My friends often marvel at the fact that we take teenagers overseas every year for Project Week, which is one of our signature programs in the Upper School. Project Week forms a part of our greater Global Studies program at the Academy. Common remarks are, “Wow, you’re so lucky that you get a free vacation!” or “That’s super cool that you get to travel with your students!” I always chuckle in response to these comments because any of the faculty members at MPA that have led trips abroad can tell you that taking twelve plus teenagers overseas is as far away from a vacation as one can get. If anything, this is when we do some of our hardest work, and we are put to the test as educators, professionals, and quite frankly, as human beings. In an instant we become a parent, confidant, therapist, paramedic, customs agent, mediator, interpreter, comedian, negotiator, protector, and travel guide, just to name a few roles that we might take on during our time away. Although traveling overseas with our students can be some of the hardest and grueling work that we will ever do in our careers as educators, it also ranks high as some of the most rewarding work that we will ever do in our lives.
The reason why we travel is because if we are really going to prepare our students with 21st century skills, it is imperative that a part of that preparation be experiential in nature and involves getting our students out into the world. Maria Montessori and John Dewey were huge advocates of experiential learning and education. According to them, children should be educated through their experiences, and as a school that takes global education seriously, we would not be doing our part if we did not provide international experiences to our students. The world is becoming smaller every day, thanks in part to advancements in technology and communication, and the breakdown of political and religious barriers. Our students have to become adept at dealing with people from all over the world in order to have a competitive edge, but more importantly to become empathetic and knowledgeable of different cultures, languages, and ideas.
The classroom is where we begin to present, exchange, discuss, and contemplate knowledge. However, the world is where we take everything that we have learned in the classroom, and we then begin to put things into perspective. When we travel with our students overseas, there is a level of learning that we witness in them that is different from what we see from them in the classroom. It is a literal awakening. When our students participate in homestays, service projects, or academic endeavors abroad, they begin to see themselves as part of the whole, which is something that brings the learning process full circle, and connects the classroom with the world.
Traveling challenges us, and it takes us out of our comfort zone, which forces us to be introspective and mindful. Although we observe and acknowledge geopolitical differences, we also become aware of how much we have in common as human beings. There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing your students make connections with what they have learned in the classroom with an experience overseas. Whether that means using the subjunctive correctly in French with a total stranger, or recalling a lecture from the AP Comparative Politics class about how different governments function in regards to immigration and the granting of citizenship, or visiting a small village in Nepal where your English teacher lived while a Peace Corps volunteer, all of these experiences help to give our students a deeper understanding and appreciation of the world, and of themselves. At the end of the day, our hope is that our students experience a level of growth and understanding that will help aid them in becoming the leaders that will eventually guide us deeper into the 21st century.
By Monica Pickett
Ms. Pickett teaches Upper School Spanish and is our Dean of Academics. She also is Director of the Global Leaders Program.