Learning the Lasting Lessons of Discovery Week
By Hayley Connors
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Discovery Week program, which immerses Grade 8 students in another country and its culture. For seven to 10 days, students in the 2017 program traveled with program leaders to Canada, China, Costa Rica and Peru to live with host families, engage in environmental projects and experience day-to-day life in another part of our world.
A full year of global-awareness education leads up to this moment. All Grade 8 classes adopt a global approach, from world languages and history to science and the universal language of math. Each destination shapes the curriculum of students who travel to that particular place and then share what they have learned with their peers in class presentations. As Discovery Week approaches, anticipation mixes with excitement as students pack for journeys away from their families.
Most Parker students eagerly anticipate this trip from the moment they choose their language of study—which determines the country they visit—but it isn’t until they are on the ground that they fully grasp what a life-changing event this is. Many U.S. students—especially in cities as globalized as San Diego—have access to intercultural opportunities. But living at home with families in another nation adds a perspective that even frequent tourists never experience.
“Being immersed in a culture different from my own and getting to experience all of the facets of daily life for others in another country was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Henry Gray, Class of 2020, who traveled to China. “The homestays and the classes at the Chinese school reminded me a lot of days back in the U.S., but had subtle yet distinct differences that can’t fully be appreciated without the chance to see it firsthand.”
Henry’s classmate Will Murray spent the week in Costa Rica in a house smaller than his own without conveniences such as hot water on demand, and returned home with important life lessons from his host family about what truly matters.
“[The host family] was always warm and welcoming, no matter what,” Will recalled. “It was a very humbling experience that made me realize that material items aren’t as much a necessity as we make them out to be.” He added that “it isn’t the ʻthings’ that make people happy, but the experiences and the people they fill their life with.”
This observation illustrates why Discovery Week is such a profound and effective way to discover the ties that bind the global family. Students are surprised by the commonalities they observe when living and interacting with young people their age. Assistant Head of Middle School Christi Cole, who built the program from the ground up, said that this is among the learning goals.
“As Parker students begin to notice the human aspects that transcend geography and political borders, they gain a new perspective on global citizenship and realize that regardless of one’s home country, we are all citizens of the world,” she said.
Parker aims to encourage cross-cultural understanding and getting to know people more than countries, with the ultimate goal of reducing or defusing potential conflict. “This is an important part of the program’s mission and a key takeaway for our Grade 8 students,” said Dan Lang, Head of Middle School. “You can have conflicts with governments and countries, but face to face with people, it’s harder, because they are people, just like you.”
While many Parker students have traveled internationally before Discovery Week, this is often their first time doing so without their parents. Discovery Week stretches their boundaries and challenges them mentally and physically. But the trips provide a sense of accomplishment and worldly wisdom in ways that few other learning experiences can.