International Travel Studies: 15,000 km Away Still Feels Like Home

May 15, 2023 4 min read

Imagine yourself on a safari, driving down a bumpy dirt road through savannah plains and spotting animals you’ve only seen in movies or the zoo. Then, imagine yourself trekking through a picturesque mountain rainforest with monkeys and birds making noise high above your head. Picture yourself carrying heavy rocks and cement among cheers from young, grateful students.

Two groups of Calgary Academy students travelled nearly 15,000 km over Spring Break to make this their reality. The International Travel Studies (ITS) program has been offered to Senior School students since 2005 and this year was a full circle moment–returning to the first country the ITS program ever visited.

“The purpose of ITS is to show our students what the rest of the world is like and to give that humanitarianism back to the students. Every year we do humanitarian work on the trips and this year was just ‘wow’.” – Ms. Pfeifer, ITS Coordinator

Calgary Academy student sitting with Tanzanian students in the International Travel Studies programITS’s first group of 14 students and two teachers first set off for Tanzania 18 years ago where they helped paint Nkuu Primary School, which is situated in a small Tanzanian village. Nearly two decades later, altruistic work continues to evolve in this small school to give the students an enhanced educational experience. This year, the tasks for the ITS crew included hauling cement, rocks, and dirt to construct new bathrooms. One of the final highlights of this year’s trip–aside from the many games and bonding moments with the students–was painting a mural and leaving their mark on this community forever with a handprint.

For two Grade 12 students, Mac W. and Cairine C., their first ITS trip was “life-changing.” They had the chance to visit a country they wouldn’t necessarily travel to otherwise and gained a new perspective on life after working with a group of incredibly friendly and positive young students during their time there.

“Gaining more empathy was the biggest part of the trip for me. Everyone there seemed so joyful and so grateful for what they had. I’ve been asking myself, ‘How can I be as happy as these people who have less than me?’” – Cairine C.

Calgary Academy International Travel Studies students on a safari in Tanzania in 2023

The Safari of a Lifetime

When final goodbyes and hugs to the Nkuu students were done, students were eager to explore the rest of this beautiful country. From the Serengeti, Tarangire National Park, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater, the sightseeing portion of their adventure welcomed students with open arms. Students were elated to see so many animals, including a pride of lions, an elusive leopard, giraffes, elephants, cheetahs, and even a cheeky monkey who jumped over students to snatch a chocolate bar.

While this year’s trip was relatively smooth sailing, there were opportunities to practice their resilience and adaptability skills. From flight cancellations, which included a longer pit-stop in Amsterdam for some, to adjusting to drastic time changes, and long, yet rewarding, days, the students’ spirits were unbreakable.

Making Unexpected Moments into Memories

Ms. Rudin, a Senior School teacher fortunate enough to chaperone her first ITS trip, was astonished at how well students handled the unexpected. Not everything can go to plan, and it’s ultimately how situations are handled that is an integral learning lesson in life. “Both students and teachers got to spend a lot of time together, and we were able to support each other and make it the best trip ever.” For one of the groups, there was a slight flight delay at the end of their trip that provided some much-needed downtime, becoming “the most relaxing part of the trip that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”

When asked to give advice to students who might be considering signing up for a future ITS trip? “Take advantage of this opportunity and just go for it,” says Mac W., a Grade 12 student who took part in ITS for the first time this year. “I’ve changed since getting back, especially noticing more about how I act and what I am grateful for. It changed my point of view about what I have and how grateful I am for it.”

To learn more about the ITS program, visit the Clubs & Activities page here.