Travel Experiences Transform Marist Students

Under a mostly clear sky, parishioners of Chartres Cathedral in the market town of Chartres, France filed into pews for Easter Mass on Sunday, April 9. Among them, dozens of Marist School students and their chaperones entered the famous UNESCO World Heritage site to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.
The students arrived in France near the end of Holy Week hoping to enhance their studies in Advanced Placement (AP) French and AP Art History. On Easter Sunday, they sat under the soaring windows of the historic structure while Mass was given in French. While 50 choir singers raised their voices in harmony with the great organ, Campbell Lee ’23, Kate Postell ’23, and Annabelle Spruill ’24 walked purposefully to the altar to present the gifts for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Witnessing language, culture, architecture, and art in this majestic way is the type of resonant moment that only travel outside the classroom can achieve.

Art history teacher Dr. Michael Bieze has chaperoned Marist students on domestic and international trips for more than three decades. “I believe that travel is an essential part of a complete education. It is essential to see yourself and your country through the eyes of other people,” Dr. Bieze said. “Otherwise, you live in an insular echo chamber and never grow. To grow means to meet resistance, be uncomfortable, be at the mercy and kindness of strangers, get lost at times, challenge your palette, and realize you were wrong.”

Travel is an important component of a Marist education intended to provide meaningful learning experiences for students while preparing them to be compassionate servant leaders. With the international network of the Society of Mary available to leverage, Marist School offers three types of travel opportunities for students through exchange, mission, and co-curricular experiences. In addition to gaining exposure to the shared mission of Marists worldwide, students are armed with the tools to find connection and dialogue across differences, thus strengthening their ability to understand and express the inherent dignity and perspectives of people from a variety of cultures close to home and abroad. Importantly, in recognition that not all students can afford to travel, Marist makes financial aid available for students through an application process.

Caroline Schaffer ’24 traveled to Paris as part of the AP French and Art History cohort and said, “It was so amazing to see all the art pieces and architecture come to life that we have studied in the classroom. The trip to Versailles was especially interesting because not only was the interior spectacular, but also the royal gardens were extraordinary, as they went on for miles and there was no end in sight. From the fountains to the classical sculptures, to riding a bike through the gardens, Versailles was such a special place. My experience there is a memory I will never forget. Dr. Bieze led a small group of students to Marie Antionette's Hamlet and seeing how she would spend her weekends escaping from the royal court to her fantasy village was amazing. It looked like something straight out of a young girl's imagination.”

Cross-curricular pairings like AP French and AP Art History students in a field-trip scenario allow multiple perspectives and ideas to flourish at once. Dr. Bieze has also paired his Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man class with colleagues and students enrolled in AP Studio Art and AP English Literature for an engaging excursion to New York that centers around Ralph Ellison’s novel of the same name. This trek traces the Invisible Man’s footsteps from Harlem to Centre Street with numerous stops at sites like Washington Square Park, the Met, Langston Hughes’s brownstone, and the Apollo Theater, leaving a lasting mark on students from their aching feet to their reeling minds.

“There is a world of difference between the reproduction and the real thing,” Dr. Bieze explained. “Unless you’re standing in Sainte Chapelle in Paris, you cannot achieve what Nabokov calls the tingle in the spine, that aesthetic experience that connects the mind and the emotions in a flash.”

Social Studies teacher Mr. Brendan Murphy leads the popular Bearing Witness field trip, a co-curricular program that takes students enrolled in his seminar course History and the Holocaust to Europe. By pairing the course with trips to Munich, Prague, and Krakow, students are confronted with the atrocities of the Holocaust and must reckon with the responsibility of remembering and promoting the human dignity of each person.

The journey to Dachau and other key sites from this dark period of history follows weeks of intense preparation. Mr. Murphy requires the subject be treated with the seriousness it deserves with ample journaling and conversation to allow for reflection along the way. Mr. Murphy “creates a team atmosphere among the participants,” said Social Studies Chair Mr. Matt Romano ’95, “and turns the trip into not just an educational experience, but one with the best elements of a Marist retreat embedded. I can’t say enough good things about this trip.”

Foreign language students experience a similar sense of deep immersion on exchange trips. Many Marist School language and cultural exchange programs are offered in partnership with four sister schools located in Furstenzell, Germany; Lyons, France; Barcelona, Spain; and Ascot, England.

Modern & Classical Languages teacher and Barcelona trip chaperone Ms. Jessica Askins remarked, “After traveling abroad, students make cultural and linguistical connections that just can’t be made in the classroom. Students also make social connections with peers through the Spanish exchange program.”

The most recent trip to Barcelona during spring break allowed students to reconnect with the same group of students from Barcelona-based sister school, Maristes La Immaculada, who visited Atlanta at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. “Seeing the welcome we received in Barcelona for our Marist students was so touching,” said Ms. Askins. “The students were all so excited to be reunited with their Spanish friends as we enjoyed a school tour, meals, and beach time. These are memories that the students on both sides of the ocean will always cherish.”

Dr. Linda Lehmil, French teacher and Paris chaperone, agreed and commented, “Students want to come back to France on their own and maybe do a semester or a year abroad. The transformation happened when students conversed with locals in daily life conversation. That was irreplaceable and something that students can only experience when travelling to the country where the language is spoken.”

Junior John Monnin credited his time in Barcelona as having given him “a unique perspective on the culture of Spain. I feel that I am more inclined to work with and learn about other cultures as a result of traveling!”

Through the Campus Ministry Department, Marist School offers a variety of domestic and international mission and service trips. Mission trips are in-depth service opportunities that build community and have a remarkable impact on those serving and being served. Mrs. Erin Paul ’92 is coordinating a summer service trip in partnership with Catholic HEART Workcamp, where she and students will do volunteer work for the North Carolina School for the Deaf in Morganton, North Carolina. It will be Marist’s first summer service trip since the pandemic began.

Mrs. Mary Ujda, coordinator of student community service, said “Returning to Catholic HEART Workcamp this summer feels like a return to who we are meant to be as Marist. Saying yes to stepping outside our comfort zone, saying yes to encountering our brothers and sisters in Christ where before we were strangers, saying yes to helping where we are needed rather than where it is convenient; these are all very Marist ways to put our faith into action.”

Early in 2023, the AP Literature and American Experiment classes traveled together to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice and the Legacy Museum to reflect on America’s history of racial inequity. Instructor and chaperone Mr. Mike Burns noted that the purpose of the trip coincided with the chronological curriculum of the American Experiment class and allowed them to discuss as a group “race-based slavery and its legacies”, which he acknowledged “are difficult subjects, but we feel must be addressed in our classes. The field trip allows us to discuss these issues and how American culture has, or has not, dealt with them over time.”

Students were provided with a guiding document from Dr. Nic Hoffmann ’03 and Mr. Burns to keep with them on their walk through the memorial and museum. It prompted them to “note how the experience shifts as your physical relationship to the monuments, the memorial grounds, and exhibits changes. Just as we do when we’re studying works of art or texts, consider that everything you experience has been carefully crafted. Use your senses and your critical thinking skills to process your experience. Elements you should consider include color, contrast, composition, juxtaposition, sculpture, figurative and literal expressions, text, tone/mood, size, shape, and point of view. As always, look for where shift happens.”

For Marist students, the “shift” in surface-level knowledge to instinctual clarity about an idea, a piece of art, or a moment in time often occurs in the experience of living in an immersive space with room for asking questions and time devoted to understanding. Some students may encounter this moment in a Catholic Mass in fluid French celebrating a shared holiday. Or perhaps over a meal with new friends in their home country with halting, but improving, conversation in Spanish. Or maybe in a moment of journaling from the fresh green grass surrounding the memorial site of Dachau, Germany. Wherever the moment of transformation occurs, the experience undoubtedly lasts a lifetime and empowers the traveler to return home with new insights and valuable ideas to share.

To learn more about travel opportunities at Marist, watch this video.

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Marist School

3790 Ashford Dunwoody Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30319-1899
(770) 457-7201
An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers