In our new Equator series, “Teaching through Experiential Learning,” we’ll chat with a variety of Group Leaders and learn what inspired them to build educational travel programs. They’ll share with us why leading student travel has become the cornerstone of their educational careers, and how it has empowered students to discover new goals and redefine who they are as individuals.
You may already be a little familiar with our first Group Leader. Over the last couple years Bobby M. has become a regular guest author on the Equator. From sharing his pre-departure meeting checklist to talking through ways to gain school board approval, Bobby has provided new and experienced Group Leaders with valuable student travel tips and advice. He has made academic travel the foundation of his education career, and is currently focusing his doctoral dissertation on the positive impacts of student travel. In our discussion below Bobby illustrates how global travel creates an invaluable experiential learning environment, while also helping prepare students for their future.
What inspired you to lead educational travel and take students abroad?
For as long as I can remember I have been in love with history–ancient history, modern history, world history, American history–it didn’t matter, I absolutely soaked it up. It’s what drove me to become a teacher and it’s what drove my desire to travel. I have had the opportunity to see some amazing things, from the Colosseum to the Eiffel Tower to the Ring of Kerry. I wanted my students to have the same experiences, and show them how travel can transform lives.
When you’re traveling do you find yourself subconsciously looking at everything from a historical perspective?
It’s really impossible not to look at everything from a historical perspective while traveling. History literally presents itself at every turn. For me history goes beyond the buildings and monuments. You see it in the people, taste it in the food and even hear it in the language. In many European cities, traveling doesn’t just immerse you in that city or country’s history, but in the history of the western world. It amazes me to think that I’ve walked the same footsteps of Emperors in the Roman Forum, visited the birthplace of the Renaissance in Florence, and had tea outside William Shakespeare’s childhood home. Uncovering history is undeniably part of any trip and something I always look forward to experiencing.
Is there a particular experience that really brought history to life for you and your students?
This past summer marked the 70th anniversary of the allied invasion of France during WWII. It just so happened that our tour called for us to cross beneath the channel (via the Eurostar “Chunnel” train) from Paris to London on June 6–the anniversary date. It still gives me chills to think that we made the same trek that thousands of allied troops made 70 years before us (albeit in reverse; France to Britain). In fact, the day after we left France, Queen Elizabeth II was due to arrive in Paris to commemorate the crossing. It was quite an experience to see all of Paris, including the Champs-Elysees, lined with the Union Jack. The students were fortunate enough to be there and celebrate history firsthand, but they also became a small part of that history as well.
Why do you think it’s important to align life skills with a classroom’s curriculum?
In the 21st century classroom we are teaching skills that reach far beyond the textbook. Our job to prepare students to succeed in a global society is more important now than ever before. I always tell my student travelers that every leg of our journey is about learning a new experience: Checking your bag at the airport – learning experience. Ordering food in a foreign language – learning experience. Crossing the English Channel with your students on the 70th anniversary of D-Day – more than just a learning experience…I try and fill our tour with as many teachable moments as possible. Moments that ultimately help students become more comfortable with venturing beyond their own communities and traveling outside of their comfort zone, while also bringing lessons they learn in the classroom to life.
What is it about global travel that you think impacts students the most?
Travel helps expose kids to things they never knew existed. Typically, travel will increase global awareness and influence students to become more accepting of other cultures and other people. It’s just like the idea that the best way to truly know someone is to walk a mile in their shoes–or in this case, to spend time immersed in their culture.
Would you say traveling has also helped shape you as an educator?
It hasn’t just help shape me as an educator, but also as an individual too. It’s pushed me to broaden my global awareness and continue learning about different cultures, languages, and religions. It’s become a passion that I now strive to pass on to my students.
When did you know traveling had become a real passion of yours?
Aside from a brief trip to Mexico as a child I had never traveled outside of the United States until my first trip with EF. In all honesty, the moment I first stepped foot in Europe during the summer of 2010 I was hooked. Everything was a new experience, and I soaked every bit of it up –the food, riding the metro, seeing he Eiffel tower lit up in the evening. Every day was a new adventure, a new experience. More than anything, that first trip made me more aware of other people in the world and their beliefs, customs and cultures. Not that I didn’t know these things, but to see and experience them firsthand changed my outlook and perspective on the world. While I have enjoyed every subsequent trip I’ve taken with EF, that first trip made in indelible mark on my life as a person and as an educator.
If you had to choose, what language would you like to learn and why?
My favorite European country to visit is Italy. In my opinion, its history, art, architecture, and natural beauty is unrivaled in all of Europe. I hope one day (if I can convince my wife) to spend some extended time in Italy and being able to speak the language with some degree of efficiency would be helpful. With that said, the language itself is beautiful and I love the animated way in which most Italians speak it. Italian as a unified language is still a relatively new concept in Italy and there are still different dialects spoken from Sicily to Milan. While French may still be the language of love, Italian is the language I would love to learn.
What is it you want your students to walk away with after traveling?
For me the most rewarding part of leading student travel is seeing your students grow as individuals outside of a traditional school setting. I have literally seen travelers’ lives change because of a trip they took in high school. It’s positively affected college choices, field of study, and even career paths. I want them to truly believe that they can do whatever it is they want to do with their lives. I never want to see them settle. There is a big world out there and I want them to feel as though they are now equipped to conquer it.
Bobby is an Assistant Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris, and now leads a student tour every summer. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.