The first time I travelled abroad was without my family. The summer after seventh grade, I boarded a flight to Greece, armed with my crisp, new passport and accompanied by my best friend and her family.
Sure, we stopped in Athens, but all I remember about the city were the armored tanks at the airport, lackluster gyros served in the agora, and the fact that it was so smoggy, we couldn’t even see, let alone go up to, the Acropolis... Thankfully, instead, the trip was really centered around a two-week visit with Yiayia who lived in a tiny northern town called Palia Komi. We drove up the coast of the Aegean, stopping at astounding ruins, beautiful vistas, active archaeological dig sites, and seaside cafes along the way. At one of those establishments I discovered that I LOVED kalamarakia (tentacles and all!) and that Greek salad did NOT include lettuce!
Days were spent walking to the bakery to get fresh “tiropita,” helping at the family tomato farm, watching the Turkish refugees (who rented the basement) as they slaughtered, boiled, and plucked chickens, playing soccer in the streets with local kids, and dancing at the disco with the many cousins at night. That weekend, we visited the island of Thasos, missed the last ferry back, discovered there were no hotel rooms available, and ended up sleeping on the beach... Have you ever taken a sunrise dip in the Aegean? Well, I have...
My love for travel began in these moments - but not for just any type of travel - for real connection and interaction with people and places entirely foreign, yet strangely familiar. The lessons learned when off the beaten track, taking time to settle in somewhere, surrounded by a language you may not understand, or when things don’t go quite as planned are invaluable and life-changing - always for the better.
Six years ago, Mr Saunders, another avid traveler, and I launched Warren-Walker School’s GullsTreks Program with these lessons in mind. Since then, we have designed unique trips to China, Costa Rica, and the Sierras. The aim of the program is to provide our students with the opportunity to practice independence and to experience different cultures through travel. We believe that challenging adolescents to look beyond themselves helps to prepare them for successful futures in an ever-expanding world. Lessons learned through travel with fellow students and teachers are invaluable and authentically implement our character education, foreign language, social studies & science curricula. Our teacher-led tours take place mid to late June and are open to current WWS 6th, 7th & 8th graders via application and interview.
I’m pretty sure I never thanked my parents enough for providing that once-in-a-lifetime experience 27 years ago - but, what middle schooler ever does? I like to think, however, that the positive impact it had on me as a young person was evident and worth it. Oh, but just in case... Thank you, Mom and Dad :)
All WWS families are welcome to attend the Gulls Treks meeting to learn about this year's trip to Costa Rica (open to applications from current WWS 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students) on October 24th from 5:30-6:30pm in the Middle School Cove.
If you have any questions about our Middle School Travel Program, please contact Mrs. Lori Ornelas at firstname.lastname@example.org .