Aesthetic Knowledge is the deep, holistic knowledge that can only be gained by doing. It is a practical, sensory knowledge that once made up our entire understanding of the world. In this experiential realm, the whole person is engaged—mind, muscles, heart, and psyche. Through participation in life one gains a deep, authentic understanding of the surrounding environment that is impossible to gain by sitting at a computer or by reading a book.

Teenagers in our society, and of this era, are coming of age in a world that overloads them with data. The information systems available to them are many and diverse, offering quantities of information that would be unimaginable only ten years ago. VISIONS believes that information and experience are not the same thing. Information requires experience to translator. The world holds knowledge that information knows nothing of, knowledge that defies explanations or modes of interpretation. Knowledge that is nonetheless deeply authentic and vitally important.

Experiential education and meaningful service work are the cornerstones of VISIONS summers. Programs include hands-on community service work around the world that also combines cultural immersion and adventure travel.

Students and staff spend non-work time socializing, informally and formally, with community members, exploring the physical surroundings in ways that are off the tourist-track, sharing meals and stories with local people of all ages.

Consciousness of one’s place in the world requires more than mental agility, more than the capacity to absorb information, consciousness requires an active engagement in the world. We believe whole-heartedly in our work as VISIONS participants are the future decision-makers in an increasingly global community. As students work to improve host community resources, they come to know the people whose lives they are impacting and often forge strong bonds with them.

VISIONS high school and middle school students absorb aesthetic knowledge by being anchored in a host community for three to four weeks instead of touring from one area to another. This results in the formation of a spontaneous community embedded in and surrounded by the host community. They follow the rhythms of daily life inside the culture. They accomplish service projects designated and determined by the host community, co-coordinated with VISIONS, and seen to completion by them, their leaders and locals working side-by-side.

VISIONS purposefully stops short of formal instruction in our summer programs. While VISIONS participants are given general information on their host communities’ assets, challenges, and etiquette, our goal is that teens learn from experience, not instruction. As a way of processing so many new experiences, we hold regular, thrice weekly, group meetings to reflect. During these meetings, participants (with the guidance of VISIONS leaders) help one another to process events and feelings about their new surroundings.

At the end of the program, most VISIONS participants feel more confident, have learned concrete technical skills and complementary humanistic skills. The by-product of a VISIONS summer is the ambitious service that positively impacts our host communities. Fundamentally, however, VISIONS goal is for our youth volunteers to absorb aesthetic knowledge that inevitably influences perceptions and life paths, sharpens awareness of themselves and others. VISIONS programs offer glimpses into, and recognition of, the guiding human values that transcend place and era despite cultural differences.