Student travel is returning to Wo International Center, following a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19 restrictions. “For the last couple years, Punahou students really couldn’t travel,” says Paula Arias, director of global programs at Wo International Center. “But now that we are in a different situation with the pandemic, I am happy that students can take advantage of the enriching experiences that we have designed for them.”
Arias and her team have been diligently laying down the groundwork for a host of travel opportunities, which will be available to rising seniors for their capstone requirement starting in June.
One opportunity is a 10-day trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, which blends fun outdoor activities with scientific and environmental research. Working with a team from The Grand Tetons School of Science, Punahou students will learn about wildlife, climate, geology, human history and ecology that are all vastly different from Hawai‘i.
The second is an eight-day trip to El Paso and Las Cruces, designed for students who are interested in immigration and social justice issues. During this program, students will have the opportunity to engage with local non-profit organizations that provide a unique and humanizing view of immigration. Students will also have a chance to see the government agencies responsible for controlling the border, including the U.S. Border Patrol, the Federal Court System as well as the many non-profits and religious organizations working on behalf of migrant workers, undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers.
“Those are two very different trips that attracted students with a different set of interests,” Arias says. There were not enough slots to satiate the demand for these trips – in total there were 55 applicants with only 21 spots available for each trip. “In the future, my goal is to have an array of trips that are accessible to more students. I want to have two trips that are domestic and two trips that are international.”
Despite the lull in travel over the last two years, Arias wants to be clear about one thing: Wo International Center was anything but dormant during the pandemic. “COVID opened a world of virtual programs to us,” she says. “We found creative ways to bring enriching content into the classrooms.”
Some of the experiences included a project with Costa Rican cocoa farmers, a dive into issues of global inequality and an exploration of the peace process in Colombia, through which students engaged virtually with lawyers, activists, artists and even a former guerilla fighter.
Wo International Center will continue to leverage online experiences to create meaningful educational content for students.
For now, Arias is excited about the travel opportunities this summer. “After such a long pause, we are happy to see students on the go once again,” Arias says. “They will have great experiences, not just on an academic level but for personal growth as well.”
– By Gina Gelber