Nepal Semester (Gap Year)

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About

The Himalayas. Since time immemorial, these colossal peaks with their vast web of rugged, isolated valleys and distinct ethnic groups have drawn only the most intrepid travelers from distant lands. Through rural and urban home-stays, ten days in a Buddhist monastery, high mountain trekking, service learning, and independent study, Dragons’ Himalaya students explore this remarkable region and its people, encountering ancient spiritual traditions with deep roots in a mystical land.

We offer comprehensive, personal home visits so that we can answer your questions in person. One of our expert staff members will present on our program options and share stories from their own formative Where There Be Dragons program. To request a home visit in less than 2 minutes, fill out this form.

Highlights
  • Spend a week at a Tibetan monastery to learn about Buddhism and inquire deeply into Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shamanism.
  • Embark on a challenging trek through rugged parts of the Himalayas in remote wilderness areas.
  • Spend 4-6 weeks in home-stays in Kathmandu or Patan and participate in a short village home-stay in a Himalayan village.
  • Mentor with stone carvers and mask makers; Nepali cuisine, dance and vocals, women’s issues, comparative religion, ayurvedic medicine, stone carving and jewelry making.
  • Examine issues of health and education, human rights, environment and land use, globalization and poverty.

Questions & Answers

The programs can be very intense but risk is managed very well and space is created to talk through any experiences that are overwhelming. There is always time for reflection and both programs I went on involved creating ceremonies to acknowledge endings or beginnings of phases of the trip, which is helpful in processing experiences.

Reviews

99%
based on 11 reviews
  • Housing 9.7
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.9
  • Value 9.7
  • Safety 9.5
Showing 1 - 11 of 11
Tomas
10/10

Best Gap Year Course Avalible

I completed the Nepal Spring Semester Where There Be Dragons course in May and I can say for certain that this program is the best gap year course available hands down. From the way the groups are chosen to the instructors, mentors, and experiences; the program is designed around fitting to your needs and interest while also giving you a healthy dose of new perspectives. All the students I did the course with also share my belief is saying that this experience was not only valuable, but crucial to our development as people. The way things were presented, from religion, art and politics, to family life, always aligned to this student centered design. Throughout my experience I truly learned what cultural immersion is while gaining a deeper understanding of Nepal as a whole. This is reflected in the 9 different locations we visited. Even the time spent in each felt like the adequate amount of time to truly learn about the places we traveled to. I would also like to add that my three instructors have become such an inspiration for me as an example of leaders that share their passion by allowing others to experience the world they have come to love. Lastly, I would like to say that even if Nepal is not your interest, Dragons Courses are set up in a way where no matter where you go, personal growth will come hand in hand with cultural learning. This course is so valuable for that reason. Thanks to this course I now know a lot about Nepal, but I have also learned how to truly visit a country as a traveler and not as a tourist.

Yes, I recommend
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Nils
10/10

Living Different Lives

There is simply no better way to learn about yourself and the world around you then by travelling. What Dragon's gives you, and what this program gives you is exactly that opportunity. I flew to Nepal full of nerves and expectations. I spent the next three months with a group of unique and inspiring individuals as we explored a country full of beautiful moments and even greater people. When I finally came home, those nerves were long gone and instead were replaced by a greater confidence in who I was as a person and what I wanted from my life. While I cannot say that each person's experience will be the same, I can feel certain when I say that no matter what it will be a highlight of one's life.

As I often think back to my time in Nepal, I think about the experiences I had. Whether becoming part of two Nepalese families, hiking through the Himalayas, apprenticing as a blacksmith, learning from Buddhist monks, or exploring Kathmandu I always look back with a smile. I think what is a true testament to Nepal and Dragon's is just how happy I am to have taken a gap year. I could spend the rest of the year doing nothing but my three months in Nepal and it would still be one of best decisions I have made.

How can this program be improved?
While it certainly has academic qualities, people should understand that the academics is largely experiential and requires initiative by individuals. My program gave us the tools to learn but it certainly did not force us to learn. I think before the trip I had envisioned more of a structured learning environment. I quickly realised that the classroom was Nepal, and I had to seek the knowledge.
Yes, I recommend
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Carson
10/10

Nepal, outer beauty and introspection

Nepal with dragons was a transformative experience. My perceptions of the world were turned upside down! New ideas were planted in my head that I will always carry with me. Impermanence, beauty, joy, compassion.
This trip introduced me to the sacred, something that was missing from my life, just like many young Americans. The sacred mountains, temples, practices all so new to me and so ancient to the world.
Dragons gave structure and meaning to the often challenging backpacker norm. I feel, now, that I have a foundation for what it means to be a traveler and not a tourist.
Something I really appreciate about the dragons course now, during my current travels, is the approach to going home. Learning how to reintegrate or not, how to set intentions and work to embody all that one has learned.

How can this program be improved?
I enjoyed every minute! But I wish that more time could be spent in each place. Especially the village home stay!
Yes, I recommend
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Laura
10/10

More Than Mountains

When my plane touched down in Nepal, I knew three things about the country: Nepal had mountains. Kathmandu was the capital. "Namaste" means "hello." I knew virtually nothing about the country I was about to spend the next eight months in.

I had decided to take a gap year between college and grad school. I wanted to live in a new country and fully submerse myself in a new culture, something I hadn't taken advantage of during my undergrad. I chose Nepal mostly because of the Himalayas and my love of trekking. After much consideration (and budgeting), I decided to do my first three months with a gap year program, then travel on my own after that. Dragons gave me all the resources to prepare myself for Nepal: book titles, phone conversations, and even a copy of the Lonely Planet guidebook to Nepal. I could've prepared better, but I didn't. So it was that I found myself on the other side of the world in an unfamiliar culture with a group of strangers that were about to become my family for the next three months.

Those three months were beyond anything I could have imagined... Sitting cross-legged on a mud floor drinking sweet masala tea with my aamaa. Dancing with my homestay family on a balcony in Kathmandu while the city sparkled with millions of lights. The chanting of fifty monks, young and old, echoing in the cavernous puja hall. The burning of my lungs as we crossed Gosainkunda Pass and the sea of clouds on the other side.

The mountains were incredible, no doubt, but they aren't what I will remember most about Nepal. As I said goodbye to my the fellow travelers at Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu, I had tears in my eyes. It was these people along with many others that had made Nepal beautiful. I would be spending another five months in Nepal, but unlike the last time I arrived at the airport, I was ready.

How can this program be improved?
This program is advertised for students 18-22, but is marketed toward students just graduating high school. I had just graduated from college and was the oldest of the group by a few years. I was nervous about the age gap at first, but I was fortunate to have an amazingly open, mature group. I think Dragons could do a better job marketing the program to college students. It's a fantastic program wherever you are in your college journey. No sure what path to take? Even better.
Yes, I recommend
Max
10/10

Dal Bhat Power 24 Hour

I really don't know where to begin with this, so I guess I'll just start it from the very top.
The initial reason I wanted to visit Nepal was not some sort of altruistic goal for global understanding and for the betterment of others, it was actually quite selfish! I wanted to see the Himalayas...simple as that. But what ensued over the next 3 months was so profound and ego dissolving, that I came home to a completely different world than the one before I left. On the night of September 16th, myself and the 10 others that I was about spend the next three months, with, touched down in Tribhuvan Airport in Kathmandu. As soon as I stepped off the airplane, reality seemed unreal, as I picked up my duffel bag off a pile on the floor, and left the airport doors to be greeted by hundreds of people trying to sell me this or that. I didn't even know how to comprehend it. Not knowing how to comprehend a lot of the experiences I had on my journey was a common theme for me throughout the three months. In the time we were there, our group went on 3 seperate treks, lived in the Kathmandu suburb of Patan, lived with Nuns in a Buddhist Nunnery and spent time in the tourist-town of Pokhara - however the one place where I was pushed most outside my beliefs, and probably gained the most at, was the small village of Chokati. I lived with a family who did not speak a single word of english, in fact, nobody in the village except us spoke any english! Living with a family who produced less trash in three weeks than I do in a single day and who's "extended" family extended to the entire village really got me reflecting on my conceded ideas about development equating to a prosperous and happy society. All in all, there is no way for me to sum up my trip to Nepal on an internet blog, but if I were to leave a couple nuggets for whoever's reading next, I would say this - Taking a year before going off to University and travelling to Nepal is a decision that has had an impact on me that I have yet to fully understand. I would have never been able to do it without countless other people supporting me financially (partially), namely my parents, as programs with Where There Be Dragons tend to be silly expensive. If you have the kind of resources to go to a place like Nepal with a program like Dragons, it'll probably be the best decision you'll ever make. However, if you're like most people and can't afford to pay 18 thousand dollars (canadian) to go travel, know this - Experiencing the things I experienced doesn't have to be a with a program abroad, in fact it doesn't even necessarily need to be abroad! Just try listening instead of speaking, let go of some of the "truths" that you may hold onto so firmly, and the magic I experienced in Nepal can be felt where ever you may find yourself in the world.
Thank you :)

How can this program be improved?
It could be made a little bit more accessible for people from lower-income families.
Yes, I recommend
Olivia
10/10

My Semester in Nepal

My Himalayan semester was one of the best experiences I have ever had. From rural homestays to trekking in the Himalayas, it was full to the brim of adventure, community, culture and collaboration. My instructors were absolutely amazing as were my fellow Dragons students. The space that Dragons creates for self reflection and growth along with building an incredible group environment was something unique and awesome. On a trip like this it is expected that at one point or another you are pushed outside of your comfort zone. This was incredible because you end up watching your comfort zone expand and grow with you. Going from being a complete stranger and foreigner, lost in Kathmandu, to a confident traveler catching crowded busses and chatting to the person next to you in Nepali was incredible.

One of the countless stunning moments on this trip was when I was sitting on a rock on a mountainside. It was near sunset we were at 13,000 feet of elevation, and the pinkish orange light of the setting sun began to creep across the massive peaks of the Himalayas in the Lang Tang region. I sat there, watching the sun dip down below the cloud layer, and was struck by the silence. No sound whatsoever penetrated that beautiful serene mountain silence. It was almost like the world had frozen briefly. Stuck in that dusky state between day and night. The giant peaks only adding to the splendor, putting the size of humanity in its place yet again.

How can this program be improved?
I thought that it was fantastic as is.
Yes, I recommend
Meredith
10/10

Nepal Semester in the Himalayas with Where There Be Dragons

Nostalgia, humility, and gratitude flood my consciousness as I think back on my three months spent in Nepal with Where There Be Dragons. I think about standing among hundreds of prayer flags at 17,000 feet and never wanting to come down. I think about carbo-loading dal bhaat by candlelight and drinking dudh chia with my host family. I miss my Dragon siblings who went through it all with me. I think about the tears I shed from exhaustion and laughing too hard, of all the lessons learned in between. I think about how far I came; not just over miles of mountain passes and through villages, but over miles of awareness, understanding, perspective, and growth. As I reflect on the person I was before embarking on my journey with Dragons, I recognize the dramatic and positive transformation Dragons guided me through.
Ultimately, this journey allowed me to find magic and growth in myself and within every single moment of our experience in Nepal while also opening my eyes to what it really means to be a global citizen.

Yes, I recommend
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Lyla
10/10

Authentic Travel, Transformative Experience

Each morning in Ale Gau, a small agricultural village in the foothills of the Himalayas, I woke up to the sound of crowing roosters and cool mountain mist. My Aama and I would huddle around the open fire, sipping fresh, warm bison milk and preparing breakfast. Aama would knead rice flour and water to make roti, and I would stir the vegetables in a large pot, naming the spices in Nepali as she added them to our dish. "Besar" I would say, as she sprinkled tumeric into the sizzling pot. "Ramro (very good)!" she would reply with a hearty laugh and toothy grin. Through cooking and sharing meals, Aama and I forged a new kind of family, built on love, trust, and openness rather than blood.

How can this program be improved?
Honestly, I loved every minute in Nepal. It was a deeply transformative experience for me-- I learned a lot about myself and about the world. I really appreciated being in certain places for long-periods of time. For example, the 5 week homestay in Kathmandu and the 3 week trek. I found that the places I spent the longest time in I felt more like a traveler, and less like a tourist. So, I would say minimize the amount of places and maximize the amount of time spent in certain places to facilitate deep connections.
Yes, I recommend
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Nick
10/10

Dragons is the best!

The Dragons experience isn't a vacation; it's engaging, challenging, mentally and physically exhausting, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The program skillfully includes a dose of healthy stress by insisting on using public transportation and often going places where nobody spoke English, but always while avoiding any real danger. Through this intense immersion, I have a working knowledge of the Nepali language after a mere three months of practice. I found this experience to provide a greater wealth of learning than any other semester during my undergraduate education.

We traveled around quite a bit, but our 'home-base' was in Kathmandu. On the average day there, I would wake up and eat breakfast with my home-stay family, walk to our Program House and attend classes on language and various other topics (religion, history, culture, etc.), then take a bus to Boudhanath, the Tibetan neighborhood, where I spent my afternoons learning with a Tibetan doctor.

Two years later, I still think about these experiences every day. Much of what I learned has been very useful during my graduate studies, and will most certainly help me get my career off the ground. I recommend Dragons to everyone.

How can this program be improved?
Some people might be disappointed to find a lack of the "partying" type of fun, but I think this is more of a problem with the participant than with the program.
Yes, I recommend
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Amalya
10/10

Dragons will change your world!

I signed up for Where There Be Dragons sort of on a whim,only knowing that I wanted an immersive and independent travel experience. I chose to go to Nepal with Dragons because of the Kapan monastery stay and the trekking experience. Dubious of anything group oriented or heavily guided, I was a bit tentative about Dragons at first. But once I realized the immense amount of wisdom and insight my instructors and peers and the whole program of experiences had to offer me, and let myself be open to them, I fell in love. With the country, with the program, with the people I was traveling with and the people I met along the way. I had such an amazing experience abroad. It was one challenging and eye-opening experience after the other. There were so many times I felt like crying and going home, like taking the easier option would have been better, but I am 100x more proud of myself than I ever have been before for rising to the countless challenges and overcoming them. For instance, climbing a 13,000 ft pass in the Himalayas, and learning a 6 minute traditional Nepali Folk Dance and performing it for hundreds of family members and friends. My sense of self-worth increased immensely from my experience with Dragons, and despite moments of regression, I truly feel like I can do anything now. The amount of roughness, the things you learn to live without (and live happier without), and the unexpected connections you make with people are life-changing. I feel like I am a better, more competent and confident, more self-aware and culturally sensitive, and interesting human being since my experience abroad, and I feel empowered both physically and intellectually.

How can this program be improved?
While it's true that no program is perfect, I do firmly believe that some of Dragon's imperfections are also a major part of the experience. This is not some cookie-cutter, air-conditioned bus tour where you get your experience handed to you on a silver platter with instructions included. This is very much a do-it-yourself kind of experience. While you have instructors on the trip and a whole office at home working to make sure you get the experience you want, there are bumps and potholes along the way. Learning to deal with the imperfections, with these forks in the road and plan changes, etc, are a major part of your own learning experience. I traveled for a month on my own after my Dragons semester, and if I hadn't had the chance to be independent and involved in planning, in figuring things out with Dragons, I couldnt have traveled by myself so easily.
Yes, I recommend
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Meredith
9/10

My experience in Nepal was life-changing

With Where There Be Dragons, I was able to experience life in an urban setting in Nepal, as well as life in a rural setting. My instructors had great in-country connections, and were able to find every single student a mentor for their specific Independent Study Projects. The home-stay families were all extremely generous and kind, and I always felt safe staying with my family in Kathmandu. Trekking in the Himalayas was intense but so beautiful, and gave us all a real understanding of why development in Nepal is so difficult. I have come home with a new perspective on my own life, and with a better idea of who I am and what I want to do with my life.

Yes, I recommend

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Dragons programs are authentic, rugged and profound learning adventures that expose the beautiful and complex realities of the countries in which we travel. Featuring extended itineraries, Dragons programs encourage deep immersion into strikingly...