Experiential Learning in Southern Africa: Lena’s Semester Abroad

Lauren Salzman Co-Editor-in-Chief August 20th sounds like a normal summer day for most Latin students. Maybe you had a preseason sports practice, were spending time with your family, or trying to finish the summer reading that you had neglected to start. But the 20th was also the day that one of our fellow classmates, junior Lena Hoplamazian, left for her semester abroad in Africa. Lena is attending The Traveling School, a program which offers two semesters for girls in high school: a fall semester in southern Africa and a spring semester in South America. The Traveling School’s mission is to “empower young women academically, physically, and culturally through an experiential overseas high school semester” (travelingschool.com). Lena, along with fifteen other girls and four teachers will be traveling to Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa. The Traveling School (TTS) has its own unique curriculum using the places they visit as their textbook, while also teaching standard courses such as SAT prep and algebra. Additionally, all TTS courses count towards your high school credits, and the teachers will even adapt their curriculum if necessary to fit your needs. Lena is taking pre-calculus, a travel journalism elective, natural science, and global studies. She is also taking modern history and contemporary African politics and world literature in the context of South Africa. These courses use Africa’s rich culture, current political situation, and natural beauty to teach the students about Africa’s past, present, and future. Physical education classes are held five days a week, and weekly life skills workshops cover a variety of topics such as organization, stress, self care, finding your passion, and leadership. There is no such thing as a typical day at TTS. Sometimes students will have days where all of their classes meet, whereas other days are filled with hands-on learning at an art museum or a nearby historical park. Teachers balance each class equally but have a great amount of freedom when it comes to planning curriculum. Service is also a large part of the program; Lena will be building homes, volunteering at an orphanage in South Africa, and working at a cheetah conservatory, just to name a few. As for Lena’s curriculum at Latin, she plans to return to Chicago on December 5th and start classes at the beginning of the second semester. Although her schedule isn’t completely finalized, she will most likely be taking standard year-long junior courses her senior year. To many, a year away from sports, family, and Latin would be a serious decision – but not for Lena. Before she left, she explained, “My older sister had done it three years earlier, and ever since seventh grade, I couldn’t picture my high school experience without it.” Experiential learning and the opportunity to understand about a new culture made the decision to leave Latin easy, “simply because this program is so exceptional.” Seeming unnerved about her huge trip across the Atlantic, I asked Lena what she was going to miss most. In addition to her family, friends, and thai food, her response, after a little thought, was having easy access to everything. Every summer, Lena goes on a month-long camping trip without any technology and usually miles away from the nearest city. So although she is used to being away and unplugged, she will miss being able to walk across the street to Walgreens for anything and everything. That being said, she did not seem fazed to be leaving Chicago. She said that “besides learning about an incredibly culturally rich region, [she] wants to come away knowing what it means to be a global citizen and a respectful world traveler.” As students, we often get caught up in the Latin bubble – consumed with homework, sports, and social politics. By becoming a global learner and using an entire region of Africa as her textbook, Lena is pushing the boundaries on how we can learn.]]>