South Korea #2: Leadership In Action

Trip Leader, Heather Wakeman describes the rewarding experience of traveling abroad with students. 

When I am on call for trips, I go to the bus and/or van in front of the MSB to see students and faculty off on their travel programs. I sometimes provide some snacks, greet parents, and address any last minute burning student questions, usually around food, money, phone use, and free time: basic needs for the nervous or anticipatory adolescent traveler. I urge students to write good blogs (a touchstone for families, a barometer for the trip, and an important reflection tool for students), and hope their DA education has helped prepare them with tools to lean into the discomfort of travel, debrief awkward cross-cultural encounters with empathy, humility and a good sense of humor, and make their most of the experience with good decisions along the way.

To my colleagues remaining on campus, I say I am off to “launch a trip” when I head to the MSB. It sounds like a NASA event, as if we are sending our students into space having spent years planning for a mission, and in many ways, I find it fitting. There is a ton of preparation, people, and resources that go into a van pulling away and students heading off to various places around the globe; these programs are a major investment in our students. Ultimately, though, as I wave good-bye and the bus pulls out of Albany Rd, I am always reminded that the experience is created among students and their teachers abroad, and those experiences are the ones I am most passionate about supporting in my role at Deerfield. When I am in the field with students, though, I am most happy.

I have been in Korea already for 3 nights, and while I did not get to participate in the meaningful send off for my own program, I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 13 students and two of my colleagues to Seoul. I’ve been wondering the same questions I always do before a trip: how would this group get along, would they be exhausted from a 14 hour flight, are they excited to be here even though school feels so far away already? This morning, I immediately felt the warmth and enthusiasm of this group, and those questions were met with answers. They were mixing and mingling, had slept well, and were fired up.

What was incredibly unique and powerful about today is that 10 faculty members are here on a professional development trip in Seoul to deepen their understanding and empathy of Korean culture, while also participating in a Deerfield CSGC Travel Program. Today, they engaged in the full experience alongside our students. It was powerful to watch students and their teachers, advisors, coaches, and new faces share in a new place, engage in conversations about our day, and learn together.

On this trip, all of our experiences can be viewed through one of three lenses of inquiry: seeing leadership in action, leading your peers, or reflection. Today’s main focus was on leading peers. Emma Haddock & Gabriella Hu planned a dynamic “selfy” scavenger hunt at the Jogyesa Temple to teach the group more about Korean Buddhism. As it was happening, my heart burst with pride and gratitude for these students and teachers jogging side by side from various important sites on the grounds that Emma & Gabriella had learned about from thousands of miles away. They led the activity bringing expertise and fun.

Next, Julia Placek & Nasir Barnes took our group of 30 to Insadong, a traditional crafts market in the center of Seoul. Splitting the group again into 5 groups mixed with both students and faculty, Julia & Nasir charged their followers to purchase an artifact and have a conversation with a shopkeeper about its story and significance in Korean culture. Many teachers said it was the highlight of how they engaged so far on the trip, which again was thanks to the students.

The authentic responsibility that these student lessons provide for sharpening skills as a leader by being responsible for the quality of their peers’ engagement and experience is rewarding to be a part of. When I tell students who are headed off into the world on those MSB departure days to “make the most of their experience,” I recognize that through the nervousness, jetlag, and discomfort that comes with travel, providing the opportunity to practice how to make the most of an experience is essential. Leadership development requires continued practice, resilience, and an opportunity to be pushed outside your comfort zone, whether that be being in a new place or learning side-by-side or teaching teachers, and today our students thrived. The unique opportunity to see worlds collide: Deerfield Academy and Korea, students and faculty, in one place, with a shared purpose was incredibly powerful and meaningful.

I am so excited for the next 7 days with students, and while those 10 faculty members are headed to China tomorrow, I know the students will continue to be just as stellar as they were today, even without that extra pressure of teachers. It’s a great group of students, and I continue to be grateful for the trust families put in us and investment they make so they may have this opportunity. Thank you.

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