Led by freshman Jessica Lin, who won the epée competition, Big Blue girls dominated, and the boys' team took third.
Upon completion of my six-week program, I can now say with certainty that the people-to-people interactions I had with the people were the most rewarding part of my experience. Whether it was joking around with my Chinese friends, having meaningful discussions with my host family, or simply bargaining with shopkeepers in Chinese, I feel as if I have broken down many stereotypes and gained a true appreciation for China and its deep culture.
From climbing the Great Wall and swooning over cute pandas to having a traditional farm lunch in the countryside and crashing Chinese weddings, I was truly immersed in the local Chinese culture, an experience unlike anything I could have imagined! It’s also the little things that really mattered—like playing with my nine-month-old host brother, Dodo, after school everyday, going for swims with my host sister, and totally failing at speaking Chinese. But all those experiences made me grow so much as a person, and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to study abroad and expand my horizons.
When backpacking, you carry everything you need to survive on your back and have to rely on the handful of people you are with. Luckily, the trip was led by incredible trip leaders and Pingry faculty Mr. Crowley-Delman, Ms. Sullivan, and Mr. Horesta, as well as seven of my fellow classmates, who I knew I could trust.
I spent the first half of my junior year preparing for the trip, researching gear, and learning about the area we would be traversing. Yet, when we were getting ready to board our flight from Newark to Salt Lake City on March 11, I was still unsure of what to expect in the days ahead. It wasn’t until we descended into the canyon the following day that I could fully comprehend what I had gotten myself into.
Over the next 10 days I hiked over 50 miles, explored numerous Anasazi ruins, learned more about Cedar Mesa and the controversy surrounding the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument, and slept (without a tent) under a blanket of a thousand of stars.
I learned more in a week surrounded by the walls of a canyon than I have ever learned in a week surrounded by the walls of a classroom, and discovered a new passion that I hope to continue pursuing during my final year at Pingry, and beyond.
Last year, she, along with second-grade teachers Sally Dugan, Mary Ogden, and Sara Berg, decided to broaden their STEAM initiative—by a few continents. They introduced Grade 2 students to an innovative, STEAM-based global learning program. Facilitated by an educational organization called LevelUp Village, the three second-grade classes partnered with schools in either Ghana, Nigeria, or Brazil to take the same design-thinking course. In “Global Storybook Engineers,” for example, after reading the Italian folk tale Strega Nona, students were tasked with constructing a tower strong enough to withstand an avalanche of spaghetti. Not only did they have to design, build, and problem-solve, they were collaborating—through weekly video exchanges—with peers who live in countries vastly different from their own.
The program was such a success, it was introduced to Grade 4 students the following year. Soon, Mrs. Driscoll hopes to roll the program out to all Lower School grades.
"The design-thinking part of it is so cool, but the global connection is really the icing on the cake,” says Mrs. Driscoll. "We really want Pingry students to learn from the exchange. The kids have an opportunity to see life differently from their own, and that's an important lesson, too."
Although the idea of spending a semester abroad in college had always intrigued me, I never knew that taking a semester away in high school was a possibility. Even now, in my junior year back at Pingry, it is still surreal to think that my “crazy” idea—as my parents first called it, of attending TASIS England, an American boarding school with an international staff and student body located southwest of London in a small village called Thorpe—became a reality.
Yet, a little less than a year after applying to TASIS in the spring of my freshman year, there I was, on Monday January 18, 2016, the first morning in my new “home away from home.” I was sitting in the dining hall at breakfast hearing a conversation in German behind me, in Russian at the table next to mine, and in French across the room, all the while actively trying to participate in—let alone comprehend—a conversation in Spanish with native speakers at the very table I was sitting at. Less than 24 hours into my adventure abroad and the international experience that I was promised was did not disappoint.
Over the course of the six months that I spent in England, I met hundreds of people who told fascinating and compelling stories about their lives in their home countries of Spain, Russia, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Guatemala, Japan, Brazil, France, South Korea, Canada, India, South Africa, Italy, China, Mexico, Greece, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Croatia, Tanzania, and Portugal, to name a few. I spent weekends exploring the city of London and was able to visit Austria during February break and Spain during a field trip and with my roommate to visit her hometown.
It’s hard to sum up a life-changing and eye-opening semester filled with incredible people and experiences into one sentence; however, if I had to, I would say that taking a semester away and taking the risk to board at TASIS England allowed me to truly step out of my comfort zone and experience life without the constant presence of my parents’ support and guidance.
I can cook, I can run 10 miles, I can like history, I can live without my phone, and, in fact, I thrived without it. I can summit a mountain, and climb a cliff, and go into and out of a canyon. I can rock climb, I can bake brownies, and I can wrestle with someone three times my size. I’ll lose, but I can still do it. I can square dance, I can play guitar in front of actual people and not just my dog and the stuffed animals on my bed, I can cross a river, and I can push my way through a patch of willows that are much taller than I am. I can hike 10 miles in a day with a backpack that is almost half my body weight.
I learned to stop saying “I can’t do this” before even trying. I figured out how to be more open to different ideas and choices, and that I may even like them.
However, after assurances from King's, parents of Arabic Year students, and contacts who live and/or travel to Jordan for business, we gave Reid the green light to attend. And, we are so glad we did. Reid's junior year was filled with the unique experiences of living, learning, and exploring Jordan and the region.
Our son returned to Pingry with life-long friends made from countries like Egypt, Afghanistan, Jordan, Malaysia, and Colombia. He learned Arabic and better understands the complex history, culture, politics, and people of the Middle East. He had to represent and defend the U.S. and its history in classrooms filled with students from more than 35 countries. Reid flourished personally and academically, becoming all the more independent so very far from home. Most important, he gained an invaluable perspective of the U.S and the world at large.
None of us had ever attended a MUN simulation before, and our knowledge of Japan’s situation was limited to our study in the weeks prior to the conference. Upon arrival, I entered a conference hall packed with teenagers dressed in business clothes, carrying clipboards and appearing extremely confident.
The room was abuzz with the languages of Europe. As French, Spanish, German, and Italian all blended together with English into a hum of excitement, I truly embraced the MUN experience. I realized that before me was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the world from an authentically European view, and I had the opportunity to debate issues from truly global perspectives.
Seeing the world through a different lens allowed me to shed all remnants of my small-town New Jersey self, and I was pushed into my new skin as a citizen of the world. It was there, sitting in the audience as a panel of European teenagers discussed the ongoing fight against terrorism, where I truly felt myself enter adulthood.