Where There Be Dragons


Dragons has offered immersive and responsible Gap Year and Summer Abroad programs in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the USA for nearly 30 years. Engaging as travelers, not tourists, programs give students the rare opportunity to genuinely experience the places they travel and meaningfully connect across cultures. Each small-group program is custom crafted by expert instructors and combines 9-hands on program components such as homestay, trekking, and language learning. With Dragons, students gain new perspectives, knowledge, and skills needed to be more active and resilient participants in the world.


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Yes, I recommend this program

A Self-affirming experience

I decided to spend a semester of my gap year with Dragons because I wanted to challenge myself. It certainly was a challenge, but it was so worth it.
Varanasi is a beautiful, colorful city, unlike any place I had ever seen before. There is so much to explore. I loved sharing meals with my homestay family.
After a fast-paced six weeks in bustling Varanasi, Ladakh offered me much-needed peace and space to reflect. I hope to one day return to the Himalayas.
In India, I encountered for the first time various physical and mental limitations, and worked through the difficult process of figuring out which of those limitations I need to accept and which ones need to be challenged. I made incredible bonds with people I never would have met otherwise. I learned that I am capable of so much more than I thought possible.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Do as much as you can. Go out of your comfort zone and take advantage of every opportunity that interests you. Talk to locals - and listen - and form relationships with them. I spent a large portion of my program being really afraid, but I got home and regretted not pushing myself to do more. Be safe, of course, and take care of your physical and emotional health, but pursue the things that excite you. You can rest when you get home.
Yes, I recommend this program

Ditto changing

My experience with Dragons played an integral role in defining my values and determining the person I am today. The Dragons community is also one of the best I've ever been a part of. There were of course ups and down, but what I was exposed to and learned about myself and the world have changed the way I see everything since. Being part of a small traveling community of ten students and three instructors was also perhaps the most beautiful thing I've ever been a part of. Not only did the programming push and challenge me, but so did my peers. Every semester is a bit different, so I can't speak to specifics, but certain conversations with locals I'm sure to remember for a long while. Our theme was "Resistir es Bella," To Resist is Beautiful. The program did a great job balancing fun + goofiness with intense conversations about the reality of injustice in our world. The program turned my worldview upside down and inside out, and I am absolutely better because of it, as well as more at peace with my place in it, and more sure of who I want to be.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Keep an open mind, and prepare to think deeply. While it may seem counterintuitive, it's not about you. Your learning and growth will happen as you put your own comfort and beliefs aside and let the experience unfold. It's three whole months--not every moment will feel formative. That's okay.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible Connections and Landscapes

All in all, a semester spent with Dragons in South America is filled with amazing hiking, fun homestays, and all sorts of eye-opening new experiences. The strong connections Dragons has with local communities, organizations, and guides provides for experiences that you otherwise could never obtain on your own. On the Andes and Amazon Gap Year Semester, you get a little bit of everything--language instruction, backpacking, homestays, work with indigenous communities, and lots more--which I think is an incredible pro and my favorite aspect of the program, but could rule out a participant who is searching for one central focus. For example, immersion and instruction in Spanish undoubtedly improved my Spanish speaking abilities, but if you're looking for a program with a very heavy focus on language instruction, I wouldn't necessarily say this program has that central focus you might be looking for. Regardless, traveling with a group of other students and amazing instructors is an experience that I will never forget and one that I likely won't ever have again. In looking back on my semester, I am continually amazed at how each day brought on a new challenge, perspective, and experience, which led to an expanded worldview and yearning to experience more. That's not to say that there weren't a few hardships and rough patches along the way, but dealing with those challenges and growing as a group were part of the amazing experience that is a Dragons semester. Ultimately, I continue to look back fondly on my semester with Dragons, and I aspire to seize each day as much as we did when traveling through the Andes and Amazon!

What would you improve about this program?
One thing that I would maybe improve upon is clearer communication in terms of plans for the semester at the beginning of the semester. I think my semester may have been unique because it was Dragons' first time doing homestays in Urubamba, Peru for the Andes and Amazon Gap Year Semester (which could have accounted for some uncertainties at the beginning of the semester), but there were a couple times where I felt as our plan was slightly too loose. For example, I thought we were going to be doing our long homestay in Cochabamba, Bolivia when gearing up for the trip until hearing directly from my instructors. That said, my time in Urubamba actually ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip and any kind of plan or itinerary has to be loose when considering international travel. Additionally, I really enjoyed being able to tailor our itinerary and plans to our group's interests.
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Yes, I recommend this program

An experience like no other

My time in Myanmar was incredible and opened my eyes to the diversity and differences between my culture and others. It is really difficult to put into words exactly what the trip meant to me due simply to the vast quantity of moments that changed my perspective or taught me lessons about life. The journey across the 3 months was challenging and there were many high and low points. But if I had to do it again, I wouldn't change a thing. Each low taught me something unique and conversely each high was rewarding and fun. The trip was a complicated series of adventures that taught me a lot about myself and what it means to be human. Experiencing a different cultures lifestyle and being able to get close to it while traveling is difficult. Often times you are treated as a tourist and it is hard to see through the veil. Dragon's does an incredible job of pulling back the veil and providing a more authentic experience. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience. If I could do it again I would in a heartbeat.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
One day when our group was trekking we had a lunch meal of rice and chicken on the jungle floor. This part was delicious, one of the side dishes however was very strange to me. It was small fermented and fried fish that were cooked whole bones skin and all. Honestly a bit crunchy for my taste but it was an experience to consume.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Andes and Amazon

This experience allowed me to understand how to navigate group dynamics and a foreign country! I now feel confident in my traveling abilities which was one of my main goals when signing up for this trip. It was very unique and dug deep into the cultures that we experienced. We went to the jungle and to the tops of ice peaked mountains. My favorite part was the backpacking trips where we would go from the Andes down into the Amazon. It was amazingly beautiful and we got to meet wonderful people along the way.
I would recommend it to anyone wanting to learn how to travel safely but not to anyone who values independence. There was not much time for personal growth or doing anything on your own but lots of time for group bonding. There was also lots of time spent in cities and probably two weeks in total spent outside. That is important to note.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would take advantage of every single opportunity :)


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because Dragons wasn’t a typical abroad company. They go off the beaten path, they have great resources in-country, and they explore in a way that embodies ethical travel and respecting the local community. Dragons also emphasize traveling with an open mind and open heart, something that I value most while going abroad.

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

Dragons were so great with assisting me. They organized a general layout of the itinerary, along with providing students with packing lists and vivid directions as to how to acquire insurance, visas, passports etc. Dragons also provided medication, which is something that can be a huge challenge for travelers. They were fully equipped with any and all medication needed by the students in-country.

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

I guarantee that there will be times when traveling with Dragons where you will feel out of your comfort zone. I’m not talking dangerous situations, I’m talking adapting to challenging situations that haven't been presented to you yet. Embrace this opportunity, don’t shy away from it. I believe people learn the most from situations that involve pushing yourself slightly more than you're used to. Be sure to welcome these experiences.

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

One of the many beauties of Dragons is that the itineraries are subject to change given the availability of opportunities on course. For example, if the Dalai Lama is near a Dragons group, they may try and see him as opposed to doing another scheduled activity. The amount of flexibility within each program really separates Dragons from the rest. In terms of what an average day/week may look like, it really may be a multitude of things. Or we could wake up in a homestay, help our families with daily activities, meet with our groups for ISPs, and then have a very open afternoon. It all depends.

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

I have never been that good at picking up foreign languages. Whether it’s in a classroom or abroad, I always felt I was one step behind everybody else. However the language lessons on Dragons courses are so unbelievably amazing. It’s focused on oral pronunciation, so it’s actually useful for when we speak to locals or our homestay families. Dragons also provides students with a respectable amount of words and phrases to focus on, so our skills are developed but the students aren’t overwhelmed with the amount presented to them. I also realized I picked it up much faster than I realized because when you are living in homes that speak the language, you get much better at the language much faster. I looked forward to every language lesson we had!

How much freedom did the students have on designing the daily itinerary?

Lots! Feedback and student input are a largely emphasized among the Dragons community, so students had lots of influence when it came to molding the itinerary. Also, throughout the course of the program, there were roles assigned to each student, and one of the roles was a leader position. Leaders were in charge of various things, but one of them was partially designing the day's itinerary.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Justin Kiersky

Job Title
South & Southeast Asia Program Director

Justin has spent the majority of his adult life traveling and working around the world, and eventually based himself in Yunnan Province, China where he worked as an Editorial Director for printed magazines and a producer of film documentaries. He began leading Dragons programs in the summer of 2011, and has led custom, summer, semester, and Princeton Bridge-year courses in China and throughout Southeast Asia.

What is your favorite travel memory?

The dark alleyways of dozens of countries, exaltation in the highland jungles, stripped naked in the deserts, or huddling in the high Himalayan valleys as the winds tear at the fabric of the earth... Waking up to Holi in Hampi, finding the ruins of Kuelap, impromptu soccer matches in the Zocalo. Often, the memories that endure are thoughts elicited from the travels that end up scrawled across the pages of notebooks and napkins.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Fatherhood has changed me most significantly. And yet, I see that growth running parallel with our responsibility to hold a program vision for a region, and to see the big picture of education. The role of a Program Director forces one to apply patience, care, creativity, and courage for teams in the field which require support.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

The best story I've heard recently is from a student who had no interest in politics or global affairs. After attending our Myanmar semester course, she returned home with great confidence, passion, and drive to devour all the news she could – ultimately deciding to transfer universities – in order to keep herself informed about the world.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

The Colombia course provides profound, timely insight into peace and conflict reconciliation in a country that has suffered for generations and is only recently sowing the seeds of a better future. I'm fascinated by the human history, biodiversity, and social change in restive places around the globe.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

When times are toughest, I work with some of the best in our industry. Our commitment to radical safety (leaning into risk) and to deep immersion is, when tested, unparalleled. In no other work environment have I been surrounded by people as knowledgeable about the world and committed to education as a tool of social change and activism.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Respect for community and culture. True connection comes with humility.

A company that treats others as it would like to be treated is an organization that understands an adherence to a higher value of ethics (than simply work or money), and one that breeds loyalty in its employees.

The more we challenge our own entitlement, the more authentic our programs are.

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