I ultimately decided on Dragons because of their unrivaled cultural immersion opportunities. I wanted an organization that could connect me with communities on an intimate level difficult to achieve on my own. The instructors who are experts in their areas were also a selling point, and upon the start of my course I found that my fellow students were also instrumental in making the course what it was.
Hailing from Colorado, Benjamin embarked on Dragons' Andes & Amazon program to start out his gap year, before going on to intern with ecologists in Ecuador and volunteer at an animal rescue center. He is now a student at Colorado College.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
Dragons connected us with community members and activists, organized treks through the Andes, and placed students in various homestays. They organize logistics (transportation, food, guest speakers, etc.) until the end of the course, when students take charge and plan their own experience for the last week.
This week, called "X-Phase," was a great way to put our new skills of language fluency and knowledge of the region to work, as well as an incredible opportunity to travel in areas that particularly interest the group.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Enter the program with energy and curiosity and open-mindedness in order to allow your experience to be life-changing. Be prepared for discomfort, but know that some of your deepest learning will come from these moments of struggle.
Be ready for what will undoubtedly be a big and great experience.
I also found it helpful to read some of the materials pertaining to the region that Dragons sent us before the course in order to provide context.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Schedules vary greatly throughout the course. During our month-long homestay, we began the morning with three hours of Spanish classes, then returned to our homestay families for lunch, before reconvening in the afternoon for a guest speaker, or to work on Independent Study Projects (I built an adobe oven with a local builder and another student).
At other times, we might travel on a day-to-day basis, exploring typical mercados and preparing for the next step of our journey, whether it be a trek, a homestay, or a learning service project.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it?
I was mostly excited going into the program, but was a bit nervous about material preparedness. I tried to pack as light as possible, but could have packed even lighter. We were quite busy through much of the program, so leave behind those extra comforts or clothing items--you won't miss them. And try to leave a bit of room in your bag so it's easier to pack, as we are often on the move and re-packing.
What is the most memorable experience from your program?
Hard question! One of my fondest memories was when my family celebrated Todos Santos (similar to Day of the Dead), and I learned to pray in order to earn candy, and, eventually, a life-sized bread baby. I felt deeply immersed and included in my Bolivian family's community. I felt simultaneously out of my comfort zone and at home.