Photo by Aaron Slosberg, Instructor.

Posts Tagged:

South Asia

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    [post_date] => 2018-03-07 08:00:17
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Selected by peers, family, friends and strangers via Facebook, we're excited to announce the winners of Dragons Fall 2017 Photo Contest (featuring our Nepal Semester, China Semester, and South America Semester).

Be sure to visit the WTBD Facebook page to view photos and captions from all of our finalists!

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    [post_date] => 2018-03-01 06:35:46
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    [post_content] => 
Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided? [...] We live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection...
If I had fully entertained the thoroughness of the unknown, I never would have boarded that first plane to India. On the other hand, I couldn’t stay home and leave the world up to my imagination. I was encouraged to ponder the dangers, all the reasons why a 21-year-old female should not embark on such a foolish journey. I was cautioned, “It is not safe.” And then warned, “There is so much that can happen out there that is beyond your control! The rawness of it all will kill you.” And yet, I had to get on that plane. When I looked in the mirror to question whether there was an inkling of insanity informing my decision to leave, I knew there was no going back. There was a look in my eyes that told me I had made some sort of bargain with myself and was taking a blind leap into my own shadow territory. Webster’s defines shadow as “a dark area or shape produced by a body coming between rays of light and surface.” Culturally, we are taught that light is good. It is our friend. It is predictable. In light-filled spaces we can see clearly. We know where we stand and whom we are standing next to. We are confident in saying, “I know.” But in shadow territories our “I know” quickly morphs into an “I don’t know,” or an “I can’t see, I don’t understand.” This inability to see, to place, to cognitively compartmentalize makes us frustrated and apprehensive. We are less capable of making immediate assumptions. We become vulnerable and exposed to discomfort. We are made to think that this is bad.
The point of this embarkation is to become disoriented, to make a descent into the dark underworld, to grow uncomfortable and humbled, and to then formulate a personal understanding of one’s own resiliency.
With a little bit of probing, we find examples the world over of the hero’s journey. In this voyage, whether it be explored through myth, art, storytelling, or performed ritual, the hero is encouraged, forced or willingly embarks on a crossing into an unknown landscape. The point of this embarkation is to become disoriented, to make a descent into the dark underworld, to grow uncomfortable and humbled, and to then formulate a personal understanding of one’s own resiliency. So why do the majority of the people we know feel exempt from this process? Why does it feel unattainable? Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided? Unfortunately for us, we live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. We have bought into the argument that things are supposed to feel good, not scary. Life ought to feel controlled, predictable and agreeable. We have perpetuated this assumption to the point where living things are not even supposed to die. Instead of honest exchanges that reveal the complexity of our humanness and give voice to the internal impulses that beg for a proper descent, we are reminded to stay safe, to only seek, or dig, or journey so far. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection. It is the reason we can walk into a rural fishing village in Indonesia or Senegal and look strangers in the eye and feel a sense of compassion. “I too am searching,” we say. “I too have suffered and asked big questions and sometimes come up short.” Through a willingness to sit in the unknown, in the dark, we demonstrate a level of both vulnerability and courage that promotes compassion and acceptance for those around us. Daniel Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist from UCLA, uses nature as a way to teach us about our own personal resiliency. He argues that organisms that are skilled at integrating a complexity of experiences and outside influences into their core function have the most robust and vital systems. Through exposure to a combination of both challenging and supportive stimulants and experiences, one sees an advancement of flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy and stability in an organism. It’s interesting to apply this to the hero’s journey. For one could contend that personal vitality and resiliency are actually dependent upon and fed off of a conversation with the “shadow.” A turning towards indigestible or uncomfortable encounters might actually make each of us more of a hero, both physiologically and emotionally.
Travel is not the only way to take this journey, but it is, inarguably, a potent path.
Travel is not the only way to take this journey, but it is, inarguably, a potent path. In getting on that plane to India in my 21st year, I had to agree to sit in a place of foreignness and lose all of my internal points of reference. By eating unidentifiable food, working in the midst of stomach-churning and heartrending poverty, traveling on long 72-hour train rides, I slowly began peeling back the layers of what I knew to be “me” and losing myself to a new and eventually more fortified identity of “I.” I felt small and out of control and rocked by answerless questions, and I realized that I needed to become a new incarnation in order to understand myself and life and integrate many irreconcilable moments into the core and unfolding story before me. The hero’s challenge is to be humbled and disassembled and bewildered enough that we can relinquish the attachments or self-imposed limitations that hold us back from our evolved and resilient selves. Through the journey, the hero learns to find trust in, and the necessity of, conversation with the shadow sides of life. The hero knows that fear and discomfort are part of the digging, of the seeking and our eventual materialization into a more balanced and world-wise version of self. Our own resiliency and the integrity of our current culture depend upon people saying yes to this journey. Without it, in the end, we remain only euthanized versions of our most compelling selves.

ELIZABETH JOHNSON is a longtime Dragons instructor (Andes & Amazon` ‘07, Visions of India ‘12 & ’13). She is currently based in Bend, OR, where she coordinates Dragons Princeton Bridge Year partnership programs.

This article was featured in the Spring 2015 edition of Dragons bi-annual Newsletter, The Map's Edge. Each newsletter explores a subject of interest to the Dragons community through the voices of our Alumni, Instructors, Partners, Parents 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]. [post_title] => On Engaging the Unknown through Travel -- A Map's Edge Featured Story [post_excerpt] => Why don’t we live out our own hero’s journey? Why is the unknown looked upon as a place of defeat and something to be avoided?[...] We live in a culture that has tried to clinicalize, euthanize and sterilize the innate rawness out of life. Ironically, shadow is an essential element that inspires human connection... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => engaging-unknown-travel-maps-edge-featured-story [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-14 08:48:42 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-14 14:48:42 [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] => 25 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 25 [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] => 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] => 14 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 8 [cat_ID] => 675 [category_count] => 14 [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] => Dragons Travel Guide, The Dragons Journal )
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    [post_date] => 2018-02-07 11:23:04
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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] => 2018-03-07 08:11:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-07 15:11:28 [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] => 25 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 3 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 25 [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] => 48 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 700 [category_count] => 48 [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] => 54 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 641 [category_count] => 54 [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_date] => 2017-12-08 12:40:43
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    [post_content] => On September 14, I said goodbye to home and got on a plane bound for Nepal. I was extremely nervous but so excited to kick off the adventure of a lifetime. I didn’t really know what to expect or what I would encounter in Nepal. What would my group members be like and would they laugh at my jokes? What about my instructors? How will I possibly fit everything I need for 3 months into a backpack? What if I forget something? What about the culture? Would I stick out like a sore thumb? Will my host family understand anything I say? How will I possibly use a squatty potty for so long? Will I get sick of eating rice for every meal? Am I going to enjoy a week long Buddhist retreat? What about living in a rural village? Can I trek for 8 hours a day for almost 3 weeks straight? What about showers and laundry? Will I ever feel clean again? Am I going to sleep on the floor every night? Will I get sick? How sick? Will I return the same person as when I left? How will this experience shape the rest of my life? Should I have just gone to college?

Little did I know the decision to come to Nepal would be one of the best I’ve ever made. Three months later and it’s hard to process everything that I experienced, but it was more than I could have ever imagined. My 11 fellow students turned into more than friends- they turned into family. Together we explored Nepal and in the process learned so much about ourselves. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve hugged, we’ve climbed mountains, we’ve challenged each other to think differently and to be better humans, and there is no way I will ever be able to repay everyone for their immense impact on my life. My instructors are more so much more than instructors. They are friends, mentors, and some of the most driven and inspirational people I have ever met. They have pushed me to question and to never stop learning. My backpack that once felt so small now feels excessive and I regret bringing as many clothes as I did. The culture in Nepal is very different from home, but I fell in love. Temples and stupas everywhere, a deep respect for others and for the Earth, the happiness that engulfs everyday life. Turns out the squatty potty is not so bad and much of my group has even come to prefer them. My host families may not have always understood me, but they taught me so much about gratitude, compassion, simplicity, and community. Daal bhat power 24 hour is a true statement even if we get sick of it at times. The Himalayas left me speechless and in an indescribable state of awe multiple times a day, and the views made all the hard days of trekking absolutely worth it. We learned to embrace our stink but also to really appreciate the occasional waterfall/river shower or an opportunity to hand wash clothes. We all got sick at some point and it often seemed like we consumed more ORS than regular water, but the support of the group made it better.

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.

On December 9, I will board a plane in Kathmandu and wave goodbye to Nepal. This time, I’m also nervous, but in a way I’ve never felt before. This time, I’m nervous to go home. I’m nervous to return to the place and the people that have shaped the past 18 years of my life. I’m so excited to see my family and friends and share about my time in Nepal, but I’m nervous. I’m nervous about adjusting to a way of life that now seems so foreign to me. I’m nervous I will feel overwhelmed and out of place. I can show my friends and family pictures of where I’ve been and tell countless stories, but there is no way I will be able to completely describe how I felt. How can I describe the feeling of and early morning puja with hundreds of monks at Namo Buddha? How can I share the feeling of complete awe as I looked up at the thousands of stars in the tiny village of Na? How can I reciprocate the strong communities I observed in Chokati and at the Ashram? There is so much I want this share, but I know I will never be able to encapsulate everything that my time in Nepal has taught me and how I’ve changed in the process, and I’m okay with that. At first this thought really freaked me out- would it be hard to prove the validity of experiences that I can’t even describe? I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe the best memories aren’t meant to be shared. And I always know that should I find myself overwhelmed by the transition back home, there are 14 amazing people who understand what a journey this has been and who I can always count on.
    [post_title] => WHEN HOME SEEMS FOREIGN
    [post_excerpt] => 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.
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    [post_date] => 2017-10-23 09:57:00
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    [post_content] => 

FIRST PLACE: LUISA ROJO

North India: Roof of the World (4-week)

"Innocence and tradition. Kids playing in the prayer wheel in Takmachik, India."

SECOND PLACE: ELIZABETH SHOUP

China: The Silk Road

"Prayer wheels at a Buddhist monastery in Yushu."

 

TIED FOR THIRD PLACE: JENNA SMITH

Peru: Sacred Mountains (4-week)

"Expensive phone calls from the mountains."

TIED FOR THIRD PLACE: MADDY GRIFFIN

Myanmar: Development Studies & Social Transformation

"A huge statue located at the top of a pagoda in Mandalay."

Visit the WTBD Facebook page to view photos and captions from all of our finalists. [post_title] => 2017 SUMMER PHOTO CONTEST WINNERS ANNOUNCED [post_excerpt] => Selected by peers, family, friends and strangers via Facebook...we're proud to announce the winners... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => s17-photo-contest [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-03-07 08:27:47 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-03-07 15:27:47 [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] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 52 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 13 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 52 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/mixed_media/ ) ) [category_links] => Mixed Media )
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    [post_date] => 2017-08-25 09:38:49
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    [post_content] => Dragons offers an alternative approach to education, including for university-aged study abroad students.  Since 1993, Dragons has been running dynamic programs around the world. As part of that work, Dragons has been running programs which offer college level for-credit courses since 2001 on our semester programs.

CARA LANE-TOOMEY DIRECTOR OF STUDY ABROAD

Our approach to College Study Abroad Programs, which take place in China, India, Nepal, and South America (Bolivia/Peru), is to provide high-quality academic experiences in unconventional places. Unlike our gap semesters, the College Study Abroad Programs engage all students in a full-semester credit-load of academically rigorous courses, have visiting faculty members who bring their academic expertise to the experience, and provide a structure for participants to carry out individual research during a block of independent travel at the end of the program.

As with other Dragons programming, our instructors draw on language fluency, personal connections, and place-based expertise to give college students unparalleled engagement with communities. Dragons staff attend to program safety and quality, but are also deeply invested in establishing strong mentor relationships with students. This mentorship supports students as they make meaning out of experiences abroad and has a powerful impact on academic and personal growth.

Want to learn more? Visit our website or flip through our College Study Abroad Catalog below…

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