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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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_155381" align="alignnone" width="4512"] PHOTO: Fernanda and her homestay mom, Ouleye; dad, Ibou; and brothers, Sidikh, Rassoul, and baby Mame Cheikh.[/caption]

WORDS by FERNANDA ROMO

SENEGAL PRINCETON BRIDGE YEAR PROGRAM ALUMNI

Mungi dox literally translates to, “it walks.” In conversation, however, one might use it to mean “it’s going,” “it’s fine,” or “it works.” When I set out to write this piece, with the prompt of mungi dox in mind, I immediately thought about my family. After all, I’m living in a homestay with a total of nineteen people (I think), including three married couples and twelve kids of various ages. This is naturally bound to be a bit chaotic and might seem like a headache for people more habituated to smaller “nuclear family” living arrangements. For this reason, writing about how my household functions, how everyone pitches in, and how living in these big families actually works was sure to be a crowd pleaser. Wouldn’t everyone love to hear the conclusions I’d drawn about African family structures from my experience living with the Mbayes?
“Wouldn’t everyone love to hear the conclusions I’d drawn about African family structures from my experience living with the Mbayes? Regrettably, as appealing as that piece might sound, I’m not writing it.”
Regrettably, as appealing as that piece might sound, I’m not writing it. Mainly, because I can’t. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that the chances of me being able to provide a fair analysis of this family’s dynamics are about as high as those of snowfall in Dakar. The mere idea of scrutinizing the way these people behave within their family, just to arrive to the conclusion that it surprisingly “works,” feels foolish at best and condescending at worst. However, my impending erroneousness is not the only thing holding me back from writing about the people in Senegal who are so dear to me. For a long time I couldn’t exactly pinpoint why I felt a tinge of discomfort every time I thought about turning the people I consider family into the subjects of my writing, especially when said writing is directed to Western audiences. I remember once, I considered blogging about Mame Maty, my instructor Babacar’s 10-year-old daughter, who I love like crazy and who is definitely one of the people closest to my heart here. I ended up deciding against it, because something about it wasn’t sitting right with me. And even though I didn’t entirely understand why, one thought kept popping up in my mind: she’s my friend. That’s also what I feel today when trying to make myself produce some insightful conclusions or lessons gathered from analyzing my homestay family. I don’t want to “report back” on what Senegalese families are like, both because it’s not possible to do so accurately, and because these people are, first of all, my family. Not subjects of study, not sources of all-encompassing revelations, but people who treat me like a daughter, a sister, a friend. And just as I wouldn’t write up a couple pages about my best friend back in Mexico and send it to an audience of people who she will never meet and who will form their entire perception of who she is based on my words, I don’t particularly feel inclined to do that here. And maybe that’s a good thing. After all, I think the main reason why the Bridge Year Program works, and is so incredibly meaningful, is because of relationships. The moments when I have felt that my time here has the greatest value have all been centered around having strong bonds, familiarity, and overall friendship with people. It’s really beautiful to think about how my Senegalese family and I genuinely care about each other, and how our lives have been enriched as a result. So I guess if you asked me, “Does it work to put a random toubab1 in the middle of a household in Dakar, Senegal, and have her be a part of this family for a few months?” I’d say yeah, mungi dox.

FERNANDA ROMO left her home in Mexico in 2017 to travel to Senegal for nine months as part of Dragons Princeton Bridge Year Program. She is currently a student at Princeton University, where she spends her days looking at pictures of her time in Dakar at 3am, facetiming her five dogs, and going on rants about the fake Mexican food in the dining halls.

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    [post_content] => Maybe you’ve done a group travel program with Dragons or another organization. Maybe you’re feeling ready for a more independent experience abroad...

But here’s what you’re wondering:

  • How can I avoid the backpacker tourist traps?
  • How do I get an authentic learning service experience that avoids the pitfalls of the “voluntourism” industry? 
  • How do I build authentic connections with individuals when I don’t know anyone? 
  • How do I find a homestay family that’s been vetted and recommended? 
  • How do I avoid feeling like I’ve been “placed” without in-country mentorship and guidance?
  • Who do I call on for support when I have questions or if something goes wrong? 
It can be hard to know where to even start. We’ve heard from many past Dragons students that the travels they pursued on their own after a group program left them feeling lost, unsupported, or even conflicted about the ethics and efficacy of their presence and projects.  So we’ve launched the Dragons Independent Spring Experience (ISE).  Here’s what our ISE Programs offer:
  1. Meaningful cross-cultural engagement outside the structure of a group semester, but still with the support of Dragons local (in-country) resources and mentorship. 
  2. A co-created, personalized, and self-directed gap year or study abroad experience.
  3. Direct Support from Dragons international network of trained in-country staff and vetted resources. 
  4. Access to Dragons Administrative Team & our decades of expertise in managing international risk and emergency response.
 

MORE DETAILS: What does an ISE program consist of?

ISE programs are offered in places where Dragons has long-established and active community networks. We are currently offering ISE options in:
  • Guatemala
  • Bolivia
  • China
  • Senegal
  • Nepal
  • Cambodia
  • Indonesia
Each program site is staffed by a Dragons On-Site Coordinator: a veteran Dragons instructor with expertise in the country and extensive experience working with Dragons Gap Year students and to our standards of excellence. The On-Site Coordinator has weekly face-to-face meetings with each student, conducts a multi-day orientation focused on safety, cultural norms, and strategies for engagement, and acts as a cultural facilitator and mentor throughout. ISE programs have a strong emphasis on cultural and language immersion and in-depth exploration of critical issues. Participants are placed with a trusted homestay family for the duration of the program, receive intensive language instruction (as desired), and are paired with local mentors for an Independent Study Project (ISP). In addition, participants have 24/7 access to our in-country and international emergency response resources. ISE programs have two start dates (January 15 and February 12) with a 6-week minimum length and the option for weekly extensions (up until May 1st). ISE programs were created specifically for those who have previously completed a group travel program (international or domestic), of one month or longer, with any provider.

Dragons Independent Spring Experience Program

Visit our INDEPENDENT SPRING EXPERIENCES Page for more program details and guidance on how to enroll. 

   
Ps. Want Dragons blog updates sent directly to your inbox? One email a week. Nothing markety. Unsubscribe any time. Subscribe to Dragons Blog and stay connected to the community. ❤️
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    [post_content] => 
FIRST PLACE: MARIA RENDON 
Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2019
"Playing with little village girls at Namo Buddha, a Buddhist monastery in Nepal"
SECOND PLACE: MARIO SALAZAR
Himalayan Studies Semester, Spring 2019
"Annapurna South. Crazy y'all."
 
THIRD PLACE: ANNA MARKLIN
Indonesia semester, Spring 2019
"Sunset from my back porch of my homestay in Sampela."
  Congratulations to our winners and thanks to all that submitted and shared such lovely images with us!
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    [post_content] => 

It wasn’t easy, but we narrowed down the hundreds of submissions received from our Spring 2019 Gap Year students down to just 9 finalist images.

Spring Semester Photo ContestNow we need your help. Please cast your vote for the photos you like best (you can vote once every 24 hours). The three photos with most likes/votes win. Winners will be announced on Dragons Blog on July 25th, 2019.

SEE ALL THE FINALISTS!

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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_154948" align="alignnone" width="1318"] Photo by CHELSEA FERRELL, BHUTAN: A farm and house built in traditional Bhutanese architecture located outside of the UWICER environmental institute and research station outside Jakar, Bhutan.[/caption]

 

WORDS & IMAGE CHELSEA FERRELL, INSTRUCTOR

LOCATION: BHUTAN

If you say you’re going to Bhutan, be prepared for a wide range of reactions. From the skeptical bank-teller (“Hold on, let me make sure that’s a country before I authorize your credit card.”) to the confused listener (“Oh, that’s in Africa, right?”) to the awestruck fan (“Isn’t that the happiest country in the world?!”). While you can’t anticipate others’ reactions, one thing is certain: Once introduced to the country, the people, and the concepts of Bhutan, your perspective won’t be the same.
By virtue of merely being in the country, you are incorporated into the community and your presence alone makes you a valued member.
In June 2018, after months of planning and relationship building, Dragons launched its inaugural summer program in Bhutan. For someone familiar with the country, it’s impossible to miss the many ways Bhutan and Dragons are alike. Both are small. (Bhutan only has a population of 750,000 people!) They are both decidedly independent and not afraid to be different. And both Bhutan and Dragons are loyal to their principles, regardless of the climate among peers. While many countries focus solely on capitalism and generating wealth, Bhutan uses Buddhist ethics in its governance and economic policies. As one of the world’s newer democracies, Bhutan is often cited as an example of a country that is doing development differently. Bhutan has managed to adapt to modern life even while preserving its heritage and remaining faithful to core values. But my favorite similarity between Bhutan and Dragons is the informal, dependable, tight-knit communities entwined throughout each. Bhutan often feels like a neighborhood block party that might take place on a street in the US suburbs. You meet people you’ve never seen but somehow, they seem to know all about you. By virtue of merely being in the country, you are incorporated into the community and your presence alone makes you a valued member. I’ve felt this same way about the Dragons community. No matter where I go in the world, I can be sure of one thing: I’ll likely run into a Dragons instructor, student, or alum.

CHALLENGING DEFINITIONS OF HAPPINESS

My personal journey in understanding happiness in a Bhutanese context began in 2012, when, as a graduate student of Social Anthropology and Tibetan language, I spent a month traversing the country. At that point in my life, I’d lived in several countries and was slipping towards the feeling like I had nothing new to learn or experience in another culture.
The remoteness of the country and the lack of Western ideologies enforced a need to unplug...
A few days in Bhutan, however, was enough to jerk me out of the cocoon that I’d formed around myself. The remoteness of the country and the lack of Western ideologies enforced a need to unplug and naturally created an environment that led me to re-evaluate what I thought I knew.

Bhutan called into question some of the core assumptions in the West so fundamental to our thinking that many of us no longer recognize them as value tradeoffs, such as, “bigger is better” and “nature should be commodified.” My time in Bhutan also led to a recognition of the values of silence, slowness, and a lack of instantaneous gratification. It led me to see the value of technology should not be blindly assumed, but evaluated in this context.

BUILDING THE PROGRAM IN BHUTAN

In planning the Dragons program in Bhutan, we incorporated Bhutanese and Dragons ideals not only into program themes, but into the methodology of how we set up the program. During each step of program development, we were conscious of our impact, securing local input through joint brainstorming sessions and attempts to find service activities that would provide value to the communities with whom we worked.
Our FOI allowed us to explore the factors that contribute to happiness, including the use and value of natural space, community life, and the ways that happiness is embedded in and practiced through spiritual philosophies and traditions.
Seeking an alternative way to chart the country’s progress, Bhutan became famous for coining the idea of Gross National Happiness as an alternative measurement to Gross National Product. The country is especially unique because of its variety of public policies related to environmental conservation and cultural preservation. The Focus of Inquiry (FOI) for each trip is designed to look at themes that will be woven through all program activities and experiences. As we formed the program, we also discussed possible program themes, both with one another and with Bhutanese friends and former colleagues. These conversations often circled back to the idea of happiness because with Bhutanese and Buddhist lens, happiness is often viewed differently than it is in the US. Our FOI allowed us to explore the factors that contribute to happiness, including the use and value of natural space, community life, and the ways that happiness is embedded in and practiced through spiritual philosophies and traditions. The FOI was designed to encourage students to look closely at their own lives and experiences, and to explore their tacit assumptions about happiness.

COMMUNITY IS EVERYTHING

In Bhutan, connections stretch out like long games of telephone, particularly as families move between regions with seasonal change. Visualizing how community connections are fostered is best illustrated by picturing a road trip across Bhutan during the summer. Monsoon rains, landslides, and mud on the national highway might cause roadblocks that can last anywhere from hours to days. In the West, this time might be written off as “wasted,” a detriment to productivity. However, in Bhutan, these roadblocks often become social gatherings, a time to meet new people and sip hot butter tea together while watching bulldozers lift massive stones and level out dirt. What seems an annoyance can morph into the best part of the trip. Bhutan is remarkable in this way: It’s a country so small and unplugged that social interactions naturally arise from an unavoidably interwoven community.
What seems an annoyance can morph into the best part of the trip.
With all this in mind, what could be more fitting than Dragons offering a program in a country whose name in the native language literally translates to the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”?

MAYBE THE BEST WAY TO SUM IT ALL UP IS WITH QUOTES FROM THE SUMMER 2018 BHUTAN PROGRAM YAK BOARD:

“Life is very different here. The day starts just before 6:00am in the morning. Everyone works together to make breakfast. It is very much unlike the United States. Back home we usually wake up, eat, and go about our day on our own. Here, they all eat together and get along extremely well. There is a sense that even when they are not talking, they are having a conversation." –Jake Zivkovic, Student

“Bhutan is a small country, but it contains such a vast wealth of history and culture—its diverse peoples, geography, religious traditions, and cuisine are all so colorful and full of spice! Traveling in places like this is difficult, surreal, heavenly, overwhelming, and everything in between all at once.” –Nick Gredin, Instructor

“Some of the first icebreakers my homestay brother had in store for us: ‘Have you been following the World Cup?’ and ‘What is your favorite soccer league team?’ When I went to play later with the Bhutanese teenagers and young adults, they seemed to be shocked when I could barely dribble without tripping over myself.” –Jack Holmgren, Student

“I’m convinced of how special this country is and would like to proclaim myself as Bhutan’s official biggest fan. Why am I so confident about that statement? Almost anybody would feel the same if they could come smell the air and listen to the birds. As I sit in the back of the farmhouse where we are taking residency, I can’t help but stop writing to look at the vast rice fields and clouds gently rolling over the mountains.[...] This may be the quietest place I’ve ever experienced...” –Raif Wexler, Student

“Every meal that we have had at our homestay has concluded the same way; with our homestay mother and grandmother commenting on how little we eat. While attempting to plop more food on our plates, they say that if we don’t eat we will get thin and also point out that we don’t want an empty stomach because that will make us miss our parents.” –Delaney Bashaw, Student

CHELSEA FERRELL works in Global Operations at Tufts University. She received her MA in Social Anthropology from the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) and her BA in Political Science from Swarthmore College. She has led academic and service programs in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Colorado and presented at national and regional conferences on topics of Himalayan Studies and University Risk Management. She believes that intercultural community experiences are powerful sites of personal transformation.
 

P.S. Head over to see the itinerary and details of our new Gap Year Bhutan Semester!

(This essay was featured in the 2019 issue of The Dragons Journal. We encourage you to visit our archive of issues and essays or even submit a piece for publication in the next issue!)
[post_title] => Bhutan: Challenging Definitions of Happiness — A DRAGONS JOURNAL FEATURED STORY [post_excerpt] => If you say you’re going to Bhutan, be prepared for a wide range of reactions. From the skeptical bank-teller (“Hold on, let me make sure that’s a country before I authorize your credit card.”) to the confused listener (“Oh, that’s in Africa, right?”) to the awestruck fan (“Isn’t that the happiest country in the world?!”). While you can’t anticipate others’ reactions, one thing is certain: Once introduced to the country, the people, and the concepts of Bhutan, your perspective won’t be the same. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => bhutan-challenging-definitions-of-happiness-a-dragons-journal-featured-story [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-05-23 10:07:45 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-05-23 16:07:45 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => 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] => 20 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 7 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 20 [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] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/thedragonsjournal/ ) ) [category_links] => The Dragons Journal )
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    [post_date] => 2019-03-28 12:39:52
    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-03-28 18:39:52
    [post_content] => 

We're super excited to see and share this announcement from Tufts University.

Here's an excerpt from The Tuft's Daily article titled, Tufts Civic Semester to Offer Overseas Service Opportunities to Incoming First-Years:

"Civic Semester is intended to be embedded in the academic experience at Tufts,' McAndrew said.

The program is fully funded by tuition, and all financial aid that a student receives is applied to the Civic Semester, Dean of Tisch College Alan Solomont said.

“[The Civic Semester] really should be open to all students,” Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Jim Glaser said.

Students participating in the program will complete on-campus orientation with their fellow classmates in September, according to Glaser. Glaser expressed his belief that completing regular orientation on campus with students who are not participating in the program will be a positive experience.

“They will go through orientation with all of the students they come back to,” Glaser said. “The beauty of this is that it … allows students to have a full [orientation] experience.”

Tisch College partnered up with Where There Be Dragons, a well-known program provider for academic gap semesters and years, according to Solomont.

“[Tisch College] looked at all the programs who do this just to pick the best one,” Solomont said.

In the program’s first year, it will admit 25 students. However, Solomont said that there is room for growth in the program, saying that it could expand to 100 more students in future years."

Head over to the Tufts Daily to read more about the exciting new Civic Semester!

    [post_title] => Tufts Civic Semester in Partnership with Dragons [post_excerpt] => We're super excited to see and share this announcement from Tufts University. Here's an excerpt from The Tuft's Daily article titled, "Tufts Civic Semester to Offer Overseas Service Opportunities to Incoming First-Years"... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => tufts-civic-semester-in-partnership-with-dragons [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-03-28 12:44:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-03-28 18:44:14 [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] => 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] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/for_parents/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 641 [name] => About Dragons [slug] => about_dragons [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 641 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [parent] => 0 [count] => 32 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 32 [category_description] => Press, Essays from Admin, and Behind-the-Scenes HQ. [cat_name] => About Dragons [category_nicename] => about_dragons [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/about_dragons/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 47 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 14 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 47 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => For Parents, About Dragons ... )
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