A trip that changed a teacher’s life

Traveling the world gives people the opportunity to grow through being exposed to other cultures and life outside of their comfort zone. Long Hill Elementary School teacher Linda Cascella said her experience of traveling to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand this past July changed her life forever.

Cascella has been a Speech Pathologist with the Shelton Public School system for 17 years  and said she has been traveling with an annual summer program called People to People International for a number of years as well.

PPI is a student travel program created by President Dwight Eisenhower back in 1956 designed to “enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural, and humanitarian activities.”

She has traveled with students from all over the country to various places across the globe as a chaperone, but said her latest experience was especially “eye opening.”

In July 2016, Cascella and 45 high school kids, along with five other leaders went to Fiji, Australia and New Zealand to learn of new cultures, ways of life, and build lasting friendships while they were at it.

She said unfortunately no students from Shelton attended the trip and no one knew each other prior to the start of the three week journey, but the group bonded with one another through their experiences.

Cascella said groups of students chose to stay with local families while visiting New Zealand.

“Groups of two or three students stayed with host families,” said Cascella. “You could tell they were nervous at first, but got to work on dairy farms and even learned to hunt.”

Aside from the group’s time in Australia and New Zealand, Cascella said they also visited a Fijian village which was also much different than what she and the students were used to.

“We arrived at the village and were donating school supplies and Pez candy,” said Cascella. “It was like we were giving out hundred dollar bills with how appreciative the kids were.”

She recalled visiting a local school in Fiji and being humbled by the conditions.

“When we arrived some of us were complaining about not having internet when some kids didn’t even have electricity,” said Cascella. “It just put everything in perspective for me.”

While visiting the Fijian village’ school the tourist group were shocked to see some of the other cultural differences.

“One child didn’t do their homework and received physical punishment. Fijian students that received detention were forced to dig ditches. Things were obviously very different there than from here and caught us (the chaperones) off guard,” said Cascella. “Some kids were visibly upset by seeing that so we had to discuss with them that although we may not agree with how they do certain things; this is their culture.”

Cascella said the government in Fiji is in the process of making physical punishment on students illegal.

“Our delegation leader shared stories about how some students used to wear specific clothing to absorb the pain,” said Cascella.

Even though the group experienced some culture shock when visiting the local Fijian school, Cascella said it was still her favorite part of the trip.

“The Fijian students were so appreciative of everything, it was humbling,” said Cascella. “You become more grateful of the things we take for granted every day.”

Cascella said in an effort to share life changing experiences with Shelton students, she is holding a meeting for students in grades 8-12 on Wednesday, Oct. 19 in preparation for a trip to the South African safari. The meeting will take place at 6:30 p.m. in 565 Long Hill Ave. ( Long Hill School).

The trip to South Africa will feature more local interactions, white water rafting, interacting with elephants.

For more information on how to be a part of PPI’s travel program contact Cascella at 203- 209-9415.