By Patricia McMullen
Pre-pandemic, the biannual trip to Europe with a group of students was one of my favourite school activities. As an ardent traveller, I am intimately familiar with the joys of travel and the excitement of discovering a new destination. To share this experience with my students is a unique privilege.
After a hiatus, this year’s Europe trip to Italy and Greece was scheduled for our March Break, and with the help of our long-time travel partner EF Tours, 40 students and six chaperones were more than ready for their adventure. Or at least we thought!
Lesson #1 — always be prepared for the unexpected.
Travel is not always easy. Sometimes we get caught up in the romance of the destination and forget that it can be hard work. It often requires us to be flexible, resilient, and patient.
Our trip was an immersion into Italian and Greek history, art, architecture, and culture. We learned about the Renaissance masterpieces in Florence, stepped back in time at the Roman Forum and Colosseum, admired Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, toured the Vatican, saw the original fresco painting of Mater Admirabilis, climbed the Spanish Steps, walked around the ruins in Pompeii, visited the ancient religious sanctuary in Delphi, and ate some of the most delicious food we’ve ever tasted. All of this was planned and expected.
What was not was that four of our group would contract COVID. It was heartbreaking to see them have to isolate in Italy instead of travelling with the rest of us to Greece. Yet, we were so grateful they put the needs of the group ahead of themselves.
Lesson #2 — being selfless is difficult, but necessary when it comes to the greater good.
Their actions exemplified what Sacred Heart stands for, and helped our young people discover their path of personal growth is not always a straight one.
For the group that travelled on to Greece, it was spectacular. Every time I looked around, I saw students smiling, laughing, and talking about how much they were enjoying the trip. It was a chaperone’s dream.
We packed up and prepared to leave Europe on March 16. On the night before we were to leave Greece, the Athens airport announced a 24-hour strike; no flights would be leaving Athens that day. The purpose of the strike by train workers was to bring attention to and demand justice for the victims of the fatal train collision in February. They were also demanding safer conditions for themselves and train travellers. It was an unexpected teaching moment.
Lesson #3 — travel should include an understanding of and respect for the rights of those who live in the places we visit.
It then became a logistical nightmare for EF Tours — who were absolutely amazing throughout our entire experience — as they had to cancel our return flights and rebook seats for 42 people during one of the busiest Canadian travel seasons already rife with its own challenges.
Lesson #4 — when considering group travel, use an experienced and respected agency, it could make a world of difference.
With an almost impossible mission, EF Tours managed to split us into three flight groups all departing a few days later than originally scheduled. The first flight group had a two-night layover in London. The second flight group had a two-night layover in Paris. The third flight group had an extended stay in Greece. But what is it they say, every cloud has a silver lining?
Lesson #5 — from adversity can come great reward. I mean, London? Paris? More Greece? What wasn’t to love?
Eventually, we all got home safely. It was a pretty epic adventure, one that we can’t stop talking about, and one that I know will live on in our memories for years and years to come.
Travel is not always easy. Sometimes we get caught up in the romance of the destination and forget that it can be hard work. It often requires us to be flexible, resilient, and patient. We develop travel skills over time and through experience, and our students have now taken their first steps towards becoming seasoned travellers.
Lesson #6 — we learn the most about ourselves when life throws us a curveball.
Most of our students rose to the occasion, learned to roll with the punches, and made the best of their situation. I would say that puts them in pretty good stead for life, wouldn’t you?
I can’t wait for the next trip.