It could have been a trip like any other she had taken. You go see a few sites, maybe eat a weird dish or two. At least, that’s what Adeline Weitknecht expected. At 15, she never really traveled internationally before and was excited for the opportunity to explore a new part of the world with her grandparents. She had no idea that her first Road Scholar program would affect her so deeply or how strongly she would connect to the locals living there.
Though Adeline wasn’t much of a globe trotter, her grandparents certainly were. Having been to all seven continents and on 13 Road Scholar programs, they thought it was time to pass on their love of educational travel to their grandchildren by taking them to a place they would never forget. Adeline begged her mother to tell her where her grandparents were bringing her, but her mother refused – she wanted this to be a surprise that Adeline’s grandparents revealed. Adeline persisted though, and after a few more days of asking, her mother decided to give her one little hint. “The country has 10 letters,” she told her daughter. “If you guess it, then I’ll tell you.” El Salvador … South Korea … New Zealand? All of her guesses were met with disappointment. “Madagascar??” she inquired. Her mother gave a knowing smirk.
Immediately, Adeline had wildlife on the brain. That’s what Africa is about, right? Zebras, elephants and lions? Well, that’s not really the case in Madagascar. Adeline soon learned that this island nation is much more about the people. Sure, she loved learning about lemurs, but the real joy came from meeting the locals, all of whom opened their hearts to her and every Road Scholar grandparent and grandchild on her program. Adeline was struck by the unique culture of the Malagasy people, and her interactions with them stayed with her even after she returned home.
Once back in Pennsylvania, Adeline didn’t want her experience to go to waste. She needed to take what she learned and continue helping the Madagascar locals. She knew that she wanted to raise money to buy them basic necessities. While on her program, Adeline learned that the Malagasy didn’t have easy access to soap, so she decided to start a “soap drive.” However, her parents, grandparents and teachers encouraged her to take it a step further. When reflecting on her learning adventure, she realized she wouldn’t have had these experiences without her grandparents passing down their love for learning. So why not do the same?
During the school year, Adeline decided to visit six kindergarten classes two different times. The first would be to explain her Road Scholar adventures in Madagascar and the importance of opening your mind and heart to people who may seem different than yourself. She also asked them to draw pictures, which she wanted to share with the Malagasy school children she met on her program. On her second visit, she collected donations, over $200 in total, which she gave to Road Scholar to purchase soap on her behalf for that local school.
“Her joy of learning and openness to new cultures inspires me every day,” says her grandmother, Marcy. “I thought it took a lot of chutzpah for a 15-year-old to call Road Scholar and see how they can work together to help that local community.”
Though raising money for the Malagasy people was definitely one of her goals, Adeline’s true objective was to have children learn about accepting other cultures at a young age. “The idea was more about teaching them that we all can learn from each other. Our strengths and weaknesses – between cultures, communities and individuals – are all different and all beautiful,” Adeline said. “We’re in school to learn lessons, but not really taught how to ask questions when we want to learn about something else. I wanted to teach them how to draw their own connections, be curious and better the world.”
See all of Road Scholar’s Grandparent Adventures →
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