Frequently Asked Questions
Below, you’ll find answers to some of the most-asked questions about our programs. If you can’t find the answer you’re looking for, email us at [email protected] or call 303-413-0822 to learn more!
Dragons programs help students build an in-depth understanding of place while uncovering a more profound sense of self. We maintain a level of mentorship, risk awareness, and instruction that is unsurpassed in the industry. Every Dragons program is a unique learning adventure that is carefully steered by a dedicated administrative team, and takes maximum advantage of the unique character of the participants and place, as well as the strengths of the instructor team. We do not subcontract programs to in-country operators, and we do not run scalable, pre-packaged tours.
Dragons has been running immersive travel programs for over 30 years. Our programs began in China in 1993 with a mission to discover the country beyond curated tour bus travel. Since then, we’ve added educator trainings and adult travel programs to our open enrollment offerings.
We also design and operate custom programs for Princeton University, Milton Academy, Tufts University, Phillips Exeter Academy, and dozens of other college preparatory schools. To see a list of the 50+ schools and universities that have partnered with Dragons, as well as read testimonials, you can visit the Partners section of our website.
Dragons students come from many different backgrounds, but are united by a sense of curiosity and a desire for meaningful travel experiences. Many Dragons students are high school or college students from across the USA. We are also excited to welcome an increasing number of students from other countries, including Brazil, Netherlands, Mexico, China, Philippines, and more.
We feel honored to work with the highest level of professional global educators from a wide array of backgrounds. You can read more about our expert instructors here.
Every Dragons program is staffed with three instructors and limited to 12 students. Our 4:1 ratio – the best in the industry – provides excellent mentorship and safety for participants.
As a Certified B Corp™, Dragons meets the highest verified standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. Read more about our other social and environmental initiatives here.
Justice is a key component of Dragons mission and vision, and we are committed to socially responsible travel as a tool for breaking down barriers and enhancing understanding between people and communities around the world. You can learn more about our approach to Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion here.
Choosing a Program
Our nine Program Components are the building blocks of every Dragons journey. Each program blends a diverse range of activities to explore unique themes, helping students immerse themselves and meaningfully connect with place. We suggest reviewing the program description and sample itinerary for each program you’re considering, and choosing the one that gets you most excited!
If you still can’t decide, the Dragons Outreach Team is here to support you. Our team travels to program destinations each year and speaks from first-hand experience to share insight on which program would be the best fit. Schedule a call with us here.
In general, yes! Dragons is committed to providing students with reasonable accommodations whenever possible. Our first priority is your safety. If you have a medical or dietary need that may pose an increased risk during a program (such as a life-threatening allergy, for example), our Risk Management team will work with you to determine the best program and risk management plan for your situation. Please contact us to start a conversation about your specific needs.
Please do! For a full list of past participant referrals, please contact us. Most Dragons participants volunteer to serve as references following their program, and will give honest advice based on their firsthand experience with Dragons.
The preferred age demographics listed for each program have been carefully considered over the years, and are largely based on the emotional and physical challenges expected for that particular program. Occasionally, Dragons does make exceptions to a program’s suggested range, at the discretion of our Admissions Director. All open enrollment participants must have completed at least one year of high school, without exception.
We strongly encourage friends and siblings to enroll in separate programs, out of fairness to other members of the group. Our programs specifically prohibit the formation of exclusive relationships between group members, and it helps when the entire group starts out as strangers. If you are committed to attending a program with your friend or sibling, please contact us to initiate a more in-depth conversation.
We promote a paradigm shift from “volunteering” to “learning service.” The desire to do good is a great motivator, and our learning-centered approach to service helps ensure the product of that motivation is truly positive for all those involved. For more of our thoughts on Learning Service and the ethics of Responsible Travel, please reference our position papers on Learning Service and Responsible Travel.
No! All Dragons courses include language instruction at varying levels of intensity. While no prior language experience is required to join, we encourage you to put effort into language-learning during your program, building a vocabulary that enables you to interact with locals and navigate new cultural contexts.
We love questions! You can contact us here.
Applying for a Program
Start your application through our online portal, here. After receiving your completed application and program deposit, we’ll invite you for a phone interview before issuing a final admissions decision. Read more about our application process.
Spaces are reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis, with rolling admission. Once a program fills, students must be actively progressing through the admissions process to maintain their space on the roster.
Reserve your space by submitting a deposit. Make sure to also start your online application, so we can link your deposit to your account!
Yes! We love working with participants from around the world. Please note that visa requirements may differ for non-US citizens; see “Do I need a visa?” below for more details.
We look for participants who are curious, motivated, and ready to take on the challenge of a Dragons program. For more details on what we’re looking for, check out our Essential Eligibility Criteria.
You’ll receive an admissions decision once our team receives all requested information. For some students, this occurs shortly after the interview; for others, it may take longer as we gather more information and collaborate with you to reach the right decision.
After you’re accepted, the next big event is your tuition due date, 120 days before your program begins. After this date, you’ll start to receive increasing communication from us about how to prepare for your course, and you’ll want to keep a close eye on your MyDragons account. If you are accepted after the tuition due date, you’ll find most information you need to start prepping immediately in your MyDragons account.
Dragons isn’t the right choice for every applicant. If you’re not admitted to the program, we’ll automatically refund $600 of your deposit. You’re welcome to re-apply for a program at another time.
Please email [email protected] describing your problem. Include a screenshot if possible. We will work to resolve the issue as soon as we can.
Tuition, Costs, and Payments
Your tuition covers most expenses from when you meet your instructors to when you say goodbye. Airfare and evacuation insurance costs are billed separately; visa fees and other personal expenses are not included. You can find a full breakdown of what’s covered in our Terms & Conditions.
Your airfare and an evacuation insurance fee are billed separately from tuition. Read more about these fees.
Yes. Visa costs, vaccination or medication costs, gear purchases, laundry, souvenirs, snacks, lodging before or after the course, and other similar expenses must be paid out of pocket. You are also responsible for paying any medical expenses incurred, either out of pocket or through your personal health insurance plan.
Dragons is not eligible for the federal school code required for the application of federal financial aid. Some 529 plans also require this type of code, but every 529 provider operates differently. Some students have used their 529 plans successfully, while others have not been able to use these funds. Students who take optional college credit use 529 funds or federal aid more easily through our School of Record. Please check with your 529 provider directly to see what kind of expenses are approved under your account.
Yes! If you need a little extra time to pay your tuition in full, we’re happy to work with you. Just email us at [email protected] before your payment deadline to work out a payment schedule.
If you know your family can’t afford a Dragons program, you can apply using our financial aid process. While our resources are limited and we can’t work with every student who applies, we try hard to make our programs accessible to those who couldn’t otherwise join us.
Making changes to your program is relatively easy up until your payment due date. Once program preparations are in progress, it becomes more complicated to make changes. Please review our Terms & Conditions for our policies regarding changes, and email [email protected] if you have further clarifying questions.
Trip insurance is not required. However, many participants choose to purchase this coverage to protect against financial loss if an unexpected circumstance arises.
Dragons partners with TravMark (877-500-1556) to offer insurance options for Dragons travelers, but families can purchase insurance from any provider. Please direct all questions to the insurance provider directly
Preparing to Travel
Yes! The admissions department will let you know when you can download your Course Preparation Manual (CPM) from your MyDragons account, which includes a packing list. Also, before the start of the trip, your instructors will post on the Yak Board with additional packing tips.
Dragons programs are generally electronics-free. Instructors will post the specific electronics policy for your course about two weeks prior to the trip, but here is our general policy:
- If you decide to bring your phone for use during individual travel days before or after the program, instructors will collect and hold it for the duration of the course. Instructors are not liable for any loss or damage to your phone.
- Any other items that connect to the internet, such as computers, iPads, tablets, smartwatches, etc., are not allowed.
- Students are allowed to bring regular e-readers or mp3 players and headphones to listen to music, as long as the device does not connect to the internet. Phones cannot be used as cameras, but you are allowed and encouraged to bring a digital camera!
No. To minimize early judgment among group members, we do not encourage students to get to know each other beforehand except through brief introductions on the Yak Board in the weeks leading up to the program.
Whether you need a visa depends on your country of citizenship and your destination. Dragons will provide guidelines for US citizens when a visa is necessary. However, you are ultimately responsible for complying with visa requirements, and Dragons can’t guarantee that a visa will be granted. Students who are not US citizens must research and comply with any visa requirements for their origin and destination countries.
Dragons requires the COVID-19 vaccine (with limited medical exemptions) and any vaccine required to enter a destination country. When considering additional vaccines, the best person to consult is a licensed medical professional; Dragons cannot give this kind of advice. We recommend scheduling an appointment with a travel doctor to discuss recommended vaccines for your program region.
Pay attention to the materials available in your MyDragons account and on the Yak Board! Also, read books or articles, watch films, or listen to music about the countries you are going to visit. If you can, start dipping your toes into the language – Duolingo and other language-learning apps are a great place to begin.
Traveling to and from a Program
Dragons arranges a group flight from a US “departure hub” to the program start location. LAX, JFK, and MIA are common departure locations. If you’re coming from the US, we will let you know the date and time by which you need to arrive at that departure hub to meet the group, and you’ll all fly together to your program location.
If you’re coming from outside the US, you may choose to either join the group flight from the departure hub or arrange your own travel to the program start location. If you arrange your own travel, you’ll need to arrive as close to the group arrival time as possible. We will post this information on MyDragons once flight itineraries are confirmed.
If you’re flying on the group flight (see “How do I get to my program location”), you must arrive at the airport to meet your group at least five (5) hours prior to your scheduled departure time. (Yes – we really mean five hours!) About two weeks before departure, we’ll provide further details about where exactly to meet your group in the airport.
If you’re meeting the group at the program start location, you must arrive as close to the group arrival time as possible and will meet your group members at the destination airport. We will post this information on MyDragons once flight itineraries are confirmed.
Dragons makes group reservations with airlines to ensure that all students are able to travel together on the same flight, and we pay deposits well in advance to hold these seats for each student. This provides safety and flexibility if flights are changed or delayed. These flights require a minimum number of travelers to hold the reservation, so any deviations can put the entire group’s reservation in jeopardy. As such, only students traveling from outside the US may book travel independently without incurring a fee. Read more about our travel policies.
We love it when our programs spark the desire for further travel, and hope you will feel prepared for future adventures that align with your values and passions. However, with the many travel disruptions we’ve seen from changes in the travel sector, Dragons advises against students changing their planned return flights unless necessary. Any deviation requests must be approved by the airline and are not always allowed. Changes may also incur significant fees or fare differences at the cost of the traveler.
During a Program
While each day of the program is unique, you’ll find that each phase of a program has a particular rhythm. Here are some examples:
- During homestays: wake up; have breakfast with your host family; conduct morning check-ins with the group; go to language classes; have lunch; go to Independent study projects classes; free time; have dinner with your family. You can see real-life examples on the Yak board, like these from South America, Myanmar, Indonesia, and Nepal.
- During a trek: wake up early and walk, walk; rest; walk, walk, walk; eat; arrive at camp; free time. Read firsthand accounts from South America, Nepal, and our Rio Grande Semester.
- During a community stay: wake up; eat breakfast with the group; community activities; lunch; community activities and free time; dinner; free time – see these examples from Senegal, South America, and Guatemala.
Yes, there will be times throughout the trip when you can contact your family or friends via email, social media, or phone call, but contact will be limited. The frequency will be announced by your instructors at the start of the program. Who you contact during these time slots is up to you, and you can expect to be out of touch for up to three weeks at a time. The Yak Board is the best place for family members to get semi-regular updates about the program.
Program rules are crucial to maintaining a safe and positive group experience. Participants sign a detailed Participant Agreement at the start of the program, which includes the following core “Red Rules”:
- No use of illicit drugs or misuse of prescription medications.
- No use of alcohol.
- No sexual relationships.
- No new tattoos or piercings.
- No use of motorcycles, scooters, or other prohibited modes of transportation.
- No physical or emotional harm to self or others.
Violating these rules or other portions of the participant agreement will trigger disciplinary action, which can range from a formal behavioral contract to being sent home early from the program at your own expense.
If you’d like to review the complete participant agreement, email [email protected] to request a sample copy.
Most Dragons students encounter challenges at some point during a program. Instructors help students through these challenges in numerous ways. For challenges with physical health, instructors might: administer over-the-counter medications; facilitate evacuation from a trek; or accompany students to a clinic, for example. For emotional challenges, actions might include: Supporting students in identifying and accessing their existing coping mechanisms; providing journal prompts; or facilitating opportunities for meditation and exercise.
At the same time, our instructors are neither doctors nor licensed mental health care providers. When a participant’s challenges require support beyond what our instructors are able to provide, Dragons works with the participant and their family to establish the safest and healthiest course of action, which in some cases may include early dismissal from the program.
When spending an extended period with a small group of new people, you can expect challenges and conflicts to arise from time to time. When troubles arise, instructors use a variety of techniques to help bring the student group back into alignment, including:
- Identifying stressors and triggers amongst individuals or factions of the group
- Teaching students about the group life cycle and providing shared language that the group can use to understand and process the group experience
- Training students on feedback models, active listening, and conflict resolution
- Revisiting the group contract and agreements and working through a re-commitment to the group and program.
Please also see “What are the program rules, and what happens if I break them?” for further information about expectations for individual participants.
A dynamic itinerary is a flexible one. Dragons doesn’t run cookie-cutter programs: each experience is organic and new, with administrative members, instructor teams, and students working together to craft a unique focus and direction for the program while taking advantage of opportunities that might arise on short notice. Most importantly, a dynamic itinerary can effectively respond to specific concerns as they pertain to political realities, group health, and other unforeseen circumstances. By not being locked in to a particular schedule, our groups are able to respond to shifting on-the-ground situations in the places we host programs.
Living with a local family is a key component of any Dragons experience, and most students have the opportunity to live with 1-3 families over the course of their program. During this time, students practice communication skills (verbal and nonverbal!) and join in the family’s daily routine, from cooking and eating to fishing and shopping. The group continues to meet for structured activities during the homestay period, as well.
Host families are selected based on a checklist of safety standards; many have hosted students for many years. Participants are usually placed in homestays individually, but live near one another so they can build meaningful connections within both the host community and the group. Many students report the homestay as the most transformative portion of their Dragons program. Don’t just take it from us – the Yak board includes many reflections on the homestay experience, including these yaks from Senegal, Nepal, Morocco, and China.
Students gain independence as they go through the different stages of a Dragons program. During the first stages, “orientation” and “skill acquisition”, students can expect more group time and less independence, as instructors help students adjust to, and learn to stay safe in, the new culture and surroundings. In the middle stage, “practicing,” students gain more independence as they put into practice what they have learned in the initial stages. During the student “expedition” phase, students really take charge of the course, enjoying greater independence and the responsibilities that come with it. Finally, programs close with “transference”, an opportunity to reflect on the experience together and prepare for the transition back home.
Health and Safety
As we collectively learned more about COVID-19, we took a cautious approach to reopening programs (described in more detail on our website and blog) and developed a robust, responsive, science-based set of in-field protocols for responding to encounters with COVID in the field. As COVID-19 and our global response to it continue to evolve, Dragons protocols and programming do too, constantly seeking to maintain the core magic of Dragons programs while prioritizing the safety and health of our participants, staff, and community partners.
We do our best to proactively mitigate the risk of illness and injury on our courses, but when they do occur, we have a robust care infrastructure in place. To ensure fast, appropriate, and high-quality treatment, Dragons partners with International SOS (ISOS), a world-leader in emergency evacuation and international medical consultation. Further, medical and emergency response is a focus of instructor training and is guided by Dragons policies and procedures, and most instructors are certified in Wilderness First Aid and/or as Wilderness First Responders and Emergency Medical Technicians. When an incident occurs, instructors are able to provide immediate care using our program medical kit and consult with ISOS to monitor a student’s recovery and seek any further treatment if needed.
In cases where an illness or injury calls for a visit to the doctor, and in emergencies, Dragons facilitates swift action. Medical facilities along each program route are vetted by Dragons in-country staff members in partnership with ISOS, and documented in Risk Management Plans that provide instructors with clear direction for procuring prompt, high-quality medical care. If needed, ISOS evacuation service is available to transport a student to an appropriate facility. Throughout each program, our administrative on-call staff is available 24/7 to support instructors during an emergency, and to facilitate communication and coordination with a participant’s family members.
Before offering and running a program, Dragons makes a holistic risk determination by evaluating information from various sources, such as The U.S. State Department, The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), local government resources, International SOS, international and local media. Beyond these official sources, Dragons foundation of exceptional in-country support and expertise is solidified by our vast community of local experts; we hire instructional staff and regional Program Directors who know each country intimately and closely monitor security concerns through reports, media, and personal conversations within their networks.
The most important quality of a dynamic itinerary, beyond its educational benefits, is that it allows us to effectively respond to specific concerns as they pertain to political realities, group health, and other unforeseen circumstances. Because we work with small groups and staff our programs with professionals who bring considerable in-country knowledge, we maintain extraordinary mobility and dynamism. Our staff maintains contingency options for each itinerary, and can make swift changes based on relevant, on-the-ground data as well as higher-level analyses and predictions.
Our goal is to help students embrace challenges while navigating the associated risks safely, professionally, and transparently. We proactively work to integrate risk management into every level of our work, from our institutional culture, organizational leadership, pre-departure preparation, participant services, down to on-the-ground field practices. Over 30 years of guiding travelers, our responsive systems have allowed us to successfully navigate a wide range of unique challenges – from gastrointestinal illnesses to earthquakes – with an uncompromising commitment to providing the best care available. For more information about Dragons’ approach to risk, please visit the safety and health page on our website.
It’s up to you. While all Dragons participants have medical evacuation coverage through International SOS, this service does not cover any medical expenses once a participant has arrived at a medical facility. We recommend contacting your health insurance provider to understand your coverage while traveling internationally. Participants are responsible for paying any medical expenses incurred during the program, so if you aren’t covered, you may wish to purchase additional travel medical insurance.
If you are interested in additional protection for expenses related to medical services, travel interruptions, and tuition protection, you may want to purchase a travel insurance policy. Dragons offers optional supplemental plans through an insurance partner. These plans are not required by Dragons. You may also choose to purchase insurance from another provider.
Many Dragons participants have experienced pre-existing physical or mental health challenges. Our Admissions Team works with each applicant to understand their needs and determine their compatibility with their selected program. Before students are officially admitted to a Dragons course, they are assessed for both readiness to accept the challenges and limitations of a Dragons program and any risk factors they might carry. For more information about what constitutes the “right fit” for a Dragons program, please see our Essential Eligibility Criteria (EEC).
Dragons welcomes all participants, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. Our instructors are committed to fostering a healthy, supportive group culture that embraces diversity and values safety, open communication, and mutual respect for every individual. Some cultural contexts may pose additional risk to gender-diverse individuals; in these situations, we strive for honest conversation about how that might impact a traveler’s experience.
Before heading out on a program, we strongly recommend that all potential participants take some time to reflect on your own identities and learn more about tools and techniques for engaging respectfully with people who are different from you. We also encourage you to explore strategies for self-care that you can employ in the event that you encounter uncomfortable or harmful situations. As a starting point, we suggest you visit two specific resources on our website using the links below:
Allyship Abroad: https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/about-dragons/allyship-abroad/
Traveling as YOU: https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/about-dragons/traveling-as-you/
College credit course offerings are available on all international Gap Semesters and Independent Spring Experience (ISE) programs. Select summer programs also offer college credit – look for those that indicate “Optional College Credit.”
Learn more about transferring credits on this page.
College credit courses combine the experiential learning that is part of all Dragons programs with a set of assignments specific to each college-level course.
- Non-language courses are overseen remotely by an Instructor of Record. Students gain credit for the directly relevant contact hours of experiential activities of the program (e.g. homestays, guest lecturers, etc.) and completing assignments. There are no formal lectures.
- Language courses are overseen by a Dragons instructor on-site and are taught by local language teachers. Students engage in small-group language instruction, regular assignments, and experiential language learning activities.
For non-language courses, assignments typically include journaling, required readings, a presentation, and a final paper (submitted after the program). For language courses, assignments must be completed during the program and may include written and oral assignments, quizzes, readings, presentations, and a final exam. Sample syllabi can be provided upon request. All assignments completed during a program can be done without a laptop, in line with our technology policy (which does not permit internet-enabled devices).
Yes, you can choose to participate in a summer program that offers optional credit as a non-credit student. Non-credit students are expected to fully participate in the academics of the program but do not receive a transcript at the end of the term. This option is not available for semester or ISE courses.
Yes. Learn more about costs and registration for optional college credit on this page.
It depends how late. Prior to the course, late registrations may be accepted or denied at the university’s discretion. Once the program has begun, registration is not possible.
Maybe, depending on the date a drop is requested and partner university policies.