Students venture to Portugal

Ila Gordon

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Photo courtesy of Nik Avillo

Junior Nik Avillo climbs the medieval walls of Obiods during his trip to Portugal over spring break. He notes that this part of the adventure was most special because of its uniqueness, history and beautiful scenery.

Over spring break, social studies teacher Elizabeth Muehl took a group of 28 students to Portugal for nine days. Though it was not her first experience traveling with students, revamping this opportunity yielded unique and exceptional adventures.

Going into the trip, Muehl was looking forward to providing her students with the opportunity to explore and learn in a hands-on experience abroad. Having never been to Portugal, she determined the location a good fit.

I wanted my students to get a little bit uncomfortable so they know that they can grow, see the culture and see history in action.

— Elizabeth Muehl

The itinerary of the trip was crafted such that it would satisfy Muehl’s vision. The group traveled to several small towns, bigger cities, and unique locations that would expose students to an unfamiliar culture. Seeing buildings that had existed in the 1200s, being on the Portuguese coast, or climbing the medieval walls of Obidos, all specific to Portugal’s location and history, left a significant impact on the students involved.

“I learned a lot about Portugal’s history, which was really interesting because the influence of the Romans and Catholics and the Moors was very prevalent… It was truly amazing that every single place we went to brought something we had never seen before,” junior Nik Avillo said.

Another key aspect of the adventure was the connectivity and group dynamic. In any situation in traveling abroad, the cohesiveness of a group makes all the difference.

“Everybody felt very mutually interested in exploring the country and learning about its history. Doing this with a bunch of other people who were equally excited about being there made the experience that much better,” junior Alex Lewin-Knauer said.

Not only was the group dynamic exceptional, but everyone’s open mindedness allowed for the most enhanced learning experience. There seemed to be a common effort of trying new things for the ultimate goal of experiencing Portuguese culture firsthand.

“I didn’t expect to befriend so many people during my time in Portugal. Not only did the students on the trip grow closer, but we also grew closer with the teachers, befriended our tour guide, and got to know random kids while playing soccer on the beach,” Avillo said.

Overall, the exceptional experience has encouraged students to explore future travels and engage in learning about other cultures.

“The trip has broadened my worldview and made me more interested in traveling in the future. It was amazing to learn about Portuguese culture and history in such a hands-on way, so I would love to be able to pursue that interest in other places,” Lewin-Knauer said.

Though Muhel attempts to take students on a trip abroad annually, she hasn’t been able to do so for the past two years due to COVID, adding an additional element of uniqueness to this year’s adventure.

“Every time someone gets to travel it is a gift, so I hope people, particularly the kids that went on the trip continue to take that gift as they get older,” Muehl said.