Crossing the river before summiting 17,500 Pico Austria. Photo by Ella Williams (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest, 2nd Place), South America Semester.

Posts Tagged:

Gap Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: I only wish I could do more.

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

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

Q: How did your parents respond to your decision?

A: They were very supportive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?- TheAtlantic.com
[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” - psychologytoday.com
[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.

[post_title] => 10 Reasons to Take a Gap Year and Travel Abroad between High School and College [post_excerpt] => 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... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 10-reasons-take-gap-year-travel-abroad-high-school-college [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-04-18 11:16:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-04-18 17:16:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 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] => 28 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 28 [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] => 670 [name] => Recommended [slug] => recommended [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 670 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [parent] => 0 [count] => 7 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 7 [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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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_152709" align="alignnone" width="974"] Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Indonesia Gap Year Program.[/caption]

Many study abroad programs provide a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) trip schedule used year after year. At Dragons, we keep our programs flexible and dynamic: each itinerary is uniquely designed and implemented by the instructors who lead the program. We believe some of the best experiences can come in the unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise. It's a novel approach to travel and best explained by our participants. So here's how our past students define Dragons "flexible" itinerary concept:

“Unlike American life regulated by precise and punctual schedules, life abroad is hectic and ever-changing, which is the beauty of it. Pre-program, I was concerned that the larger and central aspects of the trip may be changed, but this isn’t at all what they meant by flexible itinerary.  Flexible itinerary refers to smaller, more logistical changes. You’ll still get to the end destination, just perhaps by a different route. The itinerary will never be changed in a way that detracts from your experience, but will instead always improve it for you or the group as a whole, whether it is balancing out the hiking days to make it more manageable or taking a quick side-trip to the hot springs to refuel as a group.” - Will LeVan, Peru Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152708" align="alignright" width="452"] Photo by Stefanie Daehler, Custom School Program in India.[/caption] “The flexibility allowed my group to turn hikes into classes about religion. It allowed for us to get lost, which then turned into lessons on how not to get lost. We were given the freedom to explore like a traveler, not like a tourist.” - Alyssa Hilb, Silk Road China Summer Student Travel Program “To travel with a flexible itinerary is to travel with an open mind and receptivity to the realities of travel. During my program in Morocco, there were numerous occasions in which sickness, navigational difficulties, or side trips caused unforeseen delays in our daily plan. While ordinarily, this would be a huge logistical and emotional headache, the ease with which my instructors took it in stride and adjusted our plans made all the difference. The benefit of a dynamic itinerary is bypassing the regimented, anxious parts of travel, to embrace the wild, unplanned fun that exploration can be.” - Brett Cohen, Morocco Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152710" align="alignleft" width="364"] Photo by Ngun Siang Kim, Myanmar Summer Program.[/caption] “Ultimately, embracing the possibility of candid experiences—those that lead you into the waters of coursing Himalayan rivers and into the corridors of 500-year old monasteries, as mine did during my programs—are what have been most influential in shaping me into the confident, prepared and wise traveler I am today.” - Olivia Sotirchos, North India Summer Study Abroad Program “The most important part of embracing the flexible itinerary was recognizing that our safety was a priority over strict travel and time constraints, and the comfort of knowing we could adjust the plan to fit our needs.” - Silvana Montagu, Eastern Himalayas Summer Student Travel Program “I wasn’t sure what “flexible itinerary” meant at the beginning, but by the end of the trip I grew to appreciate the spontaneity it brought. Our itinerary stayed mostly true to the original outline, but changed in small, beneficiary, ways. For example, we had been staying in a very rural town, Cotzal, where we were doing service projects. We decided to leave a day early, and instead spend the last day at a beautiful waterfall with the homestay families, eating lunch together and swimming. It’s important to let yourself be surprised.”  - Maggie Needham, Guatemala Summer Student Travel Program “The best part about being able to mix up the schedule is that you have the ability to invest your time in areas you are most passionate about. For example, during my trip to China we stumbled upon a shamanism festival with rich colors and new experiences. On the spot, our group decided that spending more time at the festival would be the best for our educational and cultural journey. The best days are those that aren’t 100 percent scripted.” - Liana Flecker, Silk Road China Summer Student Travel Program [caption id="attachment_152711" align="alignright" width="423"] Photo by Nils Skattum, Nepal Semester Program.[/caption] “I’m normally a very planned out person, and was a bit anxious about the flexible itinerary. When I got to Indonesia, I soon realized their concept of Jam Karet there—essentially meaning, "rubber time." People we were supposed to meet, and transportation we were planning to take, often ran late and sometimes never even showed up. This at first drove me crazy, but throughout my semester I learned to “santai saja” (or “just relax”) and just accept the situations for how they were, and everything always worked out. Dragons trips are highly immersive and intensive, and can be exhausting. Being flexible allows the group and its members to get what they really need—whether that’s time to rest, or time to engage and participate longer than the planned amount of time.” - Crissy McCarthy, Indonesia Gap Year Semester Abroad Program “To put the experience into a specific set of bullet points would seriously harm the whole meaning of this voyage in the first place. The world is open to so many possibilities waiting around the corner.”- Will Jamieson, Guatemala Summer Student Travel Program [post_title] => Q&A: What's a "flexible" itinerary? [post_excerpt] => Many study abroad programs provide a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) trip schedule used year after year. At Dragons, we keep our programs flexible and dynamic: each itinerary is uniquely designed and implemented by the instructors who lead the program. We believe some of the best experiences can come in the unscripted, serendipitous, and candid moments of surprise. It's a novel approach to travel and best explained by our participants. So here's how our past students define Dragons "flexible" itinerary concept... 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The reality of providing the highest-quality and best-staffed cultural immersion experiences in the industry is that the associated costs are high. Although Dragons program tuitions are still competitive with the general market, we recognize that summer and gap year programming can feel out of the realm of financial possibility for some students. To make Dragons more accessible to students/families of all economic means, we offer need-based financial aid. In fact, more than 20% of the students on Dragons programs do so with the assistance of financial aid (Average aid packages generally cover between 20% and 80% of the cost of a program). If you feel certain that Dragons is right for you, then we encourage you, regardless of your financial considerations, to go through our aid application process. Don’t worry: It can seem intimidating at first, but if you have the passion and motivation, we’re here to answer your questions and help you through the process. If you need some extra encouragement, we’ve even included a few quotes of guidance from some of our past financial aid recipient students at the end of this post.

THE PROCESS FOR APPLYING FOR FINANCIAL AID

STEP 1: Fill out the standard online application. The $850 application fee is waived for students applying for financial aid.

STEP 2: Submit a cover letter and supplemental financial documents. Email them to info@wheretherebedragons.com. Your cover letter should include:

  1. Your reasons for wanting to participate in a program, and why we should consider you for aid
  2. Why you think you would be a great Dragons student
  3. Your top THREE preferences for program/country/area.
  4. A summary of how much tuition you and your family can contribute toward a program and any other relevant information about your family’s finances you think we should know.
  5. Financial Documents: Please submit either a copy of your parent’s most recent tax returns OR a copy of your FAFSA.

STEP 3: As soon as we have all of the three pieces of your financial aid application (online application, cover letter, and financial documents), we will get in touch with you. You can expect to hear back from us within a couple weeks. If you are selected by the Financial Aid Committee to move onto the next steps of the application process, we will set up a phone interview.

STEP 4: You can also find this information on the Financial Aid Section of our website.

OUR ADVICE

  • APPLY EARLY: We accept students and award aid on a rolling basis. You can apply anytime, but the sooner you apply, the greater the chances funds still remain to be allocated.
  • PATIENCE: It can take time for the Financial Aid Committee to make a decision as the enrollment and fund allocation process involves many moving variables. Feel free to check in on the status of your application by getting directly in touch, but also be aware that the process might take some patience before a final decision is reached.
  • FLEXIBILITY: The more flexible you are in terms of the location and type of program you seek, the more likely we will be able to find a space for you. It’s for this reason we ask you to list your top three preferences for program/location. You can also be open to going on any program!
  • JUST APPLY! When in doubt, just apply! Some students don’t apply for financial aid because they assume they won’t qualify or be selected. But we encourage you to take the chance and time to apply, regardless of your personal questions and concerns. If you feel strongly that Dragons is right for you, we want to hear from you.
  • TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF: As much as we would like, we cannot award aid to all students. We select students who are the best fit for our programs, students who will bring the most into a course and get the most out of it, and those who take the time and energy to demonstrate that in their application.

ADVICE FROM PAST FINANCIAL AID RECIPIENTS

There are a number of student alumni who are willing to be touch with prospective students considering applying for aid. If you would like to be connected with any of these past students, just let us know. They are great resources for navigating the application process as well as for tips on how to raise additional funds to cover the remaining costs associated with a program.

“I do not have a lot of money and had doubt if I would get any financial aid at all, but I took the time to tell Dragons about myself, my past experiences, and why I wanted this. I ended up being able to go the Thailand for a month for a tuition that was affordable. It was absolutely worth the 30-mins for the 30-days of incredible experience. Just take the time to apply.” THAILAND PROGRAM PARTICIPANT

“What really convinced me was talking with a Dragons Instructor and an alum student. Hearing their perspectives helped me realize that Dragons was the right program for me. I was nervous about the Financial Aid application, but Dragons was very helpful and supportive through the entire process. Being a scholarship/financial aid student was stressful because there was no specific location at first to dream incessantly about, until I was told. In the end, this allowed me to think critically about skills and experiences I wanted to gain as opposed to specific places I wanted to see.”  SENEGAL PROGRAM PARTICIPANT

"I was a little skeptical about applying because I didn't see how typing up a simple cover letter would help me get a scholarship. But Dragons keeps things simple, and authentic to merit, so there was no need to submit all those additional documents." - BOLIVIA PROGRAM PARTICIPANT

“I never thought studying abroad would be possible for me given my family’s financial situation. My mom immediately shot down the idea, but nevertheless I contacted Dragons asking about the financial aid process. They were incredibly helpful. With diligence and hard work, a few months later I got an email saying they would make it possible for me to study in Nepal for the summer. I cannot begin to express what a transformative experience it was for me. The financial help is out there if you have you have a true passion for travel and learning about the world around you!  NEPAL PROGRAM PARTICIPANT

“I had an idea to write up a brief letter about this trip opportunity and send it to local businesses or organizations and family asking for a donation in a specific amount or for a specific item in return for a presentation (or something less formal for family) on my experiences.” NORTH INDIA PROGRAM PARTICIPANT

"I never thought studying abroad would be possible for me given my family's financial situation. My mom immediately shot down the idea, but nevertheless I contacted Dragons asking about the financial aid process. They were incredibly helpful.  With diligence and hard work, a few months later I got an email saying they would make it possible for me to study in Nepal for the summer. I cannot begin to express what a transformative experience it was for me. The financial help is out there if you have you have a true passion for travel and learning about the world around you! Some tips: 1) Stay organized! Make a spreadsheet with all of the application details. This will help you stay on top of deadlines and give you the peace of mind of having it all in one place. 2) Buy used backpacks and hiking gear. Often, it was only used minimally and then never needed again. It is a great way to save money!" - NEPAL PROGRAM PARTICIPANT
 
"It is important to have adult support. Initially, I did not think I could do this. But I was encouraged to get a catalog and just look. The catalog is so beautiful- the photographs and descriptions are inspiring and I lived with it for awhile, imagining what I would do and where I could go if finances weren't limiting. So first piece of advice: Get the catalog and live with it! My mom encouraged me to just apply. It is an easy and fun application and they ask great questions. I would encourage anyone who has the traveller spirit to just try and see what happens. If you have a few adults on your side -- a parent, teacher, mentor -- they can assist you in helping to raise additional funds. Doing this program enabled me to see how I might be able to travel by myself as well - I am looking forward to my next adventure." - EAST HIMALAYAS PROGRAM PARTICIPANT
"If you're passionate enough about going, you WILL get there. Getting your parents on board can be tough. Mine were hesitant to let me travel thousands of miles for thousands of dollars, but get your parents to email people at Dragons, have them read past participants reflections, or even have them give the office a call. That definitely helped. My parents were a lot less nervous after talking with the people whose jobs are to keep me safe." - MADAGASCAR PROGRAM PARTICIPANT
"Dragons staff was so helpful in making the experience possible. Whenever my parents and I had questions about the application process, we would email them and they would get right back to us with a helpful answer." - GUATEMALA PROGRAM PARTICIPANT 
 
"When I was first looking at Dragons programs, I couldn’t imagine anything I would rather do, but it seemed impossible. I had absolutely no means to pay for such a program, and was intimidated about applying for a scholarship. I didn’t want to apply and get my hopes up just for them to be crushed if I were to be rejected in the application process. I almost gave up on applying entirely. But then, on the day of the deadline at the very last minute, I submitted my scholarship application - just in case. I was still so nervous and felt this weird guilt around having to apply for a scholarship, but I figured I had to at least try, and that is my advice to anyone interested in a Dragons program who needs financial assistance. It seemed like a miracle when I got an acceptance letter with a scholarship offer. And since that trip, my life has taken a completely different path. That first trip to China led me to another Dragons trip to China, which I was able to receive ANOTHER scholarship for, and that trip led me to my decision to major in Chinese in college. Dragons has influenced my life drastically in so many ways, and it was all because I took a chance on applying for a scholarship." - MULTIPLE  PROGRAM ALUMNI STUDENT

Here’s a PDF version of Dragons Financial Aid Process & Advice that’s printer-friendly if needed.
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    [post_content] => Oh! We love it when our past Gap Year students send us video footage from their year abroad!  Thank you Benjamin Swift (Dragons South America Semester, Fall 2016)

“Thanks to everyone who made the past year+ great! Here's to more adventures in 2018 (albeit a bit late) Scenes from my 2016-17 gap year in Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador. Highlights included traveling with Where There Be Dragons, interning with ecologists in Quito, diving in the Galápagos Islands, and volunteering at the AmaZOOnico animal rescue center in the Ecuadorean Amazon.”



Gap Year Highlight Reel from Benjamin Swift on Vimeo.
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“Thanks to everyone who made the past year+ great! Here's to more adventures in 2018 (albeit a bit late) Scenes from my 2016-17 gap year in Perú, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador. Highlights included traveling with Where There Be Dragons, interning with ecologists in Quito, diving in the Galápagos Islands, and volunteering...
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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!
  [post_title] => Questions to Ask when Researching Your Gap Year and Summer Abroad Programs... [post_excerpt] => 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...(Part of Dragons Travel Guide Series: Essays and Tips from our Community on Why and How to Travel) [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => questions-ask-researching-gap-year-summer-abroad-programs [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-07 08:21:37 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-07 15:21:37 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 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] => 28 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 28 [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/ ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, For Parents )
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