They hiked and surfed, toured mountain valleys and art museums. They wandered the Palace of Versailles and beaches of Normandy. They meandered on rivers in gondolas and whitewater rafts. The toured the Colosseum and went zip lining. And they climbed so high they were enveloped by clouds. They paused upon a moonlit bridge and spontaneously began to dance as a violinist serenaded them. They spoke local languages, ate local foods like Swiss chocolate, and interacted with local people and customs. They also had unstructured time, opportunities to soak in the weather, friendships, and exhilarating moments in faraway cultures. And, of course, they did it together.
Such were the reflections of many of the more than 120 students who traveled abroad November 12-16 during Agora 2018. The trip destinations included Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, and Costa Rica. We asked students to share their memories and photos -- and advice for participants in Agora 2020.
Rohit Mukherjee (junior)
Agora, for any high school student who travels abroad, really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One specific memory I have from my trip is when our tour guide, Fabian, was able to spot pickpockets before we boarded the Metro and yelled at them to make sure they got off. That type of safety was ensured by him the entire trip.
Another great memory is from when we visited Versailles. The sheer size of the entire land was so mind-bending; I vividly remember the beautiful garden and being inside the entire palace. The trip allowed me to meet and make new friends, as we were always together from morning to night. I strongly recommend all underclassmen to travel somewhere for their Agora experience as it truly is a great opportunity. Moreover, it will be satisfying to use your skills from the language you have been learning so you can communicate with locals and see how well you do.
Caroline Koury (senior)
For my Agora trip, I chose to go to France. I had been taking French classes for five years and I wanted to experience speaking the language with others who spoke it daily. Being able to speak in French while ordering food and talking to people I met was one of the highlights of my trip. It helped me to realize how much I had truly learned through all my French classes, and how much better I was at French than I had originally believed. The trip was an eye-opening experience for me, and I loved every second of it. (Pictured at left: Caroline and friends)
Henry Seifried (senior)
For my trip, I went to France and it was truly an amazing experience! Going to a different country was an eye-opening experience for me. There were so many beautiful sights to see, like viewing the city from the Eiffel Tower, seeing the beaches of Normandy, and exploring Mont Saint-Michel. Being in France also allowed me to test my French-speaking capabilities, where I learned new things about the language itself. This trip was such an incredible experience and I would encourage everyone who goes to France to try everything! Whether it be speaking the language or trying new foods, you should go out and try something new!
Claire Webne (junior)
I have so many fond memories of our trip to France! Not only were some of my favorite moments the small moments on the bus rides and conversations all of us shared, but my absolute favorite memory was going to Saint-Malo and having hours of free time in the morning. I got to bond with people I did not always talk to and I also got to put my French-speaking skills to use while shopping and ordering food.
This trip changed me as a person in a few ways. I learned so much about the French culture and how they go about their day-to-day lives. This opened my eyes to so many new cultural differences, and as the next generation of leaders, I believe it is important for us to open our eyes to all different cultures vastly different from our own. Also, Paris is incredibly fast-paced; this was not surprising as it is the largest tourist destination, but the hustle and bustle of the city is the exact opposite of Toledo, so it was amazing to be immersed into that.
My advice for Agora 2020 students is that if you have the opportunity and the means to travel, take the opportunity; you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to bond with your peers and learn about a different culture. Also, if you are passionate about a language such as French or Spanish, go to that country! You get to immerse yourself into the culture and there will be times you surprise yourself with how much you know.
Catie Dangler (senior)
Traveling to Italy for Agora has been one of my favorite memories from high school. This opportunity to travel abroad is unlike any other and I hope all students are able to experience it. I loved getting to explore a new place and form close friendships with the other people in my group. Italy is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to and going on this trip made me want to travel more in the future. I encourage all future students to take this chance to travel abroad because it is one you will never forget!
Henry McQueen (junior)
On the trip, my favorite memories included visiting the Colosseum, climbing to the top of the Florence Cathedral, going on a gondola ride in Venice, and eating great food. Before the trip, I was expecting to visit many museums and popular tourists destinations, but I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of free time that we had to explore Italy for ourselves. This allowed for a very enjoyable experience because I was able to learn about the history of the country, and I could also indulge in a different culture from the one we have at home.
For the younger students who will have the opportunity to travel in a future Agora, I highly recommend visiting Italy or a different country. Not only was I able to see a new culture and learn, but I had the freedom to experience Europe with a group of classmates that I grew closer with. Pictured at left: Henry (far left) with teacher and chaperone Gerry Davis and fellow junior Robert Kanarowski
Christian Heidenreich (senior)
To me, the purpose of traveling abroad is to uncover new cultures, experiences, and history that would not be achievable elsewhere. From Rome to Assisi to Florence to Venice, I walked the alleyways that led to the Vatican, said a prayer at Saint Peter's Basilica, toured one of the most reputable art museums in the world, the Uffizi, which features the works of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rafael, Botticelli and much more, and traversed the waterways of Venice by gondola. All the while I was with my best friends creating memories that will undeniably last a lifetime.
This trip helped me understand how diverse the world truly is as Italy's culture is utterly unique to itself. The adventures I took only furthered my curiosity to explore the rest of the globe. (Christian at right at the top of Il Duomo.)
James Schwann (senior)
When you have the opportunity to travel Italy with your closest friends as a senior in high school, the entire trip becomes a memory to cherish forever. That being said, there is a moment that stands out on the trip from my experience. Upon arriving to Florence our group went out to a ristorante. Following, we traveled the various derelicts of the city in the evening until we came upon a bridge. While gazing across the water and seeing the lights twinkle, a man began to play the violin on the street; immersed in the moment, our group began to dance and enjoy the music: an amazing pause in time.
Overall, the trip made me realize that my time and the time of others is so very limited. I have always been one to be very focused on academics, athletics, and a variety of other activities. While on this trip, I had the chance to take a step back and observe the “larger picture.” Moving forward, I am going to try to be more open minded and make time for activities that I may never have the opportunity to do again.
If I could do the trip all over again, I would recommend the following to future “Agorarers”: always take more photos as you will never know when you will be back, take full advantage of the free time given, try to absorb as much information from the tour guides as possible, and keep a journal. Unfortunately, I did not chronicle my journey in a notebook, but I definitely would consider doing so. Having something in ink that you can look back on for years to come is very special. Lastly, I would tell future travelers not to worry about who is on the trip. Regardless, you will have a fantastic time and will connect with everyone in the group.
Carl Kasch (senior)
My fondest Agora memory was walking through Florence mid-day, looking at the red roofs which were accentuated by the bright blue sky. Walking through any city in Italy is surreal. You are constantly stumbling on pieces of history which you only see in textbooks. Going to Italy gave me a different perspective on history in general. It taught me that ancient people were extremely advanced, handcrafting sculptures with subtle details many of today's artists would not be able to capture. For 2020 underclassmen, I would recommend being smart about traveling. Hold your items close to you, pickpockets and gypsies are aggressive and will prey on tourists. Pictured at right: Carl (far left) and fellow travelers
Lauren Rownd (senior)
I traveled to Spain for Agora 2018. What I remember most fondly about my experience was when Señor (Tim) Hood told the story of Don Quijote, a story about following your dreams. Señor is an incredible story teller and I will remember his telling of this story for years to come.
My time in Spain gave me an appreciation for how patient the people of Spain were with others speaking their language and how they love to live in the moment, rather than rushing from place to place like we often do here in the United States.
My advice for those traveling during Agora 2020 is to not follow your current friends. Go where you want to go and you'll find yourself surrounded by new friends by the end of your trip! Pictured at right: Lauren (far right) and friends! (Picture by Gabrielle Thurston)
Zoe Behnfeldt (senior)
For Agora this year I traveled to Germany and Switzerland on a STEM-related trip ran by Mrs. Dowd and Mr. Feuerstein. I really appreciated the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that this trip gave us to see CERN (an international particle physics lab) and take a tour of a Swiss chocolate factory. Though it was a STEM trip, my favorite memories were simply walking around the cities of Lucerne and Munich and learning about the rich history behind all of the buildings and streets as well as visiting Neuschwanstein Castle which was so beautiful it seemed as though it was out of a fairytale. By seeing these wonderful cities, I was reminded of how much I love to travel and expand my worldview outside of Ottawa Hills. For any underclassmen, I would strongly encourage you to travel if you are able to because you will create some great memories and have amazing opportunities for learning outside of the classroom.
Samantha Fischer (senior)
I really enjoyed traveling to Costa Rica for Agora 2018. Spending a week hiking through jungles and mountains allowed me to connect with nature and understand why the locals call Costa Rica “pura vida.” By far, my favorite activity that I took part in was whitewater rafting on the Sarapiquí river. I was extremely nervous for this part of the trip, but I ended up having a great time with my friends and our guide. The location we stayed at that I enjoyed most was Monteverde because it was situated high in the mountains and right at the center of the Cloud Forest Reserve where the clouds actually sit on the mountains. For the current underclassmen, I recommend choosing the trip that you know you’ll be able to make the most out of and always look back on with fond memories.
Drew Hoffman (junior)
My fondest memories of my Agora experience in Costa Rica would have to be both surfing and zip-lining. It has always been on my wish list to go surfing and I got to do it in one of the most beautiful places on earth. As for zip lining, it was remarkable to be hundreds of feet above the forest watching the trees fly by below me. Agora changed me as a person because it exposed me to a part of the world that I have not experienced before. I loved witnessing both the culture and wildlife of Costa Rica.
If I were to give advice to underclassmen, I would say to 1) go to Costa Rica but more importantly 2) don’t just go on a trip that your friends are going on; go wherever you personally want to go.
Sophie Summers (senior)
I spent my Agora week in Costa Rica. My fondest memories of the trip were whitewater rafting and zip lining. Agora gave me the opportunity to try new things that I wouldn’t have otherwise tried on my own. Living in the small village of Ottawa Hills, many of us have little experience outside of “the bubble.” Agora not only broadened my horizons, but also opened my eyes to a new atmosphere, culture, and lifestyle.
My advice for the 2020 Agora underclassmen is to use the week as a chance to explore self-interest, interact with new individuals, and discover unprecedented ideas.
Jeremy Nixon, biology teacher and chaperone
Fondest memories: Whether it was whitewater rafting the Sarapiqui River, flying through the cloud forest hundreds of feet above the rainforest floor on a zip line, horseback riding along the Arenal volcano lake, or surfing in the Pacific Ocean with Costa Rican champion surfer, Gustavo Castillo, the students were constantly cheering and encouraging each other the entire trip. It was amazing to see students helping each other get over their various fears of water, heights, horses or the waves in the Pacific.
The camaraderie was absolutely incredible. At one point, I looked out on the Pacific Ocean and saw 17 Ottawa Hills students surfing the waves of Jaco Beach. It is a sight that I will never forget.