You live, you learn, the saying goes. Or in this case, I’d rather say, you travel, you learn. Because this is what any field trip with students basically means: a learning experience not only for the younger ones, but also for us, the so-called young at heart, if anything.
Any trip is an invitation to the unknown. A trip always reminds us of that primitive nomad spirit we have tamed through years of routine - which we kindly like to call “a stable life”- and, at least for a while, awakens the adventurer in us.
I must confess, though, that many of my friends and acquaintances stared at me in amazement when I announced I was swapping a warm February on the beach for a freezing one in Philadelphia (home of the cheese? they asked) ……..and with students. They wondered, I guess, whether I had been struck by lighting or seized by some kind of tropical fever that was driving me nuts. But, relentless as it has been for some 25 years now, my teaching/traveler disposition was pounding hard at heart, telling me once again that it was time for a change, that my suntan could wait and that only good things could lie ahead.
So off we went.
Upon arrival, St Joseph’sUniversity campus welcomed us with its particular atmosphere, a perfect mix between the mysterious profiles of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts and those modern college facilities we had so often seen in Hollywood films. It was Sunday, the premises were half empty and it was not hard to tell that most of us were still thinking of home.
But after a good night’s sleep we headed for ELS, and there we started to realize that this would definitely be our new home for the next 30 days. The ELS building was swarming with people from all over the world, speaking different languages and trying their English with different accents. Everybody there was busy, assigning classes and organizing stuff, but nobody forgot to smile at you warmly, to offer you a friendly word and a handshake, in short, to make you feel you were now part of this multiethnic and multilingual community. After a couple of days Regina, Susan, Evren, Bernardette, Cem, Myra, Chris, Kit and Anas were already household names and the thought of the sunny February back home was only a faint memory to us.
Soon the snow landed on Philadelphia, and the landscape turned white, deep white. The old tower of St Joseph’s looked suspended in time and the sound of the bell striking the hours seemed to cast a spell on people and buildings alike, only to be broken by the laughter and cries from hundreds of students sliding down the slopes everywhere around. Yes, the impressive sports field had been suddenly turned into a mini ski center. Everybody joined in and enjoyed this bonus entertainment the freak weather was giving us.
New York and Washington gave us extra action: Broadway, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, 5th Avenue, the White House and Arlington were now no longer names on a travel wish list: we were there, walking the streets and getting the real feel of it.
The rest of the story was an endless succession of anecdotes and new experiences, everybody having fun and learning from and about the world around in his own, personal way. Ignacio, Alvaro, Gonzalo, Martin, Facundo (yes! you made it!), Maggie, Millie, Maca, Paula, Luz, Sol, Flor and Josefina, I hope you will cherish in your hearts this trip and the people and places you got to know there for the rest of your life. And if you ever return to them, take a minute to think of Philly 2010, maybe the magic will be back.
As to myself, I will definitely never regret having shared this time and this place with these young travel mates. I dare say I came back from the land of the Liberty Bell having seen a lot, but above all having gained new insights and perspectives, which is something extremely healthy to do from time to time.
You travel, you learn, and isn’t learning what teaching is all about?