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GradCity 2017 ScholarTrip Finalist Essay – Harrison March, Birch Wathen Lennox School

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GradCity customers traveling on either a 2017 high school spring break or summer graduation trip were asked to participate in the GradCity ScholarTrip contest to win the grand prize of going on their trip for free! Travelers answered the question, “why is it important for high school students to travel and experience the world?” We invite you to read the following essay from finalist Harrison March from Birch Wathen Lennox School in New York. To support Harrison, click here to visit this post on Facebook and like/share the post to help him earn points!

People learn many things while exploring the world; languages, cultures, and empathy. However, there are two distinct ways to experience a new place: as a tourist, or as a traveler. These two terms overlap in a few ways, but the major difference between them is how an individual experiences and understands the world around them.

A tourist experiences the world around them via a camera lens. Instead of learning first-hand, tourists trap themselves in giant double-decker buses, taking selfies for their Instagram followers.Tourists don’t treat the environment they’re in (or the customs and culture of the citizens who live there) with respect. Tourists travel in packs (of people just like them?), not associating with locals beyond purchasing souvenirs. However, a traveler steps beyond the screen of their iPhone and connects directly with their environment. A traveler is looking for ways to experience new things, increase their knowledge and understanding of our world and who lives here.

Student travel organizations attempt to foster the desire to be a traveler. They promote leadership, independence, community, curiosity and empathy. They change the perspective of the travelling students by exposing them to an environment completely different than their own. As a high school traveler, travelling to Dominica and Thailand broadened and redefined my perspective of the world.

In Dominica, we lived on the floor of a community center in Benze. For two weeks, we washed our clothes in a nearby stream, showered from a hose, ate local food, and got familiar with our environment. For the first week, we explored. We took hikes with locals to a waterfall, where we were able to swim and hunt and cook crawfish. We took a 15 mile hike in the pouring rain up a mountain to the Boiling Lake, a lake on a hot spring with water temperatures of near 200˚F. My group laughed, complained, and sometimes cried, as we shared every moment for two weeks. We dealt with homesickness, excitement, and exhaustion together, and grew very close. For the second week of the trip, we acted as camp counsellors for the local primary school. We played duck duck goose, taught math, and had fun.

In Thailand, we stayed at youth hostels, an island resort, and hotels. The goal of this trip was Cultural Exploration. We learned about their culture, how a military coup-d’état happened every twenty years and was completely normal. We learned about their monarchy, and we learned about Buddhism. We met with local monks in a “monk-chat”, participated in meditation classes, rung temple gongs, and explored. We travelled through Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, to Bangkok, and finally Koh Samed. We met with a local high school in Sukhothai, taught english, learned a bit of Thai, and cooked and ate wonderful food.

Travel lets us learn to appreciate who we are, what we have, and the customs and beliefs of others. Additionally, travel is a great way of learning from your peers and locals. Travel makes one more open-minded and tolerant to those different than us. Traveling as a teenager is the best time to travel, as the teens are a formative decade, where we define who we are. Travel impresses tolerance and empathy towards the teens that do it. Additionally, teenagers are beginning to explore their independence, and trips allow us to do that in a controlled setting.