Empowering High School Girls Through International Travel: A Journey of Discovery and Growth

Empowering High School Girls Through International Travel: A Journey of Discovery and Growth

International travel is one of the unique learning opportunities available to students at Merion Mercy Academy. These experiences are invaluable for education and personal development. The benefits of exploring new cultures, languages, and perspectives extend far beyond the excitement of discovering new places. International travel provides girls with opportunities to broaden their horizons, enhance their self-confidence, and cultivate a global mindset.

Continuous Learning and Global Perspectives

“It’s about continuous learning,” says Suzanne Walker, Merion Mercy's Latin Teacher, who leads an annual trip to Italy with rising seniors. She explains:

“International travel reminds us of all that there is to discover in the history, art, culture, food, languages, and traditions of others. The global perspective is an incredible space to inhabit and as Americans, it can truly be an eye-opening experience.”

Molly Mishinkash ‘24 echoes this sentiment. “Traveling in general allows us all to experience other cultures and learn about how others experience things as compared to how we do.”

Stepping Out of Comfort Zones

International travel challenges students to step out of their comfort zones and adapt to unfamiliar environments and new approaches to communication. For high school girls, this experience encourages open-mindedness, flexibility, and adaptability. Forging connections while speaking different languages, trying different cuisines, and participating in local traditions instill a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn.

Walker speaks of the special connections that can be formed through communication experiences:

“Regardless of whether the country is English-speaking or not, the need for a positive demeanor, active listening skills, and a healthy dose of humility are essential for a good communication experience. At some point on a trip (and perhaps often!) a traveler will need to seek assistance from a local dweller. That exchange also has the potential to reach a treasured moment of connection with a stranger, which is one of the many hidden delights that international travel holds.”

She adds:

“I love encouraging our students to take part in these experiences whether by embracing the native language with their best effort or warmly offering pleasantries such as ‘good morning’ or ‘thank you’ everywhere we go. A smile and good eye contact can go a long way when seeking communication and connection.”

Academic and Personal Growth

Preparing for international travel academically allows students to gain firsthand knowledge of social, economic, and political realities outside their own communities. This equips them to critically analyze global issues, fosters a sense of responsibility, and motivates them to contribute positively to the world. Informed global citizens are essential for creating a more interconnected and harmonious world.

Developing a Travel Persona

Walker addresses the development of a travel persona and care for the group:

“On international school trips, the group composite may consist of students traveling with a lot of friends, or with only some acquaintances, or with no particular friends at all. Each student deserves to feel valued and included by the other members of the travel group and it requires everyone to embody a spirit of openness and hospitality.”

She explains how individual preferences also come into play:

“With time being limited on an international trip, students need to make decisions about how to use their free time wisely and sometimes that means joining with another person or group in order to live out an individual goal. It takes courage and confidence to make those choices and the students are always happiest when they follow through with their own personal goals instead of conforming to a group. It is an essential life skill they are developing that will serve them well in college and beyond.”

Mishinkash found the group aspect to be one of the most rewarding parts of traveling with her Merion Mercy classmates. “It not only allowed us to experience new things but we were together as we did it and grew closer to one another, strengthening our relationships.”

Grace O’Neill ‘24 also appreciated sharing the opportunity to travel to Italy with her best friends. “Traveling with our sisters instilled in us a deeper sense of what it means to live mercy.”

This Year’s Destinations: Italy and Ireland

This year’s destinations are Italy—an annual trip open to seniors—and Ireland—a biannual trip for freshmen through juniors.

Italy Trip

The 10-day Italy trip includes stops in Rome, Florence, Pompeii, Naples, Capri, and Sorrento. It features visits to numerous cathedrals and basilicas, as well as historical and cultural sites.

Ireland Trip

Ireland, a “Mercy Legacy Trip,” is offered as both a journey back to MMA’s Mercy roots as well as an introduction to Irish history, literature, art, industry, and people. In addition to Dublin, where students visit the Mercy International Centre on Baggot Street—Catherine McAuley’s first home—stops include Kilkenny, Killarney, and Galway, among others.

Ireland trip coordinator Eileen Killeen, who also serves as Merion’s Director of External Relations, explains that the trip was conceived as a way to illustrate both the importance of our school’s roots and the roots and traditions of the people of another country, a people many of whom became the fabric of our own country.

“The journey we embark on unveils the rich culture of the Irish as the students experience everything from high tea at an ancient castle, to the remnants of the Irish rebellion and the historical famine, to the Coeli dance, to the craftsmanship of the Waterford glass makers, to the fields and bogs on a day at an Irish farm. It is an opportunity not to be missed! I am always hopeful that the students have a new sense of the importance of tracing their own roots and learning more about their family’s story.”

Senior Brooke Fagley appreciated the introduction to Irish culture and our Mercy heritage. “The Mercy Legacy Trip allowed me to immerse myself into Irish culture, create strong bonds with my fellow Merion sisters, and experience Merion’s deep roots in mercy, strengthening my understanding of what it means to live as a woman of mercy.”

Senior Maria Shapson was equally impressed by her experience:

“The opportunity to visit Baggot Street and have tea and scones with the Sisters of Mercy will forever be one of my most treasured memories at Merion. However, touring castles, experiencing a Riverdance concert, and slugging through a bog with my friends are a favored second. The fields of green and dreary skies are eternally ingrained in my heart.”

International travel at Merion Mercy Academy not only expands students’ educational experiences but also fosters personal growth and lifelong memories. These journeys empower young women to become confident, adaptable, and globally-minded individuals, ready to contribute positively to the world.

Have an international travel experience to share? Let us know in the comments!