Matt Prince, a Hanover High School teacher, has chaperoned students on 7 Bridges trips since 2012. With an international background—he taught several years abroad in Latin America and has also participated in different international travel programs across the world—he was convinced to take over Hanover High School’s program because of the students. He says, “When I was asked to take over the program, I talked with students who had gone on Bridges trips. What they described wouldn’t typically appeal to high school students—bucket showers, construction work—but they were just so emotional and positive in their response to the experience that I gladly agreed to do it.”
Matt has never regretted it. He says, “I had done different international travel programs with students to places like China and Egypt. While they were interesting experiences, they lacked authenticity. I felt we were getting a surface overview, seeing touristy areas, and never got an in-depth view into life in those places. Bridges is completely different. It’s been just as much of a transformative experience for me as for the students. It doesn’t matter if you are 17 or 50, it is a transformative experience for everyone involved.
Because I have spent a lot of time in Latin America, I am not entirely shocked by the poverty I see when I am in the Bridges communities. However, I always felt powerless before…I never knew how to make a change. I am continually amazed by what we accomplish with Bridges in a single week. Very rarely do we see such tangible, concrete progress, evidence of change like you do on the trip. It’s an experience I had never had before.
I see a profound impact on the students as well. They come back to the US with a sense of increased awareness of what is important in life. They re-assess the importance of physical comforts and material goods that seem so important to us. They are forced to confront their privilege and the resources they have. It puts their own problems into perspective to see how people in other parts of the world face bigger challenges and still maintain a zest for everyday life. In fact, because the trip happens during Hanover’s March Intensive Program, many students receive college admissions decisions right at the end of the week. Even if they receive bad news, they are never in a better position to receive that news. They realize the immense power and privilege they have to be attending university in the US, even if they are not accepted to their top choice school.
The Bridges experience also breaks down barriers, both between Nicaraguan people and American people, as well as between students from different social groups. The trips pull people together; students bond with community members and learn that they are not so different, and the random assortment of students from different friend groups on the trip witness something so powerful that they bond in such a meaningful way.
In my opinion, the most profound impact of Bridges is that it combats cynicism. We live in a cynical age, and people see so many problems in the world but don’t know what they can do to make a difference; we never see the change happen even if we play our part. On a Bridges trip, the students visit the house sites beforehand. They see how the families are living, with tin walls or black plastic coverings. Then they work hard and invest themselves emotionally and physically in the project. At the end of the week, they see a tangible change in the life of the family, a family they have come to know personally. The experience not only teaches them the importance of making a difference in someone’s life but empowers them to make a difference in the world.”
*Note: Interview edited for clarity and brevity.