Thursday 1 Sep, 2016

Andrew’s Story: From Student Traveler to Group Leader

Andrew K. is a secondary school geography and English teacher and guidance counsellor in St. Thomas, Ontario. He’s experienced firsthand how travel can change lives having travelled on three EF tours as a student and, as a teacher, has taken 11 groups overseas. His next EF trip will be to France and Spain in 2017.

It was nearly twenty years ago, but I remember the exact date: March 7th to March 15th, 1997—my very first time travelling overseas and my first time traveling on an EF educational tour. Looking back on it, I really wasn’t aware of how those nine days would come to be the most memorable time in my high school experience, not to mention a key moment that impacted the rest of my life.


From small-town boy to world traveler

I was a small-town kid, growing up in Tillsonburg, Ontario, with a population of just 15,000. At that time, my global experience was very limited; other than a family trip to the U.S. when I was twelve, I’d never really left the country and I certainly didn’t venture far away from family.

In Grade 10, a number of my friends at school went to London and Paris with EF, and when I was in Grade 11, a trip to Austria and Switzerland was organized. My peers came back from those trips with great stories, new friendships, and a wealth of experiences; I was envious, for sure, but I wasn’t quite ready to travel away from home yet.

It all changed in my Grade 12 year when two of my favourite teachers approached me to consider participating in a nine-day tour called Rome, Tuscany, and the Riviera they both thought I’d get a lot out of the trip, and since they were two of the people I looked up to and respected the most at school, I took their advice and enrolled. I can definitely tell you, twenty years later, that I made one of the best decisions of my life.

Was I nervous prior to leaving? Absolutely! Embarrassingly, I even remember making a phone call home to my parents on the way to Rome at a stopover in Boston, wondering if I’d made a good decision! After that flight and after meeting our Tour Director, Flavia, and spending my very first day in Rome, touring the Vatican, seeing the Colosseum, and tasting my first nocciola gelato, I knew that everything was going to be alright and that I was going to have the time of my life.

As it happens, that week in Italy flew by. Beyond seeing historical sights and monuments that I’d only read about or seen on TV, experiencing and appreciating the differences in European culture, tasting some of the best food I’ve ever had, and taking more photos than I care to admit (on actual 35 mm film!), I got to form some fantastic friendships with people I’d barely known at school, some of who I’m still close to almost twenty years later. I was immediately hooked on travel, and beyond that, I was hooked on the type of group travel EF afforded me—a great combination of history and culture, with just enough free time to explore on my own. I knew that I’d have to go on the next year’s school trip to London. I actually loved the EF travel experience so much, that in my first year of university, I took a week off to travel with my high school during their spring break to Greece.

A priceless opportunity you can offer your students

As I continued on in life and became a teacher, I knew that I had to offer my students the same opportunity to travel and experience the world as I once did. It really wasn’t a choice for me at all; it was something I had to do. In my second year teaching, one of my former teachers and mentors who had taken me to Europe three times offered students at my school a spot on his trip to Europe, and I got to accompany him as one of his trip chaperones. After that first trip, I then went on to chaperone two trips in conjunction with his school before becoming a group leader in my third year of teaching. Fast forward to my twenty-year anniversary after traveling on that first EF tour—in 2017, I will be leading my twelfth tour as a teacher.


From student traveler to leading a tour…

The transition from being a student traveler to a group leader was quite the journey. As a student, I had no idea about the sheer amount of behind-the-scenes organization and logistics that create a great tour experience. In addition to the whole school board approval process (of which I was completely unaware), pre-departure details were a learning experience; instead of being that seventeen-year-old with his mom beside him at a parent meeting, I was now the teacher in front of the room answering questions from parents and student travelers. Knowing what it’s like from both sides has been helpful, especially just before we head out on tour. I can honestly tell students and parents that I know what it’s like to go with EF overseas on a school trip. I know the excitement and I understand just how scary it can be to leave your family and country for the first time. Because I’ve been in the same position as they are, I can absolutely promise them that traveling abroad is an unforgettable experience that will change their lives forever.


Traveling with your students is the reward

On tour, I’m the person looked to for advice, assurance, and leadership. The responsibility is significant, but the reward of travelling with students is tremendous. I find myself paying less attention to seeing the sights and more time watching students react to what they are seeing. One of my favourite moments on tour is watching students turn the corner outside the Trocadero metro stop in Paris and see the Eiffel Tower for the first time. Some students gasp and some don’t know what to say, and I’ve seen others have a visceral reaction, shaking with excitement.

Every tour has those moments where you can see something change in your students. I’ve seen it watching students climb the Great Wall of China or when they feel the weight of the history of Auschwitz. For others, it might be when they order lunch successfully in a different language for the first time or when they figure out how to navigate the London Underground to Piccadilly Circus. Those moments where students realize that there is so much out there beyond what we think we know, are truly the highlights of the travel experience. Really, that’s why so many of us take students on tour; through EF, we are able to provide students with learning opportunities that will forever affect the way they see their world.

As the years go on, the patterns continue. Fairly recently, a former student, who went on the first tour I chaperoned to London, approached me. He’s graduated from a Faculty of Education and is now a teacher, eager to lead his first tour overseas. I’m so happy that he’ll get to experience the adventure from the “other side” as a teacher; I think it’s even better!

Are you inspired to share the world with your students? Find your perfect EF tour now!