Jan 16, 2018 01:22PM ● Published by Lauren VanSickle
We live in an increasingly global community, and our education systems are working to prepare our students to fit into, and thrive, in the larger world. Study abroad programs in college have been popular for decades, but the opportunities, for students from elementary to high school, to explore the larger world have increased significantly in recent years. Schools in Anne Arundel County, as well as the neighboring counties in the region, have numerous programs available to allow students the chance to immerse themselves in other cultures. They have the ability to learn new languages, eat interesting foods, engage with different cultures, and gain a better understanding of foreign concepts.
Traveling abroad can expand horizons at any age. Shavaun Hawkins, a 4th grade teacher at Windsor Farm Elementary, plans an overseas program for students every summer. “I offer this program to any student from elementary school to college,” Hawkins says. “I see participants gain cultural awareness and appreciation. By experiencing a place not their own, they go beyond their comfort zone. They grow. They mature. It’s amazing to see.” Even with some students on the younger side, Hawkins says she’s never had any discipline problems, or even people who aren’t amazed by the whole experience. “The biggest issue is if they haven’t been adventurous in trying food in the past. I promise them they will find something they like and won’t starve.” Her tip to students? “Just try it.” Her groups have gone to the UK, Belize, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. The Galapagos are on the horizon for the next trip. High school students can earn course credit through this program by creating a portfolio of writings and photos, with a presentation upon their return.
A number of area middle schools offer a French immersion trip to Quebec City for French language students. During the winter trip, participants go dog sledding, visit an ice palace, eat traditional foods, and attempt to use their French skills to order their meals and speak to the native people. In advance of the adventure, students write to a pen pal from a Quebec school, which culminates in a face-to-face meeting during the trip. Trystin Martin, who took the trip as a student at Magothy Middle School says, “I enjoyed writing to my pen pal. She liked my band and her school was really nice.” Student Nathan Boutreaux says, “The Quebec City trip inspired an overseas curiosity in me.” He later traveled to England with his high school.
High schools offer multiple opportunities, often in conjunction with a specific subject or interest of students. Molly Fullerton, the orchestra director for Broadneck High School, gets to help plan overseas opportunities every four years for all music students, including band and chorus. The latest trip allowed students to travel to Italy and play in revered music venues in Sorrento and Rome. “These trips offer an incredible experience of viewing another country and getting to play in such historical places. It’s so important for American students to be exposed to others and for others to see us, as well,” Fullerton says. She loves traveling with this age group. “They are easy, fun, excited, and they are all where they are supposed to be when we tell them.” With groups of students and chaperones totaling around 100, that’s no easy feat. The trips are planned through tour companies who handle all the details of hotel, transportation, and touring. Travel insurance is either included, or offered as an option. Fundraising for this program happens all year long to help students offset the costs.
Arundel High School offers students an array of study abroad opportunities through their Signature Program entitled “Community Development and Global Citizenship.” On one option, students travel to Japan, staying in Tokyo for a couple of days before living with a Japanese host family for nine days. Before the trip, students learn a few Japanese phrases to help them introduce themselves and ask basic questions, but mostly they jump right into cultural differences. For student Connor Morningred, this was his first time on a plane, and all experiences were brand new. “I’m a tall guy and everything there seemed so small. I really stuck out. Food trucks are like smart cars. Portion sizes at meals were tiny, and I definitely had a hard time figuring out how to order.” He laughed as he reminisced. Student Beyza Yazici agrees. “It’s not as diverse in population, so we really stood out. But our families helped us figure out the things we didn’t understand and they were so amazing. I have dietary restrictions and they always helped me with that when we were out.”
The students all agreed that their host families will now be in their lives forever, and feel like part of their own families, despite cultural differences and language barriers. “I now talk to my Japanese family all the time by Facetime, text, and Snapchat,” says student Evan Kopf. “I call my Japanese parents Gigi and Baba.” The students loved learning about how their families lived on a daily basis. “Each day to get to school with my host, I walked to a train station, took three different trains, and then biked the rest of the way,” says Kelsi Ross. “They don’t hang out at a friend’s house after school, like we do here, and they have much more work and family time.” Nalani Arita says, “Even though we didn’t always understand each other, the hosts were so inclusive and made us feel at home.”
That inclusiveness extended to teacher Melissa Reynolds, who was pregnant at the time of the trip. “I was riding a train and a woman came up to me and gave me a button to put on my bag that women wear when they are pregnant. From that point forward strangers were so kind to me, giving up their seats and offering to carry things for me and just treating me so well.” The students also noticed the differences in respectful behavior. “Younger people know to show respect to older people, so they can often be very shy at first,” says Kelsi Ross. All the students agreed that living in a different culture has helped them open their eyes to building stronger relationships with all kinds of people.
The Arundel High School program also took a group of students to England to compare and contrast the criminal justice system with that of the United States. “This trip really allowed students to explore and study a piece of the community,” says Sherri Billheimer, Signature Program Facilitator. Partnering with the University of Maryland, the students stayed in Kiplin Hall, a facility owned by the university, in the English countryside, and cooked their own meals while living as a group, and visiting schools and other facilities to learn about criminal justice.
For only child Kiana Marable, learning to live in a group situation, with roommates, was a learning experience of its own. “This trip was more of a local experience and less about sightseeing,” Marable says. The students learned that in England there are different ways punishments are handled for crimes, where the perpetrator will likely have to do a task relative to the crime itself. They discovered differences in terms of police abilities, and lesser access to firearms. When they returned, the group gave a presentation of their findings to Maryland police officers, the superintendent of schools, and State’s Attorney Wes Adams. The students from this trip were inspired to seek internships and look into more overseas opportunities.
Study Abroad programs open students’ eyes to the world around them. “I dealt with a lot of anxiety growing up, and I never thought I would leave the comfort of home,” says Evan Kopf, who did both the Japan and England trips through Arundel High School. “These trips have sparked a love of travel.” Student Nathan Boutreaux agrees. “I will definitely be looking into studying abroad in college.” Kiana Marable made a local friend in England, who she now reaches out to for discussing world events as they happen. The experience was life changing for these students. “This should be very clear,” Marable says, “everybody should travel if you can.”
While these students have set off to see the world, next month I will share how other students are bringing the world here through hosting students from abroad.