Evelyn Seidner embarked on a remarkable journey to India and Nepal last summer with World Learning’s The Experiment in International Living program — the same program that her mother and grandfather had done when they were about her age.
During Evelyn’s trip, she spent five days sleeping on the floor of a classroom in India with 15 fellow students and their group leaders. It was close quarters with a lack of reliable electricity to operate fans and A/C. But, it was an experience she will not soon forget.
“I will remember that part of the trip because it was really when I made the strongest connections with everyone in my group,” she said. “It was just such an intense bonding experience.”
“I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do it and see a part of the world that I had never seen before with other students who were from all across the United States.”
The Experiment, World Learning’s flagship program, has been offering immersive experiential learning programs abroad since 1932. The programs give students the opportunity to explore the world in a personal, meaningful way and develop new, lasting friendships through hands-on experiences in local communities and homestays on five continents.
Evelyn joined the 2019 Experiment Leadership Institute, a highly competitive program that augments international travel with a leadership seminar in Washington, D.C. and project planning sessions at World Learning headquarter in Vermont.
“I’m really glad I had the opportunity to do it and see a part of the world that I had never seen before with other students who were from all across the United States — and all across the world too — and who were all my age,” she said.
Evelyn is a third-generation Experimenter. Her mother, Diane Rosenmiller, went to Switzerland in 1987 with The Experiment, and her grandfather Fred Rosenmiller went to France with the program in 1952.
“It was very meaningful to me, and as a result, I was instrumental in having two of my four daughters go on The Experiment,” Fred said. “Diane has created the third generation by sending Evelyn to India, so we’re three generations and all the experiences were very positive.”
Evelyn explained that she would not have been able to do this program if her mother hadn’t told her about it. “She gave me the initial opportunity to apply, which was really meaningful,” Evelyn said.
All three Experimenters emphasized the challenging yet rewarding experience of learning to communicate in another language during their programs.
Fred stated that the most influential part of his trip was being placed in a family that did not speak English. That immersion into French culture pushed him to gain a strong command of the language.
“I was dreaming in French and everything else,” he said. “I was so proud of my French accomplishment.”
Diane also stayed with a French-speaking family during her program. Both Diane and Evelyn noted what an immense learning experience it was figuring out how to communicate in different ways and learn about their families.
“I think the homestay for me was definitely really special,” Evelyn said. “I was living with another family for almost two weeks … over the course of it, I really was able to form a bond with them and learn a little bit about how they live, and they were able to teach me some Hindi.”
Evelyn’s homestay brother taught her to write her name in Hindi, and they played countless games of Uno together.
“Whether it was my homestay family or our in-country leader … I met some really awesome people, and we’re all still in touch.”
Evelyn, Diane, and Fred not only gained considerable language skills from their time as Experimenters, but they also developed lasting friendships and connections.
“I guess my favorite part would just be having the opportunity to meet so many new and amazing people both who were within my group and people that we met along the way,” Evelyn said. “Whether it was my homestay family or our in-country leader … I met some really awesome people, and we’re all still in touch.”
Evelyn’s mother built strong connections with her group during a mountain climbing adventure in Zermatt that was both exhilarating and taxing.
“I remember climbing up this ladder to get into the hostel … but we were way, way up high,” she said with a laugh. “And you know, at times, we were all chained together, or roped together, with crampons and ice picks … It was very exciting carrying packs up there and a lot of good adventure for me as an 18-year-old.”
Being able to see those sights while being part of a group and helping each other through the strenuous climbing was one of the most influential parts of her trip, Diane said.
During a ski trip about 15 years ago, Fred got the chance to visit his homestay family again. “I had written the [Seguin] family, and they were all enthusiastic about my coming down,” he said. “They showed me the room again that I stayed in and the god-awful tie that I gave them as a present [that] they still had. So, I reminisced a little bit about the time I was there with the Experiment.”
Fred acquired a wine bottle during The Experiment that he still has to this day. “It happened to be the Seguin family wine … so I have that on my shelf. Matter of fact, I had that bottle in prep school on my desk, and I prized it so much; an empty wine bottle — but it had some great labels on it and it was from the family.”
Evelyn hopes that, like her grandfather, she will get the chance to see her host family again.
“I want to go back for sure,” she said. “I really love India and the beautiful country and all the people that I met there. Our last day of the homestay, our host parents just keep saying, ‘Please come back. Please come back. We will be waiting for you.’ So that was a really nice moment.”
“It was not just meaningful from the standpoint of the language but also how we differed in many ways and were very similar in other ways.”
The Experiment also gave this family a new understanding of different cultures and ways of life.
“It was not just meaningful from the standpoint of the language but also how we differed in many ways and were very similar in other ways,” Fred said. “They had seen a lot of [American] John Wayne cowboy movies that were popular back then in the ’50s and got the impression that we were all kind of cowboys riding horses around, [but] they got a different impression from us and getting to know us.”
Evelyn echoed her grandfather.
“Just being able to experience a different culture definitely opened my eyes to how I was living before and how I can live better and be more aware [of other people and cultures] in my own life,” she said. “It gave me a greater sense of connection with other people around the world and just people that are in my own community or near my community that I didn’t know before.”
Although the three shared many experiences on their programs, Evelyn’s participation with the Leadership Institute was unique. It allowed her to directly incorporate what she had learned into her life at home and even included a community project that she did once she returned to the United States.
“A really big part of the trip was going to different places and meeting with NGOs and other organizations, so that definitely gave me a kind of bigger-picture look at how much work people are doing for their own communities,” she explained. “[That] definitely made me come home with a greater sense of urgency to help in any way I can in my own community.”
Diane noticed the life-changing value of The Experiment, especially for her daughter.
“I feel like for [Evelyn] … she really came back changed,” Diane said. “So who knows, maybe I came back changed, too, and my mom would’ve known that I grew up a good bit on the trip.”
“I would recommend it to someone who’s ready for a challenge and wants to grow as a person.”
Overall, Evelyn and her family wholeheartedly recommended The Experiment.
“Everything was really well organized … and I don’t think I really got homesick because I was just having so much fun,” Diane joked.
Evelyn said that she has already recommended the program to one of her friends. “There are definitely times where it can be a little frustrating or the things that you’re doing aren’t easy, but that’s kind of the point of the trip, especially the Leadership Institute specifically,” she said. “And so, I would recommend it to someone who’s ready for a challenge and wants to grow as a person.”