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Students Hit Four Continents to Study Languages, Rainforest Antibiotics, and Europe’s Refugee Crisis

Episcopal students traveled to Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America during the summer on individual scholarships or study trips organized by the School.
 
 
They will report back to the EHS campus community at various times during the school year, but here are a few highlights. Also: watch Head of School Charley Stillwell talk about what his summer trip to Berlin and Budapest taught him about travel and the EHS journey.
 
Costa Rica: Miracles in Nature
Science teachers Kathleen Caslow and Javier Bastos led four students on a trip to do field research in Costa Rica. Caslow, a former research scientist with George Washington University and the National Institutes of Health, believes such real-world experiences are critical to spark a passion for science in high school students before they decide their college path. “We want to show them that science isn’t simply chemistry, biology, or physics,” she says. “It’s not linear. It’s using everything you know to learn, to ask big questions, and to create something that’s relevant for the world.”
 
Joining the Seeds of Change program led by scientists from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Costa Rica, the EHS students conceived and executed experiments related to antibiotics produced naturally in the rainforest. The program is particularly focused on leafcutter ants, which generate an antibiotic to protect fungus gardens they cultivate to provide food.
 
Clay Sailor ’21 studied the proteins in the hard shell of a butterfly’s cocoon with a group of Seeds of Change students. Their field work suggested the proteins were not effective fighting bacteria, and when the students presented to the Seeds of Change scientists, they faced intense scrutiny of their methods. “They really butchered us,” Clay says. “But that taught me how to take constructive criticism.”

The trip served to renew Clay’s interest in biology and chemistry — two of his favorite academic subjects — and a potential career in medicine. “I got home and told my mother, ‘I think this is what I want to do when I get older. I want to work with a group of people and solve something that will help everybody.’ ”
 
France: A Family Affair
A half-dozen students traveled to Paris for a three-week stay with families of students at the Lycée Stanislas, a Paris high school with which EHS has a decades-old exchange program. Students visited Stanislas classes, took their own classes in conversation and culture, and visited many of the city’s major cultural landmarks as well as the Normandy region and D-Day beaches. The trip also mixed in several unique experiences, including a class in making macarons and a weekend’s stay in a 17th-century home near the Brittany port city of Saint-Malo.

French teacher Eleanor Moore, who led the trip, says everyday interactions with host families gave students another extraordinary opportunity for learning about the French culture and improving their language proficiency. “The French families take our students in as if they were their own children,” she says. “They really want to show them as much as they can, which is an ideal complement to our cultural and linguistic program.”

Ruby Gregg ’21 stayed with a French student who came to EHS last spring as part of the exchange program. The student, her three sisters, and parents live in a small apartment just south of the Eiffel Tower. Ruby, whose home is in a suburb of Richmond, Va., spent a lot of her weekends and free time walking the city with them. “It was interesting because it was so culturally different,” she says. “I learned a lot about French culture but also about living in a city.”

Greece: A Crisis Continues
Twelve students traveled to Greece to study the four-year-old refugee crisis in that country. This was a followup to a trip taken by EHS students in 2017, when record numbers of families were fleeing countries in the Middle East, including war-torn Syria, and crossing the Mediterranean from Turkey to Greece in search of a new life.

Like the earlier EHS group, the students visited Lesvos Island, a hub of the crisis, to learn from and work alongside nongovernmental organizations and community leaders providing support to the refugees. They found camps still packed with numbers twice, if not more, than capacity, and a situation marked by fatigue and frustration. “For the most part, the refugees are individuals who are struggling,” says Director of Activities Emily Urquhart ’08, who led the trip with Mark Carter, chair of the arts department. “Struggling because the camps are overrun and there’s not enough food or supplies. Struggling because there’s violence. And struggling because they have so little hope for the future.”

Students particularly enjoyed two days spent working on projects for One Happy Family, a nonprofit-sponsored community center that offers Lesvos refugees schooling and medical services as well as a cafe, restaurant, garden, and more. Olivia Shackelford ’21 says the refugees she met and worked with offer a real-life example of resilience. “They’ve been through so much, but they haven’t given up,” she says.

Morocco: Soccer, Couscous, and Arabic
Gilbert Amason ’20 had only studied Arabic online, through Episcopal’s program with the Global Academy Online, before he arrived in Morocco this summer for an intensive six-week language program. After settling in with his host family in the outskirts of Marrakech and beginning daily Arabic study, he was soon bartering in the market, helping teach others English, and spending hours in cafes watching Morocco’s national soccer team play on television. “Everybody was in the cafes watching the games,” he said. “You could walk out on the street and there’d be no cars.”

Last spring, Gilbert became the first EHS student to earn a scholarship for Arabic study with the National Security Language Initiative for Youth, a U.S. Department of State program. One of 19 American students in the Morocco program, Gilbert took a college-level Arabic course at a local cultural and language institute and also worked with Moroccans studying English.

During his off hours, Gilbert was often at home with his host family: a husband and wife and their three sons, plus married daughters who visited frequently. Only the eldest son spoke English, so Gilbert had to pick up bits of language quickly over meals of couscous and during family celebrations. As his language skills grew, so did his bargaining power in the city’s markets. “If you speak Arabic, the price goes lower,” he says.

Spain: Old World Meets New World
Eighteen students spent three weeks in Seville studying the Spanish language and culture as well as the region’s rich history as an Old World capital where New World influences were first felt. Their daily classes were held in Seville’s old town, a short walk from many historic sites, including the Golden Tower, a 13th-century Moorish military fortification that later, under Christian rule, was where cargo ships arrived from the New World loaded with gold.

“The culture and architecture of city and the country is really a combination of the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian cultures,” says Spanish teacher Douglas Daza-Quintero, who chaperoned the trip with longtime trip leader and colleague Catherine Gómez-Goodnow. “When you’re walking around in Seville, you feel it — in the music, in the customs, in the foods, and in the language itself.”

Caroline Ullrich ’20, a veteran student of Spanish, lived with the family of a high-school student who will be visiting EHS this fall as part of Episcopal’s longtime exchange program. She and her fellow student made frequent trips to shops, restaurants, and historic sites. “The architecture of the center city is just so beautiful,” she says.

Taiwan: Becoming a Global Citizen
Like Gilbert Amason, Isabel Bechtel ’20 received a National Security Language Initiative for Youth scholarship for language study. Her six-week program took her to the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung, where she studied Chinese and Chinese culture daily at the Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages. “When I got there, I wasn’t sure I could even say ‘thank you’ properly,” she says. “But I think my Chinese grew by leaps and bounds.”

Isabel lived in an apartment with her host family, who took her to their vacation home outside the city and to night markets, a fixture in Chinese culture with streets turned over to vendors selling food, clothes, and other retail booths The program also introduced Isabel to diplomats and others whose careers routinely take them around the globe. “My eyes were open to opportunities overseas,” she said. “The job that I want doesn’t have to be in one location.”
 
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