INTERNATIONAL VIEWS: Dawn Meeks leads local students on 29th annual European tour

Published 9:17 am Friday, July 22, 2022

Dawn Meeks, a teacher at St. Aloysius Catholic High School, started traveling to Europe with her high school students in 1993.

Originally, Meeks said the trip started because she enjoyed exposing her students to cultures that were different from their own. 

Meeks said she feels that cultural insensitivity is a major reason the world is in trouble because people just do not know enough about those in other countries. As she matured, Meeks said her main goal focuses on a global picture where local children and adults learn to be more tolerant of others.

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 “I just try to get people out of our community so that they can have a broad educational experience and learn to appreciate new cultures,” Meeks said. “I think that when you do, people realize that whether you live in Vicksburg, Miss., or in small-town Italy or Paris, people are the same.”

Meeks said that sometimes people still question why she still takes the trip if she has already seen it all before. 

“You can never see enough. I enjoy sharing Europe with people that I love and watching their reactions when they see the Eiffel Tower or walk in Saint Peter’s (Basilica),” Meeks said. “Plus, now I have a lot of friends over there, so I like to go and see my friends.”

On the trip, Meeks is accompanied by other chaperones, including fellow teachers or parents. Meeks said this past summer trip, Classical Italy and Switzerland, took place from June 3 to June 16.

For this past summer’s trip, COVID-19 did not have much impact on traveling, Meeks said. There were 82 people signed up to go in 2019 for the 2020 trip. She added that the group had to play the waiting game for three years but in the end, it was all worth it. 

“I think I ended up with 12 of the original 82 that went this summer,” Meeks said. “And then we ended up with a total of 56 (travelers).”

Lisa and Lydia Nettles traveled to Europe with Meeks this past summer and said they absolutely loved it. 

“I could maybe kind of sympathize with Ms. Dawn Meeks because I’ve been a teacher in her position before,” Lisa said. “I took a group of students to Italy when I was teaching, so this was not my first trip.”

Lisa, the mother of St. Al Athletic Director and Football Coach Bubba Nettles, said that when her granddaughter Lydia called asking about a trip to Italy, she only had one condition: she had to go, too. Lisa said that a special part of her trip was feeling like part of the St. Al Family. 

“Lydia called me and she said, ‘Grandma Cody, can I go to Italy?’ I said, ‘Well, sure if I can go with you,’ so that’s how all that came to be,” Lisa said. “Since my son and his wife are both teachers with the school, many of the students were not only Lydia’s friends but had had my son as their football coach.

“And, the parents on the trip are my new best buddies,” she added. “Everyone was great. Dawn does a fabulous job.”

Lydia said she will never experience anything like the trip again and she is glad she was able to do it with her grandmother and her school friends. Especially during these hard times in the world, Lydia said she thinks sharing this experience brought them closer together. 

“It was just overall a really eye-opening experience for me just being able to meet new people and seeing how things are done in a different country,” Lydia said. “We went to the island of Capri and that day we spent pretty much all of that day on the water — I think it’s the Mediterranean Sea — and it was just a very cool experience. The water was so blue and it was gorgeous.”

Meeks mentioned that, while there were many St. Aloysius students attending the tour, the tour is not sponsored by the school in any way. Students from Vicksburg Warren School District also attend the trip each year.

“The trips are privately done by me in conjunction with World of Knowledge Tours of London,” Meeks said. “I normally advertise at school and on Facebook and word of mouth. The trips are open to anyone over 16 years of age with my approval.”