“Empathy” is a big word in education these days, and David J., a principal at a small school in northern Ontario, recognizes its importance. He knows empathy isn’t just at the core of great classroom culture, it also helps create global community and prepares students to become strong problem solvers and future leaders. One of the major ways he instills empathy in his students? Through travel, of course.
With a population of a little over 1,000, Hornepayne, Ontario is a small town with an even smaller high school population. Every year, David takes his graduating students on a trip abroad to places like Italy, France, and Switzerland. And for these young people, it’s almost always one of the most transformative experiences of their lives so far. “It’s not uncommon for a kid to be going off to college or university, and their experience outside of our community is not much more than a rare trip to Toronto,” David says. “When we head off to Europe, sometimes it’s the first time they’ve been away from their parents.”
But beyond gaining valuable life experience through travel, David’s students also learn to look at different cultures, people, and places from entirely new perspectives and better understand others’ experiences—essentially the definition of empathy. “They start to recognize the challenges other people face, and realize that other people will understand their challenges, too. It [travel] helps them to become better people and gives them the incentive to create a better world.”
On a trip to France in 2014, David and his students were visiting the Eiffel Tower and some of them were bothered by some overly-aggressive peddlers hawking Eiffel Tower souvenirs. But he saw this as a perfect teaching moment. “If you take the opportunity as an educator and Group Leader to explain to them where these people have come from, what they’ve left, and how this is an opportunity to make a better life for themselves—it allows them to understand a little better what some people don’t have.”
Of course, empathy isn’t developed instantaneously. It takes time, it takes some growing up, and maybe it takes seeing a little bit more of the world. But David has seen the impact travel has had on his students, “the spark of recognition that opens their eyes and minds and hearts to a different reality—one that’s so different from their own.” Which is especially valuable as many of his travellers head off to post-secondary the September after their tour, having gained confidence in themselves and developed the ability to look at challenges from multiple perspectives.
Speak to your Tour Consultant about how we believe educational travel fosters empathy in the real world.