stories get heard! Sometimes you have to cross a border to hear the story of immigration by a homestay father, the story of the fallout of an earthquake by a local doctor, the story of the destruction of an ecosystem from a glaciologist working high in the Andes, the story of water rights from activist in the Mekong, or the story of an arranged marriage by a Hindi teacher in India. Consider this your opportunity to personally connect with people just like you, yet living on a piece of land on another side of the planet. Some supporting research:   
  • “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.” - From, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?-
[caption id="attachment_152727" align="alignnone" width="885"] Rural Sufi village in Senegal.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

"I learned far more on this course than I expected. I knew I would learn about Nepal​ and ​its history, language, people, ​and ​religions​.​ ​B​ut beyond that, I learned what it means to be a global citizen and about the interconnectedness of my actions." ​- ​Zoe Barr, Nepal Semester

“Spending several weeks living in the country, I quickly realized the problem with labeling countries like Bolivia as, “3rd world” and “developing.” It also forced me to rethink how my culture defines poverty. Now I always look to unpack the ethnocentrism that lies in my country.” -Abby Miranker, South America Semester

“The community from which I come has shaped many of my views, mannerisms, and perspectives; while this is generally okay, such a cloistered outlook on the world inevitably leads to a lack of perspective concerning the lives, thoughts, and struggles of people around the world. Exposure to Moroccan people, in all their differences compared to Americans, radically changed my worldview. Meeting Muslims daily and having informative conversations about their faith changed the way in which I view religion.”   - Brett Cohen, Morocco Program


#3: To adventure in the mountains and wilderness of the natural world.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity. ― John Muir
Our students don’t always know how much nature they are missing in their lives until they discover a new level of silence or awe when tucked into a sleeping bag under a blanket of stars in the Himalayas, swinging in a hammock in the shadow of a volcano in Nicaragua, trekking across the Tibetan Plateau in China, or resting on a wooden deck in Indonesia. Are you a little tired of all the digital alarms, reminders, and alerts in your life? Does a dirt road meandering into the horizon seem intriguing? Are you curious what it feels like to have everything you need for a week right on your back? Are you craving some silence, or just the real life white-noise of waves crashing on rocks, wind rushing past trees, or rain pummeling your tent? Some supporting research:    [caption id="attachment_151313" align="alignnone" width="1695"] Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“I had never felt such a deep sense of connection to nature and understanding myself and how I fit into the world. The stunning views are indescribable, but they awakened in me this sense of possibility and sense of adventure - two things I had lost sight of for a long time.” - Ishanya Anthapur, Nepal Semester

“My time in the more remote areas of Nepal allowed me to experience a new rhythm of life: I learned joy can come from just exchanging songs with my Nepali homestay family.  We sat in a circle one night underneath a candle's fire. Their rich voices surrounded me in the dark. Although we had a hard time connecting through words, the music provided such warmth.” - Nicole Wong, Nepal Semester


#4: To gain language fluency via immersion.

To have another language is to possess a second soul. - Charlemagne
Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and French of course. But on Dragons gap year programs students also have opportunities to study such languages as MalagasyQuechuaNepali, Burmese, Wolof, Bahasa Indonesian, Khmer, Arabic, and more.  Many past students have reported acquiring more language skills in a month of immersion than from their years of classes in school. Here’s your opportunity to take your language to the next level. Or pick up a new language right from the beginning! Language Study is one of Dragons core program components because we firmly believe it is the most respectful key to unlocking direct experiences of story and culture. Dragons Instructor Jeff Wagner explains it best: 

“Across the world, we learn language because each one has its unique stories to tell, and we open ourselves to new possibilities. We encounter these stories in newspaper columns, love letters, bed-time stories, idle chatter on the street corner, and philosophy. They’re told around campfires, written in beautiful curly scripts, and carved into ancient stone walls. Stories in English today have become dominated by the pragmatic, blunt language of global business, capitalism, and material success. Spanish stories express a multi-continental history of struggle and complex identity. Most speakers of Spanish are descendants of colonized people, building a resistance against imperialism out of the language of their former colonizers. Tibetan stories seem to be built around knowledge and understanding of the mind and devotion to a greater purpose. Life in Hindi seems to be a poetic unfolding over infinite time; the words for tomorrow and yesterday are the same in Hindi. A language is made from the stories that its people tell and the manner in which its speakers move through the world. [...] We don’t learn language to barter in the market for bracelets. We learn language to think and communicate more like the people who have different stories to tell, to understand the world as they perceive it not through their eyes, but through their ears. We learn language to understand other mindsets and ways of being. Anywhere we travel, there are stories waiting to be told; stories that could never exist in an English-speaking world.” (Read the full essay, “Why we Learn Language”)

Some Supporting Research: [caption id="attachment_131647" align="alignnone" width="836"]Chinese Language Lesson Study Abroad with Where There Be Dragons A Dragons student has a lesson in calligraphy. Photo by Eric Jenkins-Sahlin, China Language 4-week.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni

"​I​ am leaving with a foundation on how to​ travel, learn, expand my worldview​,​ and connect with ​people on a deeper level." ​- ​Grace Powell, South America Semester


#5: To do an internship or work alongside local experts and mentors in a new trade,  craft, art, or skill.

We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work.  ― Thomas A. Edison
When the four walls of the classroom start to feel claustrophobic, it’s time to get out and get your hands and creative brain playing. Every Dragons student is paired with a local mentor and invited to study a particular intellectual question or artisanal craft in greater depth. We’ve had students study everything from Bollywood dance, to West African drumming, to Yoga from an Indian Guru, to Chinese calligraphy, to the impacts of mining in Bolivia. It can be a great way to develop place-based expertise and hone ethnographic research skills. Sometimes it’s hard for students to understand what this program component looks like in the field, which is why we created this video (using student voices and music and imagery) describing our Independent Study Project program component. Some supporting research:    [caption id="attachment_152653" align="alignnone" width="849"] Senegalese drumming ISP. Photo by Micah LeMasters, Senegal Semester.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“I’ve started meditating daily since I got home, and have been keeping a gratitude journal I write in every few days. When it is so easy to get swept away in the chaos of my senior year of high school, filled with college applications, difficult classes, family responsibilities, friends, and everything else, I have found that my experiences abroad have become a grounding force.” - Silvana Montagu, Sikkim Program


#6: For career direction and exposure to the world’s diversity of work.

Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.  ― Gautama Buddha
You might feel like a gap year is a pause, or be told it’s a step backwards, when in fact, it’s a leap forward! Yes, you’re learning about a new place and global issues, but more significantly, you can gain clarity on who you are and what excites and propels you forward. Students who take the time to purposely discover what makes them passionate tend to hold higher GPAs, are more motivated, involved in campus activities, and are better contributors in college and beyond.  Some supporting research:    [caption id="attachment_139745" align="alignnone" width="851"]Rice Fields Thailand: The Spirit of Greng Jai Working in the rice fields on Where There Be Dragons Thailand: The Spirit of Greng Jai.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“Before my Dragons course, I knew I was passionate about global engagement, but had no idea how to translate that internal drive into action. After my course, I felt as if I gained the confidence, courage and support to get out into the world—whether that meant becoming involved in a club at my school, as a volunteer in my local community, or with the issues of a country far from home.” - Olivia Sotirchos, North India Program


#7: To get offline, slow down, unplug, and spend time reflecting.

In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you. ― Leo Tolstoy
This excerpt from our Travel Guide Essay on, “Finding the Value in Unplugged Travel” sums it all up nicely: “On a Dragons course, we leave phones behind. We encourage students and instructors to simultaneously disconnect from lives back home while deeply engaging with the present moment in a new place. [...} Snapping and quickly posting photos would surely yield some likes, but we’d also be abruptly jerked from the “right here” of the human realm to the “over there” of the digital realm, where those little hearts and upward-facing thumbs validate (or not) what we saw, what we did, how we felt, and what it meant. Instead, we deliberately keep open space in our itineraries and invite magic into unscheduled hours. While on course, instructors commonly use the phrase “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” In the moment, this might mean [...] sitting with your experiences, and processing their meaning and value and worth before sharing them. It might mean not knowing what your friends are doing or what feels like blindly trusting that your experience, your time, and your days away are valid in and of themselves.”(Read the full essay.) Some supporting research:    [caption id="attachment_152493" align="alignnone" width="849"] Photo by Julianne Chandler. South America Semester.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

"My biggest goal was to leave the trip more present, curious, and inspired. I came alive on this trip. I am excited to continue to push myself when I return home." ​- ​El Williams, South America Semester

"The strengths of Dragons’ programs lie in the depth at which instructors go with supporting the students’ own journey, and their ability to guide them and offer them opportunities to learn about themselves in a very conscious way.” ​- ​Parent of Meredith Nass, ​Nepal​ Semester


#8: To learn about service or apprentice with a problem in the world of importance to you.

If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.  ― Barack Obama
At Dragons, instead of focusing on “service learning”—on the idea that short-term volunteers can contribute to communities abroad—we advocate a paradigm shift and choose, instead, to focus on “learning service.”  Learning Service is a holistic experience that combines an intimate and authentic engagement with a local community, the study of effective development, and the contribution to established community-driven projects. It is the process of living, working alongside, and respecting the culture of those communities that so kindly host us.  We acknowledge that Service Learning projects often benefit the volunteer and his/her understanding of a social problem in the world, just as much as they might add value to a hands-on community project. This essay by Dragons Alumni instructor Daniela Papi explains the essential need to, “...create solutions to global challenges that are grounded in a deep understanding of those problems and primed to fuel collaboration and collective impact.” Some supporting research:    [caption id="attachment_151320" align="alignnone" width="1695"] 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.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“I learned about resource extraction, the lives of indigenous tribes in the Amazon, Andean spirituality and music, and about my fellow Dragons who made my experience truly unforgettable.  But the greatest effect that my experience had on me was my perspective on myself. Through reflection, Peru taught me more about my role in the world as a global citizen, my role with my peers, and about who I want to be.”  - Will LeVan, Peru Program

My time in Indonesia has allowed me to act, advocate, and lead by example for friends and family about world issues I really care about. Even three years later, I think about my homestays, instructors, and friends from the trip all the time. It ignited a passion for global environmental and social justice causing me to choose my specific majors and minors at school (Environmental Studies, Sociology, and International Development). My semester in Indonesia gave me so much direction for who I want to be.” - Crissy McCarthy, Indonesia Semester


#9: To build meaningful relationships.

Nothing builds meaningful relationships more quickly that a carefully crafted group culture with a small group of engaged students who are willing to face challenges and grow together. We're not saying it's easy. Groups, like all relationships, have dynamics and life cycles that often involve as many lows as highs. But what we do know is that this is the type of experience that bonds people that bonds people authentically and builds alumni and in-country relationships that last a lifetime. When students come home they are often surprised by the resiliency of these new, yet profound, friendships. Some supporting research:  
  • “The interactions we have with other people affect the way we feel about life. Our close relationships keep us grounded and influence both happiness and the sense that we are part of a larger community. Interestingly, even our interactions with people we do not know that well give us a sense that we are part of that larger community. “ From, “Why Other People Are the Key to Our Happiness” -
[caption id="attachment_139947" align="alignnone" width="755"] Photo by Hannah Elbaum, Guatemala Program.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni: "The Ladakhi guides, the Buddhist monks and nuns, my language teacher, my host family​ --​ all these friendships opened my eyes to how diverse the world can be and how many lifestyles one might find to suit them." ​- ​Charlie Santos, India Semester “I was challenged. I became more confident. I became more inspired. We had incredible discussions. I learned about a new culture which in turn made me think critically about myself and my own life. I reevaluated my values and I think I am now a more loving, compassionate, understanding, curious, and inspired person.” - El Williams, South America Semester “My trip showed me a whole new way of life, of not complaining, but of acting, of researching, of making friends and forming communities.” - Maggie Needham, Guatemala Program  

#10: To try something new, daring, and challenging.

All happiness depends on courage and work.  ― Honoré de Balzac
Sometimes we just need to break out of our routines in order to find the space to try something new: be that sitting in meditation at a Buddhist retreat, hiking over an 18,000 foot pass in the Andes, listening to a guest speaker in Mandarin, learning to play a Djembe drum in Senegal, navigating the train station in New Delhi, or being taught how to spearfish by your host father on an island in Indonesia. It takes guts to leave everything you are familiar with at home in favor of the completely unknown. Just getting on the plane is worthy of recognition. But the opportunities that follow are countless in number and value. Some supporting research:
  • Research shows that students who take a Gap Year graduate with higher GPAs than their peers and are more satisfied with their careers. Clagett, 2011.    
[caption id="attachment_130916" align="alignnone" width="849"] Students hiking through rice paddies in Tona Toraja, Indonesia.[/caption] Words of Wisdom from our Student Alumni:

“I often catch myself thinking and speaking in Spanish, or wanting foods that I know don’t exist in American culture. My craving for Peru feels like a secret that I don’t have the authority to share. People ask if Peru changed me, I mostly just nod and smile, because sometimes talking about my experience feels like trying to explain color to the blind.” - Emma Bailey, Peru Program

“I have learned to let go of the things that scare me and jump directly into the things that I find most important. I have learned that it is vital to savor life and the world. This came from wandering around an unfathomably different country and embracing the wonderful feeling that comes from learning and understanding. Without my time with Dragons, I can truly say that I would go back to being the timid, sheltered girl that I was before embarking on this incredible adventure.”  - Halina Bennet, Nicaragua Program

"This will be the most profound experience of your life. It will be educational, exciting, beautiful, challenging, deep​,​ and raw. The hardest moments will teach you just as much as, if not more than, the magical ones." ​- ​Claire Lindsay, Africa Semester

Want to hear more stories directly from our students?  Dragons Yak Board is full of participant reflections. Here are some excerpts; Just follow the links to read the full essays...

[caption id="attachment_151654" align="alignright" width="300"] Dragons Yak Board[/caption]

“About 20 minutes before the top of the pass, Fabian stopped the ground and reached for a rock. He held it in his left hand and told us that this rock symbolizes the weight that each of us carries. I picked up my rock, a black heart shaped rock with white stripes, and thought about the weight that I carry. Is it the worry over registering for classes and rooming next semester? The distress of my friend group at school growing further apart? The uncertainty and sadness of my parents moving away from the community I grew up in? These thoughts and more moved up with me as I walked to the top of the pass. We circled up around a large rock pile on top of the pass and Fabian took off his hat and lifted his rock into the air. We all followed suit. Quecha words to thank the Pacha-Mama and Inti-Tayta (Mother and Father of the world) for all their gifts were repeated by us all. One by one we tossed the rocks onto the pile, Apu would now take these worries for us and give us strength to continue on.” – Emily Smith, South America Semester. Read the full student essay.

“That struggle, one with vague political origins, has morphed into an undeniably human one, one in which the good side is determined not by unspeakable acts of evil but by where on a moral Venn Diagram some far-off policy maker sits as he asks himself if ensuring the health of the Indonesian republic by keeping Sampela a permanent Bajau community regardless of the toll it places on nearby reefs and its human inhabitants is worthwhile. Should the strictly protected reefs of this island chain be enlarged, risking a war but preserving an ecosystem that was here long before there were people in it? Should the elite few who may make those decisions be more concerned with a fisherman and his kin going hungry or with the loss of life from the most diverse ecosystem on the planet or, on a larger scale, does the wellness of a nation of over two hundred and fifty million people or uncountable oceanic animals matter more than the wellness of thousands of laughing, crying, feeling humans?” – Owen Yager, Indonesia Semester. Read full essay.

“I know I have grown and changed in the past three months, and I’m proud of all that I have learned on this course. I have learned to lean in to uncomfortable situations and I have embraced a completely different way of life. I have learned so much about Nepali culture and as a result I have examined my own culture in a different light and really reflected on how I live my life. I have become so much more aware of my immense privilege and learned how I can better use what I have been given to create positive change. I have grown so much in my gratitude, especially for things I usually take for granted like clean air, a constant supply or filtered water, and a bathroom inside my house instead of across the street. I have seen and experienced so much in a short period of time and will forever be influenced by my time in Nepal.” - Austin Schmidt, Nepal Semester. Read Full Essay.

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