Happy New Year, MALT members! It is hard to believe that we have all completed half of our school year. January is always a busy time for all of us, as we transition from one semester to the next. In large schools like mine, the change of semester means two days devoted to semester testing followed by changes to our class rosters as we begin the new semester. With the realization that the school year is now at the halfway point, it is a great time to make plans for a student trip.
Have you ever travelled with your students? I recently became a platinum member with EF Educational Tours. This means that I have travelled with them 10 times during the 17 years that I have been teaching high school students. Originally, my teaching partner and I would travel two years in a row, and take the third summer off so we could spend all of our time with our families. Eventually we decided that planning a trip every other year made sense. In a four year period, students would have the opportunity to travel with us twice, and we rotate between Latin America and Spain. The majority of my Latin American trips have been to Costa Rica, but one time I also took a student trip to Mexico. The number of students has also varied over the years from a low of five to a high of 36. Every trip has had its highlights, but there have been challenges as well, and I have some very precious memories of the groups that have shared these experiences with me.
Many questions arise when you begin planning a trip with students. For example, why travel with a company? Also, which company do you select? I have only travelled with Education First (EF), so I do not have any first hand experience with other companies. EF is the oldest student travel company and they have offices in all of the countries where they offer tours. The other companies that market the same types of travel are Brightspark, Globus Student Discoveries, Student Universe, Straight A Tours, World Strides, ACIS, and Explorica, just to name a few. What I like about travelling with an established company is that they take care of all of the details. They book your flights, make your hotel reservations, buy the tickets to visit the sites you will be touring, and arrange the meals. One year my colleague and I were planning a trip to Mexico. In April (2 months before departure), there was an earthquake followed by a huge outbreak of swine flu. Parents were understandably very nervous about sending their children into that situation. We called our coordinator at EF and asked to have our itinerary changed to Costa Rica. Within one week we had an entirely different itinerary, and our travel dates only changed by one day. There would have been no way to make those changes had we tried to make all of the reservations ourselves. This is just one reason why I have been a loyal EF group leader.
At this moment, one of my colleagues and I are planning for a student trip to Costa Rica during the summer of 2019. Since we travel every other year, I believe that January and February are the perfect time to recruit travellers. Our trip will not take place for 18 months, so that gives families an extended amount of time to finance the trip. Many of my students over the years have completely paid for their trip by saving the money they earned from their part-time jobs. The payment plans have changed since my first trip in 2001, and now students can have the money deducted from their own bank accounts on a monthly basis. Having a reasonable payment every month means that EVERY student who is motivated can share this opportunity. EF published a monthly blog called “The Equator” that has many helpful ideas for your student trips. The most recent can be found at this link: http://equator.eftours.com/the-ef-passport/5-ways-students-tour. At the bottom of each blog is also a link to previous articles.
So, what are you waiting for? Your students gain so much from this shared experience, and many of my former travellers have gone on to do a study abroad to spend more time in the countries we visited. Next month I will be interviewing some of the tour guides with whom I have travelled to hear their perspectives on what they wish students (and their group leaders) knew before arriving in their countries. Stay warm, and happy travels!