Ai Weiwei’s Lego portraits of political prisoners cover the floor of his Beijing studio. Photo by Jan Sturman/For-Site Foundation.


Over the past five years, Learning AFAR, the flagship program of the AFAR Foundation, has sent nearly 300 underserved high school students on life-changing trips to destinations including Costa Rica, Peru, Mexico, Cambodia, the Navajo nation and, most recently, China.

Every trip offers its share of magical moments, but the 10 students from Coliseum College Prep Academy in Oakland who went to China this summer experienced something extra special. They met with world-renowned artist Ai Weiwei at his Beijing studio, where he was preparing for an exhibition at Alcatraz, the infamous former prison in San Francisco Bay, a few miles from Oakland. The students, most of whom had just acquired their first passport, met an artist who had his taken away by the Chinese government three years ago and is currently waging a campaign to get it back. The Alcatraz exhibition, the installation of which Ai directed from China, explores themes of freedom and confinement. And although Ai couldn’t attend the opening in September, the students did. Their trip to China wound up opening doors not only to another culture, but also to the arts and to larger questions about society.

As we consider the future of Learning AFAR, we are focused on two goals. First, we are working with our primary partner, No Barriers, and our sponsors to increase the number of students we send on trips. And second, we want to amplify the students’ travel experiences so that even those who don’t go on the trips can still be affected by them. Simply hearing stories about life beyond their own neighborhood can change their perspective on what is possible. We dream of a world where 1 million students’ lives are changed by travel.

To kick off the next five years, we received an anonymous gift of $400,000 to help us expand the reach of Learning AFAR in New York City. We need your help, too. It will take gifts large and small to help us achieve our mission. If you would like to donate, please visit

I believe we are making the world a better place by expanding young people’s sense of possibility. Thanks in advance for whatever help you can provide.

Good Travels,

Greg Sullivan
Cofounder & CEO

This appeared in the November/December 2014 issue.