For the first month of Fall Term, I worked with a friend to plan a trip. We were planning a Phillips Academy summer trip to Jordan to study Arabic as well as to educate Palestinian children living in United Nations Relief and Wok Agency refugee camps. By spending a month in Jordan, we hoped we would be able to immerse ourselves in the shifting political, cultural and economic realities of the Middle East. For hours at a time, we met to write proposals, figure out funding and find support in Jordan. We met with countless administrators and faculty members. We placed calls and sent e-mails to people off-campus. But, needless to say, we failed.
Our school’s motto is “youth from every quarter.” But have we considered the necessity of sending youth to every quarter? Will we come to realize the necessity of creating global citizens? I grappled with all of these questions as I attempted to create this new program.
Andover should not have to rely on outside programs like School Year Abroad (SYA) to send its students around the world. Although we do have a few programs, such as Niswarth and Pecos Pathways, they are, by their nature, only available to a small fraction of the student body, and their structure limits our ability to delve into the individual projects we would probably care far more about.
We should instead invest in granting specific travel opportunities to the collective student body. There should be no need for a Summer Opportunities Fair. Rather, our mission must be to create self-contained study abroad programs, serving as a model for our peer schools. We must create our own opportunities.
As my friend and I endeavored to create the Middle East trip, we encountered a circular, bureaucratic process. We realized how hard it was to apply for an Abbot Grant. We were referred back to the same faculty members over and over again. Weeks into the frustrating process, we thought about merging our outside connections with our school connections. But this was to no avail. In our final meeting, we were told essentially that the best thing we could do was to look outside of Andover to make our dreams a reality. Sadly, I realized that this was correct. Most depressingly, we found that the faculty members we had involved in our plans were just as disappointed as my friend and I were. In fact, all of the faculty and administrators we met with seemed discouraged and almost sorry for us because of all the barriers we were facing. So, if there are motivated, idea-laden students and faculty members who support those ideas, what is the missing link?
The solution to this problem: Make study abroad and international exchange programs a part of the curriculum.
Studying abroad should become a course requirement. In lieu of (or in addition to) the two extra arts requirements, students would have to go on at least one school-organized study abroad trip during their time at Andover. Students would be mandated to dedicate at least one of their eight spring or summer vacations to pursue a study abroad program run by the school. Of course, they would have plenty of options to choose from. The programs would be equally spread out across the world. So, if there were 10 or 12 programs to choose from, there would be roughly two in each inhabitable continent. This way, students would be able to pursue less-commonly taught languages and experience less-commonly understood cultures. Andover’s vast geographic network of alumni, parents, donors, students, faculty and friends would allow the school to build the sufficient connections to send students to distant lands.
Tuition would be adjusted accordingly to account for the required study abroad trip. Financial aid would also account for this added expense. To alleviate some of the burdens on families, the Global Perspectives Group, Office of Community and Multicultural Development and Abbot Academy Association, along with the help of other donors, would pool their resources together in order to create a separate fund for these trips.
While faculty members would lead the trips, students would be given opportunities to create and organize trips themselves. The study abroad programs would not simply contain sightseeing and language classes. Rather, trips would form based on the interests of students and teachers. For example, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies could launch a trip to the Vatican in order to understand the complexities of Catholicism. The Biology department could take a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to investigate the impacts of global warming on coral. The English department could lead a trip to Egypt to learn about journalism from a post-revolutionary perspective. These kinds of programs already exist; the question is, why don’t we have them here?
Despite Andover’s lack of study abroad programs, students still find ways to spend their summers abroad. From Greece to Grenada, Phillips Academy students can be found everywhere. As I prepare for my upcoming summer trip to Rabat, Morocco, I am reminded of the trip I took this past summer to Senegal. I built a shower for some orphans, took French lessons, got robbed and rode a camel all in the span of two weeks. While there were negative aspects, they were outweighed by positive ones. Moreover, they helped instill within me a renewed sense of character. Many Andover students have plenty of stories of travels to far away countries. Should it not, then, be the case that all Andover students are allowed to be enriched by these life-changing travel experiences?
As Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, our MLK Day speaker, stated, we must be competitive on a global scale. Compared to our peer schools, we aren’t. Deerfield has offered trips to Jordan and Uruguay. Milton’s musicians can go to Botswana. Lawrenceville hosts trips to Guatemala and Chile. The list goes on and on. These programs are self-contained and directed by faculty and alumni of the respective institutions. We must work with these schools and model our programs off of theirs.
If Andover does not produce globally-minded students, it cannot claim to produce scholars and leaders. We are a scholarly community. But let us combine scholarship with experience. Creating more international trips will not only enrich our minds, but it will redefine who we are, and who we hope to be as a 21st century institution. It is time to dispatch our youth to every quarter.
Junius Williams is a two-year Lower from Newark, NJ.