By Keith Wasser

Last month, Riverwood High School students had an opportunity to experience Italian culture as it should be experienced…in Italy.

The trip was led by Riverwood teacher Jordan Bounds and attended by 52 Riverwood students. Although it is not technically affiliated with Riverwood, this distinction, Bounds explains, is necessary.

“School trips are required to follow a series of rules that would greatly hamper our activity,” he noted. “For instance, there is an 11 p.m. curfew for all school trips. In Spain, you’re still eating diner at 11 p.m.”

The “Bounds trip,” as Riverwood students refer to it, is by no means new. In fact, Bounds has been leading Riverwood students on trips to different regions of Europe every summer for most of the past 14 years.

This year’s trip took students through northern Italy. Cities visited included Milan, Venice, Florence, and Sienna, among others. Previous trip destinations have included Spain, France, Germany, and the Greek Isles.

Bounds was inspired to begin the annual trip when his son was a student at Riverwood. “When my son was playing baseball at East Cobb,” Bounds explains, “I became concerned that all he was learning in the summer was horsehide and ash… I wanted to expand his horizons, so to speak. I planned a trip to London, Paris, and Rome, figuring we would hit the big three…The kids had a great time…and we’ve been doing it every year since.”

The trip is available to rising Riverwood seniors and recently graduated rising freshmen in college. Additionally, Bounds makes sure that there be one student on every trip who does not attend Riverwood. Occasionally, Bounds allows rising juniors to participate in the trip, as was the case last year with now rising senior Ilissa Paulen, 17.

Like most who have attended it, when asked about the trip, Paulen responds only with enthusiastic compliments. “It’s just so much fun,” she gloats, “There’s nothing quite like it.”

“Bounds is not like a teen tour,” explains Elizabeth Johnson, 18, a recent Bounds trip attendee and a rising freshmen at Georgia State University. “The trip is way more than just a tour, it’s active. You don’t just see things, you do things.”

Indeed, the trip encourages more active participation than a typical teen tour does. One of the ways in which this is accomplished is through the trips intentional inclusion of hours of free time in every place the students visit.

“Going to museums, churches, and the like has its value,” says Bounds, “But I believe that the most valuable time is when students have free time and are able to observe and interact with people from another country.”

Student response to Bounds’ method of giving them free time to explore cities on their own is passionate.

“When we’re on the trip,” says Paulen, “Everyone knows that, while we’re there to have fun, we also know that poor decision making can cause real problems. Everyone looks out for everyone else, and no one gets into too much trouble.”

“The free time makes the trip,” says Johnson. “There are just certain aspects of a city you can’t fully experience in a group. The best example of this was in Venice,” she continues. “During our free time, some of my friends and I went exploring. While doing so we noticed some signs on the ground with arrows pointing ‘To Mexico.’ Having nothing better to do, we decided to follow them.

“After quite a bit of walking, we arrived at a huge building which we later learned was the Soranzo Van Axel Palace. Inside, we were informed that we had arrived at the Mexican Pavilion of the ‘Biennale di Venezia,’ an annual art exhibit featuring artists from all over the world,” she continued.

“There we saw some contemporary artwork by a Mexican physicist named Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. It was among the most amazing art I’ve ever seen, and I would have never seen it on a guided tour,” Johnson explained. “That’s what the Bounds trip is all about though; experiencing things you never otherwise would have.”

Perhaps the most revealing statement about the quality of the Bounds trip is that many rising senior attendees began discussing next year’s trip on the flight home. Paulen, who is in a unique position to attend the trip for her third time next year was among those.

When it comes down to it though, Bounds himself is perhaps the only person who can evaluate whether or not the trip as a whole was a success.

“To accurately measure the success of a trip takes time,” he says. “How many students get the traveling bug, develop an international view of the world, decide to study abroad? It’s too early to judge these kinds of things. This year’s group was a very mature group, and their behavior was exemplary,” Bounds stated.

Keith Wasser, a rising senior at Riverwood High School who was on the Bounds trip, is editor of the school newspaper and is doing a summer internship at Reporter newspapers.