The Path of Knowledge: High School Seniors Journey to India

Ward Mailliard
Ward Mailliard

On Saturday April 16th at 6:30am, a plane will lift off from San Francisco International Airport carrying fifteen students from Mount Madonna School (MMS). The students will be on their way to meet a connecting flight in Chicago to take them half way around the world to New Delhi, India.

This departure will mark the beginning a journey of a lifetime. For each student it will be a significant outer journey to another culture, where they will experience a civilization that is far older and significantly different in almost every way from what they know: different in language, history, values, food, religion and social customs. At the same time, it will be a unique inner journey for each student to discover something about themselves as they engage in the many unique experiences of the journey.

The trip, known as the Vidya Dharma (Path of Knowledge) Project, is part of the School’s two-year “Values in World Thought” program, an innovative high school social studies curriculum developed by faculty member and trip leader Ward Mailliard. In Delhi, the students will be meeting with U.S. Ambassador to India, Timothy Roemer, and a member of the Lok Sabha (Upper House of Parliament). Later they will be meeting with the students of the Heritage School in Gurgaon.

Next, the Mount Madonna students will board a train for the city of Haridwar and spend several days meeting and learning with the children at the Sri Ram Orphanage and school. Their itinerary also includes a train ride to Amritsar to visit the famed Golden Temple, and the infamous site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre during the British Raj. From there they will make the climb by jeep to Dharamsala in the Himalayan foothills, home to the Tibetan community in exile. The students will visit the Tibetan Children’s Village School and speak with His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama.

It is impossible to predict what each student will learn on this journey, but it is a surety that they will learn more about themselves and about another culture in the two weeks of this trip than they ever could from years in the classroom. This journey is part of a continuing experiment in what can happen when we create open context for learning, in which the student simply learns what they are ready to learn.

This of course does not mean that there is no curriculum and pedagogical preparation. The students are studying the culture and preparing for interviews by researching those they will meet. They also are preparing themselves emotionally to stand up to the uncertainties and discomforts of traveling in a foreign land. They know they must surrender their comfort and personal preferences to be part of the group and to participate in a larger cause.

While the outcomes of the journey are uncertain, there are a number of clear intentions behind both the preparation and process of the actual journey. First, as Americans we tend, in general, to be a bit isolated from the rest of the world by our two oceans and our relative economic wealth. Without experiencing other cultures we can’t truly understand our responsibilities as American citizens, or the impact of our role in the world. Secondly, coming together in positive regard with others who occupy a very different place on the social, economic, and cultural spectrum has a way of helping us understand our own humanity and helps develop sensitivity to others. Finally, surrendering our need for comfort and security to accomplish a collective mission is quite liberating.

A significant aspect of the journey process is the “return” which will be held at Mount Madonna School, on May 20, when parents and friends can hear first-hand from the students about their experiences. This project is intentionally designed to prepare students about the larger journey of life, and to provide a context for them to develop skill sets that will be useful in negotiating the ‘unexpected turns in the road’ that are part of the human experience.

Of one thing we can be certain, and that is that when the plane lands in San Francisco on April 30, the students who disembark will be considerably more knowledgeable and even transformed from those who departed just two short weeks earlier.


Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.

  • Diane Meade

    How wonderful! Another group of our future leaders! Embracing cultural differences and opening ones mind to other points of view, is where wisdom and compassion is born and where recognizing choices in daily life is learned. I wish more of us could experience first hand what you all will.

    Many, many blessings for a safe and fruitful trip! We will be with you in spirit and on the blog. Thank you Mount Madonna School, for lovingly introducing these young minds to a global heart. Keep it up! Love Diane Meade

  • Chandra Mallik

    This is great! I’m sure each student will process their experiences differently. Some will absorb the variety (differences in culture, climate, etiquette, dress, etc.) while others they might find more commonalities (human bonding, sharing, laughing, friendship, etc.). Either way, the process of learning firsthand about a people and their country will give you a bigger picture/perspective of life. Go with an open mind and heart and enjoy the learning experience. ~ Chandra Mallik

  • hemant

    Dear Sadanand:

    Congratulations on organizing another (that I am sure will be) amazing trip. I wish the students the very best and hope they will find the commonality of spirit in the land and people they will visit. Sometimes, it takes stark contrasts to truly realize the commonality in all of us. I think they will have a wonderful time and the people of India will be richer from the experience.

    Hari Om,
    hemant

  • alex

    hey! i read an article on this project in the santa cruz sentinel and loved it. the article was of great use to me, i even wrote a short paper for a psychology class. I was wondering if it would be ok to attend “the return”…
    i enjoyed reading about the students’ experiences and believe that it would be great to hear them in person.

  • student

    Alex,
    We would be happy to have you attend The Return Presentation on May 20 at Mount Madonna School. It will be quite a turn out. Thanks for your interest!
    -Vidya Dharma Project