People often ask me what I enjoy most about leading student educational tours. How do I pick just one above all others? That's like trying to choose the most delicious pastry in Paris or the prettiest village in Tuscany. It’s impossible. Instead, I talk about five goals that I enjoy seeing students achieve on an educational tour.
I enjoy seeing students learn something about themselves. Miriam Beard said "Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living." Students ultimately return home from our school trips changed in some way. I can't necessarily put my finger on it, but often it has something to do with an increase in confidence that comes from successfully navigating an unfamiliar city in which one doesn't speak the local language, or from taking a giant leap off a platform to zipline above a cloud forest. Sometimes the change is much more obvious, like when a student returns to their classrooms with new vigour and focus, or becomes inspired to make an impact in their local or global communities.
I enjoy seeing students learn something about their travel companions. On our recent trip to Costa Rica, I realized that some of my favourite moments were when our tour bus was filled with the students' conversation and laughter. Experiencing a trip with friends is a fantastic opportunity to get to know them better outside of the usual context, to create stronger bonds and life-long memories. What can be even more rewarding is when travellers meet strangers who become friends; what an unexpected bonus.
I enjoy seeing students learn something about another country or culture. I could talk for hours about the education students receive from travel. Travel makes classroom lessons come to life. Students might learn about history in Rome, architecture in Barcelona, conservation in Costa Rica, or our Canadian parliamentary system in Ottawa. Students might gain an appreciation for culinary diversity in London, flamenco dancing in Madrid, mythology in Greece, or the ethical production of coffee in Latin America. Usually one of the best lessons that comes from travel is learning that we have more commonalities than differences with people around the world, which is a big step toward becoming a better global citizen.
I enjoy seeing students make a difference in our world. A service trip is a great way for students to help fill a need and to connect with a local community while developing new skills and experiencing a new destination. We helped plant and maintain mangroves in Costa Rica on our most recent service trip. These mangroves are essential in tropical regions as they protect the shores from erosion and provide a natural habitat for wildlife. In addition to helping the environment, we learned about conservation in the country. We had the privilege of visiting a school and seeing the big smiles on the faces of young children as we arrived with food, hygiene supplies, cleaning products, treats, and sports equipment thanks to generous contributions by the students and our trusted tour partner EF Educational Tours. There was a local cultural exchange - the students showed us a traditional Costa Rican dance, and we showed them the much less elegant "Chicken Dance". A soccer game between Costa Rica and Canada rounded off our visit. If those experiences aren’t some of the best community and life connections, I don’t know what are.
I enjoy seeing students learn to travel well. Travelling well is a skill that comes with practice and experience. With supervision, students take turns navigating our group through an airport or an underground metro system. They learn to read maps. They learn to communicate either by speaking the local language or through another creative means. The best part is that the more they learn how to travel, the more they want to travel, and they get better and better at travelling with every trip. These skills correlate to their day-to-day life, and will pay off in spades as they get older.
My next travel adventures with our Sacred Heart students involve a four-day trip to Ottawa with our grade seven girls in June to learn more about Canada and its capital city, and a 10-day trip to Italy and Greece with our senior high students in March, 2020 to explore two of the world’s most fascinating and historically significant regions.
As I continue to lead these trips and surreptitiously pass on my love for travel to my students, I can’t help but be grateful for the “deep and permanent” ways in which we are changed because of it. Travel gives us one big global classroom and the lessons learned in it will last a lifetime.