Urban trips offer opportunity to broaden their perspectives

Whether by seeing ancient churches and Picasso’s masterpieces, or exploring museums in a center of literary talent and civil rights activism, the two upcoming trips to Spain and Mississippi offer students a way to augment their learning through real world experiences. While The Urban School has taken students to Mississippi before, the Spain trip marks the first Spanish language trip at Urban. Urban already has trips to China and France for students in the Mandarin and French language programs, respectively.

The Spain trip offers juniors and seniors a chance to immerse themselves in a language and culture they have been studying for years. Belle Davis (‘19), one of the students traveling to Spain said, “There’s so much more to a language than just the language itself–there’s all the culture and slang.” She added that she was “really excited to plunge straight into it and really try to communicate and immerse [herself] in Spanish culture.”

When it came to choosing the destination for the first Spanish language trip, many factors were at play, the most important being economic concerns. Mary Lee, a Spanish teacher organizing the Spain trip, explained that with the company Urban uses, there were only a few programs available for exchanges (as opposed to travel trips), and they were all in Spain. Lee added, “You need to go to a school that has families that can afford to send their kids [to Urban], which is a huge financial burden.”

Lee and Steven Spier, who are both teachers going on the trip, wanted to have the students to have a “more natural experience” within spain, so they will be paired with a public school student. The Urban students will do an exchange in Cordoba and also spend three days sightseeing in Madrid.

Sophie Richards (‘18) added, “I was interested in how much history there was in Cordoba itself. Where we’re going has mosques and multiple religions in one city.”

The Mississippi trip, on the other hand, provides a way for students to immerse themselves in a region of The United States that they have never been to before. Urban has a history of trips to Mississippi: Deborah Dent-Samaké, Urban history teacher, took students to McComb Mississippi as part of an oral history course to learn more about the history of civil rights activism.

Courtney Rein, English Department Chair, explained that this specific trip was prompted, in part, by the 2016 presidential election. She explained that during the trip, students will find ways “to get out of [their] particular bubble… to leave behind the comfort of San Francisco and be with people with whom [they] share some sort of American identity, [even though they] may seem so different.”

Leah Baron (‘18), a student traveling on the trip, said, “I want to understand that American identity is so nebulous and vast and multi-dimensional, and to understand how Americans define themselves and how they see their futures and histories and how that puts mine in context.”

The trip will take students from the predominantly white and wealthy space of Urban to Mississippi, a poorer and more racially diverse (yet segregated) space. Dent-Samaké said that differences in class and religion certainly came up on her previous trips, but Urban students were still able to form relationships with the students from McComb. She said that Urban trips, in general, should provoke thinking such as “what can I learn from this situation and how do I maintain a really open mind.” She added, “I know a lot of people have issues around voyeurism, but I think if you go with the intention of really learning, contributing, and receiving, [it’s very valuable].”

The teachers emphasized that the most important part of Urban trips are the human interactions and connections that emerge, which are certainly integral aspects to both the Spain and Mississippi trips. Rein explained that Urban students can get very birds-eye view and intellectual, but she said, “it’s different when you’re on the ground in any place and encountering individuals who may or may not conform to what you thought. You also have to confront your own relationship to whatever you’re learning rather than pretending you have an objective distance.”

Meanwhile, an essential part of the Spain trip is the friendships that form between the Urban students and their exchange partners in Cordoba. This exchange gives students an opportunity to live with a Spanish family and interact in real-life situations using a language they have been studying for years.

“It’s difficult to calculate the value of the ability to be social with other students in a different environment where you are the visitor,” Lee said. In terms of confronting one’s own assumptions and forging new relationships with people from different cultures, Urban trips are invaluable.