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St. Augustine School’s International Travel Club will arrive in Japan this spring in time to see the cherry blossoms

The group of 28 students, teachers and parents will visit Japan, Seoul
(Stock image/Metro Creative Connection)

St. Augustine School’s International Travel Club members are preparing for the experience of a lifetime as their trip to Japan and Seoul, South Korea draws closer.

And they couldn’t have timed their trip any more perfectly: a famous natural spectacle, the cherry blossoms in Japan should be in bloom during their visit. The annual event typically only lasts for about a week in most of the country.

The 21 students, four teachers and a couple of parents, will be departing on March 21, and arriving back home on April 3.

“I think it’s really important for young people to get out and see the world,” said St. Augustine teacher and travel club coordinator Brad Normandeau.

An avid world traveller himself, he had the interest and the experience to take over the reigns of the club when the former coordinator retired.

Normandeau said these international trips give students the opportunity to experience another culture outside of their small town and realize while there are many differences, people from around the world have a lot in common as well.

“I think it’s good for students to learn that.”

Normandeau said his experience as an exchange student to Japan 25 years ago was “life-changing.”

“In some ways, this is a reunion tour for me.”

The trip is also special to him as his daughter is also going. She’s the same age as he was when he first went to Japan.

The club usually has trips bi-annually, and traditionally has gone on tours in Europe. However, this time around, the students said they wanted to visit Asia.

Normandeau believes their last trip was to Italy in 2015. COVID-19 then interrupted their schedule.

Normandeau said he’s seen for himself the difference these kinds of international trips can make in young people.

He recalled one student who had been particularly shy and quiet before going on a trip to Paris.

After going on the tour, she was more outspoken and confident, said Normandeau. Now in her mid-20s, she’s continued to be a world traveller.

“She gets out and sees things,” said Normandeau, adding he wants other Ponoka kids to have the same broadening experiences.

During the tour, they will be taking a Korean cooking class, making their own gold leaf chopsticks, visiting the former imperial palace in Kyoto and the current one in Tokyo, as well as taking a guided tour in the Korean demilitarized zone.

While in Japan, to travel between the countryside and the cities, they will be going by bullet train.

“The kids are super excited at the prospect of taking a super-fast train across country,” said Normandeau.

Normandeau himself had his first experience with a bullet train in Spain last August, and said it’s incredible how fast they actually go.

While in South Korea, the group will be touring the Samsung Innovation Museum, and some historical sites, such as castles and temples.

“We’re hoping to get a mix of the classical culture of both countries, and the modern aspects of both countries as well.”

The tour is nearly all-inclusive, with the travel, hotels, guided tours and admissions included, with the participants only needing spending money for souvenirs and lunches. The total cost per person is also lower because of the group rate.

However, with a cost of about $7,000 per student, it’s a big expense, and one not all families can afford.

In the past, the school has wanted to avoid fundraising for the benefit of individual students, so each club member pays their own way, said Normandeau.

Normandeau said fundraising to help lower the cost is something he wants to examine in the future.

“My feeling is I’d like to make it more accessible to kids who couldn’t go otherwise.”

Once they are back from their Asia trip, the club will begin planning for their tour to Greece in 2026.

Any students in grades nine to 12 who want to join the travel club can sign up.

READ MORE: St. Augustine International Travel Club travels to Spain

Emily Jaycox

About the Author: Emily Jaycox

I’m Emily Jaycox, the editor of Ponoka News and the Bashaw Star. I’ve lived in Ponoka since 2015 and have over seven years of experience working as a journalist in central Alberta communities.
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