Klander travels the world


From her sleepy Ohio hometown to bustling foreign cities in an abrupt change of pace, Mrs. Bess Klander (Spanish) left her family for a month during the summer of her sophomore year of high school and took the once in a lifetime opportunity to travel to four different eastern countries and Hawaii in a student ambassador program. 

Despite the sweltering heat and overall confusion from the language barriers, Mrs. Klander enjoyed every moment of her time abroad. She even got to tour famous landmarks such as the colossal Tokyo Tower and famous Great Wall of China. “I’ll never, ever forget [it],” Mrs. Klander said with a smile.

In the summer of 1983, Mrs. Klander was chosen as one of 26 students from five different Ohio schools to make the life-changing journey through an international student travelling program called People to People. People to People was a student ambassador program instigated by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. After World War II, President Eisenhower thought that in order to make people all around the world understand each other better, they needed to become more connected, so he set out to do just that with high school students, hoping to break racial barriers and make the next generation more educated so as to not start another horrific occurrence like World War II. 

The trip started out in Hawaii for orientation, then continued to mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and finally ended in South Korea. Mrs. Klander’s group was extra-special because China was relatively new to opening up to the public after being barred from outside influence for decades. 

In three of the countries, Mrs. Klander and the other students stayed in homestays, or houses with families that were willing to house foreign students for a few days while on their month-long journey. Before visiting the homestays, the students were encouraged to take small gifts to show their appreciation for everything that the families would be doing for them. Since the students would be representing the United States, they had to be on their very best behavior on the trip and be as polite as possible. “In Taiwan, I personally stayed with a college student who lived in a little apartment,” Mrs. Klander said. “We cooked, and we went to see some cool things in the area, and [I had] a lot of fun.”

Some famous landmarks Mrs. Klander visited on her excursion included the DMZ (demilitarized zone), Bullet train, Tokyo Tower, and Great Wall of China. The DMZ is a mile-wide buffer zone between North and South Korea that anybody can enter. She described the DMZ as  “interesting, but also a little scary” due to the sharpshooters and military trucks around them in case there were to be any escapists or revolts. She also took a ride in the Bullet Train, or Shinkansen, which reaches speeds over 300 mph. Out of everything, though, Mrs. Klander described visiting the Great Wall of China as her most memorable experience on her journey. “There’s so many people that I’ve met that haven’t gone to the Great Wall,” Mrs. Klander said. She considered herself very lucky to have visited such a renowned landmark.

Unfortunately, not all of Mrs. Klander’s trip was such a walk in the park. One of the most frustrating and stressful things Mrs Klander experienced was her camera breaking. This would be a devastating loss to just about everyone while traveling, but it was even harder on her because she didn’t have enough money to buy another one. Thankfully, she wrote a letter to her parents and they wired her enough money to buy another camera to record her experiences abroad. Recalling this aggravating experience, Mrs. Klander said, “The other stressful part was that I lost a lot of my film somewhere in my luggage so I had to talk to everybody else that had been on the trip and [ask for the pictures they had taken].”

On her trip, Mrs. Klander made some unlikely friends. “For probably five or eight years afterwards, there were still a couple of people we had met [in Korea] that I kept up with,” Mrs. Klander said. It’s no wonder that Mrs. Klander was easy to make friends with, even speaking different languages than the people there, based on the things other people have said about her. “[She’s] very fun, she’s kind, she’s compassionate [about her job], she’s overall just a very fun person to be with,” Sarah Jacobs (10) said. “She’s probably my favorite teacher as of right now.” Mrs. Laura Blevins (librarian)  also described her kindly. “She’s a very trustworthy person and she’s certainly someone that I think can be counted upon if you need something,” Mrs. Blevins said. “Both as a friend and as a teacher, something I think is very admirable about her is her willingness to accept and try to help in any situation.”

As a whole, Mrs. Klander’s high school foreign trip impacted her life in ways she didn’t think possible. “Since this trip was my first trip [abroad], it was so life-changing,” Mrs. Klander said. “I think it shaped my outlook on a lot of things. I can’t imagine not having had that experience for me personally because it made a lot of things crystalize in my world view. It was an interesting, long trip, although sometimes I felt like it wasn’t long enough!” 

Mrs. Klander’s trips are such interesting stories that others even live vicariously through her experiences. Mrs. Blevins stated that Mrs. Klander talks about her worldwide experiences often. “[Mrs. Klander] has told me a lot about different things that she has done when she has traveled, both here and abroad,” Mrs. Blevins said. “It’s been very interesting to listen to her stories.”