By Nhivan T. '21 and Jing-Yi W. '21
During the 2017-2018 school year, there were two academic classes that included GSL trips in the school year: the science elective Advanced Ecological Studies went to Costa Rica, and one section of the sophomore history class The Modern World and You went to Peru. Those three weeks abroad included service projects, adventures, and long-lasting memories. We were able to get some of those who went on these trips to share their experiences with us and give us some advice: Ali D. ’18, a senior who went to Costa Rica; Sofia D. ’20, a sophomore who went to Peru, and Ms. Devine, the associate director of Global Programs, who went to Peru as a trip leader.
Advanced Ecological Studies, taught by Mr. Joneschild, is a class that has students complete in-depth studies on plants and animals, especially those found in Costa Rica. For Ali, the trip helped bring to life one of her papers on the poison dart frog: “I did a project on a poison dart frog and I kind of thought of it as something way out there, something that I’d never see. [In Costa Rica], though, I could see them literally everywhere and it was so cool to see them in person.” She also saw a tarantula the size of a “dinner plate,” which she waved off as something in “nature” after being used to so much exposure.
Sofia, on The Modern World and You class trip, felt that being able to see the Incan ruins after only looking at them in a textbook was an “an awesome experience.” She believes that “it’s a lot different reading about things in a textbook and actually being there.” From a trip leader’s perspective, Ms. Devine noted that the embedding of a trip within the curriculum was impactful because “you start to focus on the place you’ll be traveling to and gain a deeper knowledge of the place before you go. Then, when you’re in the country, all the things that you studied in advance become more real and your understanding is deepened even further through on-the-ground experience. In addition, the classroom time post-trip allows for reflection as a group and discussion of the experience and how it connects to the classroom, life back in Seattle, and other issues we see around the world.”
Lessons, stories, and experiences were all created during the weeks surrounding spring break, not only with the location and the activities, but also with the host families and the community that the students immersed themselves in. One of Ali’s fondest memories in Costa Rica was going to the “soccer field that everyone in the whole town would go to around 5 after work. We’d all play soccer together and it was really fun, even in the rain; we’d all just take off our shoes and go play together. It was a really bonding experience.” Sofia mentioned that one of her most prominent memories in Peru was when “I met my homestay family. They gave us little pictures to match us up, and when we met [our families], we hugged and it was great, and it was just good to see them for the first time.” They both felt that GSL trips instill the value of giving back and building strong connections with others and learning across language and cultural barriers.
The service projects that the students completed were unique to each of the locations that they visited and promoted the importance of change. During the trip to Costa Rica, there was a focus on the “agricultural [because we stayed in] a really big agricultural community. But not like normal agriculture, they’re sustainable, so planting what’s right for the environment that [they’re] in . . . One farm would make their own chocolate and we were helping with that and working on sustainable building and what’s right for the environment.” The service project focused on the environment, agricultural sustainability, and Costa Rican flora and fauna, all of which directly relate to the Advanced Ecological Studies course content.
In Peru, students “completed projects for a fair trade organization that helps women in rural villages like Patacancha sell their products on the global market.” This project ties directly into a unit on globalization that the students started working on when they returned to school after the trip. They will use interviews and observations made in Peru to inform projects that they are working on for their class, The Modern World and You.
Since both countries that were visited spoke primarily Spanish, the language barrier could be difficult at times. However, overcoming it in order to build connections with others can easily create fond memories. For example, Sofia and her host family shared lots of laughs over words that sound similar, but if mispronounced have completely different meanings, and Ali was able to brush up and improve her Spanish-speaking skills.
Overall, the GSL experience during the school year allowed students to expand their perspectives through seeing what they’ve been learning about and through developing influential relationships with students and homestay families alike.