Seeing with new eyes: Learning through immersive travel

Paul McGuire

Paul McGuire is ​a retired educator in Ottawa area. He has a keen interest in promoting technology as a ...

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For twenty years I have been involved in taking students and educators down to countries in the Global South - Mexico, the Dominican Republic and, more recently, El Salvador. I started doing these trips because one of our high school students needed a teacher to bring down a group of really motivated students. I had no idea of what I was getting myself into and on that first trip, and really saw myself as an observer rather than a teacher-leader.

That was twenty-two years ago. Latin America has now become part of who I am. Taking people to meet people in the Global South has become for me one way of putting social justice into action.

Our first journey was to the Dominican Republic. None of us had any idea on what to expect. The Dominican is a winter haven for tourists from the frigid North, and there are many wonderful beaches and resorts you can retreat to as the days here get darker and colder.

For us, however, the Dominican Republic became a place where we experienced first-hand the incredible poverty of the Dominicans and especially the Haitians who worked the sugar cane plantations. We saw living and working conditions on the plantations that really haven’t changed much in over 200 years.

These first lessons on inequality, poverty and injustice were amplified by subsequent trips to the Dominican and more trips to Mexico and El Salvador.

We were always learning and really being transformed by these experiences. There is a whole other world outside the comfortable classrooms in Canada that really could not be experienced through books, movies or the most sophisticated web tools.


To learn about the poverty in the Global South, you have to be there, you have to accompany the people who struggle simply to exist every day under oppressive conditions.

Slowly the learning grows. You get over the scenes of terrible poverty and you begin to study and do the analysis that allows for such an imbalanced world to exist. For me, there is no use in doing these trips unless the students you bring down are ready to do the real learning when they return.

Why do these conditions exist? What part do we play in this unbalanced world? What can we do to bring about some change to right the balance?

The learning will never stop because there are no easy answers to these questions. That is why it is important to take part in these experiences. If we are ever going to bring about real change in this world, we need to leave our comfortable surroundings and go out and meet these people. We need to hear their stories to start our learning journey.


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