By Liz Fontaine Squindo
Dean of Student
My husband, Michael, and I were very fortunate to receive the Leverett Marsden Hubbard Sr. Family Teaching Faculty Sabbatical Travel Fund grant. With this grant, we traveled to Italy and Croatia. For a history and anthropology major and food lover, Italy is the perfect combination destination for me. My husband’s family is from Croatia, and adding it to our itinerary gave us another perspective on European life. On our adventure, we planned to gain firsthand knowledge of how ancient cultures developed into contemporary cultures, and thankfully our trip provided us this and many more experiences. The trip enhanced my Global Studies 1 curriculum. Yet more importantly, it reinforced my understanding of the connectedness of our global community and the diversity of us as individuals.
Our trip ebbed and flowed from the bustle of major cities to the relaxed pace of suburbia. During the span of 16 days, we visited Venice, Pula, Zadar, Split, Rome, Perugia, Florence and Mirano. We chose all of our locations and accommodations based on their proximity to ancient attractions and their ability to connect us to local communities. Avoiding tourist and chain hotels, we spent our time in a 15th century building alongside a canal, apartments in Croatia, a 19th century British hotel, a 13th century countryside castle and an upscale tent.
Our trip began with us getting lost among the canals of Venice, a theme we learned would continue throughout our trip. We joined in the throngs of tourists deciphering foreign bus schedules and constructed our path with subjective maps. Growing up in Wilbraham and going to college in rural Maine, I did not learn the life skill of reading a bus or train schedule. With public transportation being the swiftest way around Italy, understanding these maps was my first lesson.
Traveling to Italy and Croatia immersed us in ancient history. Walking along the canals of Venice, gazing at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, setting foot in the Coliseum and experiencing the works of Michelangelo, Botticelli and other European artists proved to be transformational. At times, we were typical tourists with maps folded haphazardly, visiting sites and museums. But the best times were not the tourist lines or ticketed attractions. Our favorite moments were those when we felt connected with local people and had opportunities to hear their stories. Driving with local B&B owner Mathilde from Mirano to Venice’s airport was one such experience. Listening to how her family’s love or hosting friends on their small property led to an international bed and breakfast business brought the trip to life.
Whether with tour guides, hosts, servers or taxi drivers, it was amazing to hear everyone’s perspectives on Italy and their favorite parts of their hometown. Whenever possible we put away Trip Advisor and took recommendations from our new friends. The best meals and experiences of the trip were always those gleaned from conversations with locals. These connections to the people helped to bridge our historical knowledge with the contemporary culture of the region. As a history teacher, I have scratched the surface of understanding and I have been excited to continue learning since my return to WMA. Last summer I gained insights into Italian and Croatian history and culture, and I recognize that I have much more to learn.
While textbooks provide us an opportunity to explore another culture, the words in the book do not provide a tangible experience. Perhaps the most impactful words and important lesson of the trip came from our tour guide, Marco, who said, “There are no Italians in Italy. There are only Romans, Venetians, Sicilians and so on.” As we reflect on his words, we embrace the importance of understanding and being able to identify ourselves within the greater community, and concurrently we need to maintain our sense of individuality and self-worth.
The Leverett Marsden Hubbard Family Teaching Faculty Sabbatical Travel Fund, named for former Wilbraham & Monson Academy Trustee Leverett Marsden Hubbard, was established in 2001 by his son Leverett Hubbard. The purpose of the fund is to help reward and retain full-time upper school teachers at the Academy. The fund provides travel grants of up to $5,000 to full-time teaching faculty members who have completed five years of classroom teaching and who will return as a classroom teacher the following year. The fund is intended to help faculty become more aware of the interdependent world in which we live and to develop an understanding of different countries, especially those of our international students.
Travel must be mission-based (tied to culture and education) and take place outside of the United States. The grant’s purpose is to help faculty become more aware of the interdependent world in which we live and to develop an understanding of different countries, especially those from whom our nation has derived our culture and heritage.