Thursday 11 Aug, 2016

How I Rediscovered the Importance of Educational Travel

One of the perks of working at EF is going on tour with our travelers. It’s a professional development opportunity where we get to connect on the road with educators and students alike. EF Tour Consultant Darren recently returned from his tour to London, Paris and the Alps. Through his own personal travels throughout Australia, Southeast Asia and Europe, Darren came to understand that any travel is educational, but educational travel is something completely different. Here are Darren’s impressions of his time on the road with a high school group. 

One of the best things about my job is being able to travel with teachers and students, and seeing how the group learns and grows on tour. It’s one thing to talk to my Group Leaders about how personal growth, development, maturity and transformation happens in their students, but it’s even more incredible to witness it on the road. Here are some of my memories from my European tour.

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Preparing for an emotional visit
Nearing the final days of our tour, we had already experienced the best of London, Paris and Switzerland and were headed to Dachau concentration camp, just outside of Munich. In preparation for our visit, our group watched The Pianist on the bus. Though it was set in Warsaw, Poland, the film helped all of us prepare for the emotional impact of what we were about to see. We finished the movie just before our arrival. The teachers I was traveling with made a point of telling the students that it could be difficult for some of them to process what they were seeing.  They reiterated that if any student needed anything or wanted to talk, to please approach any one of us adults (Group Leaders, Tour Directors or any EF staff) for support.

With that, we left the bus and ventured out into the first concentration camp opened in Germany. We walked the sombre, now-empty grounds of Dachau where 41,500 people were murdered by the Nazis. We were all struck by the sheer arbitrariness of Nazi-era brutality – how could these things have happened in such a place? How could fellow humans have done this to others? For many of us adults, let alone a teenager who is away from home for the first time, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the lifestyles and histories that are so unlike our everyday experience. Sometimes it is just too foreign, too strange to completely understand. But now and then, empathy breaks through, and we come to see ourselves in the tragedies of others.

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This feeling really hit one of the students as we walked back to the bus. We were lost in thought, strolling in silence. It’s a common reaction that your travelers might have, especially when emotions can run heavy, and when words can’t quite describe how you feel. You can feel this silence because it hangs heavily among the group, everyone just trapped in their own mind. I’ve been in this headspace countless times on my travels, and though there is a time and place for these moments of self-reflection, I felt the obligation to ask a question of the group. I broke the silence by asking the students what was going through their heads, and one responded by saying, “My family would have been taken here.” The statement lingered in the air for a moment, and after a long pause, he explained, “My dad and both my brothers have epilepsy. They would have been put in here for nothing, just because they had epilepsy. It’s scary to think that.”

This moment prompted a discussion on our way back that I won’t soon forget. We talked about how lucky we were to live in a particular time and place where freedom is widespread, though it is largely unappreciated and taken for granted. The students I was with gained some perspective and I was struck by how articulate these teenagers were. We often get caught up in the unfortunate trap of assuming these kids are disconnected from reality, caught up in the seemingly vapid sea of social media. But those very same networks that get such a bad reputation also expose these kids to some of the most meaningful aspects of human history. They open the world to them in ways generations before just couldn’t experience. These 16-year-olds knew about the SS, about their selective and focused hate and these teenagers expressed their appreciation for being able to live their lives freely. It was apparent to me that they weren’t just paying lip service to these emotions, they were wholeheartedly feeling them and experiencing them. There was an added layer of sincerity. And then I wondered: Could we have had a conversation like that just sitting in a classroom?

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Seeing the world through your students’ eyes
This out-of-the-classroom moment reminded me of something that happened at the beginning of my tour, not nearly as emotional, though no less profound. It was day three of our tour, and my group had left London to arrive in Paris in the morning. We had just finished viewing the Louvre’s masterpieces and were walking up the edge of the Seine River, en route to the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was a beautiful sunny day, with bright blue skies overhead.

As we crossed the famous Love Locks bridge, everyone was looking around, marveling at the architecture and energy of Paris. I strolled beside one kid, James, whose expression said it all: he was wide-eyed, mouth open in awe. “What do you think of Paris?” I asked him. He simply looked at me and exclaimed: “This is amazing. I’ve never seen anything like this before!” He was so moved by the city: the sounds, the colours, the history and culture; the general atmosphere of Paris. Interestingly, London didn’t hit him in the same way. And it was so cool for me to recognize that random realization in James, because I’ve experienced it so many times when I travel the world. It’s that moment when it all hits you, when you realize here you are, so far from home, encountering something completely new and beautiful. This is why we do what we do. This is why we travel.

Why do you travel? Are you willing to inspire your students and show them the world? Find your perfect EF tour now

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