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Acquiring Practical Learning Experiences Abroad

The two-week March Break that staff and students at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) have come to revere is not only a time dedicated to recharging after a busy academic year, but has also been a valuable opportunity for students to travel and bring the classroom out into the real world.

While the pandemic forced the school’s annual March Break programming into a hiatus since 2020, three different experiential learning trips were able to resume this year, taking students through a total of 10 countries.

Business Studies Trip

Business studies students had the opportunity to visit three cities in three different countries: England, Hungary, and Austria. Their trip stretched from March 9 to March 23.

Students by the Danube River, on the day commemorating the Revolution of 1848.
Students by the Danube River, on the day commemorating the Revolution of 1848.

“I wanted the students to get an international feel when it comes to business,” says Dr. Daniel Lumsden ’96, Community Engagement and Learning Lead as well as co-head of the geography, economics, and accounting department. “I also wanted to know how these organizations work together as a team and how they use their creativity to design new products or attract new clients. The goal was also to relate what our students were learning to our key pillars at SMCS.”

In total, students on this experiential learning trip attended six presentations by a variety of guest speakers and university professors, the most that has been planned for this type of experience.

Visiting the Hungarian parliament building.
Visiting the Hungarian parliament building.

“This trip had numerous memorable parts to it. During school we normally would not have the chance to speak with as many businesspeople as we did on this trip,” says James Simone, Grade 11. “It showed me how strong the St. Michael’s connections are worldwide and our reputation as a great school can open many doors around the world. It was a great opportunity to expand friendships, see a different part of the world, and learn about business in Europe.”

Throughout the trip, students expanded their learning on ethical decisions in business, partnerships, the role of corporations, and profitability, all topics that they’re covering in class.

Seated on the stairs of the British Museum.
Seated on the stairs of the British Museum.

“This trip helped me get a deeper understanding of business because instead of just learning the concepts of business, I was able to see the concepts applied to real-world scenarios,” says Carson Weber, Grade 11.

“Travel is one of the best forms of education,” says Lumsden. “Students have the opportunity to experience other cultures and their way of living. Therefore, we are providing an opportunity for these students to be well-rounded citizens.”

History Trip

Of all the March Break trips, students travelled through the most countries on the history experiential learning trip. The group visited Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria from March 11 to March 22.

Students just outside of Salzburg, Austria with the Swiss Alps in the background.
Students just outside of Salzburg, Austria with the Swiss Alps in the background.

“In 2019, Mr. David Lee ’94 and I took a group of history students to London and Northern France to partake in the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day landings,” says Joe Tropea, history teacher at SMCS. “The trip was titled ‘In Their footsteps,’ as it followed the path of Canadian soldiers during both world wars. This year, we tried to offer the students a completely different perspective by travelling behind the enemy lines through the Iron Curtain of Central Europe.”

The trip had the goal of providing students with an opportunity to explore the history courses in a deeper sense through real-life experiences.

Students gathered outside St. Vitus Cathedral, in the Wallenstein Palace Gardens of Old Town (Prague).
Students gathered outside St. Vitus Cathedral, in the Wallenstein Palace Gardens of Old Town (Prague).

“A trip like this aligns with nearly every history and law course taught at SMCS,” says Tropea. “Some specific tours were the Auschwitz and Birkenau Concentration Camps that are covered in our Grade 10 history courses. Additionally, the Nuremberg Trials are covered in our Grade 12 law course and teaches students about the origins and need for an international court and governing body that holds individual nation states accountable for their war crimes against humanity.”

“The most memorable part of the trip was by far visiting the Auschwitz Birkenau concentration camps,” says Henry Hicks, Grade 12. “As someone who was fascinated by studying the past world wars, it is hard to avoid the idea of the Holocaust, and in turn, camps such as Auschwitz. I would always watch movies about the Holocaust or read about it in a book, however, words fail to describe the feeling of walking through that site. The feeling and memory of walking through there will last me the rest of my life.”

Dinner at Caffe Italia (yes spelled incorrectly) in Prague, Czech Republic.
Dinner at Caffe Italia in Prague, Czech Republic.

In addition to the direct ties to the curriculum, students learned more about the cultures and cuisines of the countries they explored, while also developing their creativity, financial literacy, and foreign experiences.

Due to the relatively similar locations travelled as business trip students, these two groups were also able to meet up in Budapest to celebrate Sunday Mass together at St. Stephen’s Basilica!

Modern Languages Trip

France, Italy, and Spain were the three countries visited as part of a modern languages experience from March 14 to March 22. SMCS students toured alongside students from La Citadelle International Academy of Arts and Science.

marchbreak modern languages story.
Near Alpilles Natural Regioinal Park: Site Historique Grimaldi De Monaco. Students are dispersing after receiving instructions.

“Students had an opportunity to practice the languages they are learning in authentic settings,” says Kirt Charter ’82, Head of the Modern Languages and Classics Department as well as a French teacher. “It is essential for students to hear and use the language in authentic situations so that their acquisition of the language is not purely theoretical.”

Students were regularly challenged to interact with native speakers and discover information by reading signs and subway maps in the areas they visited.

marchbreak modern languages story.
Monaco – In front of the Prince’s Palace just after the changing of the guards.

“Hopefully students have gained a certain level of confidence in their ability to communicate in their language of study,” says Charter. “This should allow them to use the language more freely and regularly.”

“As a school, we should offer these opportunities as they allow for great growth,” says Matthew Kondakos, Grade 12. “On these trips, students learn a new level of responsibility and have the opportunity to learn about different cultures and see different monuments. The trip I went on was extremely fun and allowed me to bond with the other students on the trip and form great connections.”

marchbreak modern languages story.
Inside St. Peter’s Basillica during our Vatican City visit.

Taking students outside the classroom to learn and experience the world around them is among the vast number of ways SMCS is preparing its students for university and life beyond high school.

“I believe it is important the school offers these opportunities because of two main reasons,” says Hicks. “First, the ability to learn about a moment in history from the very spot it occurred is both a unique and enriching chance that you can do on a trip like this. Second, the opportunity to see the world with best friends is something everyone should try. Personally, I made new friends with people I might have not met if it wasn’t for the trip, and I forged memories with old friends that will last between us forever.”

Related links:

Community Engagement and Learning

Experiential Learning

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