Bringing Students Together Through Travel
It's a difficult time to be a kid these days...but wasn't it always? It was in fifth grade that my mom reported the news that we would be moving which meant the transition of schools, houses and friends. The most memorable change took the form of our soon-to-be living arrangements. This move meant relocating from a slightly rundown duplex in a small town into a comfortable single-wide trailer sitting on a beautiful 18 acre piece of land. For an average adult with some form of logic, this would be no big deal, perhaps even an upgrade, but for 5th grade boys living in the middle-upper class suburbs of western Pennsylvania, this was ammunition for an attack. One evening shortly after moving, our home phone rang. On the other end I heard the familiar voices of two of my closest friends from my previous school. They were using the latest technology of three way calling to check in, only they weren't calling to check in. Instead they were calling to share with me their thoughts on my new home which included phrases such as "trailer trash," "white trash," and- well you get the idea. Most people, regardless of the era in which they were raised, have experienced or witnessed similar situations, however, I find it hard to imagine the life of a kid in our current world. With a constant barrage of information and connectivity, there are more ways than ever before for a child to be influenced, harassed or bullied. Hurtful words or actions that were once left at school or on the bus now follow kids into the very place that they are meant to feel safe- their homes. So what does any of this have to do with traveling?
I would argue that student travel is one of the most constructive mechanisms to bring students together in a world where so many are divided. The river continues to flow while we raft and has no time to discuss differences. The mud covered clothing is all the same when we are underground caving. And that "weird" behavior is no different when we are all participating in an ancient Inca ceremony. It is through these experiences and others that we have personally watched obvious student "click's" dissolve before our very own eyes. We have witnessed the formation of bonds and friendships between groups of students that would have otherwise never interacted, crossed paths, or even worse, bullied one another. You see, the very foundation of travel, that is an opportunity to expose yourself to the unfamiliar, is what shed's the complexities of the student's everyday existence and instead positions everyone on a level playing ground where they are forced to explore and overcome their comfort limits as a collective group. What is left on the other side when they return home is a bond with a select few individuals that are the only ones to truly understand what it is that they just experienced. What is left is a better understanding of others and most importantly of themselves and the type of person that they want to grow in to.
These life changing opportunities are typically limited to a select few. In a world where increased division has led to anger and heart wrenching events, we must increase the amount of transformative experiences such as student travel and incorporate ways for our future generations to understand one another, to learn together, to overcome together and to create a better world together.