A group of 22 Lenoir City High School students explored London, Paris and Barcelona as part of a summer learning experience June 5-15.
Meredith Mousa, LCHS Spanish teacher, was a constant traveler in her college years, and she knew when she became a teacher she wanted to host a summer travel group for students. Last summer, Mousa and 12 students traveled to Peru.
Mousa picked London, Paris and Barcelona as trip destinations due to the cities’ popularity among students. Even though high-schoolers were excited to venture through Europe, they were often met with surprise when it came to a change in setting.
“I think it’s important for (students) to see that there’s more out there than just Lenoir City,” Mousa said. “We were in very large cities using public transportation, and a lot of the kids had never been in a city that big. You could just see it in their eyes that they were a little bit intimidated at first, but then by the end, it was normal to just jump on a subway and go somewhere. ... I think it was really eye-opening for them to see some of the sights and to see how people live.”
Students were able to part ways in various groups for lunch. Mousa said the lunch break taught students independence and confidence.
“On day one, a lot of the kids were wanting to stick with me because they were like, ‘I don’t know, where do I go? Who do I go with?’ By the end, no one wanted to go with me,” she said. “They wanted to do their own thing and go explore, and I think that really encouraged some independence knowing that they could survive in these big cities without an adult, and just confidence knowing that they could find their way around and find where we were going to meet. I think those are two important skills that you can’t necessarily learn in a classroom.”
Bella Fricks, a LCHS senior, signed up for the trip after traveling to Peru with Mousa last summer.
“Peru was very humbling,” Fricks said. “It gave me a better sense of how first-world problems are actually first-world problems. It was just one of those things that I was like, ‘This is such a culture shock. I need to do this again’.”
Fricks was eager for the three-city trip. Though the highlighted cities were more luxurious than Peru, Fricks failed to shake the culture shock. She admitted her expectations for certain cities, like Paris, were met with a grim reality.
“With this trip, I saw, from each country that we went to, there was even that culture shock within these countries,” she said. “You could see the difference between London recycling and making you pay for plastic bags at gift stores versus how dirty London was and how their poverty was out of whack and how that was with Paris. It’s so amazing to see, especially with Paris, I saw, because it’s so romanticized and it’s made into one thing that it’s really not. It’s so dirty.”
Though the Parisian atmosphere made Fricks uncomfortable, she commends the city for teaching her enlightening lessons.
“In a sense, I learned a life lesson,” she said. “I have never been so confused in my entire life than when I was in France, and I could not speak to anyone. The language barrier there was outrageous. In Barcelona … I could kind of pick pieces in and out of Spanish because in Lenoir City we have such a high Hispanic population, so my whole life I’ve been able to pick out pieces of conversations, and I have been able to understand it in a way. But when I heard French, I thought I was going to lose my mind. … I just had such a really high respect at that point for people who go to different countries without fully knowing the language beforehand and how they try to make a life there. I just thought that was very cool to witness.”
Fricks found Barcelona the most genuine destination of the trip.
“Barcelona was probably my favorite, just because there was a lot of culture throughout,” she said. “Paris and London have become so focused on, ‘Oh, we’re commercially a destination. Everyone wants to go here.’ I just feel like there’s so much with Barcelona that they stayed with their roots as well as going along with the commercialized stuff.”
Mousa has already started planning the itinerary for next year’s summer getaway.
“We’re actually planning to go to Italy next summer, and we already have 20 students signed up, and then including me plus two chaperones, we’re already going to be at 23,” Mousa said.
She hopes to advertise the trip to new students when school starts.