Climate change is an immense global issue with which few people are intimately familiar. DoWon Kim (12), however, was able to familiarize himself with both the effects of and potential solutions to climate change through an international research opportunity.
Kim conducted research on the impact of global warming on potato farming and researched effective methods of sustainable agriculture and pest management at the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru. through the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship, offered by the World Food Prize with the goal of inspiring students to “embark on career paths in science, agriculture and global development.”
Internship students were placed in leading research institutions around the world to work with scientists and policymakers, with all expenses paid. In addition to his research, Kim was able to immerse himself in Peruvian culture by traveling to historic sites, trying new foods and staying with host families.
“A lot of high school students don’t pursue [international opportunities] because they are uncomfortable,” Kim said. “They don’t want to go into a new culture by themselves … but I think [the experience] teaches you to embrace new things and ultimately gain a broader perspective of the world.”
While research and social interests took Kim to Peru, Jamie Wisnia (10) traveled with her sister, a Canyon Crest Academy freshman, on a non-school affiliated, CCA teacher-led service trip to Lima and Cusco over spring break.Along with taking in tourist attractions, students renovated houses, worked on traditional farms and socialized with local people. According to Wisnia, the trip was organized for students to “gain a cultural understanding that cannot be taught from a classroom.” During her travels, Wisnia applied what she had learned in her world history class to her exposure to Peruvian culture.
“I found that learning about the Inca civilization earlier in the year … helped me understand their culture and history better as a whole,” Wisnia said.
Making connections between history and cureent circumstances in the global community is encouraged by teacher and avid traveler Chris Drake, who enhances his curriculum with the knowledge he has gained through travel.
“[International travel] helps me as a history teacher and a global citizen,” Drake said. “It helps me better understand the way the world operates, get in the minds of foreign people and see how they perceive the United States and how we perceive them.”
English teacher Anastasia Kokkinis believes that international travel can provide not only a historical education, but also opportunites for introspection.
“I think [international travel] can be an interesting [way to learn] survival skills too, to see how you can live,” Kokkinis said. “I think there’s a lot of neat things to learn about yourself through travel, like what you can handle and what you can’t. I’ve had the benefit of traveling with friends or students and knowing their boundaries.”
Kokkinis accompanied former TPHS English teacher and yearbook adviser Michele Paolini on a Shakespeare tour in England, where TPHS students were linked with groups from other American high schools.
“[The students] loved it,” Kokkinis said. “It’s more extensive than a summer camp experience, and … for some, it was their first time away from home. That was a huge learning curve, just seeing how well they do with roommates and jet lag and things like that.”
Because Wisnia was able to apply academic knowledge to enhance her travel experience and cultural insight, she finds value in offering similar international opportunities to TPHS students.
“International travel opens students’ minds and allows them to make their own decisions,” Wisnia said. “Coming from such a privileged area and district, it really opened my eyes, teaching me gratitude for what I have.”
According to Drake, various TPHS teachers have organized international student trips in the past, though they have not been school-or district-affiliated. The trips are organized by student-travel companies and organizations selected by the chaperoning teachers. However, a Cambodia and Vietnam trip Drake was hoping to offer in the summer of 2014 will not happen due to its expense. Drake felt it was not worth what the company charged.
“We have taken trips to Europe in the past because they are … very interesting and exciting, but not a lot of people have been to Vietnam and Cambodia,” Drake said. “There is so much to see and experience [that is] so different from [the United States].”
TPHS teachers are not the only local teachers to offer such trips to students. Rhys Osborne, a sophomore at La Jolla Country Day School, has taken advantage of annual summer service trips organized by faculty members at his school. During a 2-week visit to Rajasthan, India, he worked to create a sustainable local water source while living in a village populated almost exclusively by snake charmers. Osborne said students were never served meat, due to unsanitary conditions; were given the same meal every night and had very few opportunities to bathe.
“If you wanted to take a shower, you would have to go into the bathroom and use the faucet to fill up a bucket and pour it on yourself … and that was your shower,” Osborne said.
Although Osborne was unaccustomed to the living conditions, the exposure enabled him to experience and observe Indian culture.
“Not a lot of Americans are specifically open to Indian culture,” he said. “After being there and being taught Hindi and understanding more about what [Indian people] actually believe in and do, I know it’s something I wouldn’t have been able to understand any other way.”
Because of his experiences, Osborne has learned that there is a diverse world to discover outside of the United States.
“We’re really lucky to live in the place that we do,” he said. “I got to see all these really poor people in really poor situations … It was really interesting to see how they could be really happy with nothing, when people here can be really unhappy with everything.”
In addition to Rajasthan, Osborne has visited the Dominican Republic to teach English and is planning to take a service trip to Ghana this summer.
“I think it’s really important for people to have those experiences,” Osborne said. “If you have the money to be able to do international service, you shouldn’t be spending your money any other way.”
Drake also believes that the value of international travel extends beyond high school students to the entire community.
“International travel gets people out of their comfort zones, [gives them the opportunity to] experience new cultures and see how … people around the world deal with the same issues we deal with,” Drake said. “You can see that the world is not all like Del Mar.”
While Drake decided against his 2014 trip because of the cost, international companies like Rustic Pathways and Global Leadership Adventures offer limited scholarships based both on financial need and merit. Others, like International Student Volunteers, provide ideas for raising funds for individual student expenses.
International travel opportunities like those offered by teachers at CCA, TPHS and LJCDS allow students to experience the world outside their comfort zones, putting global issues into a more personal context for young adults to understand and evaluate.