Earlier this week, Glenn Ehrean, in his role as Director of the Colwell Center for Global Understanding, spoke to our student body about next year’s international travel opportunities. As he spoke, a group of students and faculty were on their way to Florence, Italy, as part of our Intaglio Society’s on-going partnership with Il Besante printmaking studio, in which our student printmakers study and work alongside some of the best intaglio printmakers in the world.
Another group of students and faculty were already in Japan, prompting this report from trip chaperone and SJA Chief Information Technology Officer Jim Mazzonna:
What an experience our students had in Yonezawa! After our long journey we arrived at the Yonezawa Train Station to a warm welcome from the seven host families, Mr. Kunori, and 4 of the Kunori teachers. There was typical nervousness from both our and the Kunori students that was soon overcome with smiles and exchanges of greetings and travel stories. And so the true cultural program began as the students went off to their homestays, longing for some rest, fully awake to experience in person what they have studied in the Academy Japanese program…
On Monday, the students has a free day with their host families, which was spent exploring the local area, sightseeing in nearby towns, with karaoke, anime, and lots of local and traditional Japanese foods.
As it is the start of the school year at Kunori High School, we were honored to participate in their school opening ceremonies. Our students took center stage to introduce themselves and then sing the Alma Mater to a roar of cheers. Many at Kunori even knew when to wave their arms! After the ceremony, we asked for the opportunity to shoot some video with Mr. Kunori and our students who had questions and observations about their visits…
Good byes are the hardest! No matter how brave your soul, it was hard not to shed a tear of joy watching the warm departure given to our students. To have had this experience through our own eyes is amazing—but to also share it through the students’ eyes is fulfilling and unbelievable.
Jim’s post and Glenn’s presentation highlighted for me the importance of these trips. Glenn spoke about the three annual trips—to Italy, Japan, and Stutgartt, Germany—in terms of the diverse relationships and perspectives students are able to develop by traveling to other countries. He added to that the wilderness trips to New Zealand and the Wind River Range in Wyoming, where students encounter the natural world in an expansiveness and scope not possible in Vermont. He also spoke about the upcoming service trips to India and Southeast Asia, during which our students and faculty will provide very real aid to villages in rural and depressed parts of those countries.
As Glenn spoke about these last trips, I was reminded of an early blog post by our Commencement Speaker Leila de Bruyne on “voluntourism,” in which she said that she really didn’t need “Megan from Connecticut” to drop in on her orphanage and school in Kenya just to paint a few walls and go home. Her point was that real service is more than a week-long getaway to an exotic place to do a few chores. However, in a more recent post, she related how she had rethought her position and decided that she really does need students from prep schools to come help, but not because of the walls they paint. Rather, without experiencing the needs, dreams, beliefs, and perspectives of others in the world firsthand, these students won’t be as inspired to tell others about their experiences, won’t help raise money for noble causes like Leila’s, and won’t be able to empathize with those they hear about in the world news.
Our students traveling to Japan and Italy are not necessarily experiencing world poverty or changing the world in any significant way by their relatively short visits, but they are forming relationships—some of which will last for a long time—and those relationships have the potential to influence beliefs, decisions, and behaviors that could indeed have a significant influence on the world now and in the future.
I am pleased we are able to offer so many trips that allow our students to experience the vastness, diversity, and wonder of our world. I am also pleased we have an endowed fund that is able to provide some financial help to those who otherwise couldn’t afford to go. I wish that fund were bigger, as currently travel scholarships are only given to one or two through an application process; I wish all who wanted to go could go. I realize students here are fortunate to study alongside peers from 30 or so countries, but I wish they all could experience what it is like to be a stranger in a foreign land. For it is through the building of relationships with those who are different than we are, and through the development of a humble understanding of each other outside of our provincial views, that we learn to live at peace.
I am hopeful that the dozens of students taking international trips each year help increase the rich diversity of perspectives on campus, and also help foster a more peaceful world by experiencing first-hand one of the Colwell Center’s chief tenants: “What brings us together is greater than what divides us.”