By Robert Lee-Engel
It is amazing to think that we have only been in Peru for two days. At the start of an international experience, one is so overwhelmed by sights and sounds and thoughts and reflections—I think our senses are filled to capacity and time slows down.
Preparing for the Trip: Global Studies Trip Advisor Class Overview
All year long, 8th graders have a dedicated Global Studies Trip Advisor class. During the first semester, we look at global issues, including global citizenry, social justice, and human rights. We also look at certain overarching international historical issues, such as colonialism and the beginnings of religion. Then, in the second semester, we focus on the specific country we'll be visiting: its history, culture, religion, and political organization.
Just as important as the topic of study is how you teach it. I believe that everything is subjective. Historians are biased by their culture, class, gender and what they can understand. Their writings are biased just by the selectivity of what they choose to write about. Our world views are always based on incomplete information.
Maintaining this perspective opens the door for students to be more than just spectators of history. They get to be the historians. As they research, they look for biases. They seek out different perspectives. They develop a deeper understanding of events, nuanced by the subtlety of multiple points of view.
One of the core elements of the Global Studies Program at Evergreen is personal reflection. On the very first day of the students’ 8th grade year, we asked them to engage in a personal reflection on the subject “When did your trip to Peru start?” We also introduced the idea of the “internal journey” and its significance. In Trip Advisor class, students write out personal mission statements and core values, as well as reflections on how they will stretch their comfort zones and connect to the Peruvian people.
Privilege and Responsibility
The relationship between privilege and responsibility is also a key element of this experience and a year-long theme. This manifests in the opportunities we give students to make choices. The creation of their Seattle SLIP day (student-led itinerary program) in preparation for their two-day SLIP itinerary in Lima and three-day itinerary in Cusco is essential to this theme.
Other activities throughout the year play a part too, such as the once-a-month off-campus lunches for 8th graders; students earn this privilege through the completion of their academic responsibilities. Fundraising projects, in which students form small groups and create their own fundraising events to pay for their service project in Peru, add personal responsibility and commitment to the idea of service for others.
I think that the global studies class, where students study human rights and the idea of global citizenship and their own responsibilities, empowers students with both knowledge and the possibility of action to improve the world.
Taking a Risk
Stepping out of one’s comfort zone is an ongoing theme of the entire 8th grade year. Travel creates challenges, for so much about travel is out of one’s control. And it is through these challenges that the greatest student growth occurs, for the only control we truly have is how we respond to what happens.
The global studies teachers are very intentional about preparing students to have successes when challenged. We do this in different ways, including through the introduction of meditation and self-reflection. Throughout the year, we provide students opportunities to reflect on different aspects of the upcoming trip.
They reflect on the goals of the Global Studies Program. They reflect on what global citizenry means to them. They reflect on how they are going to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zones. Each student even writes a trip mission statement.
What they are actually doing is entering into a dialogue with themselves, taking responsibility for who they are and the choices they make. This process not only deepens the trip experience, but also helps students along the process of maturity and towards responsible adulthood.
All of these elements of the Peru field study give added depth to students’ experiences in Peru. And as students show responsible behavior as the trip progresses, they gain more independence along the way. These experiences are key in providing students with opportunities for personal growth and developing their commitment to responsible behavior.
Robert Lee-Engel is an 8th grade advisor teacher and the longtime director of the Global Studies Program. He has taught at Evergreen since 1987.