(This article originally appeared in the Belen Jesuit Magazine, summer 2019 edition.)
Who wouldn’t be impressed? Only a high school sophomore and already he could boast of seeing the Eiffel Tower, St. Mark’s Square, Japan’s Horyuji Temple, and the Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. How lucky for that Belen globetrotter to tour so much of the world during a family weekend at Epcot.
Once upon a time, an automobile trip to central Florida was as good a travel experience as it got for our students. The Social Studies Department came to realize its mission necessitated creative learning to counter the lure of the virtual reality that is Disney World. The long-line simulations at the Magic Kingdom do have their place in Florida tourism. However, civic education at Belen needed to do better than the Hall of Presidents. When the Close Up program to Washington, DC, was initiated in 1975 and the Model United Nations program launched in 1993, the Social Studies Department declared that Miami and Orlando were not going to be the limits of learning lessons. Then came in 1994 the most daring of proposals from the most unlikely of ancestries.
He became a Belen Social Studies teacher in 1990 as a descendant of the conservative icon in the nineteenth century, the 22nd and 24th United States President Stephen Grover Cleveland.
Foregoing a career in politics, Mr. Charles “Charlie” Cleveland majored in history, with a minor in religious studies, at St. Thomas University for a life in education. There was one noticeable gap in Mr. Cleveland’s education. His entire world travel resume was limited to one visit to Canada.
“My love for travel didn’t begin until I married in 1990. My wife is a Delta Airlines flight attendant. She made it possible for us to see the world. My eyes and heart were opened to travel,” the blessed husband recalls.
While in graduate school at Nova Southeastern University, Mr. Cleveland created a practicum for his Master’s Degree in Social Studies and Educational Leadership that involved researching his newly found love of travel. He wondered, “What would be the effect in high school students with an increase of geographical and cultural awareness through world travel?” With the enthusiastic endorsement of President/Principal Fr. Marcelino Garcia, SJ, the “Overseas Study Program (OSP)” at Belen was born. What started as a one-year research project with 17 pioneer travelers is now celebrating its 25th Anniversary of providing 1,254 travelers in the Belen community the joys of being in 32 nations on four continents.
After the first four years touring traditional European destinations, a high-risk decision was made to go to Russia. The memory of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was still fresh in Little Havana. The possibility of a boycott was real. When the largest group to date signed-up for Moscow and St. Petersburg, we knew the reason for OSP in Belen had taken root. One of the most potent moments in our tour of St. Petersburg took place in Palace Square in front of the Hermitage, the Winter Palace of the Czar. We stood quietly contemplating being on the grounds of the Russian Revolution of 1917. The outcome of that event led to the birth of the USSR that led to the Soviets sustaining the Cuban revolution of 1959. Two years later, the expulsion of Belen. We attend Belen in Miami because of what happened where we were standing in Russia. Experiences as powerful as that come from being there. It was not long afterwards other exotic places as China and Japan became OSP destinations.
On September 11, 2001, travel plans around the world changed forever. OSP was in the initial stages of preparing a trip to Egypt. Instead, for 2002 we toured USA patriotic landmarks in Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and Ground Zero in New York City. For the following summer, a small but sturdy group toured the Aloha State including the USS ARIZONA and USS MISSOURI in Pearl Harbor. By 2004, OSP was back on the road to Europe.
In 2014, the Overseas Study Program expanded to offer two trips each summer. Mr. Cleveland sensed the emerging need to concentrate on Asia and the Pacific. Mr. Collins, with Humanities Department Chairperson María Inés Leáñez and Fr. Christian Saenz SJ ’95 as OSP Chaplain, continued offerings to European destinations with no shortage of distinctive sites yet to be experienced. Expanding the focus of travel beyond the social studies to include the Humanities and Theology departments would become the bedrock of OSP. Memories abound at the All
England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club of Wimbledon, Prado Museum, Normandy American Cemetery, Mont Saint Michel Abbey, St. Malo, Chartres Cathedral at night, Marquis de Lafayette gravesite in Picpus Cemetery, Belem Tower in Lisbon, Christopher Columbus Tomb in Seville Cathedral, Rock of Gibraltar, Peace Wall of Belfast, and Edinburgh Castle.
The enormous interest from students and families in Asia inspired Mr. Cleveland to expand again the spirit of OSP. He created the Matteo Ricci Club, launched a student exchange program with St. Ignatius High School in Taipei, and forged a partnership with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Miami under Deputy Generals Philip Wang and David Chien, and Vice Consul Adolfo Sun. The gift from TECO to Belen of Jesuit Br. Guiseppe Castiglione’s 18th Century painting “One Hundred Horses” is a tribute to the solidarity of common purpose. To further educate Belen students with the tool of language, the World Languages Department now offers Introduction to Chinese and Mandarin Chinese levels 1, 2, and 3. Belen is most fortunate to have the classes taught by Mrs. Hsiao Chi Chiu from Taiwan who also provides invaluable assistance for travel in Asia with OSP.
OSP gave rise to other like-minded programs. International education travel opportunities at Belen such as the Latin American History class trip to Peru and the newly created World Languages’ French class trip to Canada can only lead to a more meaningful view of God’s good Earth.
The Overseas Study Program for 25 years has enabled students to leave home to know others, themselves, and home better. For the goals of understanding, appreciation, a commitment to justice, and a world of memories with classmates and families, may OSP continue its mission! Next stop in 2019, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. In 2020, the Overseas Study Program travels for the first time to the Holy Land and Kingdom of Jordan.