Saint Augustine once said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Anyone who has traveled knows the truth in this saying – traveling to other parts of the world turns pages, opens whole new chapters in this glorious saga that is God’s world. For myself, traveling to Europe on an academic program after my junior year of high school quite literally changed my life. Though my high school days were before the era of Providence, I did have the benefit of a classical education, and I think that classically educated high schoolers are uniquely equipped to appreciate and learn from travel abroad. When I was first looking into joining the Providence community, I can’t tell you how excited I was to see that Providence offered its high schoolers the Grand Tour opportunity. In fact, in the way it encourages both growth in virtue and the expansion of the educated mind, I think that this sort of travel is an integral part of classical Christian education.
The last couple of years of high school are a transitional time, when young adults are finding their feet, discovering who they are, and preparing to set out into the new world of adulthood. It’s a time when the temptation towards self-absorption or insecurity can be especially strong. Traveling abroad helps to combat these teenage temptations by encouraging growth in both true humility and healthy confidence – characteristics that may seem somewhat opposite, but end up complimentary for the international traveler. As anyone who has traveled to a foreign country knows, it doesn’t usually take long for a bit of “culture shock” to set in. I can hardly order a cappuccino articulately! Okay, I guess crossing the street here literally requires risking life and limb. Oh no, I can’t remember which word is considered polite in this situation – scusa or permesso! Who knew that the everyday world of other people could be so different from my own? For mature high schoolers, foreign travel is so broadening, helping them to widen their understanding while realizing the limitations of their own knowledge and experience. They will learn that they inevitably will make mistakes even while trying their best not to, and that they have to be humble about that. They also will recognize that there are other ways that people do things – everything from crossing the street to running a country. With this broader experience, students are better able to think critically and form well-grounded opinions about their own world, while approaching all these things with a healthy dose of humility.
Traveling takes courage. When I was in high school, “adventurous” was most certainly not a word you would have used to describe me. The thought of traveling abroad without my family quite frankly terrified me. But I knew I wanted to do it. I remember telling my mom, “I’m totally scared to do this, Mom, but I’m going to do it anyway.” And you know – I made it through unscathed (even though I did pass out in Saint Peter’s Piazza on my first morning in Rome – but that’s another story). I remember a couple weeks into our program, we students were “let loose” in Venice for the evening, with instructions to stick with at least one buddy and meet up near Piazza San Marco at midnight. Wandering the streets with my friend, shopping for earrings and glass and lace, I felt an immense rush of delight. Here I was, in a magically beautiful city, wandering, watching the lights glinting off the canals and the crowds strolling the narrow, carless alleys and bridges, and I was exploring – I was discovering – I was being trusted to manage myself in this utterly foreign yet utterly enchanting place, and I was delighted with my own ability to do so. I still remember calling my family on the phone the next day and telling them, “I’m in heaven!” The courage and confidence it took for my high-school self to set out on this adventure, and to see it through to the end, has been woven into who I am. I still may not be exactly a thrill-seeker, but when it comes to hopping on a plane (which I still have to force myself to do, by the way) and setting off to foreign climes, I’m always ready for the adventure.
Any mature student can learn and grow through foreign travel, but the classically educated high schooler stands to appreciate travel to Europe like no other. In a way, visiting Greece and Italy is like the incarnation of everything you’ve been learning for the past ten years. You’ve read the Aeneid and the Divine Comedy, sure – but now you’re standing on the banks of Father Tiber and gazing at the ruins of an ancient Roman bridge, with the Latin lettering naming its maker still visible on its side. Now you’re wandering the back streets of Florence and coming to understand why the expatriate Dante still so loved the city that rejected him. You’re putting your feet down on the stones of a world-famous Roman road and taking a deep breath as you walk on history. You’re no longer reading only the page of time and space in which you were born and raised. You’re reading the whole book.