Deplorable or Explorable?

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The Contrarian, a cartoon of Vincent W. ’21, becomes the face of a series of monthly articles critiquing the school (Bitmoji)

Vincent W. ’21, Opinions Editor

Exotic GSL posts reanimated dead Instagram feeds in late July, featuring 6 countries from 4 continents. With the annual flood of posts comes my renewed appreciation for the global perspective the Program gives students. But even if I gained worldly insights from my own GSL trip (Fiji ‘18), I’ve often found myself clueless about diverse cultures and issues far closer to home. 

Although GSL has an impressive catalog of sites and projects, from bathroom building in Thailand to traditional dancing in French Polynesia, the Program is limited to foreign countries. When it comes to our own country, the Upper School doesn’t provide students with any opportunity that applies the GSL formula domestically. The GSL website advertises that students experience rural life in “a community very different from their own,” but it seems that right now, we’re only able to pinpoint unique rural communities overseas, potentially ignoring meaningful experiences on the home front.

I believe that the school should incorporate US sites into the GSL Program, because the omission reinforces the “Lakeside Bubble” mentality. The Lakeside Bubble is a trend students have begun to self-diagnose, relating to Lakeside’s obliviousness to perspectives found outside the halls of exclusive urban private schools. The bubble makes the assumption that we have to outsource for communities while forgetting that King County’s median $40,000 per capita income is almost four times as great as it is in counties like Buffalo, South Dakota. By choosing to ‘fly over’ our nation’s struggling “baskets of deplorables” on the way the next exotic village, GSL becomes one of the many manifestations of our sheltered, elitist, mindset. How can we justify scratching at the surface of developing-world needs, when our own country is home to communities with problems that are far more prevalent to our daily lives? 

The importance of a GSL experience in the US is more relevant than ever in our nation’s divisive political atmosphere; in a recent NBC News poll, 80% of Americans felt that the country was “mainly” or “totally” divided on major issues. I myself am bombarded with daily news about national problems, but parroting the latest analysis on immigration policies or tariffs is meaningless without actually experiencing them. By spending a month in rural communities with migrant workers or those affected by the trade war, GSL United States students might gain an understanding of their own country’s national crises, maybe even on par with my understanding of rugby after GSL Fiji.

The Middle School GSL Program has been popping the Lakeside Bubble by sending 8th graders on a week-long service excursion to rural PNW communities. I went to the Makah Reservation and was exposed to the nuanced controversy of traditional whale hunting. Lakeside also requires students to complete service hours for presumably local organizations, but the nearness of these sites might limit the variety of perspectives they can offer. I see no reason for the Upper School Program to not extend local service and the Middle School Program’s merits to the interstate level. Lakeside might partner with various semester abroad schools, based in the United States, but their bucolic settings are geared towards education rather than service. 

Lakeside is lucky to have the GSL Program at all, and international trips should be continued, with the addition of a few domestic trips. When asked about the possibility of these domestic GSL trips, Ms. Devine’s (Associate Director of the GSL Program) response was: “You never know! Anything is possible 😊.” Doing service in another country is no doubt a privilege, but constraining the GSL experience to far-flung villages is privileged. Even if the GSL Program sends us to the ends of the Earth, by bypassing our own country, Lakeside is just blowing bubbles to the wind.