I have been a teacher for 12 years, and I must say that this was one of the most authentic learning experiences I have ever shared with a group of students. As the only chaperone for a group of 11 students, I was initially concerned about keeping students adequately supervised, engaged and motivated. From the moment we met Jack and his team at the airport, all of my concerns were immediately alleviated. Jack and his team are extremely organized, professional, and personable. Within a few shot hours much of the staff had established a positive rapport with the students. It was then that I sensed that this trip was going to be something special, and I was not disappointed.
This trip provided an excellent balance of physical activity, exposure to and interaction with minority cultures, and character / team-building. The physical activities were challenging but achievable for the students, forcing them out of their comfort zone, but allowing them to push themselves to the next level. In other circumstances, students might have found this discouraging, but the staff had an uncanny way of making sure each and every student rose to the task at hand. This was an opportunity to push oneself and to take pleasure in being immersed in China's natural beauty. This certainly had a lasting impact on the students.
After the physical activities of the day reached their conclusion we then had opportunities to engage with the local community, whether it was preparing traditional styles of food, to embroidery, to song and dance, and the creation of art. Each encounter with the local community provided a unique learning experience. As a teacher it was amazing to see what each of these experiences brought out of my students. There was rarely a face in the room that wasn't smiling, scarcely a moment when the students weren't "switched on". It also brought to mind that the traditional ways of establishing a sense of community still ring true. As I watched the students prepare meals together, enjoy these meals in a communal setting, sing songs and laugh together, I witnessed the forging of new friendships. Each night we would gather in a common area and reflect on the challenges of the day and what we had experienced. We would then conclude by setting goals for the next day. This was a welcome and effective way to wrap-up the day's events before all of us would turn in for the night.
This trip did more in 8 days than the previous 8 months had done for my students. This became evident when we had finally returned to the school in Beijing, and and to present the details of my trip to a community-wide audience. The students needed no instruction for me when devising a way to communicate our experience to our audience. The events of the trip had been so well embedded into each and every one of them that they didn't need anyone to coax it out of them. As an educator we long for these moments when what we do has a lasting and meaningful impact on our students. This is much less a testament to me as a teacher. This is a reflection of the quality of the experience that is provided by Jack and his team at Terratribes. Many countries are struggling to find ways to institute education reform. Here is the answer.