We recently sat down with WildChina Education Senior Program Manager Marjorie Perry to hear more about why she loves educational travel, WildChina Education, and what learners of all ages can gain from our programs.
Marjorie hails from Chicago, Illinois and, holding true to her Midwestern roots, she places a strong emphasis on providing warm and genuine customer care.
Marjorie studied Linguistics for her bachelor’s degree, and after graduating with distinction, was awarded a scholarship to do intensive Mandarin studies in Xi’an. Upon returning to the U.S., she worked in the international diplomacy sector focusing on U.S.-China relations, and thus brings an in-depth understanding of the PRC.
She feels very fortunate to work in an industry that aims to make people happy while allowing them to see new parts of our world.
Can you tell us about an early memory from your own travel experience that instilled a love of travel and/or cultural exchange in you?
Funnily enough, the first thing that comes to mind is the meringues that my aunt to-be brought to our home when I was a kid. I grew up in a small town, which had a population of about 7,000 when we were there. The town had a quiet rural feeling, since we were on the edge of town and surrounded by fields.
There was some occasion at our house one day and my uncle’s then-girlfriend brought homemade meringues. She was from South America, and her mother had taught her to make meringues. I thought they looked magical—big, puffy clouds of melt-in-your-mouth crystalized sugar. I have a big sweet tooth, so I was intrigued. I remember feeling curious about whether other parts of the world had amazing sweets like these.
Now when I am on trips with our young guests, I really cherish the opportunity to introduce new things to them. For instance, I remember last year there was an adorable Austrian student who had recently moved to China with his family. He won a competition we organized for the kids, so he was awarded a sweet—it was one of those chocolate moon pies with the light breading and marshmallow layers. He absolutely loved it! He had chocolate crumbs all over his face, looked at me and said “First time I eat this, so satisfying!”. It cracked me up, and that made the trip for me. To get to introduce something you like to a person for the first time—it’s small but meaningful.
What are some ways to integrate the importance of sustainable travel and limiting the environmental footprint of travel when designing educational tours? Is that something students learn about as part of their travel experience?
WildChina, since its inception, has focused on promoting and adhering to sustainable travel. Being mindful of our environmental footprint is especially important when we are visiting ancient sites, as there are many in China that we take our guests to.
To show our respect for these sites and support their preservation, we make sure our guests understand their value and inherent irreplaceability. This awareness is something I have been happy to see developing in China. You start to notice small signs at many sites reminding visitors to respect the site.
As I mentioned, before we enter an area, we will brief the group on importance of it, and emphasize that we must “leave no trace” of our visit.
It’s also important for us to give back to the communities that we stay in. For example, one local community had experienced an unfortunate side-effect of modernization: trash was piling up and they had no means of disposing it. Students listened to the local community members who said that they needed an efficient way to get rid of trash. Together, we built a trash incinerator to deal with the problem, giving our learners a hands-on community service experience while serving the community in the process.
A lot of WildChina’s trips seem interdisciplinary by nature, in that students learn about a variety of subjects— history, geography, language and culture— through place. Do you feel like that is intentionally designed in the trips, or more reflective of the type of learning that naturally happens through travel?
You could say that we are intentionally leveraging that inherent opportunity. The majority of destinations that we go to can be seen through multiple disciplines. At the same time, educators often want to maximize the educational value of a destination by touching on these different disciplines. All of our tours are customizable, so we work with educators to make a trip fit with their specific learning goals.
New and lasting friendships are often very important aspects of any traveling experience. Do you think WildChina’s student tours foster friendships between students? How?
Yes, absolutely. This is part of the reason that I think taking the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, the service we provide, can offer so many benefits. There is the opportunity to connect traditional academic learning with the wider world, interactions with locals and hands-on experiences—as well as the chance for students to form new friendships and deepen existing ones. Socialization is an important task for educators, especially when kids may be making friendships across different languages and cultures.
Travel often requires people to step “outside of their comfort zones”. What do you think are the tangible and more intangible benefits of being “uncomfortable” for anyone while traveling, but specifically for younger travelers?
Travel is inherently an experience that “exercises” the traveler. We depart from our daily routine, our usual environment and, as you say, step outside our comfort zone. For a traveler of any age, there is a certain amount of challenge involved in this task. The youngest travelers we serve are third graders, and for many of them this is the first time that they have been away from their parents.
Recently I went on a trip to Tianjin with a group of third graders, and some of them were initially distraught since they were used to being with their parents every evening. One young girl had never even slept in a bed alone! So going on a trip with WildChina Educational Travel was a great opportunity for her to develop some independence. This way she saw that she could be on her own (of course with other capable adult supervision and support), and still be okay. On the first night she shed a lot of tears, but by the second night she was totally fine. That is one of the great things about kids traveling, they can typically adapt quickly to the challenges of leaving their comfort zone.
In these formative years, it is helpful to have some experiences that gently push children to develop into independent people—into kids who are curious about the wider world around them, and who are respectful of different cultures. These are some of the benefits that traveling with one’s school can offer.
Thanks, Marjorie for the awesome interview. If you want to plan your trip with Marjorie and our Education Team, click the button below to get started!