IRVINE — For many students, geography is an unbearable subject, filled with dry facts about remote places. But today, the geography lesson for a class of fifth-graders at Springbrook Elementary School will be transformed into an excursion around the world.
Perking up the instruction will be Homer, a two-foot-tall stuffed bear, who was adopted by the class in January, plunked on an airliner and sent on a worldwide tour. In his denim overalls and floppy, brown felt hat, a small backpack on his back, Homer visited 20 nations in five months, passed hand to hand, relay style, by flight attendants, cargo personnel and passengers.
Pinned to Homer's fur was a laminated note signed by 33 Irvine classmates, expressing their hope that he would travel around the globe and return home by June 1 with lots of souvenirs and entries in his travel diary.
Did he ever.
Homer's diary is filled with immigration stamps (he carried no passport) and descriptions of his experiences abroad, penned by scores of schoolchildren and others who played host to him in their home countries.
"I was just thinking this is one of the best ways to learn about the real world and obtain experiences from different people in different countries," wrote a member of the ground staff of Qantas Airlines in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 18.
So great was the international generosity heaped on the fluffy traveler that he returned to Los Angeles International Airport during the weekend with six huge bags stuffed with gifts, newspaper clippings and photos.
Homer brought home a gilded bamboo basket from Thailand, a tiny pair of wooden shoes from Holland, Swiss chocolate, a pen with wood carvings from Bangladesh, a flask of sand from a Caribbean beach, a guidebook from Oman and a photo of a hotel room where he had bunked in the United Arab Emirates.
Teacher Kathy Calkins will use Homer's odyssey as the ultimate in world geography lessons for her students, who jumped and screamed with excitement when they heard Homer had returned to the United States. The greatest lesson Homer brought back for the students, Calkins said, was about humanity and goodwill.
"He obviously touched the hearts of a lot of different people," Calkins said.
Homer's journey was the brainchild of Sally Pearl, a flight attendant whose daughter is a student in Calkins' class. She heard of a stuffed bear from Wisconsin on a similar journey and suggested that Calkins try it as a geography lesson.
Pearl's daughter, Stacy, donated one of her teddy bears and the class dubbed him Homer, hoping that the name would encourage his caretakers to send him back home again.
When Pearl went to work on a flight to Honolulu on Jan. 13, she handed Homer to a family on the plane, waved goodby, and the bear was on his way.
From Honolulu, Homer flew to New Zealand, Australia, Thailand and Singapore. Then came Japan, South Korea and Switzerland. In Austria, Homer visited with schoolchildren in Vienna and went home for a slumber party. Clippings and diary entries provided a detailed account of Homer's travels.
Homer got his picture in a Vienna newspaper. A newspaper and television show in Johannesburg, South Africa, a newspaper in London and a TV news show in the Netherlands featured Homer too.
From South Africa, Homer jetted to London, Miami, and then to the Caribbean island nation of Aruba. Next came Puerto Rico and Brazil. The bear got a treat few Americans have sampled: a trip from London to New York on the supersonic Concorde.
Homer traveled to Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates, where he attended a seminar with British Airways cargo attendants. Then it was on to Oman and Bahrain.
In Athens, someone writing in his travel diary compared the bear to the ancient Greek poet Homer, who told of epic travels in the "Odyssey." In Amsterdam, a flight attendant who doubles as a part-time teacher took him to class. The children drew pictures and put them in his backpack. Then it was on to Copenhagen and Stockholm.
On Thursday, after many students had expressed doubt that Homer would ever return home, Calkins was summoned out of her classroom to take a phone call from Scandinavian Airlines at Los Angeles International Airport. A stuffed bear was waiting for her at the ticket counter.
On Sunday, Calkins drove to Los Angeles to pick up Homer. There he sat on the counter, his backpack brimming and six bags of gifts beside him, with tiny wing pins from airlines around the world pinned to his fur and a handful of colored tickets hanging around his neck identifying him as an "unaccompanied minor."
Homer will be feted like an Olympic athlete. On Friday, he will be the honored guest in the school's fifth-grade geography parade, in which students display floats representing places they have studied during the year.
"Several people said in the diary that the world is getting smaller, and they felt they could touch our class by seeing and reading Homer's diary," Calkins said. "That was really special to the children back home in Irvine."
Times staff writer Thuan Le contributed to this report.