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Teachers Travel Across the Globe for Summer Sabbaticals

A photo of Brock Miller and his wife on a sunny day in Alaska.

The Patterson-Strauss Travel Grant honors long-time faculty members Bob Patterson and Tony Strauss. The goal of the grant is to fund a sabbatical program for veteran faculty. With almost 60 years teaching at Country Day between the two of them, Brock Miller, Upper School science teacher, and Elena Belfor-Sigalov, piano instructor, were the recipients of this year’s grant.

What interested you most about applying for the grant?
Elena Belfor-Sigalov: It was a long-time dream for me to go back to Italy. In 1989, when we left the former Soviet Union, we didn’t have passports, money, anything. We were just refugees. We had to go to Austria first, wait for months, and then stay in Italy for three months while we awaited to receive political refugee status. While we were there, we didn’t really get to experience the culture. So going back was important to me to truly take in the culture, especially the arts, like DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Baroque, and other Renaissance arts.

Brock Miller: I’ve heard that being a recipient of the grant is a wonderful opportunity from the people who have gone before me, and I was waiting for the right time for my wife and I to go to Alaska. Because everything has to be shipped to Alaska, it’s an expensive place to travel. The grant allows you to do more than a bare-bones trip, so we got to explore a bit more and have a few more experiences. Tony Strauss and Bob Patterson were also good friends of mine. It was a very meaningful experience and I thought about them a lot during that trip.

What does it mean to you to have received this grant?
EBS: I was very fortunate to know Bob Patterson very well. He supported me and made me feel comfortable when I started working here. He was interested in my family’s story and how I grew up in the Soviet Union. He was very interested in history and music. We became great friends. He helped me feel like I was an equal part of the community. And Tony Strauss was a legendary teacher. To receive this grant was such an honor. I couldn’t be more appreciative.

BM: It was particularly meaningful because of my memories of Bob and Tony. Bob was a fantastic English teacher and a good friend. And Tony just was “Mr. Country Day.” He knew everything about this place. Tony and his wife would entertain the faculty after football games. He was someone I had lunch with all the time and gave me such wise counsel about what it meant to be at Country Day. Nobody knew more about Country Day than Tony.

Elena poses with one hand underneath the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

What was your favorite memory or experience from your travels?
EBS: It’s really hard to say, but probably the first day. We took a tour of Machiavelli’s Villa and learned about his life and impact on history. We went to museums, got to see amazing mountains, and at a wine tasting, we even tried blue champagne. We also saw the American cemetery and memorial in Florence. Experiencing such history and traditions on the first day was amazing to experience. We were all just enjoying life. It was a great way to start the trip.

BM: Two memories that stick out are tightly related. The first one is when we went to Denali National Park. We took a bus ride into the park and saw mountain sheep, elk, caribou, and grizzly bears; it was just great. On the next day, we got to see a former student, Katie Karnes `13, who is a park ranger at Denali. She was also best friends with my daughter. We had dinner with her and learned what life is like for a full-time Denali ranger. It was just great to see how happy she was living her life!

Brock Miller and his former student Katie Karnes pose for a photo in Alaska.

What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
EBS: Exploring the history of Italy was important, but the social experience was very meaningful to me. Learning how people live and interact in other countries has always interested me – to see how families live together and how they interact with people they don’t they don’t work as much as we do here in America. In Italy, parents spend more time with their children and families stay together in the same household for generations. Also, their love of music is everywhere. It is amazing. We got to go to the opera at the end of the trip. I cannot explain how impactful it was that I was able to be immersed in their culture.

The beauty of this country, the sea, the architecture, the food, is unbelievable. Italy is a beautiful country filled with such an amazingly welcoming and interesting culture. It’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

BM: Just how different it is. I have traveled to all but two states of the lower 48 and Alaska is like no place else. The residents have to be so self-reliant and yet, they just love it there. Once people get up there and live there for a while, it seems like they never want to leave. We were at a presentation at Denali, it was raining and barely 60 degrees, which we wouldn’t think is a great day, and one of the rangers approached us and said, “What a beautiful day!” to the crowd. Whenever we have overcast and gloomy weather here in Cincinnati, my wife and I now say, “This is beautiful Alaska weather!”

If you have ever thought about going to Alaska, go! I’m also really grateful that it’s a generous enough grant that I could take my wife. It was such a great experience.

Why do you feel it’s important to Country Day to offer this grant to teachers?
EBS: The travel grant allows us to experience something we might not normally be able to. Country Day is a very special school to offer this opportunity to its teachers. This is something that allows teachers to enrich themselves and then enrich their students.

BM: Part of my role as a teacher is to expand my students’ worldview. And going to Alaska expanded my worldview. I’m now able to tell my students about different ways of living and ways of thinking.

Elena and her husband eating dinner on the first night of their trip to Italy.