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Students, educators reflect on European trip

Krystle Wagner • Aug 15, 2017 at 1:00 PM

A nearly two-week-long experience across the Atlantic Ocean left an impression on a group of West Michigan residents.

Earlier this summer, 42 Spring Lake High School students and six chaperones spent 12 days and 11 nights visiting Dublin, London, Paris and Normandy.

Each day, the group toured the area for a few hours with a tour guide before exploring the city in groups. They visited sites such as Notre-Dame de Paris, The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and World War II museums.

The group worked with EF Educational Tours.

Early on, while in Dublin, a small group took an impromptu hike by the sea. SLHS teacher David Theune said it was a nice way to start the trip.

Taking a ferry to Wales and riding a bus through mountains was one of the highlights of the trip for Taylor Colquitt, 16. She said a resident told her that the sailboats stay in the same location because the tide often lowers enough so people can just walk from their boats to shore.

“It’s the prettiest place I’ve ever seen,” Colquitt said.

When Jenna Core visited Kensington Palace and Big Ben in London, she also celebrated her 16th birthday. The teen said she enjoyed visiting London because there was so much to see.

Visiting Paris for the first time was one of the highlights for Theune, who said he enjoyed the food — macaroons, baguettes and crepes. Theune said he had an image of what Paris would be like, and reality “didn’t disappoint.”

Colquitt enjoyed seeing famous landmarks and being mere feet away from daVinci’s “Mona Lisa” and work by Vincent van Gogh.

On July 4, the group roamed the beaches of Normandy, and visited an American cemetery and World War II museum.

“It was just powerful,” Theune said.

SLHS teacher Mark Webster said the best part was watching students’ faces as they experienced new things and make connections to what they’re seeing and what they have studied. He said one student’s grandfather fought in D-Day with the Big Red One military unit, and he could see the student making connections to what they saw and the stories her grandfather shared with her.

“Things like that, it’s why we do this,” Webster said.

Over the years, Webster has taken groups of students to Spain, Costa Rica and France. Webster said he participated in three study abroad experiences while at Michigan State University, and that’s when he developed a love for it and the need to share that experience with students.

Jencen Sabo, 15, said the trip was her first time out of the country, and it was fun sharing her experiences with her family when she returned.

By being given the opportunity to explore the new cities while friends, Colquitt said they got to learn more about themselves and become more independent.

Webster said it’s a life-changing experience, and it’s an investment in students’ futures. He said experiences like that give participants “a lifetime of quality returns.”

Although students said they learned more about themselves, they also grew close with their peers and chaperones, which they wouldn’t have done without the trip. Colquitt said she viewed her teachers as friends traveling with them, not just as teachers.

After having a few weeks to think about the experiences, Theune said one of his largest reflections is his faith in people. He said the company and their tour guide, Thomas, did a good job.

Traveling abroad and experiencing different cultures helped open their eyes to how other people live, Core said.

Madeline Zenas, 15, said she wants to go back to Europe, and now she knows what cities where she wants to spend more time and explore.

Colquitt said they’re fortunate to have the experience to have visited European cities and sites at a young age.

“We’re lucky,” she said.

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