Penn Charter’s goal to create global learning experiences, and the flexibility students need to pursue those opportunities, took a leap forward this year when five students signed on for study abroad programs for different lengths of time in different corners of the world.
Through connections with their synagogues, three Penn Charter sophomores and a senior enrolled at a high school in Israel. Another sophomore studied in New Zealand, and another is spending the year in London.
Travis Larrabee, in his first year as PC’s new director of strategic initiatives, is a big proponent of students seeking educational opportunities beyond School House Lane. His own experiences studying in Russia in both high school and college were “borne out of curiosity,” Larrabee said. “I was learning about people I had been taught growing up were the enemy—that’s why I went to Russia. I went at 17, by myself, and did it again in college.
“I want to encourage that exploration with this generation,” he said. “We do a good job at Quaker schools teaching about empathy, building those skills. But nothing that can quite replicate living with another family in their house, with their family, in their culture.”
Larrabee is working to build more relationships with global education programs and international schools so that more Penn Charter students can benefit. In addition to global education, Larrabee’s new position has him investigating stateside opportunities to enrich student learning through:
• university partnerships
• online/blended learning
• PC’s two new certificate programs in Environmental Sustainability and Global Studies
To ensure that no one returns at a disadvantage academically, he is also coordinating coursework for the students studying abroad.
Sophomore Abby Samuel’s study abroad was the first step in pursuing her passion. “I chose to do what I love by starting my dream of exploring the world, and New Zealand is just the beginning of this,” she wrote in an email from New Zealand.
“I have already learned so much about myself, the biggest thing being that I am so happy.” Independence, responsibility and learning about new cultures figure highly in her happiness, she reports. The beautiful island and great weather don’t hurt, either.
Typical Day at Waiheke High School on Waiheke Island
“I am taking three really interesting classes— Viticulture, Hospitality and Sea Sports.” Samuel said. “In my Viticulture class, we learn about how the wine is made, along with how grapes are grown and the care that goes into that. In Hospitality, we learn about cooking and commercial standards. We make recipes each week, and we learn about different diets. Sea Sports is my absolute favorite class. We snorkel, kayak, sail, fish and paddle board. We also learn about water safety and how to do CPR,” Samuel said via email. Without the time pressures of daily sports practices or activities, Samuel has a bit of freedom each day in New Zealand. “I typically take the bus to the beach with my friends and then take the bus home to have dinner with my homestay parents and German homestay sister.”
Three sophomores, Evie Eisenstein, Olivia Schwartz and Jessica Wolfe, spent eight weeks at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), located in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Sophie Gordon, a senior, has chosen to spend the second half of her senior year in Israel attending Muss, followed by time on a kibbutz. The four recognize the learning advantages of a months-long experience.
“The program immerses students in Israeli culture, far past all of the tourist attractions,” Jessica Wolfe wrote in an email.
Evie Eisenstein’s goal was “to learn more about my identity, gain independence and branch out,” she said.
Students at AMHSI have classes Sunday through Friday afternoon, and live in dormitories, shared with an Israeli boarding school. They spend at least one day a week, and sometimes an overnight, on a field trip, or tiyul, in Hebrew, and the rest of the week on campus attending classes.
“On a typical day… we go to our Israeli Studies class [taught by AHMSI],” Olivia Schwartz explained. “We have four hours of this intense class with a few breaks in between, but it is pretty rigorous and we are taught a lot of information.”
In the afternoons, the students work on their courses from home. Eisenstein Skypes in to her AP Computer Science class at Penn Charter; it’s a morning class at PC, but leads up to dinner in Israeli time. “It is a long day, but there is never a dull moment!” Eisenstein said.
A typical tiyul day might be a trip, for example, to Masada, an ancient stone fortress on a plateau in the Judean Desert overlooking the Dead Sea, Schwartz explained. “We go to a specific spot on that site and sit there to learn about the history of the exact place where we are sitting.” One day, after hiking to the summit, she continued, “the sun had not fully risen yet so we were all just taking pictures and waiting. Once the sun rose, which was amazing, we began our class on top of Masada. This is an extremely effective way to learn because we were looking at the sites where the events took place while being taught the information. It is much easier to comprehend this history since I am able to actually visualize it.”
After Israeli Studies class, Sophie Gordon takes calculus as part of her coursework for Penn Charter. “After lunch I am free for the rest of the day,” she said. “Sometimes I go to town, Hod Hasharon, and get meals with my friends.” Students at AMHSI take Hebrew on Friday mornings and observe Shabbat. “From wandering Jerusalem on Shabbat, to days in the West Bank, to school-assigned street interviews in Tel Aviv, we truly have been immersed in Israeli culture,” Jessica Wolfe said. “I have enjoyed meeting all different types of people with different ideas.”
Evelyn Springer is spending her junior year at TASIS, the American International School in England.
“I was inspired to study abroad because I wanted to learn more about myself and become more independent,” Springer wrote in an email. “I also have lived in the same state my entire life and wanted a new place to explore. Plus, I get to travel around Europe!”
Springer recognizes how the experience has helped her grow in small ways and large. “I learned how to direct myself around London,” she said, “and if you know me I have a horrible sense of direction! I have truly learned who I am and who I want to be as a person.”
One of Springer’s most meaningful experiences was a week-long trip she took last fall as part of TASIS’s academic program. “I had an absolutely amazing experience in Romania,” she wrote. “Every day we would just help take care of the kids and make them happy. I fell in love with the kids and learned that even if you don’t speak the same language you can still create a bond. I hope to go back one day and help those wonderful kids again.”