Hundreds of students from our OACS high schools could be found boarding airplanes this past March break—heading to various European countries such as France, Germany, Amsterdam, Spain, Belgium, England, and Italy. In most of these schools, the opportunity to participate in a trip such as this is offered to students either every year, or every other year, as an extension of the learning that is happening in their classrooms.
For the eighteen students from Smithville Christian High School (SCH) who traveled to France, immersing themselves in French culture was a great way to experience their learning first-hand. According to their French teacher, Bob Andree, many of the places they visited while in France had been studied by the students in their French and History classes. “What better way to learn than to immerse oneself into another culture?” he asked. “It’s a great way to enrich the gift of a second language and one’s love for history and living in God’s kingdom.”
[caption id=”attachment_12892” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] SCH students in Mont St. Michel[/caption]
The trip was packed with events that were intended to give students the opportunity to reflect upon significant historical events in France, as well as to immerse students into the present culture that youth in France experience on a daily basis. Visits to Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, as well as tours of the trenches and tunnels where soldiers fought gave a better idea of what daily life was like during the war. The group also participated in French language games and activities, enjoyed a boat cruise on the Seine River to see the many bridges and the Eiffel tower light up for an evening, made their way through the catacombs (an underground cemetery holding the remains of six million people), toured the famous Louvre to see medieval ruins, French sculptures and the Mona Lisa, and even participated in an interactive French cooking class.
[caption id=”attachment_12931” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] SCH students learning to prepare French cuisine[/caption]
Upon the group’s return, one of his students shared, “The trip really showed me how the youth in Canada live compared to students of the same age in France. This had a huge impact on me.”
“The trip was amazing!” added another student. “Now that I’m back, I plan on learning French more thoroughly, and then returning.”
Ted Harris, the principal of SCH, believes that young people need to be acquainted with others who are not like them, but at the same time bear God’s image. “Our young people will live and work with those of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to a greater degree than previous generations have,” he shared. “One way to learn this is to have international students study with them at our school, and another part of it is enabling student travel as a means to extend the education we offer.”
Paul Buma, a teacher and guidance counsellor at London District Christian Secondary School (LDCSS), concurs with the belief that first-hand experience is a very effective way to teach students. He traveled with a group of fifty-two students to several European countries this past March break. The main focus of their trip was to experience and reinforce the great sacrifices that were made in the two world wars in defense of freedom and equality. In addition, the students were there to experience French, Belgian, and Dutch culture—the architecture, food, language, religion, and way of life—as well as to gain an appreciation for the geography of a small portion of Western Europe.
[caption id=”attachment_12890” align=”aligncenter” width=”960”] LDCSS students in Amsterdam[/caption]
“Students learn so much on a trip such as this,” said Mr. Buma. “Everything from travel survival in a large group to the extensive number of educational experiences that not only reinforce what is taught in the classroom but are entirely new and unachievable in a classroom setting.”
“Juno Beach was a part of the trip that spoke out to me the most,” shared LDCSS student Jen Schinkel. “It’s not just a beach—it was the exact place that the Canadians fought. I couldn’t help but imagine all of the soldiers fighting in the exact spot I was standing.”
Another LDCSS student shared that while she was taking a picture of the beautiful trees growing amidst the destruction of war that is still evident at Vimy Ridge, she wondered how something so horrible could come to be so beautiful. “Walking through the trenches, tunnels, and on beaches that were once filled with soldiers who fought was truly eye-opening,” she reflected. “I was able to learn more about the world wars on this trip than any textbook could teach me.”
Along with the learning goals for these school trips comes the desire for students to consider how their faith and learning meet in every experience of their lives. “So many of our experiences surrounding visits to cemeteries, memorials, and battle sites caused us to pause, to think deeply about bravery, sacrifice, death, and statements and epitaphs of faith embraced by believers and those associated with them,” shared Mr. Buma. There were quiet, isolated incidents of pause and reflection, and there were collective expressions of faith by the entire group as we gathered in the cemetery at Bergen op Zoom and heard Corrie ten Boom ‘talk’ about forgiveness, followed by the singing of Abide with Me.
“We also experienced, to some degree, life in Amsterdam, Paris, and London,” he continued. “The richness of culture and its diversity grew us all, realizing it or not, into a deeper understanding of a God who authored the creative expression of culture by the vast diversity of the peoples of the world.”
Among those experiences, students learned of century old family secrets of cheese making, and how to turn out a host of different ‘klompen’. The fun of trying out a little Dutch and French drove home the richness of language. The experiencing of the grandeur of Notre Dame, Sacre Couer, and Westminster Abby and appreciating faith expressions that were different than their own was striking to students, resulting in a quiet reverence among the group as they recognized being in a house of God.
Ten students from Durham Christian High School also travelled to Europe, spending time in Barcelona, France, and Italy. Vice Principal Anita Kralt, who traveled with the students, shared that for many of the students, the trip was a great experience to see new places and experience new cultures, as well as an opportunity to meet new friends. During their time there, they met up with another group of students from Richview Collegiate in Toronto, creating new opportunities for continued relationships back home.
[caption id=”attachment_12907” align=”aligncenter” width=”821”] DCHS in Europe 2016[/caption]
“These trips are life changing!” shared Mr. Buma. “They broaden our limited geographical and cultural experiences, and foster an appreciation for other cultures and travel and learning.”
Students from each of the schools that participated in these enrichment trips this past March shared one common takeaway from their experiences in the various European countries they visited—a deep gratitude for the opportunity to experience first-hand the things they’ve been learning in their classrooms.
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