First Year International Students Discover Democracy

WALK ABOUT First year international students enjoy the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Photo provided by Hockaday

First year international students took trip to Washington D.C., San Antonio and Austin, Texas

What is democracy? What does it mean to be an American? How did this country evolve from its colonial ancestry? These thoughts swam in the minds of the first year ESOL students as they trekked from Washington DC to San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

“A lot of the first year international students have not studied US history, so it gives them an introduction to US history and how the US government works and to see democracy in action,” Director of ESOL Elizabeth Smith who chaperoned the trip explained.

The annual trip that is part of Hockaday’s International Program is meant to expose the international students to both US and Texas history with fun and memorable experiences.

For many of the girls, the Alamo introduced to them the unique history of independence of Texas. “I didn’t know that Texas was a part of Mexico before or that it was struggling for independence. It was really impressive, and the people at the Alamo were really brave,” Grace said. For Luda, the Alamo shed light on how “Texas belonged to six countries.”

The trip is structured to help the girls not only delve deeper into state history but into the entire foundation of the United States as well. “I try to do everything from the Revolution to present day, beginning with Mount Vernon, George Washington, moving through to Fredrick Douglass’s house to learn about the Civil Rights movement and to the White House,” Smith said.

On a macro overview of US government, the girls visited government buildings and even the White House while in Washington D.C. “We know more about American history, and we know the system of American debate since we got to watch a debate between senators,” Grace said.

And though the girls visited Sea World, Riverwalk, and Native American missions, the sighting of a bat colony under a bridge and kayaking in Austin left a strong impression on most. “We saw snakes, turtle, and birds, and tons of interesting creatures in the water when we went kayaking,” Grace said.

For Cathy, however, the ranch at San Antonio gave her the best bonding experience with the other boarders. “I liked the ranch the best. We were pretty free there. We feed the donkeys, and they were really cute.”

Despite all the attractions offered by the trip, the girls still return with a renewed sense of what America and its government truly represent. Smith recalls a revelation a Chinese boarder had on this trip a few years past when they saw Tibetan monks protesting President Obama’s trip to China. When the boarder protested that the Tibetan monks were wrong about the protest under the Chinese government, Smith explained, “That is how the US Constitution works. You can have the right to say what you want as long as it is not hurting someone.”

After questioning, “And that is democracy?” the Chinese boarder declared, “I get it.” Smith recalls it as one of the most memorable aspects of how this trip teaches international students about America.