“Travel…the best way to be lost and found at the same time.”
~ Brenna Smith
As we enter one full year of the Covid-19 pandemic, the question of when and how student travel will resume is on everyone’s minds. It’s an important one. There are rumblings about the necessity of student travel. Some schools are shutting down travel clubs indefinitely. Educators and parents are asking tough questions. Is student travel really important? Should it be allowed? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?
Given these questions, I thought I would share a story from my very first educational tour to show the importance of travel experiences for our youth.
Making Connections On Tour
My first educational tour, “Rome, Florence & Venice”, departed in July of 2008. We started in Rome, then headed to Assisi, Florence, Pisa, Venice, Verona and finished in Milan. My colleague and I joined a community group from small-town Ohio. The group, made up of some of the most popular kids at their school, was very friendly. We had the prom king and queen, the head of the cheerleading squad, the football team’s quarterback, and a few other “in-group” students. There was one girl on the tour, we’ll call her Sally, who, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, was a bit of an outcast. She was shy, quiet, and, at the beginning of the trip, I heard the others in the group make some insensitive and ignorant remarks behind her back. I imagine the start of this tour was similar to her experiences in the hallways of their high school.
Near the end of our trip, we stayed in Lido de Jesolo, a little beach town outside of Venice that sits right on the Adriatic Sea. Our company sends most of our groups there when they visit Venice because it’s very safe, quaint, and the kids love having some beach time after a busy week of travel. On our last night in Lido, the students found themselves with a free night. Not wanting them to get into trouble, my colleague and I offered to take them on a little excursion to an all-ages karaoke bar near the hotel. It was to be a fun and safe night, together in one spot. Sally came with us, and I imagined that going to a karaoke bar might be her worst nightmare, considering how shy she was.
As you’d expect, the popular crowd got up on stage and sang their hearts out (some with incredible voices). They earned a lot of cheers and high-fives from their peers. It was confidence and popularity on full display. Then Sally got up to sing. I honestly can’t remember what song she sang or if she was a talented singer. I just remember feeling proud of her for getting up there, and anxious about her classmates’ reactions. To their credit and my surprise, when Sally finished, she was met with an eruption of applause and cheers and high-fives, well above the praise given to her classmates who had gone before.
Sally walked back to where she was sitting, by herself off in the corner. As the next student got up to sing, I looked over at Sally. She was staring off into space. Then she lowered her head and a huge smile brightened her face. She was so proud of herself for overcoming a lot more than stage fright by getting up there to sing. Sally stood in front of her peers, the most popular kids at the school, and she showed them that she belonged too. This was the moment when it clicked for me the importance of educational travel.
The Experience Is Too Important
I know for many, high school is an onslaught of ridicule, bullying and shame. It’s a battle every single day for too many teens. But sitting in that karaoke bar, halfway around the world, singing songs and cheering each other on, those kids from Ohio were simply friends having the same incredible experience together. There was no in-group or out-group. All the stresses of school life didn’t exist in that time and space, not for Sally and not for the other kids either.
After the night in Lido, the group dynamic changed. Their shared experience bonded them and they saw something in each other that connected them. That is the magic of travel. It forces you outside of your comfort zone. It makes you mature and grow and become a more whole and accepting person. Sally experienced this magic with her tour group.
If you’re on the fence about traveling with students again, I hope you draw some inspiration from Sally’s story. The experience is too important.
* Kurt Wicklund is a Senior Client Experience Manager at Explorica/Worldstrides. He works out of the Toronto office and when he’s not planning educational tours, you can find him hanging out with his wife and two kiddos, and playing in his band.