Wednesday 11 Oct, 2017

Building Memories and Relationships on Tour

Cheryl is an English teacher. She first traveled with EF in 2009 to the UK and now leads two student tours each year. Cheryl believes travel opens people up to a sense of love and gratitude for life and living that no other experience does. And that we can all make a difference in the world by getting out of our comfort zones and sharing global experiences and lessons with others. 

Traveling the world with my students brings me the ultimate joy. I’m always looking for ways to build relationships and memories with them along the way. Sometimes I don’t know all the students on my tours, and other times I can easily predict which part of the trip will be each students’ highlight. No matter my existing relationship with my travelers, I make a concerted effort to maximize their experiences, effectively enhancing my own. Consider these ideas for your next tour:

Students and teacher laughing on tour
  • Key in on individual excitement. At some point, either at a meeting, through an email survey, or in face-to-face conversation before tour, I always make sure I ask each traveler what they’re most looking forward to. If I’ve already visited that highlight, I help build excitement by telling them something to keep their eyes open for. For example, if a student going to Costa Rica with me says she’s excited for the zip-lining (who isn’t?), I’ll encourage her to search for images of scarlet macaws or howler monkeys so she can better spot them in the trees when we zip-line. Not only does it build excitement, it makes for a smooth follow-up after the activity. If I haven’t visited their highlight, I’ll ask them what they hope to see or experience and use that to continue our conversation after the activity. Travelers are often excited for similar things, and this exercise gives students who might be strangers the common ground to start building new relationships. My travelers consistently discuss different aspects of tour, which builds individual and group excitement.
  • See departure day airport time as an investment. My groups have experienced l-o-n-g layovers, one of which was eight hours. Instead of having small groups wander aimlessly, nap on top of each other, or stare at their phones, I’ve started to come prepared. I pack several decks of cards, download fun group games, and encourage travelers to bring along portable activities to keep us busy in the airports. If you can, find a space that accommodates your group and have a few games going on at one time. These activities allow travelers to get to know each other through play, and they often begin to naturally encourage one another. This sets them up for the kind of attitude that makes me proud to travel with them in the first place: being curious, cooperative, and open-minded.
  • Regular journaling throughout tour. The largest group I’ve ever led was a group of 39 people. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to chat with everyone as much as I normally do, so I bought each of my travelers those tiny little composition notebooks (3.5” x 5”) and pens to journal throughout tour. I asked them to keep them with them at all times so we could share at opportune times and journal when it made sense to do so. During the last night at each of our three hotels, I invited all my travelers to the lobby and lead a guided reflective writing exercise. The simplest question yielded the greatest responses, “Describe the time you felt happiest during this leg of our tour.” At the end of the exercise, travelers shared their stories. Students told the group about how much worthwhile work it took to get to the top of that city lookout, their joy at trying a new food and loving it, comfort in making and spending time with a new friend, and finally coming to realize what they would major in at university. I could actually feel the love and respect all travelers had for each other as we shared our answers and got to know each other a little better.
  • Say yes to selfies. I used to think taking selfies was selfish. When I was on tour with a small group, I randomly started taking selfies with each of my travelers every day. By tour’s end, I had at least one great picture with each and every one of my students. I could print or email each picture to them after the trip, along with a postscript describing where we were, what we were doing, and what I remember about that moment in time. I have students tell me years after tour that they still have their picture, which reminds them of the amazing time they had.
  • Invite past travelers to be liaisons/ambassadors for future trips. What better way to extend relationships, build excitement about future trips, and empower past travelers than by having them share their experiences with others? I recently teamed up with our school’s broadcast class to tape a group interview of students who traveled with me over the summer. It will soon be shown to the entire student body. I’ve invited past travelers to pop into different homerooms or advisory periods to spread the word about upcoming trips, give an overview of what group travel was like, and share how valuable they found their experience. I have also invited past travelers and their parents to recruitment meetings to share their endorsements of tour.

It’s rare that travelers forget their time abroad, and as a Group Leader, I take pride in sharpening their memories or brightening their experiences in any way I can. It’s my wish that every traveler focuses on the positive and builds not only long-lasting memories but relationships as well.