The Importance of Travel: Julia Cosgrove on Learning AFAR

A Learning AFAR scholarship winner visits the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Photo © Steven Watkins.

A Learning AFAR scholarship winner visits the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Photo © Steven Watkins.

I personally travel for so many reasons: good company, good food, and the sense of place that you get only through experiencing a city, region, or town firsthand. I’m constantly on the go (I’m writing this from Sydney, where our third AFAR Experiences event is underway), and I have many places on my destination wish list: Japan, Argentina, Portugal, the American South… I can go on and on.

Travel is the antidote to fear. It makes you see the similarities and differences that exist around the world, and it opens your eyes—and mind—to new and different approaches. Today, travel is more important than ever—and not just for myself. That’s what the AFAR Foundation is really about. For kids in California who have never been to the beach or students in New York who have never touched the Statue of Liberty, travel can completely change and transform their lives. Travel is the antidote to fear. It makes you see the similarities and differences that exist around the world, and it opens your eyes—and mind—to new and different approaches.

For many of our students, the Learning AFAR trip is the first time that they have left their local communities. As such, their perspectives, mindsets, and attitudes shift substantially. And when they bring that shift back to their local communities, the benefits increase tenfold.

I recently received the following note from Amy Boyle, a teacher who works at Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland, California. Amy is an amazing educator and person, and her enthusiasm and dedication to her school is incredible. She shared with me the effect that Learning AFAR can have not just on the students who travel, but on the community as a whole:

Two years ago, when we were accepted to our first Learning AFAR expedition, I felt like I won the lottery. When an email was forwarded to me, I flippantly said “Why not?” and submitted an application, never dreaming where it would lead. Unimaginable joy followed for both me and the 10 students who were able to travel to Costa Rica that year. Applying again the second year, the feeling was that of promise. I could only imagine what opening up this opportunity could do for our school. As much as that first year was about celebration and enjoyment, this year was about community and vision. With 20 students and alumni who have traveled through Learning AFAR, we now have our own little community that is working to expand the horizons of the whole school.

The individual impact is almost indescribable and cannot be trivialized. There were flashes of the depth of the experience when Maria helped remove the eggs from the turtle’s nest, or when Nate was playing with the children in La Carpa. But the greater impact was the true surprise. The expedition has not just benefited those 20 students: it has redefined what is possible for the entire school community. Applications to other summer programs are increasing and students are taking more “risks” with their time. Our students are starting to see past the boundaries of East Oakland to all the places they may go.

To have a transformative effect on a single student is something that every educator strives towards. Meaningfully impacting the life of a few students over a career would be deemed a success. But this trip, through the generosity of Learning AFAR and the vision of Global Explorers, allows us to deeply impact far more than a few. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this trip has touched an entire school.

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