Real-World Experience through Travel

Real-World Experience through Travel
Shoulong Zhou, High School Teacher, Chinese & Global Politics

Post Oakers would agree that trips are among the most exciting experiences. In the High School, students and faculty kick off a new school year with an Odyssey trip that takes them to a destination eight to ten hours away from home.

High School students can travel domestically and internationally during the short intensive courses known as January and March Terms (J- and M-Terms). Local field trips are also well integrated into many classes and learning experiences. Regardless of the distance or length, Post Oak travel brings real-world experience into students’ learning, helps to build community, and cultivates their curiosity.

No Language and Culture classroom is better than an immersion learning experience. Post Oak students attend the sister school in Tangshan, China, during the first week of the M-Term China trip and live with their local host families. For students whose world language acquisition is Chinese Mandarin, it’s an excellent opportunity to grow their language skills and intercultural competence. Many get the chance to apply the skills and knowledge they have learned from the classroom in an authentic language and cultural environment and seek improvement from peers at the local sister school and from host families. Students also show learning motivation development after returning from such immersion trips.

It’s fascinating that many trips at the High School are initiated, proposed, designed, and led by students. Letting young adults take ownership with guidance enormously unleashes their potential when facing and handling real-world challenges.

The real-world learning experience does not happen only in a foreign language and different cultural environment far from home. In 2021, the pandemic paused the High School Odyssey trip; however, the High School made the learning experience happen in Houston. The real-world learning about Houston from local field trips was as rich and exciting as other Odyssey trips. Asia town tour, Hispanic culture exploration, Houston music history tour, Buffalo Bayou Boat trip, etc., brought many remarkable aspects of the city that many students said they had never experienced. 

Students stand at the Great Wall of China.

Post Oak students and the International students from the Chinese sister school dance on the Great Wall, 2019 M-Term China trip


It’s fascinating that many trips at the High School are initiated, proposed, designed, and led by students. Among them are the trips to San Francisco, London, Ireland, Spain, Singapore, and the UK college trip. The teachers are merely there to advise and offer support for administrative aspects. Letting young adults take ownership with guidance enormously unleashes their potential when facing and handling real-world challenges. They learn and grow while mapping, budgeting, figuring out logistics, organizing itineraries, communicating with partners, balancing different needs, problem-solving difficulties, taking care of special requests, managing details, etc. One can hardly gain these life skills in classrooms. 

Post Oak strives to build community. One way to do that is to create shared experiences through traveling. In New Orleans, students and teachers try together to navigate and accomplish the scavenger hunt tasks. In West Texas, they play, sing, laugh, and gaze at the stars together surrounding pit fires at night. At the Mt. Livermore Summit on Angel Island, they cheer for their conquer of the high mountain and are awed by the spectacular view. On the Great Wall, they find dancing together the best way to express joy and excitement and celebrate friendship with peers from other parts of the world. After four hours of hiking, they devour food on the dinner table but still can’t help to laugh hard at funny moments on the hike. In a bunkhouse, they sometimes forget it’s already passed the lights-off time when the students have successfully engaged the teachers in their interesting conversation. Those unforgettable moments bring a sense of belongingness to each community member. 

Students navigate where they are going on trip.

HS students navigate in NOLA, 2019 Odyssey trip


Maria Montessori believed that children learn best when they can follow their natural curiosity and engage in work that interests them. Post Oak’s trips inspire curiosity. Why does Houston have two Chinatowns? What was the third-Ward like in the 1960s, and how has city development shaped it? Why is the west Texas landscape so unique? What dinosaurs lived in Seymour, Texas, millions of years ago? Why was the most difficult-to-escape prison built in Alcatraz? How does the ranch in Cosca Rica achieve self-sustainability, and what can other communities learn from them? …. Such questions always come to students naturally while attentively engaging in the travel experiences. One of the Post Oak students on the China M-Term trip once said, “If this is what China is like, I want to know what every other place is like in the world.” It is truly how the Post Oak trips unfold the world before young learners and invite them to explore more spontaneously. Post Oak sees developing lifelong learners as its mission. The travels are a significant way that it lives up to that mission. 

At its core, the Montessori approach prepares children to be independent, curious, and peace-advocating adults. At Post Oak, the unique traveling experiences align with the essence of Montessori’s philosophy. The distance between learning and the real world is erased on these Post Oak trips, which, on the other hand, feed the young adults with growing curiosity,  creativity, compassion, and sympathy. The world will eventually count on them to build peace and harmony. 

Students pose with their arms around each other admiring the view.

2022 M-Term, San Francisco Trip, Post Oak students at the Livermore Summit, Angel Island

Students gathered preparing dinner on their trip to west Texas.

The HS 2022 Odyssey trip, West Texas

Students are standing in the Project Row house for their global politics lesson.

HS Global Politics students visit Project Row Houses in the Third Ward

Students sit on the floor playing the guitar in China.

2019 M-term China trip, A Post Oak Student and her host family’s daughter in Tangshan, China

Students standing in front of building in the Houston International District.

2021 Houston City Odyssey, HS students in Houston International District

Student poses next to rock on the paleontology trip.

2022 M-term Paleo trip, A HS student in the Paleontology field

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