Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom

JE 2012

Documentary film maker (“Finding Your Place”) in 2014

University of Vermont


Giannina need better“I was fifteen when Journey East carted me away from my safe, comfortable home in rural Vermont and shoved me into the real world. The thing about fifteen year old girls is that they don’t really get the “real world” thing; the only world they tend to be concerned with is their own. So when we placed down in China: busy, enormous, intimidating, unforgiving China, I was no longer a typical teenage girl. I was a unique and lucky girl who was about to experience the best month of her life.

The three months at home preceding our time in China were also wonderful. The group of 18 students that I was a part of spent each school day in almost constant company of each other, learning the Chinese language and about all aspects of Chinese culture, singing and playing in chorus and band and creating an original, goofy, hopefully entertaining art performance. I like to think that our teachers did everything they could to prepare us for China, but I think they held back on purpose. The shock of being in such an unfamiliar place is necessary to jumpstart such a powerful learning experience as Journey East. One day, we were students of teeny Leland and Gray High School in our tiny valley of Vermont and the next, we were students of China.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where and when Journey East changed me with more precision than in China, March/April 2012. The countless adventures that month had in store for us fostered an unbelievable amount of maturation and reflection. We climbed the Great Wall and Mt. Tai. We explored the Gobi Desert and Confucius’s birthplace. We were set loose in the middle of dizzyingly busy shopping streets and bombarded with Chinese students begging for our contact information afer a performance. When all those things become a daily occurrence, it’s hard not to learn anything.

It wasn’t until I was home again, kept wide-awake in the wee hours of the morning by jet lag, that I realized that I was changed by my time in China. I found myself more respectful of the mounds of schoolwork I had to do, because my workload was an anthill compared to the mountains of work faced by an average Chinese high school student. I joined more communities and clubs within my school to savor the freedom to choose what I wanted to do, because in China, many must decide their career as early as age 12 and focus on only that. I jumped at any travel opportunity that I could find, because I craved that feeling of utter unfamiliarity that I had become so accustomed to in China.

In all, Journey East made a more appreciative person. Appreciation and gratitude is something that everyone needs a little more of, and I think those attribute are especially powerful in young people. Journey East pushed me into the world, and I recommend every young person to have a similar experience.”