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The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

The Student News Site of Buckingham Browne & Nichols School

The Vanguard

Spring break trips span three continents

Students explore culture, exchange ideas
From top left to bottom right: photos courtesy of Rahdin Salehian, Lisa Fitzgerald, Charlotte Trodden, Enrica Parmigiani, and Ford Legg
From top left to bottom right: students pose in front of sights in Dubai, Croatia, Paris, Barcelona, and Morocco.

This spring break, 76 Upper School (US) students embarked on five different school-sponsored trips that spanned three continents, eight countries, and a variety of cultures. The trips marked the first time since March of 2019, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, that the school has organized international travel for its students, enabling them to learn about cultures other than their own through first-hand experience.

The five different spring break global education programs were a French exchange, a Spanish exchange, a conference in Morocco, a trip to Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and a trip to the Adriatic coast that included visits to Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. Each of the itineraries for the trips was created in partnership with a local travel agency, Atlas Workshops, except for the trip to the Arab world which enlisted the help of Envoys.

US World Language Department Head James Sennette, who chaperoned the French exchange along with US French Teacher Ben Sprayregen and Teaching and Learning Education Fellow Anna Curtis, said that the purpose of all the spring break trips is to push students outside their comfort zones.

“I hope students really learn about themselves in the process,” he said. “It’s so much learning about the culture but it also tells you a little more about yourself because students are probably traveling for the first time outside of their bubbles.”

For the first time in the French Exchange’s history, the school partnered with École Alsacienne in Paris, a collaboration which Round Square–a consortium of schools from all around the world–facilitated. However, like other years, students lived with host families for the duration of the trip. Mr. Sennette believes such a living arrangement is essential for students to gain an appreciation for the culture of the country they are visiting, he said.

“We started the year talking about the difference between being a traveler and a tourist,” he explained. “If you’re staying in a hotel, you can still go to the Eiffel Tower, but living with a family is to humble yourself and say, ‘you know, I’m living with an entirely different family structure than what I’m used to,’ and being willing to conform makes you more of a traveler than a tourist. You’re becoming part of the fabric of what makes up France for the little time that you’re there.”

Laith Diouri ’25 said he was grateful for the opportunity to stay with a French family and their child who was around his age.

“I think it’s better that we stayed with an exchange student instead of going to a hotel because it improves the learning experience,” he said. “The thing I most learned was how to speak less textbook French and more conversational French.”

Through a collaboration facilitated by the Global Education Benchmark Group, a consortium of schools, the Spanish Exchange also found a new exchange partner school in Madrid.

US Spanish Teacher Carolyn Rose said the 18 students and three chaperones on the trip–including herself, US Spanish Teacher Ana Maria Valle, Director of Enrollment Management Jorge Delgado–and the students formed a strong team as they were united in their passion for Spanish culture.

“What I love about doing the trip is seeing the kids do it for the first time and seeing the excitement they have,” she said. “The group gelled very well and we had a lot of fun as the whole group. We trusted them and they behaved well. That created a good dynamic.”

Another benefit of a cultural immersion trip, like the Spanish Exchange, is students get to utilize their language skills in the real world, Ms. Rose said.

“A highlight for me is when the kids were living with the families and then they might text me ‘this is going well’ or ‘I’m using my Spanish this way,’ so that I can see that what I’m teaching them in the classroom, they’re now applying to real life and they see the importance and significance of that,” Ms. Rose said.

Enrica Parmigiani ’24, a student in AP Spanish, agreed with Ms. Rose that speaking Spanish outside the class environment was a valuable experience, especially because she picked up some colloquialisms during her time in Spain.

“It was really nice because I finally got to converse with fluent speakers a lot,” she said. “It showed me how applicable the Spanish I have been learning is, and it also taught me that the styles of language you learn in school are very different from what people converse with right now.”

Both the French and Spanish exchanges were meant to be cultural and linguistic explorations, organizers said.

One of the requirements for students to go on the trip was that they were studying the language of the culture they would be visiting. However, the other three spring break trips—to the Middle East, the Adriatic Coast, and the Round Square conference in Morocco—had no such requirement.

US Arabic Teacher Amani Abu Shakra was one of the chaperones for the Arabic trip, along with US Chinese Teacher Yinong Yang and US Education Fellow in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Global Education office Jade DuVal. While some of the 21 students on the trip to the Arab world were studying Arabic at the school and others were not, the goal of the ten-day trip was to engage students in Arabic culture regardless of their linguistic capabilities, Ms. Abu Shakra said.

“One day we went on a camel ride and saw the sunset on the camel, then we ran up a sand dune,” she recalled. “The students got to talk to locals and understand more about them and their culture and their habits, and so that was very impactful.”

The first five days of the trip were spent in Oman and the next three days were spent in Dubai.

“I was really interested in being able to see Oman, especially,” Rahdin Salehian ’23, who went on the trip, said. “It’s probably somewhere that I won’t be again for a very long time and I never saw beforehand. Omani people and Emirati were different, but they were both rooted in Arabic culture.”

Rahdin also said he appreciated the chance to meet Omani students his same age.

“We not only strengthened our own friendships, but we built friendships with people from a different culture as well,” he said.

The objective of the trip to the Adriatic coast, organized by US Russian Teacher Joshua Walker, was to learn more about Russian culture as it appears in certain Balkan countries, which were formerly part of the Russian Empire and currently contain large ethnically-Russian populations as a result. The 12 students and two chaperones–Dr. Walker and US Librarian Shawnee Sloop–visited Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro instead of Russia itself, due to political tensions between the United States and Russia stemming from the Ukraine war.

The Russian speakers and learners on the trip could still test out their language skills, Dr. Walker said.

“The countries we went to were Slavic speaking. The Russian invasion did create a situation where we can no longer go to Russia, so we had to find something else so they could still apply some of the language skills they learned here.”

The Adriatic trip, which lasted eight days total, consisted of two nights in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, two nights in Kotor, Montenegro, two nights in Dubrovnik, Croatia, and one night in Split, Croatia.

“I don’t know what kind of associations people have in their minds with the places visited, so to take them to some truly amazing places in the world and to see the students really connect with it, that was a highlight,” Dr. Walker said.

On the trip they learned about history, religion, and traversed various cities.

Different from all the other trips was the Round Square conference in Morocco. US Director of Global Education Karina Baum and US Counselor Sarah Vollmann chaperoned five students at the conference hosted by the Elaraki School in Marrakech, Morocco. The theme of the conference was “The Future is Now” and was a gathering of 13 schools and 74 delegates from around the world.

“The biggest thing for all of us were the connections that the students made with a lot of the students in Morocco,” Ms. Vollmann said. “The students said to me that it changed their outlook on the world.”

Ford Legg ’23, who attended the conference, agreed. “The culture and the people, for example. Both seemed much more free-flowing and on a more relaxed time schedule than the U.S. We were on a trip which always makes things more relaxed, but there’s less of the head-down, keep-to-yourself culture that we often have in Massachusetts.”

Many of the organizers of the trips hope to run similar excursions again next spring.

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