BELLOWS FALLS — Expanding their cultural view is just one outcome students from Bellows Falls Union High School experienced this summer as they attended the Governor's Institutes of Vermont and traveled to China, Italy, and Spain.
School officials and the students themselves say the opportunities for these teens to travel to either a Vermont college campus or abroad for a few weeks has been life-changing.
Anna Clark and Nieva Schemm headed to China with Social Studies Coordinator Craig Divis. The two joined 10 other students from throughout the state of Vermont who traveled to China for two weeks through the Governor's Institute on Asian Cultures and the University of Vermont's Asian Studies Outreach Program. They traveled to Beijing, Kunming, Qufu, and Jinan.
“To see the students' expression as they were walking along the Great Wall of China or practicing their Chinese language skills with a Chinese student was incredible,” Divis said.
“You can literally see students' worlds opening up and their perspective changing. Students became more confident and curious as each day went by.”
The group became very close during their time together, forming friendships as they traveled.
“The experience opened up my understanding of their culture, their schools and their society and broke down stereotypes I had before I went,” Clark said.
She and Schemm said they had their photo taken by strangers who were curious about Americans. Despite a language barrier, they communicated through laughter, smiles, and hand gestures, they explained.
“They soaked up every experience that they could, from trying new foods at lunch and dinner to asking endless questions about culture and history,” Divis added.
Emily Perry, who traveled to Italy sponsored by the Rotary's short-term exchange program, said her Italian counterparts tried to communicate by saying the same thing to her in many different ways.
Her experience was a bit different than her peers who went to China, as she traveled alone, guesting in homes and immersing herself in the culture and language.
Perry said the teens she met were very similar to her friends but had a lot more going on - especially at night, when she went with her Italian counterparts to teen clubs that were open all night.
Dylan Elliot traveled to Spain through the Experiment in International Living at the School for International Training in Brattleboro. As he traveled through the cities of Valencia, Madrid, and Barcelona, he was surprised about one part of the European culture, the dinner hour. “We would eat dinner at 11 p.m.,” Elliot said.
He worked on his Spanish speaking skills along the way and played football (soccer) with his host brother.
Holly Jackson, Tim Guyon, and Kaelan Selbach attended the Governor's Institute for the Arts at Castleton State College. They chose their art focus for the two-week stay.
Jackson, a musician, brought a contra bass clarinet for the exploration of strange instruments.
“This was one of the best things I have ever done with my summer,” said Jackson, who spent another two weeks at Summer Youth Music School. “It made me think about so many different things you can do with art. It was an explosion of art.”
The Governor's Institute for Engineering held at Champlain College in Burlington attracted senior Chris Armstrong and sophomore Ira Richardson. They began most days with group activities, then broke out into smaller, self-chosen groups in their areas of interest. Game development, 3D modeling, design and programming were among the choices.
“It made me realize that we were all pretty much cut from the same cloth,” said Guyon, who talked about making videos with other students from around the state.