‘Wick Goes Global: Adventures in Learning Prove It’s A Small World

mag1-lrg

By Katherine Ogden

Today’s village has taken on a distinctly global flavor and more and more, Brunswick boys have been stepping out to savor it.

Out looking for alligators long after sunset, the guide cuts the motor and allows the boat to drift with the current, downriver.

Skipping a light across the river surface, he searches for the telltale “eyeshine” of the black caiman. Sometimes, the iridescent eye glow from a clan of caiman can put on quite a show for visiting scientists, but on this night the guide finds none of that.

Instead, the boat carrying a half dozen of ‘wick’s most determined young scientists bumps into a pocket of fire ants nesting in some flotsam hanging from above.

Down came the ants, freakishly strong mandibles and all, washing away all immediate hope for a bit of reptile science on this night.

Just how a handful of ‘Wick boys landed in that skiff on that river in that remote part of earth in the middle of Amazon night is a tale in itself.

It’s a story that has its roots in a school that has only deepened its commitment to educating the “whole boy” in the new global village, only intensified its dedication to preparing boys for a lifetime of learning in the new, global neighborhood.

Indeed, it has never been more important for ‘Wick boys to venture beyond the cloistered classroom, and Brunswick is meeting that challenge in many more ways than one.

From a newly endowed summertime language immersion program to a myriad of study abroad opportunities far beyond Greenwich, from a Lower School theme this year that encourages global thinking among ‘Wick’s youngest students to the new Upper School membership in the global online Academy, Brunswick is tapping into the worldwide classroom as never before.

The idea is to offer ‘Wick boys opportunities as wide and varied as the individual talents and affinities of the students themselves.

“There are transformative opportunities out there for our kids,” said Tucker Hastings, chairman of the Brunswick Department of off-Campus Study. “More and more we are trying to take advantage of them, while being receptive to the varied interests of our boys.

“There are millions of programs out there,” he said. “We are only interested in the ones with an academic rigor that reflects our own.”

By any measure, study abroad is not a new concept in education. Travel and study in other lands have long provided unparalleled opportunities for learning — the kind of learning that comes only when a student leaves the comfort of his native culture and immerses himself in another.

Today, these kinds of experiences have only become more meaningful, and Brunswick has partnered with schools all over the world to offer ‘Wick boys the kind of rigorous academics they are accustomed to while allowing for experiential education of the highest caliber.

In the last four years, Brunswick students have studied in Spain, China, Italy, Colorado, and the Bahamas. This year, boys are studying in Jordan, germany, Italy, Washington, D.C., and the Bahamas.

The commitment extends far beyond the academic year. Started in 2011, the Foreign language Immersion Program (FlIP), a key goal of the Above All else campaign, is set to launch this summer. The program is now fully endowed thanks to the extraordinary generosity of ‘Wick parents D. Ian and Sonnet Mckinnon (P ’18).

The McKinnon Family Foreign Language Immersion Program will ensure that every Brunswick boy has access to the kinds of powerful experiences that can help foster fluency in a foreign language, and more.

To that end, the FLIP endowment will enhance the Upper School Modern language curriculum — which includes instruction in Arabic, Chinese, French, Italian, and Spanish — by offering summer study abroad opportunities to every Upper School student regardless of financial need.

Jaime Gonzalez-Ocana, chair of the Modern language Department, said FlIP will give students incredible opportunities to “live” a second language, although these kinds of immersion experiences offer ‘Wick boys much more than just a lesson in linguistics.

Indeed, the program holds incredible promise for a school that prides itself on educating the “whole boy.”

“We have found that through travel, overseas stays, and handson academic exploration, students can make great strides not just in their fluency, but in their overall academic and social confidence,” Gonzalez-Ocana said. “Moreover, the personal growth that comes out from these experiences is often invaluable.”

Parents of an 8th-grader, the McKinnons are thrilled to help bring language immersion to Brunswick.

“We believe there’s no substitute for such programs to really learn a language,” said Ian Mckinnon, a Brunswick trustee.

Both Mckinnon and his wife were raised in Albuquerque, N.M., a city rich in both Hispanic and Native American cultures. Daily life and annual festivals, such as the “Matanza,” which celebrates the harvest each fall, provided natural opportunities for the Mckinnons’ immersion in cultures far beyond their own.

“While my Spanish is rusty now, in high school I was able to read One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish,” Ian said, adding: “What’s special to me about immersion is not just learning the language, but learning about culture and customs.”

Such was the case for a group of ‘Wick Upper School boys on a class trip last June to the Pacaya Samaria National reserve in Peru.

Members of an experiential Honors Biology course that focuses on the Peruvian Amazon, the boys spent part of their summer vacation doing hands-on conservation research in the reserve.

Led by Science Department Chair Dana Montanez, students flew into Iquitos, Peru, and boarded a research vessel at the head of the Amazon river. Then, they traveled up the Maranon river and turned south onto the Samaria river to spend about 10 days counting and measuring all sorts of wildlife by day and by night.

‘Wick students on the trip were Jamie MacFarlane ’16, Cooper Robinson ’15, Alessandro Montinaro ’15, Mahesh Raman ’15, Robert “Reed” Schultz ’14, Sivan Sud ’14, Reed McMurchy ’15, Kevin Pendo ’15, and Vikram Bodas ’14.

Students took part in five research projects with the goal of providing data for tropical conservation and the impacts of climate change and human disturbance in the Peruvian Amazon. Their projects included terrestrial transects for large mammals and game birds, macaw point counts, dolphin and turtle transects, fish population surveys, and caiman population surveys.

Which is how a handful of boys found themselves in the middle of the Amazon jungle one night, searching for a certain type of alligator. Instead of a close-encounter with a caiman, however, the boys and their teacher found themselves frantically debugging the skiff and its occupants of fire ants.

Unlike bees, which quickly die after lashing out, fire ants use their considerable mandibles to fasten themselves to flesh. Then, they sting at will.

“That was kind of a bummer of a night,” admitted Jamie MacFarlane ’16. “It was cold. I dropped my headlamp in the water. I was bitten by ants.”

“You never forget it,” he mused. Memorable as they were, the fire ants seem to whisper a truth about travel — though rewarding beyond measure, sometimes trekking around the globe can offer quite an adventure.

It’s a fact Anson Mersereau ’14 knows well having just returned from a yearlong sojourn in Beijing, China. Mersereau had already visited 23 countries on four continents by the time he was in high school.

His travels with his family included stops in places like Egypt, Canada, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Turkey, Russia, China (including Hong kong), Spain, Italy, France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland.

Predictably, such adventure does not come without some lessons.

“Anson was already a world adventurer as we never really traveled in a first class way,” explained his mother, lauren Tyler. “He was used to rugged adventures, navigating public bus and subway systems in a foreign language, reading maps, missing connecting flights on non-U.S. owned airlines, having valuables stolen, exchanging currency, dealing with security issues, meeting crazy people, bargaining with street vendors, seeing extreme poverty, asking for help, and eating non–American food.”

As a junior, Mersereau was able to combine his travel experience with his passion for foreign relations thanks to Brunswick’s partnership with School Year Abroad (SYA). He lived in Beijing for a year, going to school there, living with a Chinese family, and traveling throughout China with classmates.

“It actually wasn’t that hard of a decision,” said Tyler. “I likened SYA to an American boarding school in China, where most of the classes are taught in Chinese and you live with a Chinese family.”

Mersereau began to participate in Model UN (MUN) in ninth grade, and he was soon hooked on studying foreign relations. In tenth grade, he won a State Department scholarship to study Chinese in Chengdu, China, for the summer, but for Mersereau a few months in-country wasn’t enough.

After meeting with a family friend who got his start through SYA and who at the time was the U.S. Ambassador to France, Anson convinced his family that he should go abroad for his entire junior year, too.

Anson has never looked back.

“My love of traveling started with her,” Mersereau said, tipping his hat to his mom. “She wanted me to see the beauty of China before it disappears.

“She knew going abroad and studying would make me a more learned person,” he said. “She was right.”

Brunswick’s study abroad initiatives have only added to Mersereau’s passion.

“So far, this has been the biggest turning point in my life,” he says.