Journey East Reflections

Journey East is an Asian studies immersion program here at Leland and Gray.

Tom Connor, the founder of Journey East, asked the alum of the program to write a reflection on how the program has affected their lives.

The Journey East Program, initially funded by the Freeman Foundation and with major support from the University of Vermont’s award winning Asian Studies Outreach Program, was created at Leland and Gray in 2000. Over 250 students from host Leland and Gray and area schools including Brattleboro, Twin Valley, Burr and Burton, Green Mountain, The Compass School, Bellow Falls and others have participated. Over 40 students from the aforementioned schools have brought their energy and talents to the high school in previous years, enriching the program and their home schools and becoming valued members of the Journey East community.

Julia DeWalt

JE 2000 and 2002

American University Graduate


Julia Dewalt“Like many of the students who have participated in Journey East over the years, it provided me with many a first. It was my first overseas flight, my first group travel experience,  my first exposure to a new culture and a new kind of collaborative learning experience. I had no idea what to expect but knew I was in the safe and capable hand of two of my most trusted teachers and that we were doing something new, and I was excited to be a part of that. I had never imagined going to China but I knew that this was a rare opportunity that I had to take advantage of. The value of experiencing different cultures was instilled in me from a young age and I knew I had to take every chance I could to experience what existed outside of rural VT.

As it turned out, Journey East 1 became the springboard for my interest in travel and over the rest of my time at Leland and Gray I was lucky enough to have other cultural exchange opportunities, including the second Journey East class in 2002. It ultimately led to my decision to attend The American University to study International Development and continue to travel and learn from people all over the world. It is easy to point to my experiences in China as a root cause for a love of travel; however, I think JE provided me with an additional strength, one a little more discreet.

As I look at what I am doing now, it is not what I would have guessed when I was a 15 year old freshman returning from my first trip halfway around the world. I am not in the foreign service, I am not living and working abroad, I am not in Washington, DC anymore. But what I do now is a very real reflection of some of the lessons I learned through my experiences with JE. The time we spent with students as a part of this Sino-American exchange taught me the importance of collaboration and the possibility of finding a connection with someone with vastly different experiences. Realizing that communicating with someone who does not speak your language is possible made me realize how strong the human connection is, and I use that in my work every day. JE reinforced the importance of thinking creatively and not letting assumptions create barriers to understanding. As we worked collaboratively to create a shared experience that transcended language, we strengthen our ability to relate to anyone, anywhere. I don’t think I truly appreciated that at the time but looking back on both my JE experiences, I can clearly see that my interest in finding a surprising shared connection with others was piqued. We cannot be limited by our comfort zones and must challenge the assumptions that we make as individuals and as a society. Giving high school students this opportunity, especially in a place like rural VT is invaluable. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and proud to have  been a part of something that has given so many students these big first experiences. I don’t think about it every day, but I know that my experiences through Journey East are at the core of who I am as a counselor, colleague, student and global citizen.”

Carrie Attley


JE 2005

Goddard College

Carrie Atley“Thanks to Journey East Program, I was able to find a voice, a sense of belonging, and grow tremendously at a young age. The program itself fostered a sense of camaraderie and community in addition to a strong sense of curiosity. The experience was transformative and proved a tremendous opportunity to increase cultural awareness. Journey East facilitated creative expression, promoted group collaboration, and provided me with great motivation to understand this great big world of ours. It was a great chance to expand my comfort zone, increase confidence, and work on developing my cultural sensitivity and conscientiousness. Though my experience with Journey East was over ten years ago, it still holds a large space in my heart and remains a defining experience in my life. It certainly played a large part in helping me develop into the person I am today and I am truly grateful to those who were able to make it happen.”

Carol Bailey

(Parent and chaperone)

South Wardsboro

JE 2007 and 2008

Hi Tom,

Carol BaileyYou ask the impossible.  In a few short paragraphs, I cannot begin to describe the impact the Journey East program has had on our family.  But here goes:

"Entering Junior High, we considered our two girls fairly worldly.  Through our work, and their membership in Girl Scouts, they had interactions with numerous international students. Not only had we taken the girls to a dozen different states, but they had also been to Europe (Romania, England) and the Caribbean (Jamaica). But their involvement with JE raised that bar dramatically. The program provided cultural immersion that is not possible when you merely vacation somewhere.

JE fostered the girls’ independence, creativity and self-sufficiency.  Thinking outside the box, working under pressure, often with time constraints, and finding creative solutions became daily necessities. The entire semester was an intensive lesson in meeting the program's high expectations. No other single program has had as positive an impact on the girls’ development, both academically and personally, as Journey East.

Today, the girls recognize opportunities and are willing to 'put themselves out there' in order to succeed. They meet new situations with confidence and exude a sense of competence and self-esteem not always found in young women. Not to mention Audrey’s near fluency in Chinese! Our family's involvement in Journey East, and the opportunities it presented, have enriched all of our lives immeasurably."

Joel Eisenkramer


JE 2004

University of California at Santa Cruz


Joel Eisenkramer“It would be my pleasure. I would say nearly all of my work and life have been related to Journey East since that highly influential first trip out of the country. I studied World Literature in college and participated in a 6-month education abroad program through the University of California in 2007. During that time I lived in Delhi and took classes in Indian literature at Delhi University. I wrote my final paper on the nationalist writer Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's re-conception of Hindu spirituality for a colonial and post-colonial India.

I also began studying Indian Classical music with Dr. Ranjan Kumar, a doctorate of music and Indian slide guitar performer from Delhi University. I made many close friendships over the course of the trip, including a tight bond with my music teacher and his wife. I have since been back to Delhi twice (in November 2009 and this past February) to stay with Dr. Ranjan and his wife, Sangita for one month each time. During these visits I reconnected with my friends (mostly musicians) and continued my study of Indian Classical music. During this most recent trip, I volunteered at the K - 12 private school where my teacher works.

The school is the Delhi Public School at Sonepat (public schools in India are what we would call private schools here in the USA as opposed to government schools). Here I taught a group guitar class and helped to organize the western music ensemble's competition pieces.”

Louise McDevitt

(Parent and chaperone)


May 8, 2013

Louise McDevit“The reputation of the Journey East program was well known to our family before our two daughters, Kate and Devan entered Leland and Gray High School from a school system which had School Choice.  In fact it helped us choose Leland and Gray from a multitude of private and public schools.  The concept of an ongoing international experiential educational program, which developed passion for learning, made it a logical choice.  The allure of the program held true and the life lessons learned included personal growth, attainment of self-reliance, thirst for knowledge and the old fashioned extremely “hard work”. In addition to watching my children’s growth, I witnessed so many positive experiences of their peers, their parents and community members as they all became involved in the Journey East team.

Our family was fortunate to host ten Inner Mongolian college students and their professors over seven years. We feel that during that time we developed deep, comfortable, respectful and meaningful relationships despite the language barriers. In addition to learning about Asian culture and history we all became very adept at Chinese charades!  In addition, we have met our “family” members multiple times and hope to see them again.

I was a chaperone for 4 weeks and every day was an educational experience.  Did you know that there are sixteen year- old students who have never been on an airplane? Yet, by the time they return from traveling all over China they develop such intense life experiences that they now believe that someday they will navigate a plane. When I traveled with the 25 students, they worked as a team and performed in front of thousands of admiring citizens of different provinces.  I will never forget the beaming smiles and the pride they took in their individual or group performances.  Their personal interests yielded relevant and meaningful capstone final projects.  From a fiscal point of view the results are immeasurable since we are don’t typically measure ownership, engagement and an ongoing interest in learning.

How fortunate are these individual students who in a matter of months are exposed to a completely unknown culture, bridge the gap of diverse socio-economic groups, learn to integrate with other peers, develop artistic and academic programs, create final projects, travel in depth throughout China and will never forget their personal view of China?  For me it was invaluable.”

Farrin Sofield


JE 2004

Evergreen State College, WA

Farrin Sofield“I would say the best thing JE taught me that the world is much larger than myself.  High school was hard, and it was too easy to navel gaze.  Journey East gave me the not only the chance to travel to China but the chance to get out of my own head.  Away from school, away from my regular life I was treated differently.  I was treated like an adult.  It came also at a perfect time for me, at an age where it's so important to know that high school, and all the insecurities that come with it, won't last forever.  It gave me confidence.  I've gotten older, I've traveled farther, but I'll never really forget that first trip.  It was the start of me growing up”

Erik Johansson


JE 2012

Erik Johansson“When I came back it seemed like nothing here had changed. But I certainly changed.  And there are things that have a new meaning now and situations that I will look at differently now that I have been through this program.  … Anything about the rise of China in general has a whole new meaning after seeing hundreds of building cranes everywhere we went, building apartments for people who didn’t need them yet, and driving on ten lane highways waiting for cars and busses and trucks to fill them up, like they already have in Hohhot (Inner Mongolia).”

“There are just so many new connections to make that it feels as though nothing here changed, it all changed so much because of how much more I have to relate it to.”

Katie Barnum


JE 2007

Mt. Holyoke

(Currently teaching English in Istanbul,  Turkey)    

Katie Barnum“Participating in the Journey East program will infect you with the travel bug.”  I heard this many times as I applied to Journey East.  Unsure of the exact meaning of these repeated words as they sifted through the air, I submitted my essays and applications anyway.  

Upon acceptance, I came to discover that the Journey East program was unlike any other.  It was one that provided experiences of a lifetime, one that I frequently revisit, through memory, photographs and friendship.  I still connect with the friends that I made in Inner Mongolia (in fact I showed a video of one of my Inner Mongolian friends dancing to my elementary students, illustrating the beauty of art through culture).  I still connect with friends that I roomed with from neighboring Vermont schools, friends whom I wouldn't have met otherwise.  I feel forever connected to my teachers, peers and our international collaborators, as we shared moments that could only have been lived with them through Journey East.  I often revisit the memories and photos from our performances, our adventures through temples and across the Gobi Desert (a bottle of sand from which still sits in my bedroom, nearly 10 years later).

As I travel and meet people who have spent their entire lives internationally, I am realizing how unique my opportunity to travel abroad to China and Inner Mongolia through the Journey East program was.  It was one that opened my eyes to true “cultural awareness.”  The program brought us together through dance, cultural exchange and exploration.  It took me outside of the small world that I knew (one that extended as far as the great Burlington, Vermont and back again).  Journey East showed me a way of living that I had never known.  It took me to a place that I was extremely fortunate to have known and truly changed my life in many ways, all of which for the better.

Now, as I reside in my home abroad, where traveling across borders is a simple weekend trip, I feel as though I have come to understand the true meaning of “being infected by the travel bug.”  Thank you Journey East for “infecting me” and for showing me the beauty of our big, wide world.”

Zoe Soule


JE 2012

University of Vermont

“This summer as I ran through the Boston airport, I remembered something that was told to me on my last day in China. My group sat gloomily upon our carry-ons, about to board our fourteen hour flight back across the globe, when we were simply told “for the rest of your life, you will be able to navigate an airport”. At the time, it didn’t seem too relevant. I was dirty, exhausted, and at the end of a whirlwind experience within a culture far different from my own. But as I sprinted past gates, all the hours of doing just that, my saxophone case thunking against my leg as we caught our next flight across the Mongolian desert, it felt entirely true. I made the flight, I correctly (if quickly) navigated an airport, and I never once doubted that my experience with Journey East was the reason I could.

It is easy to jump directly into the exciting bits when I think of everything that I experienced in China. How many people can brag that they’ve climbed sand dunes in the Gobi Desert? Performed in front of hundreds in a gold lamé dress? Created an original show and traveled performing it? Not many. But it is the small experiences linked between that secretly impressed upon me, from watching miles of coal plants flash by the bus windows, to laughing with students as I mangled the Mongolian words they pronounced for me. By participating in Journey East, I was afforded a world view that wasn’t limited to the tourist checklist. I saw China, from the carefully guarded Tiananmen Square, to the woman offering me pineapple on a stick with a toothless smile.

As an experience, Journey East expanded my horizons, tested my skills as a performer, and deepened my certainty that I wanted to travel the world. But it also gave me the skills to do so. I know how to angrily barter for my silk scarves, how to communicate using my body language, rather than picking through a translation dictionary. I know how to pack everything I could possibly need into a carry-on. I know that side streets and hidden restaurants hold the best treasures. I know that I have the courage and knowledge to succeed abroad. And yes, I know that wherever I go, I will be able to navigate the airport.”

Devin Connor


JE 2000 and 2002

College of the Atlantic


Devin ConnorOne of the more significant things that Journey East did for me was to catalyze the development of an ability to communicate with a diverse range of people. In collaborating with individuals of extremely different backgrounds both at home and abroad something about the normality of that time in life was broken. The social norms of the recent past seemed absurd in this new and greater context where I had cause to interact not only with a greater range of 'types' of people but would also see and feel a greater range of human emotion and expression of it. This would prove to be both cathartic and painful as re‐entry into normal life was always on the horizon and we would all be forced to reconcile the differences between who we had become and where we were returning to as the program itself became the recent past. In any case, despite the inevitable pain and pleasure derived from it, the forced suspension of normality at a time in my life when normal was so simply defined was a crucial first step in developing dynamic communication skills that served in the remainder of my education and have been indispensable in my professional work ever since.