This week welcomed back faculty and students who spent their Winter Break traveling—some on an environmental science trip to Costa Rica and some on a service trip to India. In asking students what parts of the trip were their favorite, one Costa Rica traveler said, “the sheer beauty of the environment”; she had never seen any thing like it before. An India traveler said, “The children!” She loves the fact that from Laos to Lunenburg and from Bombay to St. J., all children love to laugh, play games, and welcome guests. The most poignant comments came from Felix Raynor, who traveled to India as part of his Capstone, but returned with something much more powerful—even though his project itself was powerful. Felix said that his favorite part of the trip was, “the people of India.” He told me the story of a day trip into one of the poorest parts of the poorest villages in India; he was stunned by the poverty there and vowed to appreciate everything he had from that point on. However, that was not the most striking part. Felix explained, “They were all so gracious and dignified. Even though they had literally nothing, they were welcoming, friendly, and full of smiles. It was humbling… and inspiring.”
This week we also announced next year’s trips: cultural trips to western Japan, China, and Argentina, a humanities trip to Rome and Greece, an environmental and wilderness trip to Hawaii, service trips to Ghana and France, a printmaking trip to Italy, and an exchange with a school in Germany. During these trips, students will have a chance to apply some of their knowledge gained in the classroom, bond with schoolmates and teachers, and see different parts of the world. They will perform the tea ceremony, see the great wall, teach English, visit the Coliseum, go snorkeling, create art, and learn German. Most of all, they will change their perspective, and the most powerful vehicle for that change will be the people they meet.
This new perspective has never been more important. When countries invade countries, and peoples war against other peoples, our world unravels. It is much harder to blow up my house if you have eaten at my kitchen table, and it is harder to destroy my hometown if you have walked its streets. It is also easier to empathize with the victims of natural disasters—or wars—in a certain part of the world if you have met people from that part of the world. We are fortunate here that we live and work with people from 31 countries spanning the globe, and we are fortunate to offer so many trips that help us appreciate the diversity of those people and the planet we share. We are fortunate to have so many teachers willing to sacrifice in order to plan and lead these trips and so many families willing to sacrifice to enable their children to participate in them. We currently have a limited scholarship fund, the International Travel Fund, which pays for one student to take an Academy international trip each year. I would love an endowed fund that would enable every student who wanted to go to be able to go.
At the end of the India trip, two students made arrangements to go back on their own—to work in the impoverished part of the country they visited through Help-Kids-India, Inc., a non-profit organization that builds and runs crèches, children’s centers for children of “untouchables”—the lowest caste in India. This kind of life-long commitment is exactly the kind of life-changing experience we hope for from these trips. Learning breaks free of the classroom, and life goals break free from the high-school-college-job treadmill. Learning has purpose, and life-fulfilling goals don’t have to wait until you are 21 (or older!).
My deepest hope is that the students of the Academy realize the great opportunity that awaits them every day—not only to prepare to encounter a diverse world but to do so with humility and wonder that leads to service and commitment to others.