The Squads Abroad Educator Experience
Allen Robinson is an AP Government teacher from Virginia. He’s led three different Squads Abroad trips to three different countries around the world; India, Ghana, and Peru. He is already planning his next trip to Morocco. We interviewed him to talk about his Squads Abroad experience and the impact that it’s had on his student groups.
How has your experience been with Squads Abroad?
I’ve really enjoyed my experiences with Squads Abroad; it’s an incredible opportunity for both students and teachers. Throughout the process, there can be a lot of paperwork and logistics to deal with as with any international trip, but the Squads Abroad team is always responsive and ready to help. When you arrive on the ground to your country of choice, the experience is amazing and life-changing. From the moment your driver picks you up from the airport to volunteering during the day and cultural activities in the afternoon, everything is well-planned out and engaging. With the Squads Abroad model, we stay at a Home-Base, where it is staffed with individuals from the local community. Our group is served three home-cooked meals a day, prepared by the local staff, where they get the opportunity to taste the country’s cuisine. We have had the opportunity to really be immersed in the culture. They learn so much through this model and it allows them to be constantly connected with their experience. Squads Abroad was also so flexible to fit the needs of our group. During my Global Education Squad trip to Ghana, they put together an itinerary to target what our particular group wanted from the experience.
What was the Squads Abroad experience like for your students?
My students have really taken away a lot from the experience. They get to compare and contrast models from the country they are into what they are used to seeing back at home. They love exploring the new and delicious foods and seeing new sites. This experience allows them to challenge what they know and the ways they perceive the world. You get to see another side of your students and see how they push themselves to accomplish their goals. It’s impressive to see the ways that they take ownership of the projects that they complete and how they work together using each other’s strengths.
What has been your favorite country you hosted a Squads Abroad trip with?
All the trips were amazing, but Ghana definitely stood out. Some families were nervous about sending their children to Ghana, but Erik, the director of Squads Abroad spoke to me about the extensive research he’s done at that location and how they could make changes and plans to address safety. Ghana was such a unique cultural adventure for our students. The home-cooked food at the Home-Base was some of the most memorable meals that my students and I have had. The stories that students have about the Ghanaian children are so amazing. They really loved interacting with a new culture and exploring their similarities and differences. The in-country directors are incredible and so knowledgeable about their community. We were able to learn so much from them, and they were flexible with the activities based on what people were interested in. We visited priests and healing doctors–it was so different than their norm. The students asked so many engaging questions and it really got them thinking deeply about their culture and systems. It was life-changing for the students to be able to examine and experience a different reality than their own.
What kind of impact have your students made in local communities?
The students made an impact in a mutual way. The community that they worked in impacted the students in the same way that they made an impact. Sometimes it was as simple as providing extra attention and love to places that there weren’t as many resources. The construction projects that the students helped to build is a lasting reminder of the work that our group did. They helped to build fences outside of the school, and clean-up play spaces. Our students taught the kids at the school some songs and dances, that we hope they still carry with them today.
How have you seen your students grow from these experience?
It was intriguing to see what my students learned and the connections they make. They end up sharing and talking about their experience every day and reflect on their experiences. They processed a lot about the similarities and differences between American culture and finding links. A lot of students were interested in human rights—it was amazing to get connected to people who work in similar fields who inspired my students.
In small ways, I’ve seen my students grow—leaving a piece of themselves behind in the communities they worked in and gaining a piece from where they went. It’s all about making connections and realizing the world was a little larger than they thought it was.