High School World Languages Teacher Waldir Sepulveda and High School History Teacher Anna Stern recall their recent travels funded by USN’s Helen Meador Summer International Travel Fellowship to enhance their curriculum and teaching.
By Holly Newsome, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications
High School World Languages Teacher Waldir Sepulveda and High School History Teacher Anna Stern presented on memorable experiences in Peru and Japan funded by the Helen Meador Summer International Travel Fellowship at USN’s summer inservice.
Sepulveda, a 2023 recipient, visited a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Peru’s Andean Mountains called Cusco. The historical capital city was built by the Incas, South American Indians who assembled the largest empire to ever exist in the Americas. A native of South America, Sepulveda had been dreaming of visiting Cusco and the neighboring Machu Picchu, another site of ancient Inca ruins, for almost two decades, so he could immerse himself in an area to gain understanding and belonging.
“What does it mean to be from the Andes? Is there a city that is the mecca of everything Andean? That is Cusco,” said Sepulveda. “Cusco literally means the center or the navel of the universe. That is why I chose to visit the city,” said Sepulveda.
Sepulveda explained the influences of different cultures on the ancient city. The Incas established Cusco around 1200 A.D. Sites associated with the Incan Trinity, which refers to the puma, condor, and snake, can be discovered throughout the city. Cusco is in the shape of a puma, and the ruins of Sacsayhuaman are said to be the head of the puma. The Spanish captured Cusco in the 1530s and colonized the city. This is especially evident at the Plaza de Armas or Cusco’s main square, where Sepulveda described gold fixtures, cobblestone streets, cathedrals, and monasteries.
After exploring Cusco, Sepulveda made his way to Machu Picchu, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World according to Britannica. It is believed that the archaeological wonder, the last city before the Andean jungle, was a royal residence or a sacred religious site for the Incas. Sepulveda mentioned the ruins being an architectural masterpiece given the designing and building of the historical sanctuary. Among Machu Picchu’s highlights, the Intiwatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Temple of the Condor to name a few buildings. Sepulveda ended his trip by experiencing some of the local culture.
“I took Quechua language classes. Quechua was the language of the Incas, and today it is the most spoken indigenous language in the Americas,” said Sepulveda. “I learned folk dances of the Cusco region on train rides to/from Machu Picchu.”
Stern, a 2020 recipient, was finally able to visit Japan, or the Land of the Rising Sun, in East Asia’s Pacific Ocean. She acknowledged an ongoing conversation in the United States about how educators teach American history, specifically the unflattering parts. Stern wanted to know more about how Japan perceives itself and its history.
“Japan is often not the first place you think about when considering world history, specifically global changemakers, but it really should be,” said Stern. “I wanted to know how the Japanese perception of its history plays into a larger, global scale.”
Stern first observed Japanese culture as a lens for understanding Japan’s perception of self. She noticed many Japanese practice multiple religious belonging. The country’s primary religion is Shintō, and it has strongly influenced Japan’s cultural hallmarks with sights like shrines, temples, and sumo wrestlers. Buddhism, another popular religion in the country, influences Japan’s culture in the fine arts with sights like paper cranes–thousands–for hope and peace. Additionally, other symbols of Japan’s deeply spiritual culture include zen gardens, tea ceremonies, and sword dances.
“Whereas Japanese culture is embraced, there is a conversation about some Japanese history not being talked about in Japan’s classrooms,” said Stern.
Specifically, Stern mentioned Japan’s occupation of Korea and its treatment of Koreans for many years. Some 20,000 Koreans died when the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and while a monument was created for those who perished in 1970, it was not publicly displayed until 1999. Stern also noted the many years Japan spent trying to build an empire, so it would not be absorbed by another country. Before World War II, Japan went on a warpath through China, killing thousands of people, yet this may not be something talked about often in Japan.
The Helen Meador Summer International Travel Fellowship funds international summer professional development grants for USN faculty. Travel must extend beyond North America, and projects or studies must benefit the entire USN community. The grant is open to faculty in all divisions, and the fund has grown to support two faculty travel grants.
Here is a list of previous Helen Meador Summer International Travel Fellowship recipients:
2017: High School Art Teacher Delia Seigenthaler traveled to Ghana.
2018: Middle School Eighth Grade Teacher Pamela Malinowski traveled to Italy and Switzerland.
2019: Lower School Third Grade Teacher Sarah Wiley traveled to Spain.
No grants were utilized in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic travel restrictions.
2022: Middle School Fifth Grade Science Teacher Tobey Balzer traveled to Iceland.