Learning from International Travel

Chrysalis has invested heavily in international travel with students over the past 15 years. I must confess that a part of the motivation to do this, originally, was selfish. Mary and I love to travel, and moving around the planet to explore different cultures and see beautiful places was gratifying to us. That being said, it’s also entirely true that we felt strongly that this global exploration and exposure would be the best possible education for our students. Too many kids in our dominant American cultures have no real understanding of, or appreciation for, the people and places beyond our borders. If we’re going to be good citizens of planet Earth, it seems critical to journey abroad whenever possible to learn how the rest of our planet’s inhabitants socialize, work, play, eat, learn, and live. True cultural exploration, beyond the typical tourist haunts, can shape a kid’s future in ways that would never be possible in our classrooms in Montana. Some things just need to be seen, heard, or touched in person, with one’s own eyes, ears, and hands. Several examples come to mind as I write this: towering pyramids, vast canyons or thundering waterfalls, classic works of art, mysterious sites of ancient and vanished cultures, great tropical reefs full of amazing marine life, African tribes, the Sahara, Kilimanjaro. The list goes on and on. There really is no substitute for being there.

And then there is service. Nothing in our human experience brings one’s own life into focus, and cuts through narcissism, like good old-fashioned service work. Our students often begin a service experience wondering why in the world they would want to do something difficult for someone else, for no remuneration, and no promise that the recipients would ever do something for them in return. Then, slowly but surely, across the process, they begin to understand that even though the service project may be ostensibly and directly for someone else, the real reward comes back to us, the giver. When we’ve traveled to foreign countries and done a variety of service projects (we’ve cleaned, painted, built structures, cared for orphans, taught younger students, picked up trash, developed gardens, created fresh water systems or sanitation, and delivered food and clothing among other things) everyone in the equation benefits, but the service provider leaves with the greatest prize of all. Our hearts are full and our bags are lighter on the way home. There’s nothing like it, and no one can steal from us the sense of honor, blessing, and accomplishment that comes from doing something wonderfully important for someone else. It lives in our hearts.

Cultural immersion, education, adventure, service. These are the building blocks of our international travel experience. When we do it right, in a moment of absolute clarity, students seem to find themselves completely open to self-discovery and some universal truths. They realize for the first time that many of the poor, impoverished people of the world are much happier and more content than relatively wealthy American youth. They say something like, “I’ve got everything that my parent’s money can buy, but I’m depressed and anxious; these people have almost nothing, relatively speaking, but they’re bright and smiling. There’s something wrong with this picture, and there’s something important here that I need to learn.” Amen to that. That’s what makes international travel so important, so brilliant, and so worth the cost. That’s why we plan and execute two international trips a year. And that’s why, starting this year, every student at Chrysalis is able to choose to participate in one included international trip during her enrollment (and pay extra for others if they choose.)

International travel is life changing. We’re never the same after we return. The people we help along the way appreciate it forever, and the world becomes a better place to live as a result. It’s hard to beat that chain of events. I’m hoping, by this time next year that we’ve successfully collaborated with other InnerChange programs to build a school building in Zambia. We’ll do a floating safari in canoes on the river while we’re there. Won’t that be something?

To find out more about our international service trips, please visit http://www.chrysalisschoolmontana.com or call us at 888-317-9297.

By: Kenny Pannell, Executive Director