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Trip to Southeast Asia Gives Students Perspective on Different Culture

Trip to Southeast Asia Gives Students Perspective on Different Culture
Sarai Quintanar, EPHS Class of 2024

NOTE: An EPHS-sponsored trip to the Dominican Republic has been approved for the summer of 2024. An informational meeting about the trip will be held at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the school amphitheater. For a more detailed picture of what an EPHS trip abroad is like, senior Sarai Quintanar provides this look back at the summer 2023 tour of Southeast Asia by EPHS students and faculty.

By Sarai Quintanar, EPHS Class of 2024

Over the summer Elmwood Park High School partnered with EF Educational Tours to grant honors or AP-level English students the opportunity to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.

From July 11 to 21, a group of 14 students and three chaperones traveled to these Southeast Asian countries, exploring such destinations as Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Siem Reap in Cambodia, and Hua Hin and Bangkok in Thailand.

A temple in Vietnam, one of the sites visited by EPHS students in the summer of 2023.

The travel time was a little less than a day before they arrived in Vietnam, where they stayed in quality hotel rooms and had regional-style meals and beverages like tapioca, panda bamboo tea, and tom kha gai (coconut soup).

A traditional local dish is prepared during the EPHS summer trip to Southeast Asia. 

With a 24/7 tour director, the group explored different historical sites including the Viet Cong tunnels used during the Vietnam War, the War Remnants Museum that showcased the damage inflicted on Vietnamese people during the war, and several ancient temples. 

The War Remnants Museum in Vietnam, a stop on the EPHS tour.

The idea of traveling to Southeast Asia was partly to learn about the Vietnam War. But English teacher Kendal Ahlmann, the lead chaperone, said the trip also showed students the “uniqueness and nuance” of a culture that “successfully operates in ways that are different from the United States.”

These differences applied to everyday situations like crossing the street, which junior Lauren Scheidt compared to the video game Crossy Road because “the people would just keep going and the cars would just try to avoid hitting you when you crossed.”

Visitors view exhibits inside the War Remnants Museum.

Social studies teacher Jacquelyn Regnier, a chaperone on the trip, also noted unexpected differences in how the local food was prepared. 

“When they served foods like eggs, it was all very bland,” she said, “and I didn’t realize they don’t put salt in their food because they use soy sauce to season it.” 

Another surprise was the large number of monkeys roaming freely, which Regnier equated to “how we have squirrels just running around.”

Social studies teacher Jacquelyn Regnier holds a baby monkey during the Southeast Asia trip.

For many group members, exploring the sites in Cambodia was the highlight of the trip.

“Cambodia stands out as the most memorable, and I largely think that’s because of the tour director we had,” Ahlmann said. “His name was Bunny. He’s a former monk, and so he was very big on aligning the group mentality every day. And he just used these mantras of reinforcing ourselves to understand how we perceive things and how our heart is going to interpret those things.”

A statue in Cambodia photographed by EPHS students during their summer trip.

For senior Nicole Cholko, Cambodia also stood out as her favorite. 

“It was very beautiful and peaceful,” she said. “While I was there I gained a better connection to myself and how I perceive myself.” 

Temples were a popular destination during the EPHS summer tour.

Overall, the participants rated the trip a huge success, not least for the historical and cultural insights they gained through firsthand exposure to new people, new places and different ways of doing things.

The 2023 Southeast Asia trip was so successful that English teacher Kendal Ahlmann (lower left)
has helped organize a summer 2024 trip to the Dominican Republic for EPHS students.
An informational meeting will be held at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, in the amphitheater. 

“The best educator is experience, and I highly encourage travel," said Ahlmann, who has frequently chaperoned EPHS international trips. "There is a distinguishable factor between staying with comfort and then being in a place you’ve never been in before — and I encourage the latter at least once in your life.”