ST. FRANCISVILLE — For members of the West Feliciana High School International Club, part of southern Europe became their classroom.
Twenty high school students, parents and community members traveled to Portugal, Spain and France with Nicole Means and Torrence Williams, sponsors and geography teachers. The students ranged from ninth to 12th grade.
Means has taken students abroad since 2004, and they’ve traveled to France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Greece, Costa Rica, Australia, Fiji and New Zealand. To pay for the trip, the group raised funds through different events including working the spacewalk during Christmas in the Country, selling soft drinks, burgers and hot dogs at a booth, and selling jambalaya dinners prepared by Russell Achord.
“We began our journey in a small coastal town in Portugal called Estoril,” Means said. “This was a great way to begin our trip since we were quite jet-lagged and were able to spend the day recovering on the Atlantic Ocean.”
The club traveled throughout Portugal, including Lisbon, Evora and the small fishing town of Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
“A few group members took a ferry (from Vila Real de Santo Antonio) over to Spain for a few hours,” Means said.
After visiting Seville, Granada and Barcelona in Spain, the trip concluded in southern France with stops in St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice and Monaco.
“While walking around Lisbon, signs of gentrification were everywhere,” she said. “While strolling along the beachfront in Barcelona, remnants of what used to be a small fishing neighborhood is now bustling with high-rises and trendy condo apartments. These are all concepts discussed in Advanced Placement human geography.
“It is difficult to participate in a trip like this and not learn,” Means said. “The history is so rich whether it’s statues of Christopher Columbus, visiting the tomb of Vasco da Gama or just soaking in historical sites that date back hundreds of years. We visited Roman ruins in Spain and Portugal. This experience makes learning much more engaging because students are actually part of the history. The world is a teacher’s ideal classroom.”
There were many highlights: The club paired up with a school from South Carolina, and Means said the students made new friends. The group attended a flamenco performance in a cave.
Perhaps the biggest highlight was visiting Andalusia in southern Spain.
“We visited local olive groves and learned how olive oil is made,” Means said. “Many of us brought back authentic olive oil to share with our loved ones. Additionally, we planted beans on a local farm. The day ended with a visit to locals’ homes, where we ate traditional Spanish food, starting with a green salad and tapas plates.
“By the time we were at the main course, we were stuffed,” Means said. “Many of the students said this was their favorite part of the trip.”
Means said she’s planning the club’s next adventure to Peru in 2018, where students will visit ancient ruins and beaches and will explore historical sites.
“The most important lesson I want my participants to leave with is a more open mind to the world,” said Means. “Throughout life, we are exposed to people with different beliefs, backgrounds, etc., and we have to learn to live peacefully together.”
She said traveling abroad is the best way to learn about differences in the world.
“For example, students may encounter foods that seem different, but once they try it, they may realize that they actually like it,” she said.
“Traveling helps broaden our understanding that there is more than one way to look at the world.
“In order to get the most out of these experiences, students must be open to new ways of thinking. If they can do that, they are guaranteed the time of their lives.”