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Char Valley students exploring the world |

Char Valley students exploring the world

Meaghan Smiley, 18, a senior at Chartiers Valley, visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany over the summer.
Chartiers Valley students and a teacher stand in front of the Louvre in Paris.
Lexi Smith with her roommate, Katie, in front of a monument for the Festival of San Juan.
Petro Pavlyshyn, 16, a junior at Chartiers Valley, poses at Mt. Igueldo San Sebastian in Spain. While there, he got to see the Celebration of San Fermin, also known as the Running of the Bulls.

Lexie Smith spent a month in Spain.

Alexandra Fortune spent two weeks in Ghana.

Amya Mebane spent a month in South Korea.

And that’s just a fraction of the Chartiers Valley High School students who spent time this summer traveling abroad, learning about other cultures, delving deeper into foreign languages and taking in breathtaking views along the way.

“It broadens your mind and makes you realize that there are people besides you,” said Mebane, 18, a senior who spent July in South Korea on a scholarship from the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh’s Global Travel Scholarship program.

Teachers pass out fliers and bring in speakers to talk about travel opportunities, said Karen Belcastro, world languages department chair. Some teachers even organize trips. Those have included voyages to France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

Some students get scholarships to travel abroad, while others fund it themselves.

“We want to graduate students that are globally diverse and can function in a global society and be tolerant and civil to people who aren’t like them and just appreciate the differences,” said Belcastro, a Global Scholars adviser and French teacher.

About 45 students at Char­tiers Valley partake in the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association’s Global Scholars Program, where students must remain in one language for four years, take four globally themed courses, participate in four extracurricular activities and complete eight literature and media reviews and 20 hours of community service.

While the program does not require international travel, it can serve as one of the components, Belcastro said.

Teachers see a difference in their students when they return home from traveling abroad.

“It opens the mind to seeing things from a different perspective,” said Mary Beth Zollars, German teacher and Global Scholars adviser.

Reece Boyle, 16, a junior, and Elayna Czap, 17, a senior, both spent a week in France and London on a trip organized by English teacher Dave Peters.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Czap said, as she smiled ear to ear talking about running through the Palace of Versailles just to make sure she and her friend saw everything.

The group of nine took in plays and a boat trip in France.

“Even though we’re like 4,000 miles apart, we’re all pretty much the same,” Czap said. “Sure, we speak different languages, we have different customs and traditions, but we’re all just here to have a good time, be with friends and family and enjoy life.”

Classmates Bridget Schneider and Riley Fichtenmayer were in awe of the crowds as they performed in concerts in Germany and Switzerland with the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra. The crowds were energetic and asked questions even before they began to play.

“They dressed nicely. They didn’t come in casual clothes, and they applauded very loudly,” Schneider said. “We did four encores.”

Lexie Smith, 17, a senior, plans to double major in nursing and Spanish and dreams of someday participating in Doctors without Borders. So she spent a month in Spain through the CIEE Global Navigator High School Study Abroad program.

She was forced to speak Spanish because her host family didn’t speak English.

“It was kind of scary the first few nights with everything,” she said. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to come out of my room. I don’t want to start a conversation with people.’ I eventually did, and it was fun.”

After hosting a student from Germany earlier this year through Friendship Connections, Meaghan Smiley, 18, a senior, spent a month in Germany this summer. She went to school every day and was fascinated by how differently classes were structured in the country.

She said visiting Neusch­wanstein Castle was one of the coolest parts of the trip.

Even after several years of taking German, at first the language was hard when she arrived in Germany. But after a few weeks, she was able to listen without even thinking about translating the language.

“Don’t hold back if you go,” she said.

Petro Pavlyshyn, 16, a junior, spent three weeks this summer in Spain and three weeks in Ukraine. Pavlyshyn, who has lived in the United States since he was four, is a native of Ukraine and returns home every couple of years to see his friends and family.

It was his first time to Spain, where he saw his grandmother and uncle who live there. His visit came during the Celebration of San Fermin, or the running of the bulls.

During his stay, he had the opportunity to visit Monte Urgull, which has a Jesus statue at the top of a mountain and overlooks a C-shaped beach.

What stood out to him between all of the travel was the similarities between people.

“You notice the differences not as much as you notice the similarities,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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