Ask anyone who returned from a study trip abroad and they will most likely tell you about the profound impact it has had on his or her life.
This article outlines how to make world travel—and expanding student horizons—a highlight of your school. Read on to learn about service providers, tips on creating a successful program, and how to fund student travel abroad.
There is no question that learning about the world through the school curriculum is essential to building students’ international knowledge and an appreciation for the complexities of the world. But there is no better way to extend that knowledge, to make it real, than through experiences outside the classroom. Foreign travel, for a week, a semester, or even longer, can have a significant impact on a teacher or student’s life. It allows one to deepen their knowledge of another culture and test their second language skills in real-life situations.
Whether for a week of living in a home and attending school classes or a summer, semester, or year-long foreign exchange program, living abroad can be a memorable and life-altering experience. Students who travel have greater knowledge and interest in learning about other countries, bring back new perspectives about and appreciation for their own country, and have increased intercultural awareness, tolerance, and confidence in dealing with other people.
Find a reputable travel service provider
There are many travel programs available to individual students. The Council for Standards in International Educational Travel maintains lists of travel programs that are meaningful and safe. Subscribe to our email newsletter, which often features free or subsidized travel opportunities for teachers and students.
Develop a school culture that supports world travel
The educational and social benefits of successful travel abroad experiences are compelling, but success requires real attention and careful preparation.
- Involve families. Parents and guardians will have many questions about the travel program, safety, etc. Many student travel groups can advise on trip design, procedures, and provide information to share with a traveler’s family. Consider having several informational meetings, and generally keep communication open.
- Establish clear educational and personal goals for participating students—in-depth learning of a country, language skills, building relationships. Remind students of these goals frequently.
- Prepare students before the trip through study of the country’s language and/or history and culture in their regular classes. Use videos, e-mail, blogs, and other media to help students become familiar with the country and culture ahead of time.
- Tap into university programs, businesses, and non-profit organizations that function in the area where you’ll be traveling and encourage their leaders to share information. Your state department of commerce may help you identify local businesses with interests in the area you will visit.
- Consider designing your own trip or program customized to the school’s needs to save money, to broaden access to more students and to ensure that students’ experiences reinforce the school’s curricular goals.
- Teach journaling. Invite local journalists to help students learn the keys to keeping detailed notes. This will help students focus on details that they’ll truly remember rather than writing broad, inchoate observations. Establishing a blog provides another means to capture and share the experience.
How to fund international travel
A successful travel program should ensure access for all students. Costs include passport and visa applications, airline tickets, museum admissions, miscellaneous meals, and hiring a substitute if trip takes place during the school year. Funds for such a program can come from a wide range of sources. Once the students who will participate have been identified, help them to set up a calendar of fund-raising activities that benefit them as a group.
- Seek grants and scholarships from national organizations. Scholarships for trips and exchanges are available through a number of national organizations. (see AsiaSociety.org/Education) In its first year, the Houston Academy for International Studies helped eight minority students travel in the summer following their freshman year to Italy, Spain, Costa Rica, and Thailand through a study abroad scholarship program.
- Create travel-related items for sale. Greeting cards, t-shirts, and more can be easily created by students. The products can highlight the name and goals of the exchange, or something about the culture of where students will travel.
- Solicit local businesses and organizations. Sponsoring students can be an excellent public relations opportunity for a business or business organizations. Students can return to the business or organization to give a presentation about the travel experience.
Do you have experience setting up an international travel program in your school? What advice do you have for others?