Steve Chisnell

Advisor, Interact

Travel Ahead: Why the Need is Greater Than Ever


JUNE 2017


I was 36 years old before I made it much farther than Ottawa in terms of travel beyond the United States.

The rest of the world was so distant, so expensive, so unpredictable, so much more complicated than my packing my tent for the UP, so . . . unknown. And I was only looking at Ireland. But my students convinced me that I should support their trip to compete in Dublin, and I said “Yes.”

At this point, I could write about never looking back, about the next 18 years of international experiences with students and colleagues and on my own. And what I’ve learned, more than any other lesson from all of my travels, is that each and every community is filled with good people and that they have something to teach me that I could never guess.

Ellen (ROHS Class of 2010) works with a student in Limtambo on the 2010 trip to Peru

This is one of the ideas I’ve tried to relate to our next group of 14 Royal Oak High School Interact students as we prepare to travel to Cusco, Peru, for a week of service and a week of trekking the Malaga High Pass in the Andes. We have received our itineraries, prepared for our service experience at Ninos del Sol orphanage, and broken in our hiking boots across Michigan park trails; but whatever we plan, Peru has its own agenda–if only we are open to hearing it.

Every community is filled with good people, and they have something to teach me that I could never guess.

Abby VanHaitsma (Class of 2019) expresses what I think many of us feel. “I’m feeling very excited, but nervous that the kids won’t like us! I’m also worried about the language barrier.” It’s true that we cannot expect many we meet to speak English, and this very “barrier” compels our students to find other means to communicate. I know, however, that the desire to do exactly that will bring people together. We are comfortable in a world of sameness (hence our unwillingness to travel far), but we are compelled and drawn together to understand difference.

Machu Picchu 2010

Royal Oak Model UN advisor and trip chaperone Jennifer Crotty echoed that expectation, but adds that, after a year of teaching, she is “hoping that the country is as tranquil as the pictures show,” to place us all “in a restorative mood.”  This sense of peace, of a slower life, is partly culture shock for many Americans (myself included) who have been so governed by clocks and the milliseconds of microprocessors. We’ll be offline for a good portion of our trip, and turning our phones into bricks might do well to recover a balance against an onslaught of hyperactive media.

But our next two weeks will tell exactly which lessons we bring back to share. Perhaps that black beans are a better food than beef, that a lengthy admiration of mountain stars beats anything Netflix will ever offer, or that blistered feet are a fine price to pay to reach Machu Picchu. And it may be, more than anything else, that the outside world is ready to make friends, and needs us to be.

I admire my group a great deal, for I was twice their age before I thought about leaving my neighborhood. I was twice their age before I learned that the stories and truths of the larger world can never be told from Michigan.

Our Blog

The next two weeks will offer an intermittent set of reflections from our students and chaperones as we encounter Peru.  Find and follow us here and at #InteractinPeru.

Want to follow our Peru Blog during the trip? Follow for the latest posts!





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