The choice was between an immediate daily break at school and the travel opportunity of a lifetime down the line.
Isaac Hagedorn, who was entering his freshman year at Center Grove High School, had nearly a full schedule of classes, including continuing his study of Spanish. He had one opening — ideal for a study hall.
But his father, Center Grove social studies teacher Alan Hagedorn, offered him an alternative: fill that space with a second foreign language, Center Grove’s new Chinese language program.
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In return, he’d take his son on a trip to Asia before he graduated from high school.
“Not having a study hall probably made things harder, but I pulled through it. Study hall is a great free period, but I didn’t think I’d need it,” Isaac Hagedorn said.
Two years after making the deal, the Hagedorns completed their tour of Japan, Korea and China this past summer. They saw famous Tsukiji fish market’s tuna auction in Japan, stepped into the fraught Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea and sampled sumptuous Peking duck from a 600-year-old Chinese restaurant.
More importantly, the opportunity allowed father and son to get a deeper understanding of peace and what that means both for Asia and the U.S.
“Peace is more than just ‘not war.’ It is an ease of interaction and exchange in which trust and understanding leads to new and broader perspectives and a fuller and richer life,” Alan Hagedorn said.
While the deal between father and son was the foundation of the trip, the mechanics of it started falling into place after Alan Hagedorn was chosen for a peace study tour of Japan.
He was one of 12 educators from throughout the U.S. to take part in the “Voices of Peace and Reconciliation: Messages from Japan to the United States” study. The event was organized by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, a program administered by Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges, as well as the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The goal was to spend three weeks in late June and July working with Japanese students and teachers, as well as others involved in peace and reconciliation studies throughout the country.
“The best part of a study tour, especially for teachers, is the school visits. Not just that you go into a school, but the several hours that you spent working around language barriers in order to share ideas and activities is really the richest of experiences,” Alan Hagedorn said. “Once you chat with college students for two hours, or are guided around the city by middle-schoolers, or dance with elementary school kids preparing for a festival, you start to become a part of their culture.”
Central to their learning was talking to civilians, both old and young, about their experiences in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The primary purpose of the trip was to consider peace through the voices and messages of the people who had experienced the atomic bombs firsthand, lived in the communities afterward or live there now.
They met with two survivors of the atomic bomb and heard about their experience crossing the wasteland to recover loved ones’ bodies. Much of their time was spent at Honkawa Elementary, near the target site of the bomb dropping.
They witnessed the “stone walk,” a symbolic relay of a stone carried from Hiroshima to Nagasaki to focus on civilian deaths due to the atomic bombs.
“By the third day we were there, I just felt overwhelmed. I’m a social studies teacher, and I studied it in college, but there was so much to learn,” Alan Hagedorn said.
Alan Hagedorn had traveled throughout the world, including study tours to Europe and China. For Isaac Hagedorn, this was the first time abroad.
Starting in 2014, Center Grove piloted a Chinese language program with teacher Chris Blackburn. Students learn Mandarin Chinese as well as food, dress, art and other aspects of the country.
Isaac Hagedorn, a junior at Center Grove, has been taking Chinese since the start. This trip was an opportunity to put into practice the things he had learned over that time.
“It might have been a peace trip for him, but it was an intro to Chinese culture for me,” Isaac Hagedorn said.
His job was to speak with the cab drivers, street merchants and others they encountered, working on conversational Chinese and communicating enough to navigate the cities.
In many of the areas they visited, people spoke English. Announcements given over train speakers, signs on high-traffic areas and almost all documents use the language.
But on occasion, Isaac Hagedorn had to rely on his Chinese language skills.
“In China, almost like America, there are different dialects. The dialect I’m learning is the northern dialects, one of the most official,” he said. “Whenever you get down south, there were little differences. When they’re speaking as fast as they can, it made it difficult to pick out what they were saying.”
In China, they made their way through the most important cultural and social centers around the eastern half of the country.
They toured the Forbidden City in Beijing, which draws 80,000 visitors every day. At Tiananmen Square, they gathered with thousands of people to witness the sunrise flag raising.
They found their way into hutongs, narrow alleyway neighborhoods off of Beijing’s hyperactive main thoroughfares. The alleys, with communal baths, brick-and-mortar construction and labyrinthine twists and turns, offered a jarringly intimate quietness in contrast to the city surrounding them.
They visited Confucius’ home in Qufu, which was the second largest temple and palace complex in the country. At Tai’an, they took a bus most of the way up Mt. Tai, one of the five sacred mountains of China, then climbed the final 1,000 steps up to the Jade temple at the peak.
While China made up the bulk of their trip, the Hagedorns also had memorable experiences elsewhere in Asia.
While in Japan, they got to eat fresh sushi at Sukiyabashi Jiro, one of the world’s best sushi restaurants, and wandered through the overwhelming urban density of cities such as Tokyo.
While standing in a conference room in the center of the Demilitarized Zone, North Korean soldiers surrounded the building. The Hagedorns could see their stony glares and their fists bruised from training. A group of high-profile tourists from North Korea had also come to visit the area, and tensions were high.
“Suddenly, a border that was only half-guarded became a standoff of two very tense parties,” Alan Hagedorn said.
From the trip, Alan Hagedorn plans to use what he witnessed to teach his students, particularly those in Advanced Placement World History. He has already planned to do a green tea ceremony with the class, and use other illustrations to put Japan and China into perspective.
But just as important is the educational aspect is helping his own son lay the foundation for a lifetime of travel.
“I want my kids to be global travelers. I want them to know how to travel, and understand the logistics. It can be intimidating,” Alan Hagedorn said.
For Isaac Hadedorn, the experience was the best opportunity yet for him to learn about the world outside of Indiana and the U.S. That alone was worth giving up study hall for, he said.
“Being able to be there, and make your own opinions about things, instead of what other people have told you how a city was, was the best part for me,” he said.