Throughout the break, I have read daily emails from the two elementary exchange trips that are happening. Each report is a little voyage away from my desk as I am transported to Hangzhou, China or Fumel, France. I am amazed at the opportunities afforded our students, and thrilled to see the photos of engaged, enthusiastic students appreciating their journeys abroad.
My first exchange trip was when I was a 10th grader, spending two weeks in Spain with host families, overcoming my fear of speaking Spanish to those who actually knew it, as well as my dislike of olives, which were omnipresent in the food. To this day, I will still struggle my way through Spanish (though it now comes out half French), and I love olives. But truly, having an opportunity to travel with only peers (and chaperones of course), to a far away destination at a young age cemented my desire to live an international life, to be a global citizen, and to learn through exploration and engagement in the world.
Our students are not only learning what life is like in France or China, but they are learning about themselves, and how they handle being in a far-away place without their families. They are gaining a deeper understanding of how they work in a group, and who their peers really are. They are being challenged with new experiences and growing every minute.
Part of the chaperones’ job is to further these growing opportunities. In one of the updates from the China trip, I learned that Terry gave each group 30 Yuan per person as a group fund, and they had to discuss, negotiate, and order for their group, keeping within their budget. Apparently, many noodles and rice dishes were ordered, but I’m not sure if this was because they were the bargain dishes, or because the students wanted a break from the delicacies they had been offered thus far – frog’s legs, chicken brain, fish eyeballs, duck cheeks, and more. Talk about being far from daily American life!
In France, meanwhile, the students have gone from the Lascaux caves to a ropes course (talk about testing one’s fears!), to a Francis Cabrel show. Another day held a challenging treasure hunt in a medieval chateau, followed by archery and spear-throwing lessons. Again, not a typical day in California! Each activity on these trips is a rich learning experience – from seeing what they are studying in history first hand, to participating in activities that are unfamiliar.
Beyond all of the incredible learning and doing that happens on these trips, there are the friendships and bonds formed. Our students stay with welcoming host families, who truly become parents and siblings for the duration of the trip. Some of these hosting arrangements will be reciprocated on our side, but even if they are not, the friendships endure, and we have middle school students who are still in touch with their host families from their 4th or 5th grade trip. These lasting relationships are at the core of becoming responsible global citizens.