Where There Be Dragons

Where There Be Dragons

About

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.

Reviews

Default avatar
Mariner
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience!

My experience in Bolivia was amazing and completely changed my life. I met some of the most incredible people and learned so much about the bolivian culture from the homestays and getting the opportunity to be fully immersed in their traditions. I would definitely recommend this trip to anyone who seeks an adventure but also a learning experience. I would especially recommend this trip to anyone who wants to be pushed outside their comfort zone and explore different aspects of the world that might aid them in their personal growth.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
The most nerve-racking moment for me was the trek and the physical intensity of it all. There were definitely moments where I was exhausted and scared but the people around me were so supportive and the view was captivating that I knew I had and could push through. I completed the trek feeling so proud but also loved, the whole group completed this challenge together despite the fear and nerves around it.
Default avatar
Julia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Best Experience in my Life

I decided to take a gap year after graduation. It has been a dream of mine to travel the world meaningfully. I did the summer program, and this was the perfect first step for me! It got me out of my comfort zone, find my chains of expectations and break them, and allowed me to learn more about myself than I had for most of my life. I got to see amazing views, and meet amazing people, while doing the things that I love. I would 100% recommend this organization for those who have a heart for adventure!

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
Getting caught up in a storm over storm's pass. We pitched out tents waited it out.
Default avatar
Jenny
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Incredible cultural immersion experience

The Where There Be Dragons summer program in Senegal was the opportunity of a lifetime to really experience another culture with no filters. Students were really allowed to interact and BE in the culture, rather than just looking at it or learning about it from afar. I'll never forget sitting on a mat under the stars with my homestay family, learning simple words in Pulaar, eating grilled corn, looking at a sky full of thousands of stars, and the last evening with them when we danced late into the night under the full moon.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Open your heart and your eyes to a new experience. Forget your expectations and stereotypes about Africa. Be prepared to experience in incredible, welcoming generosity from total strangers. Get ready to have your world opened up, to learn things you didn't know you had to learn, to change your mind about yourself and the world.
Default avatar
Ellen
8/10
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.
Courtney
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Ditto Natalie....life 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.

Programs

Displaying 1 - 9 of 24

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.

Professional Associations