Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify which trip Spanish teacher Gordon Pitzman will lead, as well as the type of food a student encountered on the trip.
To many from the Lower 48, Homer, Alaska is the ideal place to travel. So, what’s a kid from Homer to do when the same itch to see the world starts scratching? Spanish teacher and volleyball coach Erin Brege had just the solution: send them to Greece.
Five Homer High School students joined a group of peers from Michigan on a 10-day journey through the country and its islands in April. Brege, who moved to Homer with her husband from Michigan for the start of this school year, had had experience organizing trips abroad for students in the past. She used the same travel company, Education First Tours, and connected her group of Homer students with those already set to attend from Michigan.
Homer students have had the opportunity to travel to Greece in the past, Brege said, so the history and foundation were already there for her to work from.
“My husband and I started the Global Travel Experience in Michigan,” she said. “Before I moved to Homer, we started the Michigan group, so there were six kids there already enrolled and so we extended that to offer the opportunity to Homer.”
Brege and served as a group leader. The only prerequisite was for students to have taken some kind of language class, like Spanish. Once there, the students made their way from Athens to the islands of Mykonos, Samos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini, stopping at major mythological sites like the Acropolis along the way.
Since the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District approved the excursion under the category of a field trip, Brege now has students earning academic credit for their time abroad through weShare, a personalized learning program offered through EF Tours.
Each student formed a focus question to study before leaving for Greece. Now that they’re back home, the teens are creating a reflective project which will be submitted to weShare for credit.
Freshmen Carleigh Nevak, Emmet Wilkinson and Katlyn Vogl worked on their presentations during a Focused on Learning period at the school Tuesday.
Nevak and Wilkinson both focused on food during their explorations. Nevak compared classic Greek cuisine and how it varied between the areas they visited, and Wilkinson did the same with desserts.
For her part, Vogl took a look at architecture, comparing the traditional Greek styles with the building in more modern cities.
“The whole focus was to provide an opportunity for that global perspective,” Brege said. “It’s something that … I didn’t have exposure to at that age, and so this is to provide — and it’s not just to go and travel, but there is the educational realm that is top priority.”
Brege said traveling with a group helps provide a safety net for young students wanting to explore the world. It also helped to have them integrate with the Michigan students, who they could connect to, she said.
Nevak and Vogl were no strangers to travel before their trip to Greece, though Nevak said it was her first major trip abroad other than to Canada. Wilkinson, on the other hand, had never been out of the country before. Each freshman said they got something a little different out of the experience.
For Wilkinson, it was all about the sweets. He set out to discover “what were the popular desserts in these places, and what made them popular.”
For Nevak, it was interesting to see the variation in the way traditional Greek food was prepared from area to area. One example was a large Easter feast they had. A cultural difference that shocked Nevak was an appetizer offered before the Easter meal: something labeled as “cat meat.”
Vogl said she enjoyed seeing the variation in the different cities they visited.
“Some of them are modern, and some had more older styles, like the smaller alleyways and white buildings,” she said. “And some just had modern, classic buildings, like Athens.”
Brege has also organized a trip to Peru that begins in June. Eleven students from Homer will embark on this trip after fundraising for it. As a Spanish teacher, Brege said she’s excited to immerse her students in both the language and the culture in Peru. Spanish teacher Gordon Pitzman will serve as a group leader for this trip.
She hopes to continue coordinating trips abroad for Homer students in the future, either annually or biannually, if they support is there.