Hiking on Dragons Nicaragua Summer Program - Photo by Eileen Carter

Central America Gap Year

Connecting the Americas

A 7-month Gap Year Program

Enroll
Duration
221 Days
Description

A Gap Year Program exploring social justice, Spanish language study, home-stays, learning service, land use, and grassroots organizing.

Dates

Sep 6 - Apr 15, 2018


Suggested Ages

18-22

Number of Participants

8


Availability

closed

Begins In

14Days

Land Cost

$32,850


Estimated Flight Cost

$2,000

Matagalpa

Managua

Esteli

Program Overview

Both heartbreak and hope live and breathe in the lands of lakes and volcanoes.


Nicaragua’s history of rebellion and its steady struggle against injustice calls us to examine the systems that shape our world, and consider our place within it. Students on Dragon’s seven-month Gap Year program examine the fundamental interconnectedness between three striking countries: Nicaragua, Cuba, and their country of origin.

Throughout the journey, students embrace the power of human narratives as they connect with families, farmers, social movement leaders, artisans and musicians. Over time, the group comes to understand the nuances of local culture through their eyes; comparing and contrasting stories as they cross borders and reflect on personal experiences back home. Oftentimes, the stories prompt questions about how people live alongside one another; how other cultures define a “good quality of life”; and how individuals pursue freedom despite a legacy of colonialism, exploitation and oppression.

Dragons’ Central America Gap Year program is based in Matagalpa, one…

Nicaragua’s history of rebellion and its steady struggle against injustice calls us to examine the systems that shape our world, and consider our place within it. Students on Dragon’s seven-month Gap Year program examine the fundamental interconnectedness between three striking countries: Nicaragua, Cuba, and their country of origin.

Throughout the journey, students embrace the power of human narratives as they connect with families, farmers, social movement leaders, artisans and musicians. Over time, the group comes to understand the nuances of local culture through their eyes; comparing and contrasting stories as they cross borders and reflect on personal experiences back home. Oftentimes, the stories prompt questions about how people live alongside one another; how other cultures define a “good quality of life”; and how individuals pursue freedom despite a legacy of colonialism, exploitation and oppression.

Dragons’ Central America Gap Year program is based in Matagalpa, one of the most distinguished examples of Nicaragua’s bright and lively urban centers. During our time in Matagalpa, we’ll gather at a central Program House to connect with guest speakers, host events for the local community, take Spanish classes, and initiate our own rituals, like a regular film series or a community dinner. The extended stay in Matagalpa gives students the opportunity to connect with local mentors and begin their Independent Study Projects, delving into a particular aspect of Central American culture. Topics of study might include techniques for grassroots political reform, permaculture, traditional music and dance or a collaborative art project.

When we leave our home base in Matagalpa, bright cityscapes become our new classroom. We build confidence speaking Spanish and navigating local transportation in a new city, often learning to embrace a healthy dose of chaos in the name of true cultural immersion. Soon, we’ll trade city streets for ruddy roads as we transition into rural home-stays in the community of El Lagartillo. For several weeks, we join a community of 36 families and fold into their daily routine: folding tamales with our home-stay grandmothers, listening to stories from the revolution and participating in a multi-day service project with a socially-conscious theater troupe in town. Time passes, and soon enough, we find ourselves surprisingly comfortable in a life far from “home”.

From El Lagartillo, we travel on to San Marcos where we connect with Los Quinchos, socially-engaged organization that provides viable opportunities for kids living in La Chureca, the largest city dump in Central America. We visit the children’s home and learn about the troubling history of the LA Chureca dump, as well as the motivations and methodology behind Los Quinchos outreach program. After establishing personal bonds, we are able to engage in more profound conversations about what it means to “have a good quality of life”, and soon, we’ll leave the city to backpack together through the region.

Mid-winter brings us to Cuba, where we spend three weeks studying the difference between political and economic systems in Central America. We delve into the history of the 1959 revolution, discuss the role of the United States as a regional power, and reflect on the similarities and differences with systems we’ve observed in Nicaragua. We have the opportunity to hike through some of Cuba’s most magnificent national parks and wander down cobblestone streets in Havana. This three-week adventure will provide us with some distance and growing perspective on our experiences in Nicaragua thus far.

From Cuba, we return to Nicaragua to reunite with our home-stay families and mentors in Matagalpa. Here, we dig further into our academic curriculum and even turn inward, reflecting on our personal values, and considering how they might relate to the cultural values we’ve observed within Nicaragua and Cuba. As we learn, we continue to appreciate the value of ‘interconnectedness.’ This reflective space helps us prepare for the final part of our journey: the student-led expedition.

Every Dragons’ course culminates in a student-led expedition, where the group has the opportunity to plan, organize and execute this portion of the course based on their experience and interests. Students may choose to travel to a new region of Nicaragua, or perhaps venture to Guatemala to test their regional expertise.

The Central America Gap Year program will lead each student on their own journey, offering insights into the foundational elements of daily life in Cuba and Nicaragua, as well as an acute awareness of the political, economic and social levers that connect us all.

Read More Read Less Sample Itinerary

Program Components

3/5
Comparative Religion

Learn about the basic tenets of Mayan cosmology, discuss the influences of the Christian church in the Americas.

5/5
Development Studies

Examine the political and economic systems that govern Central America; delve into a comprehensive study of the United State's influence within the region; study patterns of grassroots revolution in Nicaragua and Cuba; ask questions about what it means to "have a good quality of life" in this part of the world.

4/5
Focus Of Inquiry

Delve into issues of political revolution, grassroots organizing, sustainable development and agriculture. Specifically study the organic agriculture movement in Cuba which has led Cuba to be the modern-day leaders in the field of sustainable urban agriculture and examine models of permaculture and sustainable design in Nicaragua.

5/5
Home Stay

Participate in extended home-stays in Matagalpa and El Lagartillo and gain firsthand insight into family life in Nicaragua.

3/5
Independent Study Project (ISP)

Engage in a in-depth exploration of one aspect of Central American culture. Topics could include working alongside a socially-conscious theater troupe, studying permaculture, practicing traditional dance with a local mentor or learning to build a cob house with local community members.

5/5
Language Study

Build towards fluency with seven months of Spanish instruction and daily community engagement.

4/5
Learning Service

Work alongside volunteers at Los Quinchos, a socially-engaged organization that works with kids at La Chureca, the largest city dump in Central America. Assist families in El Lagartillo with a community-led project.

3/5
Rugged Travel

Traverse the countryside of Nicaragua on a variety of local transportation, including public and private buses; trek through cloud forests; and explore the cobblestone streets of Havana.

3/5
Trekking

Hike to hidden waterfalls; participate in a multi-day trek in the highlands of Nicaragua; explore Cuba's breathtaking national parks.

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