Even during a global pandemic, it is important to prepare our students to be globally-minded citizens as the world has proven with COVID-19 how connected it truly is.Bella Patel, Director of Strategic Programming
I was lucky enough to travel with my family throughout my childhood, but I first traveled without my family with a student group when I was 14 years old. I was gone for a month, visiting seven European countries with 25 other high school students and three chaperones. It was my first long stay away from home. I was excited to see new places and meet new people. What I didn’t expect was how liberating it would be to travel without my parents at such a formative age. I learned to navigate new cities and public transit systems, to shop with different currencies, to handle my luggage, and to adhere to a budget. Traveling without my family allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone and to take on more responsibility. It gave me a chance to see the world with peers and to bring back stories to share with friends and family at home. Traveling with students inspired my interest in connecting with people and places around the world.
As an adult, I have had the chance to chaperone travel programs for Laurel students through our Passport program and have experienced firsthand the benefits of being a chaperone. First and foremost, the chaperone develops a strong bond with the students she travels with. A chaperone gets to observe her charges when they land in a new place for the first time and hear about what students notice in that place, and what they see as important and interesting. Seeing students outside of school allows chaperones to see students’ whole selves. When traveling, groups have time for conversations that help them to get to know and appreciate each individual.
School travel differs from family travel in multiple ways. For one, the grown-ups are largely outnumbered by the students, allowing decisions about how to spend free time to be very student-centered. School travel provides opportunities often unavailable to families, such as collaborating with students from another school, meeting with organizations, or staying with a host family.
Another advantage is that student travel is often connected to the curriculum. Pre-trip and post-trip meetings enhance student travel experiences, enabling them to more fully appreciate their adventures and giving them an opportunity to share and learn from the observations of their peers. Girls have the chance to make their learning come alive, to enhance their own understandings, and to truly process their experiences through reflection and discussion. These trips prove to be powerful, memorable events in students’ lives.
And, finally, travel builds empathy. Students have the chance to apply the skills they have learned in school and at home. Their understandings of the world are challenged and they are able to create deeper, more informed understandings of people and places. Seeing first-hand what life is like in other parts of the world broadens student perspectives and builds their empathy.
You may be asking yourself, how do we deliver these experiences in the midst of a pandemic that has halted non-essential travel? The answer – virtual experiences. This summer, two Laurel students participated in a two-week virtual exchange with students from across the United States and Morocco. The exchange focused on three United Nations sustainable development goals – quality education, good health & wellbeing, and climate action. Students were tasked with learning about one of the goals by doing research, engaging with professionals in those fields, and collaborating digitally with other students to design an action plan to move their goal forward.
Many of the valuable outcomes of student travel could still be realized in the virtual setting. Students connected with peers and teachers from other schools and another country. They outnumbered the grown-ups and were given decision-making power. The collaborative projects were student-driven and executed. Students learned about organizations working to better the world. The experience broadened their perspectives, cultural competency, and engagement with the world.
Even during a global pandemic, it is important to prepare our students to be globally-minded citizens as the world has proven with COVID-19 how connected it truly is. Pandemic or not, we want to pique their curiosity about the world outside of Laurel’s walls and give them tools to engage with that world in a positive way. Our mission is “to inspire each girl to fulfill her promise and to better the world.” One way to inspire is to provide opportunities to get out into the world and actually or virtually experience it.