Expanding Horizons

Annual St. George's international spring break trip continues to enrich student's high school experience

Photo: Mrs. Rachel Kuykendall
A group of students stop to take a picture in Dresden by the waterfront. They visited Prague for two days.

“There is something satisfying in setting foot in another country and knowing that you took a very active, independent role in getting there,” senior Jensen Lewis said. “It might open doors to opportunities you didn’t know you had going forward, such as internships or study-abroad programs, or perhaps encourage you to learn a new language.”

Ten St. George’s students, nine parents and three teacher chaperones, including eighth grade history teacher Ms. Traci Erlandson who has led the past six trips offered through the school, traveled to Europe over spring break.

The group visited Berlin, Potsdam and Dresden in Germany, Prague in the Czech Republic, Krakow in Poland, drove through and had lunch in Slovakia and ended with Budapest in Hungary.

“We take walking tours of each city we go to with local expert guide,” Ms. Erlandson said. “Our tour director also uses the time that we may spend on the bus traveling from place to place sharing information about the history and culture of each country and city we visit. It truly is an educational experience, but it’s not just that. Students are learning how to navigate in unfamiliar territory and interact with people who don’t speak the same language. It can be intimidating, but as students get more comfortable, their confidence grows.”

Lewis also sees the value in these trips and says that it has enriched her high school experience.

“While you can sit in a classroom and learn about the division of Berlin, it is completely different to walk through the city and acknowledge all of the pieces of evidence of the separation of East and West Berlin that remain today, in 2019,” Lewis said. “Going beyond the classroom to gain a better understanding of key parts of history and culture has been the best part for me.”

While Lewis marked her third world trip with the school over spring break, others experienced leaving the country for the first time.

I’ve had students sign up for these tours who rarely spent nights away from home before they went on these trips,” Ms. Erlandson said, “but by the end of the tour, they’re leading the way through the subway stations and trying the most exotic items on the menu with total confidence.”

Junior Sam Kuykendall exemplifies Ms. Erlandson’s statement.

“Being in another country for the first time was definitely not what I expected,” Kuykendall said. “Being surrounded by new languages, architecture and culture was not something I will forget.

Kuykendall enjoyed getting a sense of Europe’s history.

“My favorite part of traveling was seeing the old buildings and churches, and learning about the history of them,” Kuykendall said. “I love history, and being able to go see history in another part of the world for myself was really special.”

These trips are always educational, and the Europe trip this year focused on World War II.

The group went to Auschwitz and Birkenau with a local guide. Many say that this was the most memorable part of the trip.

“It was emotionally overwhelming for the whole group, and everyone processed the experience in their own way, but it was clear to me that it made an impact on every single one of us,” Ms. Erlandson said. “It’s not the same feeling you get from just reading about it and there simply aren’t enough words to adequately describe it.”

Lewis also found the experience impactful.

“It’s one thing to hear about the camp and what happened there, but to walk through the place—honestly my heart drops just thinking about it,” Lewis said. “While you’re in the tour, you’re almost numb. Your mind can’t comprehend the level of atrocity and cruelty that was prevalent there, and what you’ve seen doesn’t set in until much later. It was extremely difficult to see and experience, but I think it was important that we did.”

These world trips offer the opportunity to widen students’ worldview and extend their knowledge of history and other cultures.

“I think that these trips are a great opportunity for students to see the world, maybe for the first time,” Lewis said. “Maybe to discover a passion for travel and exploration that they didn’t know they possessed.”