"What Nobles and Harvard Business School Have in Common" by Director of the Anderson/Cabot Center for EXCEL Ben Snyder
There is a small bumper sticker that has been on my office bulletin board for many years that reads “Do Your Country a Favor – Leave.” Oftentimes visitors see it and are taken aback, yet once we engage in a conversation about it’s simple encouragement to disengage from one’s “comfort zone” to explore, learn, and grow, the message makes perfect sense.
As someone who has been given the gift of international immersion and study abroad (both personally and with Nobles students), I’m continually amazed by how humbling and inspiring those experiences have been. I worry sometimes, however, that some without those opportunities might see what we do at Nobles as dilettantish or, worse, simply a way to burnish a student resume. In light of those concerns and to give parents a more transparent window into what we try to accomplish with these programs, I thought a “primer” of sorts would be in order.
Simply put, the emphasis on health and safety is Nobles’ highest priority. From risk management training for faculty to utilization of the highest levels of international medical assistance, emergency services, healthcare, and evacuation services to vetting providers to utilizing daily briefings from International SOS and the State Department to monitor conditions abroad, we make sure our students and faculty will be challenged yet return home safely.
Partnerships with Purpose:
Nobles is not in the “tour” business (“if it’s Tuesday we must be in Paris”). Our primary goal is to find like minded partners with whom we can develop long term relationships that will be mutually beneficial and meaningful. Whether study away programs like High Mountain Institute or the Island School or school partners in China, France, Japan and Spain or nonprofit partners like Kliptown Youth Program or Romanian Children’s Relief, we aim to identify people and places we trust and that we can return to over time. We have learned that these relationships create experiences for students with significant depth and meaning. All Nobles off campus EXCEL programs also must involve some combination of service, language and cultural immersion, physical challenge or direct connection to academic or afternoon program. By adhering to these principles the experiences become more focused and substantive with longer lasting impact (as witnessed by recent alumni survey data showing over 75% of recent Nobles grads engaging in like programs in college).
Getting smarter, more creative, and better prepared for what life has in store.
There is an increasing amount of research demonstrating the tangible benefits of experiences that we encourage Nobles students to have. In Age of Opportunity, noted adolescent psychiatrist, Laurence Steinberg, emphasizes adolescence as period of maximum brain plasticity – giving travel, immersion and study away programs exponential impact on high school students. The Atlantic has heralded the importance of being immersed in new environments as cultivating one’s creativity as well as teaching lessons that can never be learned in school. Even Harvard Business School has embraced these lessons as they articulate what being global really means and engaging all students in their first year Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development program (which, curiously enough, mimics many of the partnership and immersive principles we embrace at Nobles).
Broadened worldview & “failure” without “fatal” consequence:
While I could wax on about the benefits of these experiences, if pushed I would come down to two. First, adolescents are (and this has been true since Plato’s time) at the most self-centered time of their lives. By taking them out of their most comfortable environment and putting them (safely) in a foreign place with people they would not normally encounter, they rapidly develop a dramatically different view of themselves, their place in the world, and the potential impact they could make upon that world. In thirty years of working with this age group, I see students at their most open in these situations; I am lucky to witness dramatic shifts in perspective. This is especially true for students who have become highly specialized in some area during their high school years. Second, with so many talented and motivated students, there is not a great deal of failure experienced at Nobles and often when it is encountered (a relatively low grade on a test or in a course), it is seen as “fatal” in the college process (rarely is it, but that is the perception). Our travel, immersion, and study away programs create opportunities for young people to take some risks and to experience some failure from which they can learn and grow. Adults know that life’s best lessons are often taught in times of failure, but too often we shield our kids from experiencing those important transformative moments.
Faculty led, community built:
Finally, the teacher-student relationship that is the bedrock of Nobles creates the foundation upon which these programs are built. By bringing disparate groups of students from all corners of school to collaborate with faculty in these contexts, the positive impact on our community reverberates daily. Without our faculty’s tireless (and vastly undercompensated) commitment, these programs simply would not happen.
These programs are among the many assets of our community that differentiate Nobles from its peer group of the nation’s best independent schools. They serve our mission of developing leaders for the public good who are people of distinguished character and intellect, and all of us involved in these programs are simply grateful for the opportunity.