I had the great pleasure of spending the first week of spring break in China with Education First, an educational travel company with an array of programs designed to provide global experiences for students and teachers. The purpose of my trip was to learn more about EF’s model for student travel experience as MB continues to explore ways to expand our students’ experiences in the world. I traveled with a group of educators, including teachers, principals, superintendents, and service providers from all across the country. We visited Shanghai and Beijing and attended EF’s second annual Global Student Leadership Summit.
Among the many highlights of the trip were:
- Witnessing the staggering economic growth and modernization of China in Shanghai. We visited Shanghai’s newly developed Pudong section that only 20 years ago was rural farmland. Now, it is home to over 400 skyscrapers, including what will be the world’s second tallest building. We also ventured to the top of the world’s highest observation deck! (see photo gallery).
- Attending EF’s Global Student Leadership Summit. It was a two-day conference comprised of 400 students from across the US and about 100 Chinese students. Some of the speakers were Adam Davidson and Alex Blumberg from NPR’s Planet Money (whom I got into an argument with in the hallway after their presentation) and former Utah governor, ambassador to China, and presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. Students were organized into teams where they used a design thinking solution to complete a problem-based learning exercise addressing a global problem (see gallery). I can confidently say that from talking with students and other educators as well as observing the model in action, Moses Brown students are already world leaders in this mode of learning.
- Being asked by one of EF’s staffers to join a feedback session with the conference Advisory Board. I was a part of a group of administrators and school leaders who were asked by EF to provide feedback on the summit and suggest ways to improve the quality of the program. The workshop was invigorating, and once again left me feeling quite positively about where Moses Brown is now and where it is heading as we develop and expand our global and design thinking programs.
- Sightseeing in Beijing. The magnitude of Beijing is astounding, from the bustling city streets, to the unbelievable variety of food, to the sheer number of people; the city is overwhelming, simultaneously ancient and modern, unlike any place I’ve ever traveled. We took a rickshaw tour through the Hutong area of the city, visited Tianneman Square (see gallery), the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and many other sites. The main highlight of Beijing was getting to walk a mountainous section of the Great Wall of China (see gallery).
- Visiting a Chinese school. The EF program includes a school visit as a part of the intercultural experience. We visited Zhongguamon School in Beijing, a top high school. I talked to a few students and took a selfie with them (see photo). The students had lots of questions about the American schools and culture. They were big Taylor Swift fans!
- Networking with other educators. I met a number of teachers doing interesting and exciting things at their schools to build global skills and 21st century competencies. The conversations were enlightening, and I am eager to continue connecting with other teachers. Once again, I am confident that MB is in a fantastic place with our increasing focus on global education and project-based learning.
More than anything else, I came away with an even stronger belief in the importance of student travel. The students I spoke to at the summit were evidence of the value of exposing students to different cultures, pushing them out of their comfort zones, and encouraging them to think critically about their own identities as Americans. I am excited to see how MB continues to explore ways to integrate travel experience into our core programming. I think we will find that it will only enhance our students’ experience to get them out into the world.