Alumni Spotlight: Owen Yager

After graduating from high school, Owen spent his gap year working on ranches and for pack outfits in the western United States and traveling in Indonesia with Where There Be Dragons. He is now studying at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota.

Why did you choose this program?

My parents both worked with Dragons, so I grew up hearing about the places that Dragons went to and the way that it showed students the grit of the world. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to go on a Dragons trip.

When I finally could travel with Dragons, I pulled out a map and tried to figure out what places I wanted to go to, but would be hardest for me to get on my own. From there I got to Myanmar (where I went as a summer student in 2013) and Indonesia (where I went on my gap year).

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Dragons covers all of the logistics of travel (food; places to stay, whether hotels, homestays, or camping; transportation) and activities. Making the most of the things that they offer in small ways, though, is really on the students.

I should note that there's a portion of every program where the students are put in charge of organizing things called the expedition phase. By the time we got to that part of the program, though, we were really well prepared and completely able to handle it.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

A few weeks into our first homestay, my host father woke me up before dawn to go to a horse breeding. A few days later, I was walking around a shopping district of Jogjakarta trying to find a chessboard as a thank you gift for my host father, when I saw a guy that I'd met at the horse breeding sitting in his own horse cart.

We spent a while enjoying the Javanese sunset together before he gave me a ride home, letting me drive the cart for a little of the way. Moments of being truly immersed in the places I was, moments like this, came up out of kind of weird situations that were out of my comfort zone, but showed me the world in an unbelievable way.

I'd say that the one biggest piece of advice I can give is to seize the experience as fully as you can, even if it weirds you out a little.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

There really isn't an average day! Some days we'd spend entirely traveling, whether in a creaky bus crossing Flores or a 14 hour train chugging towards the coast of Java.

Some days we'd spend in language classes and working on individual projects; and some days we'd spend accompanying our host families as they went through their daily routines. Whatever we did, though, it was good.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

I was pretty worried about being in a small, tight group for a long period of time. Before we got on the course, I thought we might start to hate each other pretty early on because we'd always be so close but instead we figured out how to work with each other and came to really love each other.

The places that Dragons goes are challenging and they make you learn in profound ways and having those shared experience makes it really easy to grow together.

In the process, we all learned a lot about how to be a group situation, and about when and how to lead and when and how to follow.

What was the best sunset you saw?

Great question! Indonesia has uniformly spectacular sunsets, but there's one that I'll write about for this.

On one of the first evenings of our second homestay, a couple of us hiked up to an overlook in Flores that gave us an incredible view of a towering nearby volcano and, in the distance, a lightly textured ocean.

Swallows were darting around us and we leaned back into wet grass and watched the clouds get lit on fire as the sun sank behind a lush, emerald green mountain. There are other sunsets that were as good, but I'll always be fond of the memory of the way that we were able to stand in silence with the swallows and the clouds and the sun that evening.