For the first time in School history, rising seniors embarked on summer Junior Journeys entirely online. The three immersive programs in China, India, and Peru were completely and creatively reimagined as virtual experiences due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and while this forced shift did come with challenges, it opened up surprising new doors for connection, learning, and growth.
“When we realized in February that we would not be able to travel this summer, it was pretty devastating,” says Kelly Randall, Assistant Director of Diversity, Wellbeing and Global Education. “It was heartbreaking for our juniors signed up for these signature programs, as well as every student planning to travel on one of our many trips.”
Melissa Brown, Director of Diversity, Wellbeing and Global Education, and her team believed it was critical to offer as many alternative programs for students as possible. “Global education is about building global competence, curiosity about the world, and cross-cultural communication skills; about understanding multiple perspectives, including your own; and about taking action for positive change—all critical to the Holton education,” she says. “Just because we couldn’t travel this summer, we didn’t want to sacrifice those opportunities for students and knew that we could continue cultivating these competencies in a virtual setting.”
Recognizing that the School could not reinvent every cancelled program due to the tight timeline, Brown and her staff homed in on Junior Journeys, a culminating Holton experience and students’ last opportunity to travel on a Holton Global Education program. The group gathered 17 faculty and staff volunteers to brainstorm ideas, consulted with the Global Education Benchmark Group and partner schools in each of the three countries, and logged countless hours building the new programs.
What resulted were three fully virtual two-week Junior Journeys this August, all paired with a peer school abroad, rooted in Holton’s Learn Well, Live Well, Lead Well School-wide competencies, and centered on U.N. Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. Each Journey examined the COVID-19 pandemic in this context, looking at its impact and the ways that educational, health care, and governmental institutions have responded in both the U.S. and the respective partner country.
Six faculty and staff members (listed below) signed on to design and facilitate the programs—a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities that included full-group presentations, guest speakers, large- and small-group discussions, independent work, and final projects produced collaboratively by students from the partnering schools.
Randall admits that some things are difficult, if not impossible, to replicate in the virtual format—for instance, the sensory information students take in while experiencing a new physical location. But because the virtual Journeys involved a more tightly structured curriculum and exponentially more interaction between peers at partner schools, many students walked away with even stronger personal connections and community, as well as a deeper knowledge and understanding of the topics presented.
“I underestimated how impactful the virtual journey would be; however, I took so much away from this experience and learned so much about understanding different cultures,” says Annika Chidambaran ’21.
Her favorite parts of the program were the conversations with her counterparts and presentations from guest speakers. “I found it really interesting to hear about global issues from the Chinese perspective. While I keep up with the news, I only hear about these issues from the American perspective. Talking to the Chinese students helped me better understand more than just the single-story narrative I was aware of,” she says.
Kelly Padalino ’21 agrees that the peer-to-peer interaction was invaluable. “I think that I could do all the research I want, but it will never give me the same understanding as actually interacting with students from Peru will. I really loved the cross-cultural exchange,” she says.
Students’ final program evaluations give a glimpse into their many takeaways from the programs. They report learning more about both their partner country and their own, and the systems and cultures within them. They say their eyes were opened to unexpected similarities with their peers, to different cultural norms and communication styles and how to respectfully navigate them, to some of their own biases and blindspots and what may have shaped these.
Ema Nakayama ’21 says, “I learned more about how my actions have effects that extend much further than the bubble that I live in—and that I have a responsibility as a member of this global system to be conscious of how I am participating in it.”
Asma Poshni ’21 left the experience with a similar feeling. “I learned a lot about how I can be a more active participant in my community. By supporting my local government I can help make a change to unjust systems,” she says.
Brown adds that the faculty and staff program leaders also grew tremendously from the experience of both designing and facilitating the virtual programs. “They took away technology skills, how to build community online, how to vary the virtual experience, the power of reflection to deepen learning—so many things they’re already using with their learners and sharing with their peers this year,” she says.
US science teacher Rachel Lowenthal has co-led the Peruvian Junior Journey in-person and now virtually, and says she’s grateful for this latest experience and the ways she’s grown as a result. “Especially in working with educators across the globe, we had our own Journey experience as we learned how to best collaborate and come to agreement on what we value and want to focus on with our students in designing the program.”
As the School’s Global Education team explores 2020-2021 programming options, they will draw on this summer’s experiences and successes as they look to create additional virtual programs and continue to refine in-person trips when those are again possible.
“When we return to travel, we will certainly be thinking about which aspects of these virtual Journeys we want to translate to the in-person experience. Each of these types of programs, in-person and virtual, enhances the other,” says Randall.
Brown adds, “We have learned so much together about reimagining global learning and exchange and are so excited for future possibilities.”
Learn more about this summer’s virtual Junior Journeys, including through students’ own words:
With tremendous appreciation for our partner schools!
...And all of our Holton and peer-school facilitators:
China: Jessica Ozimek (Holton), Kelly Randall (Holton), Bill Kwong, Xiaoming Jin, Yufei Huang
India: Patty Carver (Holton), Nandini Giridharadas (Holton), Anita Gurnani, Swati Dogra
Peru: Melissa Brown (Holton), Rachel Lowenthal (Holton), Patricia Moane, Adriana Lasuss Martinez
(*With gratitude as well to Ava Bubbosh '21 for supplemental reporting.)