The first time Mark (or Coach, as his students call him) traveled internationally was as a chaperone on an EF Tour. “I grew up in the middle of the mountains of West Virginia. My hometown was very secluded and travel was not something I ever thought I would do.” But that all changed when he signed up to spend 13 days traveling through London, Paris, Florence and Madrid as a chaperone on his colleague’s tour. “The vibe, the food, the people, the views…were all so beautiful.” It was from that experience that Coach knew traveling wasn’t just a one-time experience. It’s now years later and he couldn’t imagine his life without educational travel.
Building a yearly travel program at his school has been an important mission for Coach. “I try to map out at least three years in advance and offer opportunities every year so students and their families can anticipate a trip and save for it.” He adds in new countries that appeal to students’ varied interests and to those who can travel with his group multiple times. As organized as his program sounds, it wasn’t always this way. In fact, he has had to build it twice.
The first time he started offering travel opportunities at his school, he was teaching in a community he had been a part of for years. Everyone knew him well. He had a solid reputation at the school and easily overcame obstacles, including convincing administrators and parents that he was capable of taking students to a new country for 2 weeks. He faced his latest challenge when he moved to a new state. This meant that he needed to build his travel program from scratch, for the second time. And this time he would have to do it without the added benefit of having close ties with the community. So he followed a set of steps that allowed him to grow his second travel program from 5 travelers on the first trip, to 25 already enrolled on his second trip for June 2017.
Step 1: Talk it up!
Starting at a new school meant Coach had a lot of introductions to make. “When I introduce myself and who I am, I introduce travel,” he says. “Making sure everyone knows both inside and outside your classes that travel is a part of you, and something you like to do is key. Your first enrollment meeting should not be the first time your school finds out this is something you are passionate about.”
Step 2: Map out a Plan
Just because someone doesn’t sign up for one of your trips as a freshman doesn’t mean that they won’t be interested their junior or senior year. Timing can be everything. If you set the expectation that you will be offering varied destinations each year, you allow families in your community to plan years in advance. Whether it is finances, destinations, or other commitments, mapping out your 4-year travel program means flexibility for those who agree that traveling internationally is an important piece of experiential learning.
Step 3: Hear from Parents
How do you explain the opportunity to a new set of parents? Tap into your parent network from your last trip. Don’t have a last trip? Ask for a parent who has traveled internationally to speak to the benefits of their experience. Some of the most powerful testimonials are from parents or previous travelers who have witnessed or experienced transformations first-hand.
Step 4: Set the Tone
“Open mind, open heart.” When coach holds his first enrollment meeting, he makes sure that every student and parent understands that he is only looking to take people who will maintain this mindset before, during and after traveling. Those who have traveled internationally before know that unexpected bumps along the way will happen and the best way to handle them is to embrace them.
Coach looks forward to continuing his travel program for many years to come, and will never get tired of the transformations he gets to experience with each unique trip.
Need some inspiration for your travel program? Browse all tours here.