This past weekend, Andrew, myself, and our vice principal were able to take a fantastic group of high school students to participate in a Global Leadership Summit in Lima, Peru. The summit was hosted by EF: Education First, an awesome company specializing in international educational tours. (If you’re an educator interested in increasing global engagement for your students, look them up!)
Our trip was not without bumps in the road. When we arrived in Lima, we were informed that due to mudslides and severe flooding in Peru, the water treatment facilities were overrun with debris and therefore we had no water in our rented apartment! Kind of a bummer, especially because of the very hot weather. Our students were absolute troopers, though, and did not complain. We were thankfully able to eventually use the hotel where the conference was hosted and another apartment with a water tank for showers before the city’s water ran out completely.
Besides the water, the trip really went by without a hitch! We experienced easy and safe flights and were able to not only explore Lima for a couple of days but also learn a lot at the conference. On Thursday when we arrived we headed to the beach! It was fun to splash around in the waves and cool off beneath a gorgeous sunset. Then, we ended the night at Lima’s impressive Parque de la Reserva to see the fountains and light shows.
On Friday morning we explored the downtown, historic area of Lima including the Plaza de Armas and Museo Convento San Francisco. The San Franciscan monastery included a lovely old church and museum, as well as the Lima catacombs. While a bit eerie, it was really neat to see. Only one level of the catacombs has been excavated, for fear of compromising the structural integrity of the monastery, but on just that level the remains over 25,000 have been discovered! Pretty wild to think about. As we wandered around looking at the bones, Andrew reminded me of the story in Ezekiel 37:1-14 about God breathing life into dry bones. What a picture to imagine! Actually looking at piles of dry bones and remembering that “This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” (verse 5).
Our program began Friday afternoon. The students were able to hear from Dr. Derrick Gay, an educational and diversity consultant, about identity and getting rid of cultural blindspots. They were split up into their Innovation Teams for the weekend, where they were able to meet with other students from different places around the world, and then we spent the remainder of the evening at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. The MAC art museum was really interesting, and the staff there set up different workshops and challenges for the students (and us teachers!) to complete in teams to learn more about contemporary art and the Peruvian culture. We ended the night dancing to a Peruvian band and eating delicious ceviche on the museums lawn!
Saturday was fully spent doing Summit activities. The students were able to work with their Innovation Teams to create solutions for different globalization issues using a strategy known as Design Thinking – a really cool format for problem solving developed by Stanford University. (The teacher in me was super excited about that.) They were also able to hear from another speaker, Dr. Wade Davis, an anthropologist, author, photographer, and National Geographic explorer. The teachers were lucky enough to sit in on a session with Dr. Davis as well, and we hung on every word! It was incredible to hear about his work, and although his presentation was modest and not flashy, his intelligence and experience were enough to keep everyone engaged.
Another highlight from Saturday was an hour of reflection time we had to meet with just our students from Highlands and debrief the day and experience so far. In just a few shorts days, our students had done so much and been pushed out of their comfort zones in a variety of different ways. Meeting new people; learning to collaborate, compromise, and utilize different cultural perspectives and personality types; dealing with the water situation; expending far more energy in a day than could be recouped in night’s rest; using a new framework and thought process for problem solving… none of these things are easy! It was great to hear from them and how they were struggling through these issues and learning to view failures not as final but as progress.
On Saturday evening we enjoyed a nice, fancy dinner at the Hilton and then walked to Parque Kennedy in the center of Miraflores for some ice cream! The weather in Lima after sunset was heavenly, and there were lots of people out enjoying the evening, playing music, and shopping in little markets.
Sunday was our last day in Lima, and once again it was spent in its entirety at the Summit. The students were able to, with their teams, present their Innovation Projects to each other and panels of teachers. There were some really creative ideas and solutions to the problems they chose to tackle, and our Highlands’ students did exceptionally well! (I’m not at all biased or anything…) One of our students, Priscy, and her team were even chosen as finalists! So fun to see her up on stage!
We were also able to hear from the final keynote speaker of the Summit, U.S. Olympian DeeDee Trotter. Trotter is a three time medalist in track, and now works with EF as their Olympics ambassador. She spoke to us about discovering and unleashing our inner champions to achieve our own personal gold medal moment. Her story of over-coming obstacles and keeping her eyes on the prize was inspiring, and her gracious and kind personality made a huge impact on the students! After her speech, she took time to meet with every single student at the conference personally, and even passed around her medals for people to hold. Our kids were really impressed, and so was I!
Sunday evening wrapped up the conference with another fancy dinner by the ocean at a restaurant called La Trastienda and a dance party! The night ended with goodbyes to new friends, and a brief sleep before heading to the airport at 3:00 am for our flight back to La Paz.
While this trip was definitely for the students, I walked away from it learning so many new things. First, I learned the value of unplanned moments. Being responsible for 8 high school students in a foreign country is a bit anxiety-inducing, especially when things don’t go the way you planned. However, some of these unplanned moments ended up being my favorite memories of the trip. Our kids getting soaked by waves in the Pacific Ocean could have been frustrating, but instead it was an absolute blast! Who cares if we had to go all the way back tot he apartment to change clothes? It was hilarious and so fun to just goof around in the surf. Not having water to shower or even flush the toilet for a day and half was pretty rough, but it also showed me just how awesome my students are. They remained positive, encouraged each other (and me), and rolled with the punches in a way that put my anxiety to shame. Another thing I was reminded of what to be aware of my cultural blindspots. What are things that I assume are “normal” everywhere just because they are “normal” in the U.S.? What are some stereotypes that I am unconsciously perpetuating in my mind or even in my teaching? How can I be more aware of these, and how can I be, not just tolerant, but actually accepting and celebrating of cultural differences?
All in all, this trip was a wonderful success.
And to all of you who prayed for our safety and donated money to help make this happen: THANK YOU! Please continue to pray for these kiddos, and us chaperones, as we head back into our normal routines and attempt to apply what we learned to our lives. Pray for our Highlands students and staff as they strive to be engaged global citizens and Christian leaders in our world!