One of the annual highlights of Ross School’s Field Academy program takes place after Upper School students have reconvened with their classmates in East Hampton. On Field Academy Sharing Night, held this year on March 30, students who went off campus offer up slide shows, videos, and presentations to the community at large, communicating what they learned and experienced in their travels.
As one would expect when hearing about cultures as widespread as those Ross students encountered, the presentations were informative and diverse. Some students wore traditional garb of the regions they visited. Some conducted interviews with local people. Some immersed themselves in the everyday lives of the countries they visited through home stays or volunteerism. Each student group, however, came away with insights and memories that will last a lifetime.
The theme for the 2015 Field Academy courses was “sustainability,” and each course approached this concept from a different angle. In Costa Rica, students explored sustainable organic farming and examined the sustainability practices of the indigenous Térraba tribe. The class visiting Thailand learned how that country is promoting sustainable ecotourism by inviting travelers to participate in supporting and protecting wildlife and the environment through places like elephant sanctuaries and national parks.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, a group of students studied the islands’ marine ecosystem, then returned to Long Island and worked with Concerned Citizens of Montauk to test local water samples. The Eastern seaboard (U.S.) trip focused on the question of how we sustain memory, visiting memorials in New York City, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., among other sites, and coming to the conclusion that “in the end, memory is sustained by us—the people who lived it, the people who told it, and the people who heard it. It’s an integrated system.”
Ross students also found great value in interacting with people whose lives are very different from our own. Students from RSTA traveled to Brazil to experience a lifestyle similar to that of their Brazilian coaches’ childhood, engaging in jiu jitsu, rock climbing, and attending a soccer (football) match. In Taiwan, the class visited temples, tried new foods in local night markets, and practiced conversational Mandarin and Chinese characters, launching sky lanterns with personal wishes written on them. The video produced by the group who traveled to Turkey began with a Turkish vocabulary lesson, and went on to describe cultural dress, architecture, music and dance, and sport, including a look at the national sport of wrestling while covered in olive oil.
Students in Sri Lanka visited the Elephant Freedom Project, watched Kandyan dancers, and learned the art of batik textile decorating. In Japan, students dressed in kimonos on several days of their stay, and were encouraged to push the boundaries of their comfort zone by going on entertaining scavenger hunts that required them to interact with Japanese people on the street. Students who traveled the West Coast from Alaska to California to Baja Mexico got a taste of photojournalism, working with professional mentors to document the culture, activities, and people of the areas they visited and bringing back photos and footage of dog sledding, an exorcism, firefighters in a drought-stricken region, and a slaughterhouse.
The Cambodian trip offered students sobering reflections on not-too-distant history of war and atrocities, as they visited the country’s infamous Killing Fields and a land mine museum and relief center, and spoke with survivors. The class also met with representatives from NGOs who are working to apply business principles to social problems in Cambodia, and Buddhist monks who shared blessings with them.
And a group that traveled to rural Mississippi to work with residents who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina and poor economic circumstances gained a huge amount of personal satisfaction through hard work and cooperation (and some cell phone deprivation). In the time they spent in Turkey Creek, MS, they volunteered at the Audubon Society and local food pantries, and Sheetrocked the entire interior of a house that is being renovated for a family in need. In doing so, one student said he “learned the value of life.” He continued, “I realized that it is not enough to provide a comfortable life for my own family. When we grow up and become powerful, we need to make a contribution to society. . . . This house became a part of my heart.”
Each group also contributed to the Field Academy 2015 exhibit now on view at the Ross Gallery. Student writing, photographs, and artifacts will adorn the walls of the gallery for the next few weeks, and all are invited to visit and learn even more about the students’ travels.