When it comes to planning student travel, Group Leaders have many things to take into consideration. After choosing a travel company, such as the industry leader EF Educational Tours, the most obvious of these considerations is the destination. Will it be a domestic or international tour? Which country or countries will be visited? Other factors to consider include price, quality and quantity of activities while on tour, as well as accommodations available. Group Leaders must choose which time of year would be best for their trip, how many students they would like to recruit, and how many chaperones are necessary. All of these factors surely play a role in determining the overall quality and success of a trip. One factor, however, that I feel is just as critical as the destination is the length of the trip itself.
Whenever I begin browsing thru the EF Tours catalog or website to choose my next tour, I first select a destination. I then immediately look at the tour length, which indicates the number of days and nights of each tour. My personal feeling is that the longer the tour, the better. Let’s look at a few reasons why:
- Traveling from A to B: First and foremost, one must realize that getting there is “half the battle.” A lot of time, energy, and money are spent arriving to the travel destination. The same can be said about the departure. That means at least two days are wrapped up in travel and a large portion of your expenses goes towards air travel, so once I’ve gone through all of the hassle of getting there, why not spend as much time as I can?
- Adjusting to new surroundings: I’ve learned over the years that it takes students a few days to adjust to new surroundings. At first, they are often overwhelmed with being immersed into a different language and culture. Many of my students have never flown, taken a public bus, or even hailed a taxi. There are many “firsts” for my students during the first few days of the trip. Watching their eyes in these beginning hours reminds me a lot of watching a newborn open his eyes wide for the first time. There is just so much to see and learn that it has to be overwhelming. After a day of travel and a few days of adjusting to new surroundings, students begin to relax and that’s when I feel that they start learning at a more rapid pace. Their minds stop racing and they are able to begin making important connections and realizations. It is a beautiful thing to watch and enjoy as a teacher. I can see my students learning and I don’t need a test to prove it. Why would I want to be in a hurry to head home?
- Seeing more: A longer trip typically means that I will have the opportunity to visit more cities and cover a greater portion of the country or countries. Each year our school does an exchange with students from Germany. The German students spend nearly two weeks in our small, rural town. They do take a couple short day trips to bigger cities that are nearby, but I can’t help thinking how little of our country they actually get to visit. I don’t want the same for my students. By planning for my students to travel to a variety of different regions within the country(s), it provides them with a more well rounded experience and a better understanding of the people, culture, and country. By being a bit more informed, I hope that they can look past stereotypes and form more knowledgeable opinions about the places they visit.
More opportunities for growth: The opportunity to be abroad for a longer period of time obviously means that students spend more time away from home, and it often occurs in the years right before students leave for college. It allows them the opportunity to grow as people and learners. They create stronger bonds and relationships with their teachers, classmates, chaperones, tour guides, and students from other parts of their homeland that may also be traveling with them. They gain more self-confidence and become more independent. They start to think about their futures in a different light. They realize new and exciting possibilities for themselves. Not only do they grow socially and emotionally, there is incredible academic growth as well. They learn about history, geography, culture, art, economics, government, and language to name just a few. At the conclusion of a previous trip, one of my chaperones, who is a fellow teacher at my school, said that he felt the students learned more during the two week tour than they did in most classes in a full year. This is coming from a Nationally Board Certified Teacher. It was a very powerful statement for me.
- Applying a foreign language: Since I’m a Spanish teacher, I must comment more on the growth I see in their language abilities. During days 1-3 everything seems so fast and blurry to my students. They are clearly overwhelmed. They are often intimidated and too shy to try out their speaking skills. I continue to model speaking in situations whenever possible and I encourage my students to keep trying and not worry about making mistakes. I promise them that if they keep at it, they will notice small but gradual improvements and will gain confidence quickly. Over the next several days, students start testing the water. The more outgoing and confident students start making a stronger effort to communicate and they are rewarded by the locals for their efforts, regardless of the correctness of their speech. These students begin to share their stories of success and triumph with other students, and suddenly it becomes contagious. During our nightly meetings I ask students to talk about and later journal their experiences in using the language. I’ve always believed that learning a language doesn’t fit a linear growth model, but rather one that is exponential. In other words, the growth rate is not constant, but rather increases with time. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for me to keep my students in a position to grow as much and as quickly as possible.
The longest trip I’ve ever taken as a Group Leader was 14 nights and 15 days. It was an amazing tour of Mexico that started in the central valley and continued all the way to Cancun. Even at the end I was bummed to have to head for home. Several tours, however, are more likely to be more in the 9 nights and 10 days range. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but as I’ve mentioned previously, there are many advantages to a longer trip. So what should you do if you love the destination but the trip simply isn’t long enough? This has happened to me a few times in the past. Here are a few options:
- Consider adding onto your tour by doing a “go ahead” or “stay behind” for the entire group:I’ve had great success in working with EF to lengthen the tour by adding 3 or 4 nights to the beginning or end of a basic tour. My tour consultant at EF took my suggestions and worked with the planning team to book all required accommodations at the lowest cost possible. This provided a longer tour and allowed us to visit a couple extra cities. Since my group typically has teamed up with other schools from around the country, this also provided an opportunity for us to travel alone, which certainly has some advantages as well.
- Add every optional excursion possible: Attend the Folklore evenings, Fine Art performances, and extra tours, excursions, and site visits. They have so much to offer and truly add to the experience. They also keep the group busy and can provide a fun change of pace.
- Consider customizing your own tour: I’ve really enjoyed planning and organizing an entire tour by working closely with the staff at EF. You will want to make sure you have a large enough group to keep the cost down, but there are so many advantages to being the sole group and being able to “call the shots.” Customizing your own tour also means that you get to choose the overall length and the number of destinations.
As they often say in sports, “Go big or go home!” That can’t be any truer in my travel experiences.
If you have any questions or need a little advice before planning your next trip, feel free to drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you and offer any help I can. In the meantime, I’m off to San Chez for some tapas. After reaching my 1-year anniversary of writing this blog, I think I deserve it!