November 15 , 2007



Trip to Thailand an eye-opening experience

By Katie Curley
Staff Writer

NEWBURYPORT - Meg Theriault says she will always remember looking up in Khao Yai National Park in Thailand and seeing a herd of almost 20 elephants running by.

"That's when I realized what I was experiencing and how unique it was," she said.

Theriault, 16, a junior at Newburyport High School, was one of six students who participated in a World Challenge Expeditions program last summer. The group, led by a professional tour guide and NHS teachers Alyson Lindquist and Sean McCarthy, went to Thailand on a service trip.

"It was just life-changing and eye-opening," McCarthy said. "It was as different as it gets."

The group worked in an orphanage helping to build a black room so photography classes could be taught.

World Challenge Expeditions, a British company with an office in Cambridge, helps plan trips to remote locations for school groups. The adventures to developing countries are half community service, half expedition, in efforts to combine physical and mental challenges for students.

"What's neat about it is that it's entirely experiential learning so students are doing everything themselves, from booking reservations to creating the itinerary to leading groups," Lindquist said.

Lindquist was drawn to the program because it allows students to learn and experience another culture while helping make a difference.

"It makes you realize that even in the middle of nowhere, there are common things that all people share. There is a human connection that draws everyone together," she said.

The group was immersed in the Thai culture and had to adjust quickly as everything was different, McCarthy said.

"We had to dump buckets of cold water over our heads to shower," McCarthy said. "Some of the kids really embraced it and tried everything - they loved it."

One of McCarthy's fondest memories is walking into the orphanage and being surrounded by Thai children all eager to meet the students. Another time, McCarthy watched two of his students eat cockroaches in an open market.

"It's good to see something other than the United States. We are in such an isolated bubble," he said.

Theriault, though she will not be able to go on next summer's trip to Ecuador, says she learned a lot about herself from her time in Thailand.

"When you are put in a group dynamic, you learn a lot about yourself; when to speak up, when to listen, your own pros and cons," Theriault said.

McCarthy believes the six students learned more about themselves in the weeks abroad than they could have ever learned in a classroom.

Money is raised to go on the expeditions mainly through fundraising and put toward the cost of the program, which includes housing, travel expenses and food, said Sara Day, program manager for World Challenge Expeditions in Cambridge.

"There is time for acclimatization, trekking adventures and community service as well as relaxation," Day said.

The trekking brings students off the beaten path and allows them to explore parts of the country tourists never see.

Plans are being made to visit Ecuador this summer. Still in the planning stages, Lindquist has held meetings to measure student interest and will continue to do so.

"It's amazing to hear a 16-year-old talk about how their lives changed in the course of a three-week trip," she said.

Those interested in participating in the next World Challenge Expeditions program or who desire more information may call Lindquist or McCarthy at 978-465-4440.


(This article replicated online with permission of the Newburyport Daily News, an Eagle Tribune Newspaper.)

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