"What Would You Do?" by Director of the Anderson/Cabot Center for EXCEL Ben Snyder
What would you do?
You have $39.00 in your pocket, no credit or debit card, and no access to transportation. Your neighborhood is flooded. You have two young children and an elderly parent to care for.
Such was the hypothetical scenario faced by 40 Nobles students as they began their preparations for Nobles’ 11th consecutive trip to New Orleans in March (and a very real situation faced by tens of thousands—in an infinite number of forms—during and after Hurricane Katrina).
In the coming weeks, 138 Nobles students and faculty will be gearing up to head to New Orleans, Georgia and Alabama, South Africa, Cambodia and Vietnam, China, Rwanda and Guatemala with very clear goals and objectives.
Students will learn about issues of urban poverty, race, class, and the cultural joys and nuances of the Big Easy in New Orleans. In Cambodia and Rwanda, travelers will confront the realities and legacies of genocide and global indifference. In Vietnam, there are opportunities to see the remarkable economic growth of the country in the aftermath of “The American War.” In Alabama and Georgia, middle school students will face tough questions about the civil rights movement, and, in Guatemala, they will work closely with a small nonprofit building sustainable housing. Nobles students in China will live with host families, work at a school of migrant children, and attend classes at Beijing School 57. In every venue, students will get to know people whose lives are very different than the ones we live in Greater Boston and make meaningful contributions to our long standing partners.
EXCEL Travel is an area that often comes under an understandable level of scrutiny: “Why go across the country or around the world when there are plenty of challenges to address right here at home?” The primary focus of the service program at Nobles—both in hours served and dollars raised—is on Greater Boston; the service travel program complements that daily work. We also approach teaching service with the commitment to providing students with a range of opportunities to discover a form of service that is meaningful to each of them—and that could be right around the corner or halfway around the world. After many years of doing this work, we know that removing students from what is most comfortable and familiar and appropriately challenging them opens their hearts and minds in unique ways—and that doing so with Nobles teachers and fellow students has an even more substantial impact. Adolescents are particularly open to these kinds of experiences, and we know from ongoing research with Nobles graduates that these experiences resonate over a lifetime.
We also have come to realize that in an age where Nobles students simply don’t fail very much, the combination of travel, service, and cultural immersion allows for plenty of opportunities for our students to fail (and not fear the “fatal” consequence of a low grade that might appear on a transcript). There is great certainty that within these programs, Nobles students will struggle with something, be it trying to teach English to a young person in Cambodia, putting shingles on a roof in New Orleans, or communicating with a host parent in Beijing. Those “failures” almost always lead to some sort of recovery and problem solving that in the long run builds critically important qualities of empathy, resilience and adaptability. I’m certain each of you can identify a moment of struggle in your life that led to significant growth. One of our major goals in the travel program is to create those opportunities for struggle in safe contexts and with appropriate levels of support.
So what would you do in the opening scenario?
There is no simple right answer to that question, which is exactly the point. Preparations will continue in the coming month (and the groups heading out in June will do the same) and, as always, Nobles so appreciates your support, which adds to the success of these programs and the creation of lifelong learning opportunities for our students, your children.