Overseas Journeys


Matty Hack

Members of Pioneer High School Orchestras perform in the streets of Cremona. This spontaneous performance sparked interest in the orchestra and encouraged residents to attend their performance.

At 5 a.m. on April 12, 2015, the sun had not risen in Ann Arbor. Members of the Pioneer High School Orchestras, however, were squinting to keep the sunlight out of their eyes as they posed for pictures in front of the Pantheon, where it was already well into the day. They spent several minutes watching the ancient structure in awe, before heading to a tour of the Roman Forum. By the time the sun was up in Michigan, the students were in the Colosseum.

Several Community High School students enjoyed the opportunity to spend their 2015 spring break in Europe on organized trips. After over a year of planning and several months of rehearsals, Pioneer High School Orchestras embarked on their tour to Italy. Meanwhile, members of the CHS French Club got the chance to put their French skills to the test in France.

Max Meza, CHS junior, was one of the few CHS students to attend the Italy tour. A variety of individual favorite moments from the tour stuck with him — from tasting his first drink of Italian espresso to performing with the orchestra in Italian priest Giovanni Bosco’s history-rich church. He also absorbed a significant amount of humanities-related information.

“I learned a lot of Italian history, and my appreciation for visual art increased immensely,” Meza said. “I also learned a lot of religious history.”

CHS senior Lucy Fuller also participated in the Italy tour. She felt the most memorable experiences were “spending time and bonding with my friends and seeing places and things that I’ve dreamed about seeing since I was a kid.”

Natalie Delph, CHS junior, attended the French trip. One of her favorite experiences was visiting the Catacombs of Paris. “I’d never seen anything like that before,” she said. The trip also gave Delph an opportunity to practice her French: “It made me realize how inadequate my French is,” she laughed.

All three students, however, encountered a week of culture and society completely different from what they find in the United States. “I think it’s so funny how different Europe is from the United States,” Delph said. “Everything is so much older there, and they have such a different culture.”

Fuller agreed: “I think my global viewpoint changed in seeing how different Italy is from how everyone thinks it is,” she said.

Pioneer Orchestras’ tour was organized by Bob Rogers Travel, a travel company specializing in educational travel. Caro Uhlemann-Short, the company’s Student Group Travel Specialist, accompanied Pioneer throughout Italy. Each year, Uhlemann-Short oversees 15 to 25 tours similar to Pioneer’s.

Uhlemann-Short believes that traveling abroad as a student is valuable for a variety of reasons. “I truly feel by providing students these opportunities, they see how other cultures live, interact and really do much the same as themselves in different settings and given challenges,” she said.

When students first arrive in a foreign nation, Uhlemann-Short describes them as “anxious, nervous, excited and ready to discover new lands.” As a tour coordinator, she takes on extra responsibility in ensuring that the students are always safe and healthy, but feels that these challenges are more than countered by “their excitement of learning and discovering new cultures and countries.”

Uhlemann-Short hopes that, after touring in places with rich histories, students are able to make new connections about history in their lives. “I hope they took away that history is made every day, everywhere,” she said.

The students who traveled abroad all found that the cultural differences between the United States and Europe were important to understand as high schoolers. “I think it gives you a lot of perspective,” Delph said. “I think in high school, you’re kind of single-minded, and you’re pretty much just focused on yourself, and college, and what you’re going to be doing with your future. I think it gives you perspective on what the whole world is like.”

Meza felt similarly. “It’s humbling going to a foreign country as a high schooler in America,” he said.

“I think the most valuable aspects of visiting a foreign country are experiencing the food and culture that others take for granted, and being immersed in that culture,” Fuller said. “As a high schooler, we have the opportunity to see things that change our minds about the world.”

After spending time abroad, the students on the Italy and France trips encourage their peers to do the same.

“I know it’s expensive,” Delph said, “but it’s definitely worth it.”