Virtual Students Make Real-life Friends

Virtual Students Make Real-life Friends

By April Murnane & Charlie Meehan

On March 22nd, nine students and two teachers set off from 6 different countries to meet in Europe for the very first time. They’d been meeting for months virtually, in order to prepare for a week-long trip to London and Paris. Nothing may have truly prepared them for what an unforgettable experience it would be and that they’d form such strong bonds with one another…

Once we had all arrived in London and all of the students had been introduced, it was as if they’d known each other for years. A teacher from another school on the tour even commented that you’d think the students were all family the way they interacted with one another. The students were friendly, inclusive, outgoing and perhaps not what others may have expected from the “homeschool group.” They took every opportunity to soak in the culture, sights, sounds, and tastes of each city. Unfortunately, we did not have the opportunity to try escargot (snails). However, there was no shortage of French chocolate in everyone’s suitcases by the end of the trip!

The students’ first day in London began the moment they set foot off the plane. We took the “tube” to Trafalgar square and visited the National Gallery. Then, we had a traditional dinner of Fish n’ Chips.

The second day in London, we took a bus tour of all the major sites in the morning. In the afternoon, we set off for the countryside to visit Windsor Castle, the Queen’s primary residence. To our surprise, she was actually present during the first part of our visit, but sadly, none of us were invited for tea.

Our last day in London was spent exploring the Tower of London, an old prison. We even got a glimpse of the Crown Jewels!

Very early the next morning, we rushed off to the train station. We took the Eurostar train to Paris (the one where you pass underneath the English Channel)! Surprisingly, our ears didn’t even pop, and it didn’t feel as if we were hundreds of feet underwater!

After arriving in Paris, we went right into the city center to explore. We saw some of the major monuments such as Notre Dame, Place de la Concorde, Champs-Elysees, and the Arc de Triomphe. During our walking tour, we even had glimpses of the Eiffel Tower lit up in the night sky.

The next morning we went on a bus tour to see some of the other famous monuments and sites spread across the immense city of Paris. Our afternoon was spent walking through the Palace of Versailles and its elaborate gardens. That evening we were treated to a traditional dinner of crêpes! Then we were off again and headed for the Eiffel Tower. Seeing it sparkle at night is really something special. A few of the students even got as far as the very top…by foot!

On our last day in Paris, we spent the morning discovering the thousands of ancient artifacts housed in the Louvre, the worlds largest and most visited museum. We saw works such as the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. In the afternoon, we hiked all the way to the highest point in Paris, Montmartre. We took pictures in front of the Roman-Byzantine style basilica Sacré Cœur, and then we took a stroll through the quaint, narrow streets full of artists, crafts and souvenir shops. That evening, we took a riverboat cruise on the Seine which topped off our amazing journey through two of the worlds most renowned cities.

What is most memorable about this trip, however, is likely not all the famous places we visited, but the strong relationships with one another that were formed. Right from the beginning, despite the diversity of our group, no one was ever left out, clicks were never formed, but instead, each student welcomed the other with open arms. No matter the students gender, ethnic background, first language, religion, or style of dress, these students were without fail always inclusive and accepting of others. Our students were outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic and ready for anything. This trip certainly broke the stereotype of the introverted home-school student who lacks social skills! As their teachers, we found them infectiously fun to be around.

As virtual learners, these students have learned how to be self-disciplined, and part of their success as virtual students is being punctual and responsible for themselves. This was proven time and time again over the course of our trip through London and Paris. They were always on-time and looked out for one another being conscious not to allow someone to feel left out, left behind or to feel that they didnt fit in. We couldnt have been more proud of the way they represented our school, and it was very difficult to say goodbye. Its very likely these students will stay in touch and find a way to visit each others home cities someday.

As online teachers, it sometimes is easy to feel disconnected to the students. One can feel isolated and “on an island” as the days and weeks pass by. However, we as online teachers should never forget that we interact each and every day with incredible students who each have their own stories, personalities, backgrounds, and interests. As teacher chaperones for the K12 International Academy 2014 Trip to London and Paris, our 9 student travelers reminded us why we log into our jobs every day. For six days in March, we witnessed young people, ages 14-18, interact with one another as if they had known each other for years, not hours. A trip that began as an excursion to learn about two very unique, diverse cities became a microcosm for what these 9 student travelers represented collectively. Even though they all live in different states and countries, they found commonalities in each other, formed bonds, genuinely cared for each other, and created life-long memories and friendships with each other that will live years beyond their classrooms experiences. I know that they have had an effect on us as teachers who were fortunate enough to spend time with them, get to know them, and return to our jobs Monday morning invigorated that what we do DOES make a difference, and that we are the luckiest teachers in the world because we get to interact and educate remarkable young people every day.

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