By: Abby Fisher ’19
For five years now, Heschel sophomores have been given the opportunity to apply for an exchange program with the Zwi Perez Chajes School in Vienna. This year, however, the application was a bit more rigorous. Instead of writing a short personal statement about why they wished to go, as had been done in years past, applicants had to propose a research project using Viennese cultural gems like the Belvedere Museum as resources. Furthermore, in addition to the written application, candidates were also interviewed.
Lisa Inberg, the faculty facilitator of the program, explained that this change was instituted for two primary reasons. She first noted that in the past, admissions decisions had been particularly challenging. Because the application process was fairly simple, a high percentage of students applied. Second, Lisa and Jessica Gribetz, assistant head of the high school, wanted to ensure that each student truly engaged with the rich cultural history of Vienna and cultivated a meaningful experience for themselves.
An anonymous 10th grader who went on the trip explained, “While I admire the administration’s thinking behind the the research project, I found it an overwhelming waste of time. In Vienna, our primary focus should have been appreciating the unique culture and environment, not restricting our focus to an aspect of Vienna as minute as the food or music.” Other members of the cohort expressed similar sentiments, feeling that the research added stress and did not enrich their experiences. Upon returning home, students involved in the program were charged with writing a four-page research paper on the Viennese topic they indicated in their application.
This research comes with the reward of a quarter of one college credit, an exciting prospect to many students. The same anonymous source continued, “I found that very few of the kids felt a true a connection to their research project, and instead completed it for the purpose of the college credits.” Additionally, there is talk of simply not completing the research and skipping out on the college credit, as some feel it is a trivial honor for far too much work.
Administrators are currently reviewing all aspects of the trip, including the research component.