This year, the senior Classroom Without Walls (CWW) trip went to Pernambuco, splitting time between the capital city of Recife and the colonial town of Olinda. The trip focused on the contrast between the history and modern developments taking place in this northeastern state in Brazil and explored different aspects that make up its unique culture.
Unfortunately, there was a stigma surrounding this trip beforehand. As senior students, we have a lot of things to do, and many thought that this trip would not be worth the time it takes. They wanted to spend their time writing supplemental essays and IAs. Yet, the majority took this week as an opportunity to sleep in and calm down from a hectic start to the school year. While I fully respect their wishes to do so, and I harbor no bad feelings towards these decisions, I would like to offer my opinion on why they should have gone on this year’s trip.
Granted, when I heard that only 23 students had signed up to go, I wasn’t ecstatic either. A smaller group would mean fewer people to interact with, and also that some aspects of the schedule had to be rearranged. I guess I also thought that if so little people were going, why should I go? After talks about the administration canceling the trip, I’m ultimately glad that they decided not to. The thing is, to me, there was one very special reason why this trip was successful, and that is compassion.
Compassion means to be sympathetic and concerned for another person, and that is what I felt projected to me throughout the week by the teachers who led us. They listened to us when planning the trip, and they were all-ears throughout our week together. For example, our first activity day was spent taking a boat ride to a small island, where we were able to go stand-up paddle boarding and canoeing, as well as ordering coconut water and pineapple drinks while lying in the sun. From last year’s short beach morning, this was a definite upgrade. That evening we had an interesting maracatú music workshop; although it wasn’t for everyone, students weren’t pushed to do anything they did not want to do, which created a pressure-free environment.
On our third activity day, we cleaned out mangroves at the Espaço Ciência in the morning. It was an arduous experience, yet a very rewarding one. We arrived and were welcomed with a brief introduction on the function of mangroves and their importance to the environment. We then all received a pair of gloves and plastic bags and scrambled down a small hill towards the riverbank. After ducking under branches and balancing on roots, you can suddenly see heaps of plastic pollution drying in the Brazilian sun. While the environment is an entirely different discussion, it shocked me how littered the bank was. For a bit over an hour, we collectively filled up dozens of bags and cleared up many sections of the riverbank there. It doesn’t matter that we were all tired afterward or that our shoes were muddy because with the teachers having joined in, we were all collaborating to clean up the pollution. We were working hard together, which profoundly changed my experience of this activity for the better.
Furthermore, while I didn’t realize it at first, all of our workshops were taught by professionals, and in some cases, masters of their craft. Senhor J. Borges is a master in wood carving, and at his old age, he was still willing to help us out with our amateur projects. Our maracatú workshop on our first day was taught by professionals who had traveled the world to share their crafts, and we were privileged enough to have a private workshop with them. The teachers wanted to make these experiences worth our while, and they made sure that we were able to receive instruction from the best in these fields. Also, even though we were tired seniors participating in these workshops, the teachers allowed us the time to take things slow and not rush from one activity to the next. That is compassion, too.
On our last evening, after having returned to the hotel from a night tour around Olinda with maracatú dancers and musicians, we were told that the teachers had requested that the pool stay open longer just for us, and they extended our curfew. I know these seem like simple, basic things, but to me, it’s these things that show the extra effort that the teachers wanted to put in to make sure that the students had a good time. We were allowed to sleep in on Thursday, and our only requirement was to have lunch and go to the airport on time. For sleep-deprived seniors, this seemed like the holy grail.
I didn’t just enjoy CWW this year for the great hotels and delicious meals, or the conversations I had with my best friends and classmates I barely knew–I loved it for the compassion that the students received from their teachers, who wanted to make this trip the best it could be.
So thank you for that, teachers. Both those who came and stayed behind contributed significantly to the memorable experiences I had in Pernambuco, and I really appreciate it.
To all the future seniors, from whatever class you are: go on these trips. You’re not too tired, you don’t have too much work to do, and you’re not too busy. Trust me; it will be worth your while.