Triangle Private Schools Send Students Abroad
Travel experiences give teens global perspectives
St. David’s School student Olivia Leshnock spent time getting to know Guatamalan children during her trip.
Photos courtesy of the Leshnock family
More and more international experiences are available to private school students in the Triangle. Students learn about different languages, cultures and ways of living while taking international trips with their schools.
“Zip-lining in Costa Rica was amazing,” says Ravenscroft School eighth-grader Victor Kalorin. “At one point, you come out of the trees and you have the ocean on one side of you and the jungle on the other. Up until that moment it didn’t feel that different from the U.S., but as I looked out from that height, it was like no other place I’d ever seen.”
Kalorin’s perspective-changing moment happened thanks to a study abroad opportunity with Ravenscroft School in Raleigh. He went as a seventh-grader in 2018, traveling with a group of classmates and teachers. “It was really fun and I learned a lot, too, especially about Costa Rica’s ecosystems and power sources,” Kalorin says.
The trip theme was “Clean Energy” and included visits to wind, hydroelectric and geothermal power plants. Victor and his fellow students also helped construct and stock a chicken coop as part of a service project at a local Costa Rican school.
“I always say, ‘you don’t know until you go’,’” says David Kates, Ravenscroft School’s director of global education. “Students become more independent, grateful and growth-minded through these trips. They also foster an awareness and understanding of the world.”
Preparing Students for Global Readiness
More and more Triangle private schools are offering these kinds of travel abroad opportunities, and the wide range of destinations includes places like China, Argentina, Iceland, Belize and Zambia.
“We believe international travel prepares students for further global readiness and strengthens important communication skills,” says Martina Greene, dean of faculty at Cary Academy. “Maybe it’s not essential to learn another language, but we believe the more important part of travel is learning another perspective.”
Because of the growth opportunities international travel offers, Cary Academy has a study abroad requirement for 10th-grade students with some costs subsidized by the school. In 2018, Cary Academy sent 115 sophomores on language immersion trips to Argentina, Germany, France and China.
The students stay with host families for two weeks in locations where Cary Academy teachers have developed relationships with local schools.
“This is a very unique, signature program that our school offers in the Triangle, and we believe it really helps prepare our students for college,” Greene says.
Talia Ginsberg was one of the Cary Academy sophomores who traveled to Pilar, Argentina, in 2018. She admits traveling on her own and immersing herself in Spanish was intimidating at first.
“I definitely had a fear of the language barrier with my host family,” Ginsberg says. “It’s easy to learn grammar and vocabulary in school, but you don’t know the slang until you get there. And they use just as much or more slang than we do in American schools, which made understanding them difficult.”
Ginsberg visited the school of her host family’s daughter and noticed how classrooms were similar to the U.S. in some ways, but very different in others. She watched a tango show and cheered at an Argentinian soccer match, but says the best takeaway from her experience was the relationships.
“Now, even though Argentina seems so far away, it also feels a lot closer because I know someone there and I can think of seeing them again in the future,” Ginsberg says.
Greene has seen many student exchange relationships endure throughout the years after high school.
“It’s amazing to hear how many Cary Academy alumni have maintained contact with their exchange students even 10-15 years later,” Greene says. “I think of it as we’re helping them make that first contact, and after that it’s up to them. Some students really roll with that and have a great experience.”
On a Mission
Outside of language and culturally focused study abroad opportunities, many local, religiously based private schools offer mission trips. For each of the past 11 years, St. David’s School has sent 40 students to Guatemala, where they spend winter break working on a variety of projects, including building roads, revitalizing schools and taking on other heavy labor jobs.
The St. David’s School’s Guatemala opportunity is available to students as early as ninth grade and costs around $2,000.
“It’s really the perfect age at 14-15 years old,” says Miriam Leshnock, assistant headmaster of finance and operations at St. David’s School. She is also a mother of three daughters who attend the school and have gone on the Guatemala trip.
Photos courtesy of the Leshnock family
“By those ages, they’re mature enough to travel with the school, away from their parents, and they’re ready to serve and see that the world is not all about them,” she says.
Leshnock sees value in teaching private school students about their privileges through international experiences.
“Especially going to a private school, many of these students are exposed to so much wealth,” she says. “It’s important for them to see that things are not the same everywhere as they are in North Carolina. We’ve been given so much, and they need that wider perspective of the world. Seeing the extreme poverty found in Third World countries is something you can’t manufacture as a parent.”
St. David’s School also offers mission trips to Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as a capstone experience in Greece for graduating seniors. “You can study so much history in Greece, and we get to walk in the footsteps of Paul and see where he preached in Corinth,” Leshnock says.
For many parents, these profound experiences to travel outweigh the risks that come with sending their children abroad. Laura Kalorin, who sent her son to Costa Rica as a seventh-grader, says the ability to communicate helped alleviate her fears.
“Really, the game changer is technology,” Kalorin says. “I remember studying in France as a college student and having to walk down the street to a pay phone in order to get in touch with my parents. We only talked three or four times that whole semester.”
During her son’s trip, Kalorin says his teachers were “uploading pictures of his smiling face twice a day. That’s huge to be able to see your kid and know that he’s happy and alive,” she says. “Sure, maybe he’s a little sunburnt and his shirts are wrinkled, but overall he’s ok, and for all that he’s learning, it’s worth it.”
Mick Schulte is a photographer and Parenting Media Association award-winning writer based in Durham. She and her husband have four young children and they dream of traveling to all the destinations mentioned in this article (with or without kids).