Israel and Belize Trips Unfold Knowledge and Insight
Freshness, blossoming, unfolding, unfurling . . . the concepts that symbolize all that is best about springtime aptly describe the Upper School’s recent spring break trips as well. Students and staff have returned to campus invigorated and inspired by two very different and thought-provoking experiences in Israel and Belize in mid-March.
“The Israel trip was phenomenal,” remarks English Department head Steve Henn. Not only has it given him the tools “to take more seriously my study as a student of the Bible,” but also he says it has underscored the importance of “helping Principia students be biblically literate.”
With equal enthusiasm, Kelsey, a senior, says, “I would definitely recommend the Belize trip to others. It is such an amazing opportunity to grow, and I learned so much more than I expected . . . in a safe and loving environment.”
The sights seen and the sites visited are etched in memory and captured digitally. Just as vivid and lasting are the insights and perspectives participants gained both intellectually and spiritually. But over and above these is something even more precious: healing. On both trips, participants experienced healings of physical and other challenges, enabled in part by being among a close-knit, likeminded, and spiritually grounded group of co-travelers.
Biology teacher Christian Hagenlocher (US’07, C’11), who led the Belize trip, captures the reward of such learning experiences: “My personal highlight was watching the trip unfold harmoniously, with the entire group being present, healthy, and protected during all of our activities. Traveling and living together made the group dynamic even stronger and closer-knit.”
Deeper Perspectives in Belize
A two-week immersion in the most diverse English-speaking country in Central America, the Belize trip acquaints students with remarkable cultural diversity, including the Maya, Garifuna, Creole, Mestizo, and Mennonites, as well as several other ethnic groups. Typically, the Belize trip has been offered once every two years, with the alternating option being an exploration of art and nature in Wyoming’s Grand Teton Park.
“I went on the first Belize trip 12 years ago,” recalls Monica Semnacher (US’01, C’06), a house mother in the girls’ dorm. “That experience taught me to appreciate and have strong purpose in my education, love for the environment, appreciation for other cultures, and how to get outside of my comfort zone.” Semnacher says she was delighted to have “the opportunity to return as a chaperone and help more kids have the kind of meaningful experience I had.”
In between kayaking underground rivers, traversing the rainforest, and snorkeling along the world’s second-largest coral reef, the 19 students were diligent about recording their learning in daily journals and undertaking independent research projects. And the homestays with local villagers were a definite highlight. “Even though they don’t seem to have a lot, they are so happy and excited to share their homes with us,” Kelsey remarks. Confirming this, Semnacher adds, “Principia students gained perspective on what truly constitutes happiness and the importance of education and family.”
Broader Perspectives on the Bible
Meanwhile, in another very different coastal area, Principia School led its first-ever study program to Israel, a diverse and historically and spiritually rich area. Inspired by Head of School Marilyn Wallace’s own explorations in 2010, the School trip to Israel was unusual in that it included faculty, staff, and even a few Principia parents and alumni as learners alongside the students.
St. Louis-based Bible scholar Kristy Christian (C’75) served as tour director and resource person. In her 20 years of leading study trips to the Holy Land, this was the first time Christian’s group had included school-age students. “To see through their eyes what they were learning and appreciating and questioning was very rewarding,” says Christian. “It wasn’t just about learning history or looking at ruins . . . but about lessons that will not be forgotten.”
Seniors (and twin sisters) Hayley and Deanna were among the 13 students who journeyed to Israel. “Reflecting on the history was very thought-provoking and sobering,” says Hayley, who highly recommends the trip. Visiting the pool of Bethesda was one of many highlights for her sister Deanna, who has always loved the story of Jesus’ healing of the crippled man on its shores. “There is a reason that Christian Science is based on the teachings—the inspired Word—of the Bible,” says Deanna. “Going on this trip has changed my view of Israel and the Bible.”
Their mother, Ellen Maas, confirms this, adding, “The girls felt the Bible come to life.” This was exactly what the School was hoping for in designing this learning experience, which the School plans to offer each year.