Travel based learning opportunities expand sister school relationship with South Korea

Brooke Sheehy, administrative beat lead

Edina High School continues to broaden its impressive selection of travel-based learning opportunities for students as the district continues to finalize the details of its new sister school relationship with the Andong school district in South Korea.

In the Spring of 2019, up to 20 students from Andong, ideally half from the boys’ school and half from the girls’ school, will come to Edina and stay with 10 EHS students in their homes for two weeks. The travel based learning experience will include shadowing their host student at school five days a week. On the weekends, day trips will be planned to travel to local attractions such as the Minnesota Science Museum and the Mall of America.

In the Fall of 2019, the same 20 EHS students that hosted the  South Korean students in the Spring will travel to South Korea for two weeks, likely in October around MEA break. There they will live with their Korean host family without any other peers around after school hours. Similarly, students will congregate on the weekends for day trips will be taken to local attractions near Andong.

A South Korean businessman, dual citizen, and graduate of the University of Minnesota by the name of Hank Imm contacted Principal Andy Beaton about a year-and-a-half ago by email about establishing a travel-based learning opportunity through their government class. Beaton immediately connected Imm to Susan Tennyson, the district’s Strategic Planner and Analyst and the planning began. “Initially we were looking at schools in Seoul; however, we decided that for our students to have a much more authentic experience, it would make more sense for our students to be somewhere other than Seoul which is this massive cosmopolitan city,” Tennyson said.

EHS students who enroll in the travel-based course will plan to be in Seoul for two days, but for the rest of the  time, they will stay with host families in Andong, a place where our students will really be able to experience Korean culture away from a huge city.

Homestays tend to put students in a situation where they are uncomfortable because they are not in a school environment with their American peers. The students will be with their American friends during the school day, but at night when they go back to their host family, it may be a life changing experience. “It is possible that there will be no English spoken in the home and that the foods are something that they have never experienced before, the living arrangements will be different, family norms and celebrations will be different,” Tennyson said.

“When we feel most uncomfortable is when we tend to gain a new perspective and have great personal growth,” Tennyson added.  

Andong’s school year timeline is different than Edina’s in that their new school year will be starting back up again in mid-February. “Normally we are exposing students to a travel based learning opportunity 18 months in advance; however, this is a bit of a unique experience. Part of the challenge with the timeline with us is that we are partnering up with a school district that has a different school year than us. They will no identify their students and finalize their numbers until around the first of April,” Tennyson said.

Because the plan is for there to be a student one-to-one match, the district cannot identify which EHS students will be enrolling until they know Andong’s student ratio. “Ideally we are looking at 20, but it may be 18, it may be 16,” Tennyson said.

The school will be seeking out families of current ninth grade students who will be enrolling in a travel based course. It will be facilitated through the social studies department, and it will have government standards and most likely language arts standards all embedded into the experience. There is an expectation that students are going to be reading and writing, and there will be a celebration of learning that students will facilitate after they come back from their travel experience.

“They have to be able to communicate with an audience about their experience and then create that entire experience themselves as a collective group of students who have traveled. Standards are tied to it, and there are expectations before travel, during travel, and after travel,” Tennyson said. There is a significant journalling component with guided questions each night of travel that is a huge part of the coursework. “It is not about a trip or travel. It is about learning, and building global competence around a content area, like social studies,” Tennyson said.

The week of January 21, all ninth-grade students will receive information in their government class regarding this travel based learning opportunity. On Jan. 31, there will be a flex block scheduled with Mr. Docktor, the teacher on record for the course. Students who are interested in learning more can meet with him then. On Feb. 5, a student family meeting will be hosted at 7 PM for families that are interested in applying. A two week window will be open for all interested students to complete an online application.

“I think that the big idea is that we are trying to shift travel from being only just a tour opportunity. We are trying to tie travel to standards and content area studies for credit just like study abroad in college,” Beaton said. The district continues to find ways to personalize the learning experience while maintaining a high level of rigor by tying it to standards and creating ways for students to gain competence and certain competencies in certain standards that are outside of a traditional classroom experience.

“Travel-based learning is all about creating multiple pathways for students to learn and demonstrate their learning. The students that have participated in our travel based learning experiences, every single one of them came back and said I want to do that again. It wasn’t about the travel, but it was about the intense learning experience,” Tennyson said.

The administration is always looking for potential partnerships that would be great for students to learn about different parts of the world and different cultures and tying it to an area of study. “Any partnerships that we can make for our students to have an opportunity to broaden their horizons and have that experience is amazing,” Beaton said.