Grade 7 to 9 Return from an Icelandic Adventure

Grade 7 students at Oak Knoll are just beginning their Upper School experience, but Oak Knoll treats them like world travelers. Recently, they were given the trust and opportunity at this young age to join their counterparts in grades 8 and 9 and venture abroad to Iceland for a spectacular experience as part of Oak Knoll’s Global Studies Program. 

A large swath of our grade 7-9 students — 57 in total — explored the spectacular glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal ponds, waterfalls, and culture of this picaresque island nation. Over five action-packed days, amongst a host of other activities, their itinerary featured a visit to the iconic Blue Lagoon, an interactive nature park, a Catholic mass in Icelandic, free time in Reykjavik city center, a lava show, a black beach tour, a glacier hike, and a lava tunnel tour.

Over 40 percent of Oak Knoll students in those grade levels took advantage of the opportunity, including almost the entire grade 8 class.

“I chose to go on this trip to Iceland because I have seen videos on social media, and it looked breathtaking. My friends and I thought it would be a fun experience, and it was!” exclaimed Isabel Wise ‘27. “Iceland is not a place my family would normally travel to, and It has taught me to be open to new experiences and the world.”

“My favorite aspect of the trip was being able to connect with my peers on a deeper level and experience the Icelandic culture,” explained Genevieve Guenther ’27. “Spending a lot of time with my friends and classmates while learning was an amazing experience. It taught me to try new things and step out of my comfort zone.”

The trip was chaperoned by six adult members of the Oak Knoll community, including Zohra Ismail, Upper School Dean for Grades 10-12, who is also co-head of Oak Knoll’s Global Studies Program with World Languages Teacher Rebecca Mull. Oak Knoll currently has exchange programs with Barcelona, Spain; Hawaii; and Killiney, Ireland. Previous international exchanges, performances, and service opportunities have included travel to Appalachia, Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, the Dominican Republic, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Quebec, and Spain.

These trips inspire a type of bonding among students and between faculty and students that can only take place outside the academic setting.I don’t get to see girls really outside the counseling setting,” explained chaperone and Upper School counselor Christine Mahoney. “To be able to bond with them differently was amazing, and I’ve already developed so many more relationships and made more connections than I had before going.” 

“There’s going to be connections that students make that will become even more apparent in the years ahead,” said chaperone and Upper School Dean to Grades 7-9 Edith Ticona. “They’re going to reminisce about this shared experience for years to come.”

“I made friends with girls I’ve never taught and didn’t yet know before the trip,” added Mull. “I think that’s what was great about this. Something about being in a different country and environment adds to the bonding. It was a great help to us that the grade 9 students could step up and help the younger girls.

“I decided to go on this trip because I wanted to expand my travel experience and take advantage of more of the opportunities offered at Oak Knoll,” said middle school traveler Isabella Conte ‘28. “I returned with a positive attitude because the trip not only expanded my knowledge but also excited me about what Upper School has in store.”

“I wanted to go on this trip to expand my relationship with my friends and teachers and meet new people,” said middle schooler Victoria Spagnoli ’28. “I got close with some teachers, and I made new friends. I also returned with a positive attitude because now that I have the confidence from this trip, I’d love to go on more trips and visit new places.”

Conte and Spagnoli also reflected on the added growth and maturity that an international trip can bestow. 

“Going on this trip taught me responsibility and showed me that I could do things without my parents, like checking in my luggage, going out to dinner and ordering on my own, or talking to new and older people,“ said Conte. “This trip taught me confidence and responsibility and showed me the importance of doing things independently.”

“It was the first time I went on a trip without my parents, added Spanoli. “The first few days, I was nervous and scared. But a few days into the trip, I felt much more comfortable around friends and teachers who cared for me. I learned to be responsible and mature and take care of my own problems for the future.”

Oak Knoll students are known to live by faith, lead by example, and learn by doing. Our international travel opportunities and global studies exchanges provide opportunities for all three.