Students broaden cultural horizons with DCPS Study Abroad

Ava Nicely

Wilson senior Sierra Johnson was in awe as she and her DCPS Study Abroad group drove to China’s Wolong Nature Reserve Center. “The view was like nothing I had ever seen before,” she said. This is just one of the countless eye-opening experiences that DCPS Study Abroad brought to hundreds of students this summer, free of charge.

DCPS Study Abroad was launched in 2016 with the goal of giving students a more well-rounded education by offering them the fully-funded opportunity to immerse themselves in a different culture. The initiative also aims to make travel more accessible to students while emphasizing hands-on learning experiences and the development of a more complete understanding of the world.

For example, at the Wolong Nature Reserve Center, Johnson had the opportunity to learn about the process of using conservation centers in China to save different species of pandas from extinction. The group even had the chance to feed the pandas.

On the week-long trip, Johnson also hiked to the top of a mountain where the group learned about China’s irrigation system. The extremely steep journey left the group struggling to continue going, but Johnson was able to visualize herself at the top and stay motivated. “I learned that if I can see it, I can do it, and that I shouldn’t give up until I get there,” she said. Experiences like these, that tested both her mental and physical stamina, were some of the most meaningful moments of the trip.

By traveling abroad, students are often forced to reconsider their own beliefs. “I learned to lose the sense of entitlement many of my peers and I have,” Johnson said.

Part of DC Study Abroad involves organizing a community service project at home following the trip. Johnson’s experience in China inspired her to start a drive at Wilson to collect toys and winter clothing, along with a range of other items. She plans to lead an event to have these items wrapped and sent to shelters so that every child and adult will have a gift. “This drive aims to be all inclusive and teach each participant, through hands-on activities how easy it is to help someone with the things they have but do not need,” Johnson said.    

Another Wilson senior, Julia Arnsberger, traveled with the program to Ecuador, where she was able to meet local communities and engage with their cultures. She also participated in community activities that helped her understand the persistence of ancestral tradition in the daily lives of Ecuadorians. “We took part in an ancient Incan tradition called Inti Raymi, where we cooked food and saw street dancers celebrating the harvest and the sun god,” she said.

Visiting a local school proved to be the most rewarding experience for Arnsberger, as it served as a bridge between her study abroad group and the locals. “This was so amazing because, although for many students on the study abroad trip there were language barriers, the school was the one place where all students could connect and have fun through dancing, drawing, and playing sports,” she said.

As the group spent time in the community, they felt a bit of culture shock as they observed the different ways of life around them. Nonetheless, the opportunity to recognize and embrace these differences is what makes studying abroad so special. “Someone else’s situation may not be better or worse than ours—it’s just different, and it’s important for us to be open-minded about all these differences in order to be global citizens in our own communities,” Arnsberger said.