Progressions in BCA’s Global Exchanges Program

Cadee Lee

The Global Studies Program at Bergen County Academies now has eight different programs open to students for the 2019-2020 year. This homegrown program offers experiences that are specifically customized for BCA students. They are given the opportunity to travel abroad, where they can work with students around the world, visit partner-schools, and explore the culture of the country. This year, the programs are being organized for students in Denmark, Greece, Israel, Singapore, South Korea, Toronto, and London (AMST and Theatre). In each of these programs, students are able to work on real world problems, and get an idea of what it is like to work in a global society. More students are starting to participate and become involved in the global programs, as they do not want to miss out on this one of a kind experience that BCA offers.

The mission of this program is to teach students how to work and lead in a global community. Mr. Kaser and Mr. Tronicke, the coordinators of BCA Global Studies, shared in a recent interview what makes this such a unique program.

“Each of these programs has an academic aspect, in that students are always learning, visiting, researching, or presenting their own research,” said Mr. Kaser. He went on to explain how these programs are not leisure tours, because there is always an academic piece planted in the trips. Students also visit other high-achieving high schools or universities that BCA has established global partnerships with. This educational partner component is always included in the itinerary.

“There’s a visible connection when you see students meeting students from different parts of the world,” said Mr. Tronicke. Despite the cultural and language barriers, students are able to interact with their peers and create unforgettable memories with each other.

Prior to last year, global programs were run separately by teachers and staff. There was no coordination, and many students were confused about when the programs were and who was going. With the establishment of the BCA Global Studies Department, it has become a more organized program, that is open to all students, rather than for specific academies. Mr. Kaser said, “This is a formalized time table of programs that target all academies, class years, and faculty, so that it isn’t just the same academies. It is our eventual goal to make sure that every student at BCA can certainly go on a global program if they desire.”

One of the global programs that was available to students last year was to Finland, for the EPIC Challenge. This is a program that was hosted by NASA, where students were invited to try to solve some of the challenges that the world faces today. During the program, students were able to listen to presentations from other students at the Karelia University in Joensuu, as well as present their own projects for the EPIC Challenge. They were also able to attend conferences where other Finnish students built prototypes for space rover missions. They were able to see the construction of the different rovers and interact with the students.

My favorite part of this trip was definitely meeting and interacting with new people. Not only did I bond with students from BCA, but I also received the opportunity to talk to many diverse people from Finland and listen to their own experiences,” said Julie Song a junior who attended the program.

Aside from the educational and academic components, she said that visiting the popular saunas in Finland was also one of her favorite parts. It is a Finnish lifestyle tradition, known as “ice-saunas”, where you jump into the freezing lake and run to the sauna to warm up quickly.

Julie ended by saying, “Global exchange trips are definitely worth going to at least once during your time at BCA. Not only do you get to experience a brand new culture, you also get to meet and interact with so many different people around the world.”

Another exciting program that BCA held last year was to Israel. Another junior who attended last year said “The global exchanges at BCA have undoubtedly been some of my best experiences. Beyond learning about the culture of another country, I have been able to foster incredible relationships with students from Israel, as well as grow incredibly close to my peers on the trips.”

She talked about one of her favorite experiences, at a museum exhibit called “Dialogue in the Dark”. Students were able to experience 45 minutes of being in a pitch black room, and follow a tour led by a blind person. They were able to walk around, order food, and go on boat rides, all in the dark environment. She talked about the awareness that this activity gave her. “These trips are invaluable and the experiences gained from these trips cannot be obtained from being in a classroom. They are really unforgettable and are opportunities only available to BCA.”

As the program continues to grow and students continue traveling, more doors are being opened. BCA is continuing to make more partnerships with different schools and organizations across the globe. For example, BCA hosted delegations from Australia and Japan in September and October. Possibilities of exchanges for the future were also discussed.

“I’m really excited about our connection in Israel,” said Mr. Tronicke, “and how it has progressed to tackle a global issue: research on coral restoration. Students are getting the chance to work on real world problems and it’s amazing.” The BCA Global Studies program has grown to host over 800 students from different countries, and is aiming to send around 200 students abroad this year. As quality is something highly valued in these programs, Mr. Kaser and Mr. Tronicke have shared that they are excited to expand, but at a conservative pace, in order to maintain the quality of the programs.