When Francis Parker School students take a field trip, they go global.
In February, several local Parker students went on trips to South Africa, Colombia and the Philippines, but the trips were not just about jet setting - the students gained appreciation for other cultures and learned about global communities in need and the importance of giving back.
"The students were so mature and so aware, " said teacher Genevieve Moser, who went on the South Africa trip. "They didn't go in with blinders on, they really wanted to immerse themselves in different societies."
This was Parker's sixth annual trip to South Africa. Local students on the trip were Kate Kidd and Penny Jennewein of Del Mar, K.C. Jaski of La Jolla, Alex Belli of Rancho Santa Fe and Maya Ellisman from Solana Beach.
The students were able to interact with local teenagers, some who attend segregated high schools. They also saw some of the extreme poverty of the country, in the poor township of Tumahole outside the town of Parys.
The girls remarked at how shocking it was that about 8,000 people live in a town right next to a township of 80,000 people living in deep poverty.
Despite all the poverty the township faced, it wasn't reflected in its people, the girls said.
"The attitude of the people was anything but morose and depressed," K.C. said. "They were excited about the future."
The students also traveled to the Savannah Wildlife Preserve, where they learned about the preservation efforts for cheetahs, an endangered species.
Alex said it was amazing to be able to pet the cheetahs. The group was also able to spot giraffes, zebras, impalas, red springbucks and wildebeests.
Emily Baratta of Del Mar, Karleigh Ash and Alia Kiran of La Jolla and Sara Gothard of Rancho Santa Fe were part of the first trip to the Philippines.
Students visited one of the last surviving rain forests on the island as well as orphanages and a home for abused girls.
The group separated into home stays, where they really got a feel for island life.
"They were very, very modest bamboo houses," said Emily, noting that they had to fill buckets of water to take showers and slept on the floor.
Even though their host families had little, they were eager to give to their visitors, the girls said.
"The thing that struck me the most is that everyone was so hospitable, so willing to share even though they didn't have much," Karleigh said.
The girls said their families fed them six times a day and even offered to have them stay more than four days.
Alia said the Filipino people have a true commitment to education. At one school, as many as 80 children attend in just two classrooms. The Parker girls donated supplies to the school and the students gasped just at the sight of paper, Alia said, adding that it gave them perspective about things in their everyday life they may take for granted.
The goal of Parker's Columbia trip, with students Milia Fisher of Rancho Santa Fe and Tina Ramenini of Rancho Penasquitos, was to set up a sister school at Paulino Salgado.
While Colombia has a reputation for being a dangerous country with lots of crime and drugs, Tina said much of the country is very beautiful. She compared the city of Cartagena to Venice and said it was safe enough to walk through the streets with her group at midnight.
When the group visited Paulino Salgado, all of the students lined up, cheered and performed for them in costumes.
The school has 675 students in seven classrooms, some with crumbling walls, Tina said. The teachers have not been paid in a year. It costs $2 annually to attend the school, and most cannot afford it, Tina said.
"Every time I spend $2, my thoughts go to those children and how it could change their lives," Tina said.
Parker donated school supplies as well as 10 computers and helped set up Internet access. Parker hopes to return next year to teach English and possibly have a Colombian teacher visit America.