Since 2005, I've been taking teenagers around the world. Sometimes, I take them on special projects where they can build a house, feed a family or give their time teaching English in places that want to. But sometimes, I just take them on trips abroad with my family so they can experience a different culture.
With all my writing on social media and the impact it's having on students, one thing is clear... The world is growing ever closer, every day.
It's amazing to think that in the last 100 years, the world went from isolated imperialist cultures to a global neighborhood. With new inventions in transportation, communication and now emerging markets, it's imperative teenagers get to experience another culture as they grow through their own education.
The benefits have far outweighed the costs. I've seen teenagers who've never met people of another culture, and when the lightbulb goes off, they learn how to communicate language, traditions and sometimes even faith. I've watched students who only knew of the world they grew up in, and all of the sudden they have a chance to match the history stories with real places.
I've also seen students who come from well-endowed homes see the rest of the world and how it functions.
I remember on my first trip, I had a student who grew up like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. She had a maid, a butler and lived in a home twice the size of any castle I had ever visited. She wore the latest designer clothes, and most of the kids on the trip gawked at her lugguge.
We went with a group of 15 students to Costa Rica.
We lived in the Jungles of Costa Rica for eight days, working to help landscape a village. We went to the local church to see how the people of the jungle worshipped. We ate local food. We did what local people do.
At the end of the trip, she said, "I have everything I want, and if I want more, all I have to do is ask. These people have nothing (comparitively)." She was about to get to her point: "I watch these people so happy dwelling with family and community. But when I go home, I'm just going to be with more stuff."
It was at that moment I knew we were on to something.
"Why are these people so happy, and I'm always depressed?"
If it weren't for that trip, this young lady would continue looking for the next something to make her happy. You know, that something we all need. We have to have a new iPhone, a new wardrobe, a new car, a bigger house; and all the while, we think we'll find happiness there. And every time, we're left unfulfilled.
This young girl learned early in her life that there are people who have figured out happiness void of the "stuff" the American culture says you need to be happy.
I'll continue taking teenagers on trips around the world. Not so much so they can reach out and help someone else, although most of the time that happens. No, I'm taking students to expand their own view of the world in relation to where they are.
One gift you can give your teenager before they graduate from high school is a bigger picture of the world. After all, it's only getting smaller.