Skip To Main Content

Browse Issues

Issue 1
Winter 2024
Issue 2
Summer 2023
Issue 1
Winter 2023
Issue 2
Fall 2022

Browse Categories

Gaining Perspective

In terms of global initiatives, I measure success by offering students the ability to engage in conversations with peers and adults in our community that they might not normally talk to and have spaces and opportunities to discuss things going on in the world.

Justine O'Connell

As students interact with Global Initiatives programming at Mercersburg Academy, they gain perspective on a world outside of their own experiences.

“Students who are able to see from different viewpoints are able to then adapt,’’ says Director of Global Initiatives Justine O'Connell. “They're curious and have compassion and empathy for those who might think or approach problems and situations in different ways.”

The transformation can be life-changing, says O'Connell, who references a student's remark made to Columbia University professor Vishakha N. Desai, author of the book World as Family: “Once you open your eyes to the world, you can never shut them again.”

Perspective is gained not only through traveling, but also through daily life at Mercersburg, where students hail from 46 nations. Interactions and programs on campus provide students with exposure to perspectives that are different from their own.

“In terms of global initiatives, I measure success by offering students the ability to engage in conversations with peers and adults in our community that they might not normally talk to and have spaces and opportunities to discuss things going on in the world, in a way that allows us to understand root causes of things like food insecurity here in Franklin County and food insecurity around the world,” says O'Connell, noting that students experience continuity when conversations on campus are investigated firsthand through sustainable travel experiences.

“I hope our programming becomes successful by going back to the communities or cities or schools or organizations that we are partnering with year after year.”

Students travel the summer between 11th and 12th grades and share their experiences with the school community. The following summer, a new group of students returns to a destination and build on what was accomplished the year before.

“Maybe that's longitudinal studies, maybe that's specific projects that we're working on, maybe it's a partnership project that we're doing with schools abroad, but again, that success to me in terms of our travel programming is those strong relationships that will be created and nurtured throughout the years,” says O'Connell, who traveled abroad when she was a student at the University of Arizona.

Ideally, the Global Initiatives program would be so successful that every student has an opportunity to travel before leaving Mercersburg, says O'Connell. “Not that we require it, but that there is that desire and almost an expectation that we travel, that it becomes part of our identity as Mercersburg Academy.”

Last year, the first year of program travel since 2019, 42 students traveled through the program. O'Connell would like to see at least 60 students participate this year.

Pre-COVID, 65 to 70 students would travel each year. An endowment provides financial support for the program.

“Global initiatives is taking that initial step into thinking about the world outside of your own world,” O'Connell says. “You could think of that as the world outside of the Mercersburg bubble, or the world outside of your immediate friends and family. I like the word ‘initiative’ because it's starting something new.”

  • Feature