Photo by Eric Jenkins-Sahlin, Instructor.

Posts Tagged:

China

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"...what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives..."
I recently had the pleasure of eavesdropping on a conversation between two of my students huddled together in a sweet, sweaty puddle in the back of a bouncing taxi in Delhi. I overheard both of them express honest relief in how nice it was to take a break from their phones; how free they felt from not having to worry about maintaining their Instagram feed; and about how they could see, feel, hear, and smell things in a way that was new to them. I was struck by their uncomplicated reflections. The demands of today’s adolescent world transecting the era of social media seems so messy, so thorny, so impossibly hard to navigate. I’m left to assume how challenging it must be to keep up with unrelenting social ultimatums at school and online, and I’m also left wondering how readily it can be cast off by removing a device. Is it really the simple arithmetic my students just proposed? Removing the phone removes the drama? Researchers and experts tell us plenty on the negatives associated with being glued to our devices: more screen time means more disturbed sleep; too much time on our phones yields reduced memory and recall; even having a cell phone around makes us less present (guilty). Some tech critics even go as far as to say that our technology and reliance thereof has made entire generations dumber. In addition to the experts, we’re ironically bombarded daily with articles written by well-intentioned non-experts (hi!) cautioning us against the negatives of screen time. Perhaps more absurd are the apps we rely on to send us a reminder to stop relying on apps that send us reminders (#meta). Our screens are onions, it seems: complicated, improbable intersecting layers of social hierarchy, neuroscience, game theory, engagement, and the arbitrary assignment and arrangement of hearts and upward-pointing thumbs. When we engage with others through a screen, we aren’t necessarily being antisocial, though. Nor is it correct to readily discount the depth of screen-to-screen connections, as evidenced by the millions who find the sacrament of holy matrimony on an online dating platform. Indeed, a screen in and of itself is harmless. But, when we replace a palpable experience, a laugh, a knowing glance, or even a glimpse out our windows for a glance at our phone, we cheat ourselves from the power and magic of being where we are now. It leads one to wonder if devices are the problem, or perhaps a symptom of something grander that’s merely triggered by screens. As a humble non-expert, I wonder if it’s a fear of unscheduling- consciously keeping precious, vacuous, spacious time that remains terrifyingly unoccupied in the midst of a busy week- that consumes us. 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. We join in on local gamelan practice with village seniors in Kedungmiri, watching hands move deftly over instruments we’ve never seen before. We are witness to the ensemble of car horns, singing bells, and cows in the streets of Bhaktapur, ears mesmerized by implausible harmony. We live and work with families in the Andean highlands, pleasantly surprised we are capable of working so hard even the tendons of our fingers are weary. We stare in awe as the sun breaks over a remote area of the Great Wall, delighting in the deliciousness of the moment. Snapping and quickly posting photos of any of these things 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 braving a multi-hour bumpy bus ride over a high pass on the generously unpaved highways around Leh. Or trying cuy (guinea pig) for the first time. It might mean prodding your obstinate camel forward in the midday heat of the dunes of Wadi Rum. Or practicing giving one of your peers-turned-friends feedback. Or it might mean leaving home behind, 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. It might mean sitting on a bus with empty, idle hands with only the grandmother to your left and the swaddled infant to your right. It might even mean missing your phone or your social media accounts. Admittedly, a Dragons course can make it easy to leave things behind. We don’t allow phones on our courses, and without the choice to even have a device, it’s decidedly simple to see what’s in front of us. Dragons programming inherently augments human interactions and diminishes digital connection. It’s when our courses end, when we are reunited with the things we left behind during our course, that we forget the sentiment of comfort amongst discomfort. We become quickly unaccustomed to embracing those rich hollow moments, favoring ease, automation, and habits we were sure we’d shirk when we returned home (using our phones before bed, idly scrolling our thumbs through miles of square photo worlds, diddling into the depths of YouTube, and so on). We fall back into a routine of filling the emptiness with something, anything. We fill our schedules, fill our brains, fill our thumbs until we’re a bit numb. But, what if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives, as we do while on a Dragons course? What if we intentionally left vacant moments in our days? What if we paused to hear our own street’s symphonies, mirroring those that seem so tantalizing to our ears in Nepal? What if we took a break from our homework and wandered down a street we’d never been as we have done with our homestay siblings before dinner? What if we stepped outside our bedrooms to marvel at the night sky as we did on trek in the Andes? I propose we get uncomfortable. Let’s challenge ourselves to unschedule, to rest our thumbs, to lean into idle, and leave sacred vacancy to be filled with uncharted magic. Let’s dig into what seems familiar and unearth the unfamiliar. Let’s see our neighborhoods with undistracted eyes, romanticize the details of our everyday, and marvel in the smells and textures that adorn our routine. And once we’ve had those moments and savored comfortable discomfort, let’s keep connecting. Let’s keep talking and sharing and inspiring the remarkable in the unremarkable.

Essay by Sara Russell, Dragons Partnership Programs Curriculum Coordinator

  We want to hear more about your sacred offline moments and be inspired by our community that seeks the uncomfortable. Tell us, show us, connect us to your moments of disconnecting by hashtagging your stories and images with #dragonsunplugged (we’ll be watching and ready to re-share!) [post_title] => Full Moments with Free Hands: Finding the Value in #UnpluggedTravel [post_excerpt] => 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. We ask: What if we truly savored the discomfort, and allowed ourselves to love the everyday, inconsequential moments in our own lives... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => full-moments-free-hands-finding-value-unpluggedtravel [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2022-05-27 23:44:38 [post_modified_gmt] => 2022-05-28 05:44:38 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 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] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [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] => 33 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 33 [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] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [2] => 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 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, For Parents ... )
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    [post_content] => (The following is part of Dragons Travel Guide Series: Essays and Tips from our Community on Why and How to Travel)

The search for a perfect summer or semester program provider can be overwhelming. Every good project starts with great questions.

Here are some for you to consider or ask of different providers as you do your research...

  • How many years have you been running international programming for students?

  • What is the maximum number of students in each of your groups?

  • What is your ratio of instructors to students?

  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff?

  • Do your instructors speak the local language?

  • What tools do you use to facilitate reflection and dialogue on course?  

  • What’s the average age of your instructors?

  • How many of your staff return year after year?

  • How do your proactively manage risk on course?

  • How do you manage an emergency?​

  • What type of emergency response team is on-call at your offices?

  • Are itineraries fixed before the program?  Are they the same from season to season?

  • How do you foster a safe student dynamic?

  • How do you define ethical travel?

  • How do you approach the theme of “service” and manage the dangers of “voluntourism”?

  • How do you manage the sustainability of your programming on local communities?

  • How do you help students apply what they've learned abroad at home?

  • What does your financial aid program look like?

  • Can you put me in touch with an alumni student?  

 

Ps. And here are Dragons answers to these questions!

  • How many years have you been running international programming for students? Over 25-years. 
  • What is the maximum number of students in each of your groups? 12 students. 
  • What is your ratio of instructors to students? 1:4 or one instructor for every four students. 
  • What are the typical professional qualifications of your staff? Do your instructors speak the local language? They are experienced, career, professionals! Typically, when a Dragons instructor team heads into the field they collectively represent multiple languages, ten or more years of in-country experience, and years managing student groups abroad. 
  • What’s the average age of your instructors? 30+
  • How many of your staff return year after year? We have a large number of return and veteran staff, with an annual return staff rate that typically hovers between 60%-90%.
  • How do your proactively manage risk on course? See our Risk Management page.
  • How do you manage an emergency?​ See our FAQ page. 
  • What type of emergency response team is on-call at your offices? With Administrators based domestically and internationally, our support team—with acute attention to the safety and security of our participants—is on-call 24/7 while students are in the field.
  • Are itineraries fixed before the program?  Are they the same from season to season? Every program is custom-crafted and unique! Dragons itineraries are flexible to create space for unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise and discovery. Learn more about what makes us different. 
  • What tools do you use to facilitate reflection and dialogue on course? How do you foster a safe student dynamic? This is a great question to ask of one of our traveling instructors. You can request a home presentation and meet one! 
  • How do you define ethical travel? See our About Dragons page. 
  • How do you approach the theme of “service” and manage the dangers of “voluntourism”? See our Position Paper on Service Learning
  • How do you manage the sustainability of your programming on local communities? See our Position Paper on Responsible Travel
  • How do you help students apply what they've learned abroad at home? See the Transference section of our Blog for examples!
  • What does your financial aid program look like? Here's all the details on our financial aid program.
  • Can you put me in touch with an alumni student? Absolutely! Just send us a note requesting references to past students!
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    [post_content] => 
Here are some sneak-peek excerpts from the featured essays of our winter edition of The Map's Edge. Be sure to check your mail to get your hands on all the glossy pages of stories, photos, and updates from four corners of Dragons global community!
PAGE 4
BRAZIL
Princeton Bridge Year: To Have a Home
By JIMIN KANG
"I believe that there are qualities in each of us that can only be realized in different contexts. I discovered that Brazil brought out a version of myself that inspires me most. To this day, I miss the candor with which I greeted strangers on the street and told them about my love for acarajé, the fried bean fritters I'd eat with friends after hours of practicing Portuguese. I miss the music and the visual arts that flourish across Salvador, and the days I painted lampposts with spray paint oozing down my hands. I miss the confidence with which Bahians wear their own skin, and the way I felt more comfortable in my own body than I'd ever been. More than anything, I miss the people who greeted me with a "seja bem-vindo" (be welcome) and bid me farewell with a "volte sempre" (return always). People who taught me that home can be anywhere in the world, as long as there are people with space in their hearts."
PAGE 8
SIKKIM
Lepcha: Children of the Snowy Peak
By SHARON SITLING
"The Lepcha believe their people originated within these valleys. They call themselves 'Mutanchi Rong Kup Rum Kup,' which translates as 'Children of the Snowy Peak and Children of God.' The Lepcha are nature worshippers, whose religion blends animism and shamanism and is called bongthingism, or Munism. The tribe shares an inextricable relationship with nature as evidenced by their vocabulary, which contains one of the richest collections of names for local flora and fauna recorded anywhere, and reveals a vast knowledge of naturopathy as well as holy texts. By some estimates, there are only 40,000 Lepcha remaining in Sikkim; their language is quickly disappearing and they are fighting to preserve their lands and what is left of their culture."
PAGE 12
SENEGAL
Photo Essay: Between the Lens & Me
By CRYSTAL LIU
"I was hesitant to bring my camera with me to Senegal. I suppose I approached photography with more of a moralist's stance than a scientist's, and I felt some intuitive distrust of images and imagemaking as it related to my educational experience. I worried about the fraught relationship between subject and photographer. I didn't want to reproduce clichés and reduce people to flat, aesthetic purposes. At the same time, I wanted to remember what I would experience, and the fear of forgetting eventually overcame other qualms about the medium. I brought my camera, and I am both glad and regretful that I did."
PAGE 22
MOROCCO
Interview: The Beat of a Different Drum
By MOHAMED ARGUINE
"...after hours of trekking, Ben M'barek would take out his drum, sit on a rock and start playing whatever came to mind. He never thought his songs would attract the attention of tourists who didn't understand a word of the Tamazight language. [...] The guide explained that M'Barek was singing about his love for the High Atlas Mountains and that he hoped not to see what might be hiding behind them. The oxygen of his life, its meaning, flows down from the peak of the highest mountain to his soul through the drops of rain and flakes of snow-pure and white as his heart, and imbued with love for this region, which to him is heaven on earth."

 If you didn't get one in the mail, here's the full digital issue!

 
Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map’s Edge, explores a subject of interest to the Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, and our International Staff and contacts. Feel free to view our archive of editions of The Map’s Edge or even submit a piece to be featured in our next issue by sending an email to [email protected]
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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_151452" align="alignnone" width="4592"] Photo by Christina Rivera Cogswell, Princeton Bridge Year, Ladakh India.[/caption]

HERE ARE THE MOST COMMON REASONS WHY STUDENTS CONSIDER TAKING A GAP YEAR:

  • To get hands-on life experience
  • In search of relief from the pressures of high school
  • To find out more about themselves
  • To gain language fluency via cultural immersion
  • To clarify personal interests and possibly hone in on a course of studies or career path to pursue
  • To gain exposure to different worldviews
  • To practice professional and personal development skills through experience
  • To slow down and find time for personal reflection
  • To adventure in the mountains, open spaces, and wilderness
  • To learn about service and/or apprentice with a problem in the world of personal importance
  • To build meaningful (and offline) friendship and relationships
  • To try something new, daring, and challenging

HERE ARE MORE REASONS, BASED ON THE LATEST RESEARCH, WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER TAKING THE LEAP WITH A GAP YEAR OR SEMESTER ABROAD EXPERIENCE…

Research shows that students who take a Gap Year graduate with higher GPAs than their peers and are more satisfied with their careers. This advantage held when controlling for socioeconomic background or academic performance in high school. Clagett, 2011.

  • 98% of colleges and universities accept deferrals for planned Gap Years. In fact, Harvard, Princeton, University of North Carolina, Colorado College (to name a few) encourage it because students enter more focused, mature, and passionate.
  • A majority of students now take five or more years to complete their college educations, while a majority of Gap Year students graduate in four years. If you think a Gap Year is expensive, try six years of college tuition.
  • Gap Years are serious endeavors and, in our experience, it’s often the most ambitious, curious, and motivated students that are called to them. A high quality Gap Year program is holistic and experiential; students learn about place and global issues, but more significantly they gain clarity on who they are, what they believe in, and what they’re capable of achieving.
  • More than 90% of students who do a structured Gap Year program enroll in university within one year of their time-off. When researchers tried to identify what major factors distinguished facilitated programs from unstructured time-off, they discovered that a significant homestay experience in another culture and excellent mentorship were two factors critical to making the Gap Year a transformative experience.
  • Many more interesting Gap Year facts can be found at: WWW.GAPYEARASSOCIATION.ORG/DATA-BENEFITS.PHP

WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION?

The best way to learn more about Gap Year programs is to connect with other students who’ve done them. If you’d like to speak to any of our alumni personally, please give us a call and we’ll put you in touch with some! In the meantime, here are a few student quotes from past Dragons Gap Year students.

“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

“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 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

“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

“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

HOW TO TAKE A GAP YEAR:

1. CONSIDER APPLYING TO COLLEGE FIRST. Most students prepare for college admissions as usual. When admitted, they then request a deferral, which 98% of colleges will grant if presented with legitimate Gap Year plans.

2. PLAN AHEAD WITH CLEAR GOALS. What do you want to learn? How do you want to be challenged? Spend some time sorting out your motivations as the more you invest in a vision for your Gap Year, the more confident you (and your family) will feel in your plans. Plus, the stage of dreaming and anticipation is fun!

3. GO ALONE OR GO WITH A GROUP? Do both. Educational consultants recommend that students start with something more structured in the Fall followed by a more independent experience.. For example, Michael Gellman spent the fall on Dragons Central America Semester. As a Dragons student, Michael learned to construct composting toilets while working with a Guatemala-based community organization. He stayed in Central America after his three-month Dragons program—where he spent four months applying his new skills to other community projects.

4. PREPARE TO MAKE THE INVESTMENT. A Gap Year can be a significant investment, but is well worth the cost. Investing in a Gap Year allows students to start college with greater focus and a stronger idea of what they want to achieve. This can help them connect their studies to potential career paths. Think of this year between high school and college as a bridge, not a gap.

5. DO YOUR RESEARCH. Compare and assess Gap Year programs based on safety, access to meaningful experiences, and the quality of mentorship. Ensure that your experience is with others who share your values and who are committed to the well-being of participants, but also to the well-being of local communities. You can visit Dragons Blog for a full list of questions that we recommend students ask when researching different Gap Year programs.


Here’s a PDF version of Dragons Position Paper on Why Take a Gap Year? that’s printer-friendly if needed.
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