Often, we take for granted the number of opportunities available at Shaker Heights High School. The new service trip to Cambodia, led by social studies teachers Amanda Ahrens and Michael Berger, is just one of Shaker’s unique international travel options.
Shaker has three exchange programs with sister schools in foreign countries. At 35 years, the high school’s Goslar exchange program is the the longest-running exchange program between a German and American school. This summer, about twenty students will travel to Germany to live with a host family in Goslar for two weeks and tour major German cities such as Berlin and Munich.
The school also maintains a relationship with the Lycée Gustave Flaubert in Rouen, France.
The French students have visited Shaker twice, with Shaker visiting once. “The idea is that we go every other year and they come on the alternate years,” said French teacher Eileen Willis.
Too few students signed up for the trip this year, but Willis hopes the French students’ visit next year will revive the program. The first year, about 13 students took the trip.
“Typically what we do is we spend a couple days in Paris, either at the beginning or end, depending on the calendar. Then we take a train to Rouen. Then they have about seven days of homestay with a family,” said Willis. “During that time, we typically like them to have a full weekend with the family, so that they can integrate and be separated from their American friends and the families are awesome. They take the kids great places.”
Another opportunity to visit to Europe sends Shaker students to Worthing College in Worthing, Sussex. The English exchange program occurs in the summer.
Teachers also participate in international exchanges. This year English teacher Christopher Cotton is teaching at the Lycée Gustave Flaubert. In return, Helene Ameline is teaching French at the high school.
Yet exchange programs are not Shaker’s only international opportunities. The band tours various countries every three years, and the choir and orchestra travel abroad together every other year. These groups have traveled from China to Turkey to Austria.
On top of all this, the Asian Studies class, which meets Wednesdays from 7:30-9 p.m., plans on traveling to Japan this year. Shaker hosts Japanese students from our Takatori sister school every other year.The Asian Studies trip rotates between Japan, China and India.
The class usually visits Shaker’s sister school in June before visiting Nara province, according to social studies teacher Andrew Glasier, who teaches Asian Studies with English teacher Jodi Podl. However, this year students will likely visit a different high school because of scheduling conflicts.
During the 18-day trip, in addition to visiting a Japanese high school, the class will visit “places like Hiroshima and Kyoto and then we end with Tokyo,” Glasier said. Exact destinations remain mostly unknown, however.
This summer, the high school will add to its array of travel opportunities. Social studies teachers Amanda Ahrens and Brian Berger have teamed up with Rustic Pathways, a travel and service program organization, to create a service-based trip to Cambodia.
Adding another opportunity to travel internationally is beneficial and diversifying. Shaker has never offered a trip quite like this, which is a third to half service-based. The criteria is cemented in four main ideas: service, immersion, history of the genocide and ancient history.
Additionally, the Cambodia trip is open to all students, rather than restricted to one specific group. Ahrens preferred upperclassmen attendees, but remained open to all applicants, which lets the travelers branch meet classmates outside their peergroup.
Moreover, traveling to Cambodia — a country thousands of miles from the U.S., with very different history, culture and problems — will open teenagers’ minds to the world beyond their doorstep.
“Traveling just gives you a sense of what everyone else is about, and takes the focus off your own personal problems,” said Willis. “I’ve found that over and over again from my own experiences.”
Glasier agreed, citing a summer he spent in Europe as a student.
“The opportunities are really amazing, and I don’t think there’s any better way to test yourself than traveling someplace that you’re uncomfortable in,” said Glasier. “It just helps you to define yourself. It helps you to grow as a human being.”
We look forward to seeing what new and amazing travel opportunities, from Cambodia onwards, Shaker Heights High School will continue to offer.