We are just a few days away from the beginning of final exams here at Defiance College, with graduation to follow several days after (the first weekend in May). The day after graduation, I will be leaving with a group of students to travel to Tanzania. Shortly thereafter, another group of students will leave for Cambodia, and our men’s basketball team will be traveling to Costa Rica over the summer as well.
These trips are in addition to the trips that occurred over Spring Break to Italy, Ireland, and Peru. And, of course, there are many more to come next year, including Jamaica, Belize, London, and Berlin (to name just a few).
As regular readers of this blog will realize by now, I adore traveling with our students (and I do so on as many trips as my wife will allow me to participate in!). But one of the reasons why I so enjoy these trips is that I get the opportunity to see our students grow in incredible ways — ways that often surprise the students themselves.
This point was driven home to me recently when I was reading some letters which the students who traveled in March to Peru had written about their travels. All of the letters are wonderful, but permit me to quote from two. In one, a student wrote about how the trip impacted her on a personal level:
“[m]ost importantly, I learned a lot about myself. At first, I didn’t want to go on the trip. I’m a fairly quiet and reserved person, and I didn’t feel like I fit into the group. Once we left and began our journey, that all started to change. I won’t say that I’m completely outspoken now. I’m not. But, I am more willing to talk with people, even people I’ve never met. I’m willing to step up to do my part without being asked, to lead without speaking. Granted, I still struggle with this and my confidence, but this trip has allowed me to see that I can do it. I can be a leader, even though I have a bit different style in doing so. I know that I can handle more than I think because of the experiences I’ve had in Peru and traveling.
“This trip has taught me that some risks are worth taking. If I hadn’t gone to Peru with this group, I would not be the same person as I am now. It’s strange to think a trip like this can really make a difference to someone, especially considering the trip itself was not long at all. I’m here to say that it does. It’s not just about helping others. It’s about creating yourself by learning what you are truly capable of.”
Another student wrote about how he had never been at all interested in traveling. In fact, he wrote that “[c]hoosing Defiance College as a place to further my education was not hard, although I was a little apprehensive about all the travel options.” In fact, he indicated that he didn’t really want to travel beyond the Defiance area, where he and several generations of his family have been very happy and have never felt a need to travel out of the country. He proceeded to write that:
“When approached about the trip to Peru, my initial thought was one full of skepticism. Not only would I be traveling to a third world country, but I would be doing so over spring break, giving up a week full of much needed and hard-to-find rest. Before long, however, I was convinced to commit and give it a try. Looking back, this may have been one of the boldest choices in my life. As the weeks passed by in preparation, the group’s excitement grew. When the travel date was within a month, my entire family had heard about my proposed expedition, and they were full of questions and wonder. Any apprehension that I had previously was now completely gone. I was beginning to understand the significance of the opportunity that I was being given.
“Traveling in a foreign country for the first time is one of the fastest ways to completely reshape your reality. In the United States, I fall under zero categories of minorities. In Peru, I was an outsider for the first time in my life. This reason, combined with the complete cultural immersion, was extremely influential in producing the largest learning moment in my entire life. My perspective completely turned inside out. All of my comfort zone walls were penetrated, without concern. For the first time in forever my mind was extremely open, absorbing everything that I could. The experiences gained in Peru far surpass anything learned in the United States. The magnificence of these cannot be simply recorded on paper or in pictures, but forever in my brain and heart. Never have I experienced such a sudden change of heart about something that had defined my life to that point. Imagine taking one of your strongest, most important beliefs and experiencing something so wonderful that you abandon that once important thought. I have enjoyed many different aspects about Defiance College and its many opportunities. Many of these have been taken advantage of by me, but travelling to Peru … takes the cake. After returning home and reporting the various parts of the trip, it hit me even more how significant it was. Not only did I grow internally, but we as a group were able to help a lot of people (especially children). I plan on continuing with service for as long as I am able bodied, and when the day comes that I no longer am, I will contribute financially. I hope that in the near future and distant future, students will be able to experience the same thing that I did.”
These excerpts are just two examples of the ways that students are growing by experiencing new things through Defiance College’s travel opportunities. Of course, the international travel is just one part of the many new experiences that we want students to enjoy and grow from at Defiance, but re-reading these letters makes me even more eager to depart for Tanzania in early May!