Helping them travel to a whole new level of maturity

Helping them travel to a whole new level of maturity

By: Glenda H. Caudle, Special Features Editor

Helping them travel to a whole new level of maturity | Glenda Caudle, Just A Thought
I can’t recall his name, but I’ll never forget the look on his freckled face. He was a high school student — probably 16 or 17 years old — and he was getting off a bus. He had boarded in Union City with about three dozen classmates. He had traveled all the way to the state capital — Music City USA. When I caught a glimpse of him as I carried out my parent-chaperone duties (counting heads and reminding the swirling horde of teens to “wear their best manners” as we prepared to enter the Tennessee Performing Arts Center) he was raising his simple little camera — a gift for the occasion — to capture a stalagmite-ed skyline. He was clearly star-struck. He was obviously awed. He was singularly entranced by his first view of a city-scape. A teacher whispered that he had confided he had never been further than a few miles outside Obion County. I was stunned. Surely, in those space-age days dominated by burgeoning technology and gasoline-powered extravagance, children had a wider and more up-close first-hand view of the world than I had when I was their age — and even I had seen a fair share of mini-skyscrapers by the time I was a teen. Apparently that was not the case, however. I’ve thought about my daughter’s classmate many times since then. I’ve wondered if he came home and settled back into his small-town routine and visited “foreign” places again only through his photograph-aided memory. I hope he still calls Union City home — he seemed the kind of person who would make a good neighbor and responsible citizen. But I also hope his first road-trip to the mid-state metropolis fueled a determination to travel even farther afield in the future — to explore both the splendor and the squalor of cities; to contrast small town-life in the South with village experiences in New England or the Pacific Northwest; to get a different perspective on life viewed from an Indian reservation in the West or a mining community in the hills of West Virginia or a cross-cultural settlement on the nation’s borders (north and south); to recognize the basic similarities people share, even if their hometowns are halfway around the world from each other; to be forced to listen with great intensity to a new acquaintance whose command of English or unique accent renders conversation a particular skill and ultimately engages more than one sense. Wherever he is, I wish he could know that his own joyful voyage of discovery that day planted a dream in my heart. I fervently hope that every child who grows up in this community comes to the realization that not only is this is the best place in the world to live, it is also an ideal launch for exciting voyages of exploration and growth. My dream, then, is to make those trips possible for every child willing to work toward the goal. But it’s a grander plan than simply booking a bus, herding a class on board and taking off for destinations beyond the horizon. It’s a vision that is far more dependent on a student’s personal motivation, commitment, goal-setting and hard work than it is on his parents’ deep pockets. It’s an agenda whose ultimate value will be realized when the student traveler computes something far greater and more significant than miles traveled — namely, mind enlarged. I don’t have all the details. I need input. I need backing. I need confirmation that I’m on the right track. But here’s a general plan: • Students (not fewer than two and not more than a dozen) form a “travel club” which will meet at least once a week before or after school or on weekends, with adult supervision and oversight by the school system. The numbers are subject to change, since some will “drop out” as plans progress. The range is based primarily on a manageable group size that can achieve fairly rapid consensus. If more students are interested, there could be multiple clubs. • Students sign an agreement that they will fully participate in all activities of the club and all assignments necessary to carry out the mission or they will be dropped from membership. This is a vital component of the plan, since learning to interact responsibly with others and to fulfill personal and group goals are among the most important long-term benefits of the project. • Students begin to make plans to undertake a significant journey within a year’s time and they select a travel destination. “Significant journey,” too, is a term open to discussion. Early trips might be limited to a few-hundred-miles-radius. As students and sponsors become more adept, the trips will hopefully expand to passport-dependent undertakings. • Students begin exploring the most economical and most advantageous means to travel, utilizing information from local agencies, Internet sites and interaction with adults in the community who have traveled extensively themselves. Information-gathering tasks are assigned to each member and relevant reports are submitted for group discussion in a timely fashion. • With a budget, destination and time-line agreed upon, students begin researching the area they will visit and decide on specific “sites” they want to incorporate in their trip. Students complete written reports about the possibilities (determining hours and seasons of accessibility; “extra” charges; suitability for the size and make-up of the group; and cultural, historical, religious and/or political relevance of the site) and reach consensus on each day’s activities. • Students research the area’s history and culture and educate each other about the expectations their hosts may have and the significance of sites they will see. • Students undertake to learn and practice appropriate manners — whether dining, sightseeing, viewing productions, interacting with residents of the area or sharing sleeping space with a friend. • Students who elect to travel to countries that do not have English as a first language begin to learn basic words and phrases that will assist them in their travels. • Students who elect to travel to countries that do not utilize American currency become familiar with funds they will be handling on their trip. • Students apply for passports, if necessary, and assemble all appropriate documentation for their trip. • Students assume responsibility for financing their trip, once a budget has been established. And that’s where some of you may come in. Because my dream, you see, is not to provide an “extra” for a student whose parents may already plan to take them to France for their senior trip. My dream is to see every student — no matter what their financial situation — pay for and prepare for their own voyage so it will be truly “theirs” but will also have the advantage of being an additional “bonding” element for club members as they work toward a common goal. That means the students will all need after-school or before-school or weekend jobs. No checks from Grandma. No bailouts from Dad. Only personally earned income, commensurate with job expectations, will be accepted toward the price of a ticket. Savings accounts — and a club-directed understanding of and support for depositing money on a carefully calculated schedule so that the dream can be realized — will be essential. (Do I have to point out the basic learning opportunity and lifetime “good habit” inherent in this undertaking?) Students can also earn money by completing “extras,” agreed upon by the club membership, that take the form of improving classroom grades significantly or devoting so many hours a week to real and needed service to the community, neighborhood, church or school in some way. These “scholarships” would be funded by interested parties in the community and the donors would set the criteria, but the amount of effort required to complete the task and the level of remuneration would be consistent for all students and donors. (You do see yet another area where your input is essential, don’t you?) Slackers would ultimately enjoy the opportunity to slack — at home, alone — while their more industrious friends celebrate in distant ports. Those unwilling to pull their own weight would be left behind so the group could travel lighter. And solo performers would be politely advised to fly on their own. There are a few more guidelines, but you get the picture. Travel is the medium. Responsible action is the means. Maturity is the mark of accomplishment. Contact me if you share the dream. Glenda Caudle, Messenger Special Features Editor, may be reached at glendacaudle@ucmessenger.com or at 885-0744, ext. 21. Published in The Messenger 5.30.08

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