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Trek View on Nepal: Himalayan Studies Gap Year Semester with Where There Be Dragons

Itinerary Overview

Namaste, Himalayan Studies Semester students and families!

As we approach the beginning of our program, we (Aditya, Ben, Charis, and Tsheten) are getting more and more excited to meet you all in person. Along with the Regional Directors, we’ve been working hard to create an itinerary and course progression that embodies the core values of Dragons, and we hope will result in a transformative and impactful course. We would like to share with you a tentative itinerary and course flow, and revisit some of the main components of our trip that determine the nature of our time together.

In designing the course, one of our most important considerations is the idea of progression. Our course will have three general phases: the first is Preparation and Skill Acquisition, which is a time to build skills, create group standards and expectations, and set our intentions and goals for the program. Then we move into the Practicing phase, during which time we continue developing these skill sets, and also encourage the students (you all!) to begin taking more ownership of different aspects of the trip. Our third phase is Expedition and Transference, which shifts responsibility and ownership mostly to the group and individual students, and forces you to rely on your skills, and one another.

The leader team’s design process also works in conversation with Dragons’ Core Values –  Global Citizenship, Awareness of Self, and Leadership– or “GAL” for short. We will discuss and revisit what these Core Values mean, and how we can all learn to enact them throughout the course. Using GAL as a framework is essential to our own teaching and leadership styles. These Core Values are weighed when considering a destination, mode of transport, lesson topic, and many other aspects of the course, from big-picture decisions to little details.

Any good travel plans make room for the unexpected and for the spontaneous. Our itinerary below, therefore, offers an overview of an itinerary which will remain dynamic throughout the course. As our trip progresses, and the goals and intentions of the student group begin to surface and evolve, we will adjust our trip to suit our group’s unique interests. We would encourage you all to begin thinking about your intentions–personal, social, academic, and otherwise–for the trip now, so you can arrive in Kathmandu ready to set goals and share your vision with others.

Week 1 – On the evening of September 16th, your Instructor Team will meet you at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. From there we’ll go to Bhaktapur, an ancient Newari kingdom on the edge of the Kathmandu valley, for our trip orientation. That orientation will entail 3-4 days of getting to know one another, and beginning to explore the culture and customs of Nepal in the medieval streets and markets of Bhaktapur. We’ll also start our crash course in basic Nepali language!

Weeks two and three bring us out of the more urban surrounds of Bhaktapur into the mountain villages outside the Kathmandu Valley. During the week-long Hindu festival of Dasain, we’ll find ourselves immersed in rural life in the “middle hills” of Nepal (some of which range up to 10,000’ tall), among communities of both Hindu and Buddhist practitioners. We’ll stay with homestay families in a rural village, learning about their daily lives and continuing our Nepali language study, as we start also to learn more about Nepali history, politics, and development..

After our time with homestay families during the excitement of Dasain, we’ll move into a week of retreat at a Buddhist monastery near Kathmandu. This time of introspection and learning about Buddhism, the meditation practices and  monastic culture will give us an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve encountered so far.

Following the retreat, we’ll spend a bit more than a month in Kathmandu, getting really grounded in Nepali language, and expanding our learning about history, politics, development and economics. Our time with Kathmandu homestay families will be the longest immersive experience with homestays, and the chance to connect most fully with our Nepali families and the excellent teachers, guest speakers, and learning opportunities the Kathmandu valley affords. It’s also during this time in Kathmandu that the festival of Tihar occurs, another moment of excitement, learning, and connection with homestay families! During this time you’ll build out your Independent Study Project (ISP), concentrating your afternoon time fully on the subject you’ve decided to work on.

Our immersion with homestays, Kathmandu ISPs, and ongoing reflection and discussion grounds the intensive academic component of the semester. As we move out of that portion of the itinerary, we’ll find ourselves in the high mountains of Nepal, trekking through rugged terrain with our backpacks, sturdy shoes, and luminous dreams. A time for discovery, beauty, and deep contemplation, this is also the “Expedition” phase of the program, when students can step up together to take on some of the leadership roles of the program more fully. The trekking portion of our itinerary leads us then into the final week of the program, called “Transference” in Dragons-speak. Transference offers us the chance to contemplate where we’ve come from, where we’ve been, and what we are now carrying with us as we exit our Dragons semester and transition back to life in our home-places.

We are so excited to grow and learn with you across this awesome, dynamic itinerary! In the coming weeks, we’ll speak to each of you individually to talk about the program. When you post an introduction to yourself on the Yak board (please do so as soon as you can!) include any questions you might have–if you are wondering something, chances are others are too, and we can respond to everyone there!

With big bows and much anticipation from your Instructor team,

Tsheten, Charis, Ben and Aditya