The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page

By Katie Di Feliciantonio on 30/01/2017

In December, 50 students from 26 schools around the world traveled to Nepal for the RSIS Big Build Service Project.

For many it was the first time they traveled alone, destined for a new country, a new culture, a new group of people, and new experiences that would become an important, perhaps life-changing, chapter in their lives.

Travelling beyond Europe for the first time, Aurelio Wenzel from Gordonstoun in Scotland found that the experience ‘broke down walls’, commenting: “Being part of a community with largely different cultures not only from the locals but also from the international team has broadened my perspective on what there is to experience in the world.”

International Service is just one of the many opportunities that Round Square schools offer their students to learn through travel, meeting and working with a culturally diverse group of their peers. Each year thousands of students embark on an exchange to live and study at a school in another country. Students also have the opportunity to participate in conferences hosted by Round Square schools all over the world. In recent years these have gathered together students from 40 countries for conferences in Switzerland, Germany, Singapore, India, Jordan, the USA, Kenya and South Africa.

Experience tells us that these students are more likely to do better in school, will have broader horizons, and will return from their experience more confident, motivated and outgoing.

The conference opened my eyes to perspectives that were completely unknown,” says Alison Potter, a student from Ballarat Grammar School. “I was always aware of the diversity of the world, but first hand experiencing it through people of a similar age to me was eye opening. Having experienced this diversity, it makes me appreciate how important it actually is. It is something that should not be taken for granted.”

Zoe Scott, a student from Ivanhoe Grammar School found that: “Round Square has helped me step outside of my comfort zone which in turn has made me more confident and able to stand up for what I believe.”

This development in confidence and self-belief is regularly reported in students returning from RSIS Projects, Conferences and Exchange. The challenge that our young travelers face in navigating their journey, meeting new people and experiencing different cultures, invariably demonstrates to them that they are capable of more than they previously thought possible.

“The Round Square philosophy embraces the notion of travel as an important part of a student’s character-development” says Rachael Westgarth, Round Square CEO “Round Square schools share a values-based educational philosophy that is built around six learning pillars – our IDEALS. These begin with International Understanding, which is fundamental in shaping well-rounded, principled, internationally-astute global citizens and potential leaders. The lessons they learn through travel help to broaden their horizons, and inspire aspirations and ambitions, both for themselves and for society as a whole, that reach beyond the confines of their home country.”

As Ruying Wang, as student from Cobham Hall who took part in a RSIS Project in Peru says I learnt that my potentials are infinite. This is useful in my future as I will try something new even though it may seem to be hard.”

This is a well-documented phenomenon: “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, Associate Professor of Education and Psychology at the University of Southern California, “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”

Moira Rutherfund, a parent from Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School, observed that her daughter’s confidence in herself had improved after participating in the RSIS Big Build Project in Nepal: “She sees herself as a reasonably shy person, and I think she surprised herself that she was able to quite quickly meet with a new group, befriend and interact comfortably with them. She also really enjoyed being involved with the young local school children and relished their enthusiasm during the regular evening games with them. Development of interpersonal skills will definitely help going forward.”

Developing in students a deeper understanding and compassion for other cultures is a fundamental objective for all Round Square schools, and one of the most powerful ways to do this is to fully immerse them in an international experience. As Kurt Hahn observed “The boy growing up in brotherhood with foreigners, cannot help but learn to care about the rights and the happiness of at least one other nation.”

As Kate Mellett, a student from Bunbury Cathedral Grammar School who took part in a student exchange to Vivek High School found, this is often as much about discovering similarities as it is about finding difference. “The biggest virtue this exchange taught me is the one of acceptance” she says “I think this will be a massive aid in my future relationships with everyone around me, whether they are from another country or not. Through this exchange I learnt that despite different beliefs, all people are the same at heart, and should be treated with equal dignity and respect.”

The development of a students’ character, a broader perspective on the world, a positive change in attitudes, increased confidence and motivation will always be the most compelling reasons to encourage travel at a young age. But these lead to more tangible benefits as well, not least in improved academic performance and success in school. A 2013 American study in into the impacts of travel on educational attainment and future success by the Wagner Group found that Adults who traveled in their youth were more likely to graduate from high school, and 63 percent of that group went on to graduate from college. "Not only did we see a considerably higher graduation rate among students who traveled, but as adults, they earned 12 percent more annually," said Dr. Jeffrey Wagner, president of The Wagner Group.

With increased academic performance comes better employment prospects later in life, but this is also directly influenced by a young person’s experiences in travelling, and their resulting ability to demonstrate their preparedness to work in a multicultural environment: “What global companies look for are people who we think can take a global perspective,” says Sonja Stockton, Director, Talent, PricewaterhouseCoopers. “Students are well placed to do this if they have taken opportunities to widen their cultural perspective. The people that succeed can work in multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural and multi-locational teams. If students have demonstrated they can work with other cultures and teams, that’s a big plus for us as we need students to be intellectually curious and culturally agile if they are going to work in a global context.”

This week registration opened for the Round Square International Conference 2017, which will bring 1000 students from 40 countries together in Cape Town South Africa in October. We also launched the December 2017 Round Square International Service Big Build project which will bring 50 students together to work in a truly international team in support of a community in Vietnam.

The students that seize these opportunities don’t know it yet but their lives are about to change. For some this change could be growth in their knowledge, understanding, perspective, horizons. For others it will be personal development in their sense of self, their confidence, motivation. Some will acquire new skills, in multicultural team-working, communication, decision-making. For others, their participation could become the single most important factor securing that dream job in 10 years’ time. For most this will be the year that they made those lifelong friends.

Whatever the reason or the outcomes the experience will stay with them for the rest of their lives. As Saint Augustine said, “The world is a book, and those that do not travel read only a page”. In embarking on this latest adventure, our students are about to write a whole new chapter.