Elizabeth Charlton and her students from Altrincham Grammar recently went on a school trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. Read on to find out about her first-hand experience.
I approached my school with an idea: to show our students a way of life far removed from their comforts in the local areas. I sought an itinerary that would leave them in awe and yet make them appreciate the smaller things we often take for granted. I suppose I was hoping for a spiritual experience, something my classroom could never offer. WorldStrides worked with me to ensure that every aspect that I had hoped for was provided in full which was echoed in the parting words of every student: ‘thank you for the best trip ever!’
The seven year old me:
Angkor Wat had been a dream of mine since I was seven years old. In fact, it was a postcard of this ancient temple that led to the first book I ever read on the subject of religion. As we arrived at the ‘Smiling Hotel’ we were full of anticipation of the day that lay ahead. We were in fact already halfway through our tour and every day had already surpassed expectations, could this be as good as we hoped?
The reality was that this day would provide me with memories that would brighten my thoughts for days, perhaps months, to come. We took photos, and at times we all stopped and looked. We saw. It is hard in the frenzy of a site as popular as Ankor Thom to stop still, to stand and breath. To see these ancient stones and wonder, to acknowledge the feelings within as you comprehend the history and meaning of this place for millions. Dreams do come true as the seven year old me smiled from deep within.
My students were in awe:
I talked to my students, and they shared with me their various highlights: the sampan ride on the winding canals of the Mekong river in Vietnam. The floating village in Siem Reap where we jumped from plank of wood to plank of wood fully aware of the dangers of falling in the gaps between each part of the floating village but not for one second allowing that to cloud the magic. And of course watching daily life pass us by. Over the many of years of spending time in the classroom, I have always found the imagination of my students to be incredible as I would ask them to imagine something to aid our learning journey. Now I was in a place, and they only needed to watch, imagination not required. Just look and see, feel and hear. Be here in this moment with me.
As a teacher of Hinduism and Buddhism I was desperate for them to experience aspects of these faiths truly, and then I found myself walking in the monsoon rain, my students dancing in the forefront of Ankor Wat, as the Buddhist monks walked by. I was lost in that moment and felt contented in a way I cannot remember before. In fact, I was so lost in the moment I lost all sense of reality and walked into the lake, swiftly rescued by my colleague as I sank into the mud!
I am not a religious person, but I would like to think that I am spiritual. The Vietnam and Cambodia Tour October 2017 is in our hearts, and I will forever remember watching our students dance in the rain the size of golf balls until my last day.
Thank you WorldStrides, my colleagues and our amazing students.
This was the trip of my life.
The food surpassed my expectations although my students were desperate for a burger and chips! Without exception, Cambodian cuisine outdid Vietnamese delights. Every meal got better and better, ending with a beautiful experience on board the Titanic Restaurant in Penh Phnom.
Our cruise along the river towards the floating village was eye-opening. The contrast between the vibrant blues of the painted wood and the murky waters of the river allowed us all to appreciate what we were observing: absolute poverty. Taking pictures of these living conditions was hard. Many students were emotional at this point. I turned to them and said, “watch the children, what do you see?”. Many answers came: smiling; they are laughing, they are running about, they are playing. The reality was that these children looked happy and this was their life. Who were we to judge?