What to Plan for When Taking Students Abroad - Once You Get There {Part 4 of 4}

This is my last blog post about traveling abroad with students. The first post focuses on why you should take a trip abroad with students (HERE), the second focuses on how to plan a trip (HERE), the third focuses on what to plan for before the trip (HERE), and this final post focuses on what to plan for once you get to your destination. This post is basically what I learned through experience, having taken teenagers abroad.

If you did a good job weeding out the students who can't behave themselves well enough for a trip abroad (from my second blog post), and you explained your expectations and incited enough fear into the students traveling with you (from my third blog post), then your problems should be minimal. However, there are a variety of factors you need to consider when traveling with a group of teenagers.

1.  Know the hotel.

As soon as you get to the hotel, check it out. Is there a terrace on the top floor? Where are the stairwells? Is there is a large lobby? Are there other rooms for teenagers to hang out in by the lobby? Is there a gym? Think like a teenager - where would you go to have private time with a pretty girl or cute boy? Find those places. Your students have already checked out the hotel online and those are the places you need to be wary of and look first when Johnny isn't in his room during bed checks, or when Jason and Mary have 2 hours of free time in the hotel after dinner. If everyone is hanging out in a big group, then they should be fine, as long as they aren't loud. But if everyone except Jason and Mary are hanging out in the lobby, then you need to be on Baby Watch in the terrace, the gym, the stairwells, and all the hidden nooks of the hotel. Find Jason and Mary!

2.  Know where your students are.

Know where your students are, even if you are not with them. Make sure that your students are traveling in groups when there is free time during the day and no one is leaving Greg to wander the streets of Florence by himself. No one goes anywhere by themselves! Knowing where your students are also goes hand-in-hand with Baby Watch if you realize that Jason and Mary have snuck off for some private time when you get back to the hotel at night. If you don't know where your students are, then Jason and Mary might be taking advantage of that.

3.  Set a curfew.

Set a curfew with students and stick to it. If students have to be up by 7am the next day, decide what time they should be in their rooms and check their rooms at that time to make sure they are there and quiet. They won't go to their rooms at 10:30pm just because you told them 4 hours ago at dinner that that was what you wanted. They will go to their rooms at 10:30pm because you are in the lobby breaking up their hangout, or knocking on their doors to make sure they really are in there. Someone has to be the Rule Setter and the Bad Guy. That person is you.

4.  The wake-up call from the front desk doesn't always work.

Sometimes it doesn't work because María, who was working at the front desk last night when you requested that all your students get a 7am wake up call, forgot to tell José to make that call in the morning, so the call never went out. Sometimes it doesn't work because Thomas picked the phone up, immediately hung it up, went back to sleep, and none of the other boys in his room even woke up at all. Ask the front desk to make a wake-up call for whenever you want your students up, tell your students what time the wake-up call will be, encourage them to set alarms on their phone for the same time, and then personally knock bang on all their doors 5-10 minutes after the wake-up call so you are 100% sure they are up. When you have finished breakfast and still haven't seen Melissa or any of the girls from her room, bang on their door again to make sure they really are up. Maybe they all decided they didn't need breakfast. Maybe they all went back to sleep after you knocked on their door the first time. Make sure the whole group isn't going to be waiting at the bus because Melissa overslept.

5.  Plan for free time.

Plan for what to do during free time. You will almost certainly have some free time, besides just time to eat lunch, in some of the cities you go to. Look into what cool museums or parks or other free (or cheap) activities there are in each city, just in case you find yourself with 3 hours of free time and 15 faces staring at you asking what's the best thing to do. Think about what teenagers would like to do - art museums are not going to be a hit. Teenagers will gladly stay in their hotel rooms and play on their phones for those 3 hours, but let that be plan B. They may never get to see Rome again and it would be a shame to not take advantage of those couple extra hours and see something cool.

6.  Be flexible.

Be flexible with the scheduling each day. Some things won't be decided until the night before and you have to be fine with it. Also, know that you will be waiting around a whole lot. Traveling with a big group requires patience.

I sincerely hope this series of blog posts has encouraged you to consider planning a trip abroad with students! It's a wonderful experience for everyone and something your students will never ever forget!

What to Plan for When Taking Students Abroad - Before You Go {Part 3 of 4}

This is my third blog post about traveling abroad with students. The first two focused on why you should plan a trip abroad with students and how to plan the trip. This blog post focuses on what you should plan for before you get to the airport.

The first part "Why you should take students abroad" is HERE and the second part "How to plan for taking students abroad" is HERE.

For this blog post, I'm assuming you have a tour with a company picked out, students are enrolled in the trip (hopefully enough that you are traveling for free!), and you have a date set. Here is a list of things to consider and plan for before you get to the airport.

1.  Plan to be their mother (or father).

Pack tylenol, bandaids, alcohol wipes, wet ones, hair pins for picking locks, and any other first aid kit medical supplies you deem necessary. Carry them on you at all times. You never know when someone will start bleeding or not be able to open their luggage because they lost the key at the previous hotel and now their suitcase is locked shut. True story.

Require everyone to give you a copy of their passport and carry them on you at all times. If they have important medical information, carry that on you at all times as well. Make sure you know who is allergic to what, who has medication they need to take twice a day, and all those other duties their mommies (or daddies) usually take care of. You are their mommy for a week.

2.  Let students and parents know what your expectations are.

Have a meeting with parents and students 3-4 weeks before the trip. Hold the meeting close enough to the travel date that you have flight information, but far enough out to give everyone time to go shopping still. Let students know what your expectations are before you leave, and do it in front of their parents. That way the parents also know you mean business and this trip won't be a Drinking Festival with Teenagers (those are probably the worst drinking festivals anyway).

Students should know beforehand that they will have a curfew and will have to be in their rooms and quiet at whatever time you decide, but that you will choose an appropriate time. It will not be 7pm. They will have to get up early though some days, and the previous night's curfew will reflect that. Parents will like knowing their child won't be allowed to stay up all hours of the night every night.

Parents should know that you will do your best to contact them as soon as you can to let them know you have arrived safely, but this will probably not be the very second that you land. Ask parents to please do not alert the authorities if several hours have passed and they haven't heard from their child yet.

Students should know they are to travel in groups at all times. No one goes anywhere alone. Go over any other safety concerns you may have. Parents will want to know that you take their child's safety in a foreign country very seriously.

Some other expectations you might want to add is that boys do not go into the hotel rooms of girls and vice versa, anything illegal here is illegal there, and encourage everyone to pack light. They will still pack for a week-long trip like they're moving there, but it's worth at least suggesting.

3.  Incite fear in your students.

Remind students of your expectations, in an even less friendly manner, without their parents. I mean really threaten their lives. Ideally, you want them to believe you aren't afraid to send them home in a body bag. They are going to have tons of unsupervised free time and they need to have a certain level of fear for what you might do, should they make poor decisions in that unsupervised time.

4.  Lie to them. 

I told my students the drinking age in Europe is 18. There isn't really a drinking age in Europe and no one ever gets carded because that's just not a part of their culture, but my students didn't know that. I told all the other adults on the trip that this was my lie and in no way should they let my students know it was a lie. I never had a problem with a student drinking alcohol.

5.  Choose a designated place to meet with everyone before the trip.

Plan to meet everyone either at your school or at the airport. Whichever is easier for you and everyone else. I always met students at the airport. Allow time for everyone to be late because of traffic. I required everyone to meet at the airport 4 hours before the flight. If you are leaving the day Spring Break starts, well, guess what! So is everyone else! Plan for the line through security to be 10 miles long. Plan for parents to take extended goodbyes, as if they think their child is boarding a Malaysian flight destined to crash in the sea. Plan to say "Okay, bye Moms and Dads! We have to leave now! Can't wait to see you in 10 days!" or they will literally hug their child for hours.

6.  Try to have a working phone if at all possible.

Try to have a phone that works wherever you are going. You really don't know what's going to happen and no matter how smoothly the trip goes, there will be at least one moment in which it will be helpful to be able to contact other people. Whether your plane is delayed on the way back home and you need to let parents know, or that rascal Johnny is hiding somewhere in the hotel past curfew and you cannot find him. Or you find out on Day 6 of the trip that Susie still hasn't contacted her parents to let them know that she arrived safely and they almost certainly think she's dead. It's worth the piece of mind to be able to call or text. Or let Susie's parents know she's fine and you are so sorry she waited so long to contact them. That's three more true stories.

There can certainly be some anxiety when it comes to traveling abroad with a group of teenagers, but I hope this doesn't scare you away from it!  It's going to be a really amazing experience and everyone is going to have a great time! And some day you'll look back and laugh at how Kevin, Rachel, and three others left the hotel at 10pm to go wander the streets of Barcelona by themselves in search of ice cream. That's my last true story - they all came back in one piece and with melted ice cream. Comment below if you have any other suggestions for what to plan for before the trip!

How to Plan for Taking Students Abroad {Part 2 of 4}

This is Part 2 of my soon-to-be 4-part series on traveling abroad with students. Part 1 (HERE) focuses on why you should take a trip abroad with students, and if you are reading this hopefully you are already sold on the idea. 

I took students abroad twice through EF Tours (and I highly recommend them), but there are dozens of companies that are in the business of taking high school students abroad. You should do a google search for "student travel tours" and see what comes up and what strikes your fancy.  While searching, here are some things to consider.

1.  Think about where students will want to go.

Maybe you would love to do a trip to Haiti, but chances are not many students are going to sign up for that trip. If you aren't sure where students would be excited to go - ask them. When I was having trouble deciding between a trip to Italy (wouldn't it be amazing to go to Capri?!) or Spain (I love Spain so much), I went to the cafeteria during a lunch period and asked each table which destination they would prefer if given the choice. They will also give you other ideas and you'll find yourself promising a trip to Paris next year.

2.  Think about the price tag.

This will be the biggest factor in determining how many students sign up for the trip. Unless you work in an elite private school where parents have close to unlimited funds, it will be hard to sell a $10,000 trip to parents. It will be hard to sell a $3,500 trip to parents, but it can be done. I've done it twice and I didn't work in an elite school with rich parents.

3.  Think about what is included in the price tag.

Does the trip include airfare?  That's going to be the priciest part of the trip, so it's great if you've found a week long trip for $1500, but airfare is expensive, so that price tag is going to double if airfare isn't included.

What is included and what will students have to pay for? This will be the second question parents ask you - immediately after they ask you how much the trip costs. Trips through EF Tours include all breakfasts and dinners - students have to pay for lunch, whatever other souvenirs they want to buy, and tips for the Tour Director and all Guides. You want to be able to give parents an honest final budget - how much the trip costs, plus how much their child should plan on spending for food, souvenirs, tips, and any other reasonable activities.

What other additional trips, excursions, experiences, etc can be added on to the tour? You might want to make these obligatory and included in the final price tag when students sign up. It will be more expensive to add that excursion to Pompeii when you are already in Naples, and honestly, who isn't going to want to go to Pompeii?! That optional bike ride through Barcelona should probably stay optional though. Not everyone knows how to ride a bike and not everyone will be psyched to see the city that way.

How much does insurance cost? I always included insurance in the price tag of the trip, rather than make it an optional additional expense. I don't want to be in a situation in a foreign country where I have to think about how a child should be treated for medical care and - oh no, did he sign that insurance form?! I know he signed that insurance form because I made it required.

How many students (or parents) have to enroll for you to go for free? The prize for planning all of this is free travel. Make sure you take care of yourself and go to whichever wonderful place you pick out for free!

4.  Do you want to travel with other Americans, or travel as a private group?

It's going to be cheaper to travel with other Americans than as a private group. The company has to pay for the bus you will be on, so it's cheaper for you if you are splitting that cost with a full bus of passengers, rather than a small group of 15. It can be a little worrisome to travel with strangers (who you aren't going to meet until you are already there and it's too late to get away from them), but I've only ever had great experiences. You will be with other teachers and their students from a different region (or maybe close by!) of the country, so you will be with like-minded people. Your students will get to make new friends with people they would never have met otherwise and after about 3 days together you will think these kids have known each other their whole lives!

5.  How long do you want to go for?

The longer the trip, the more expensive it will be. However, it will be a better experience if students get to see a lot of different places, so you have to find that balance of having seen a sufficient amount of places, but not so many that it's too expensive.

6.  When do you want to go?

I always traveled abroad with students during Spring Break. I recommend you go during a school break, but not in the summer. Students engage in a wide range of activities in the summer and are not likely to be available for a trip. Also, it probably will not be a popular idea with your administration, other teachers, or parents to plan the trip during regular school days. If your school has a week off for a Fall Break, that could be a good time to go, or if your school has an extended Winter Break. I don't think many students will willingly give up Christmas or Hanukkah for a trip abroad though, so that can be tricky.

7.  Plan WELL in advance! 

The further in advance you plan, the cheaper the payment plan per month will be for students (really for parents). If the trip is in April 2017, the last payment will be in March 2017. If students enroll in September 2016, their first payment will be in October 2016, giving them 6 months to pay for a $3500 trip (for example). That's roughly $583/month that parents have to come up with to pay for the trip. However, if you start planning the trip and recruiting students at the end of the previous school year, say in April 2016, then parents have from May 2016 to March 2017 to pay for the trip, making it about $318/month. More parents can afford the $318/month than the $583.

It will also take time to recruit students. They have many things going on in their lives and even though they say it sounds like a great trip and they really want to go on it and they can't wait to talk to their mom about it, you will see their mom next month at Parent Teacher Conferences and their mother will never have heard of your trip. The longer you have to advertise the trip, the more parents who will really have heard about it and be interested in paying for their child.

8.  How supportive is your administration going to be?

I never had any kind of an issue with my administration. This is a wonderful experience for students, so I cannot imagine an administration having a problem with a trip abroad, but it is probably a good idea to discuss the idea with them before plastering the school in posters and making announcements every morning for the next 4 months. They will appreciate being kept in the loop.

9.  Advertise, advertise, advertise.  

If the company you choose to travel with sends you posters - put them up all over the school in high traffic areas. I also talked to all my classes about the trip and had all the other foreign language teachers in my school do the same, so every student in the school heard about the trip (in theory). The first trip was hard to advertise because such a trip had never been taken before. But once we got back, the whole school heard about how we went to Italy over Spring Break and how now I was planning a trip to Spain, so it was much easier to advertise.

10. Filter students out

This is my polite way of saying "make sure the awful kids don't enroll in your trip and ruin everything". Not every student is ideal for taking abroad. There will be times every single day during the trip when you say "Okay, meet me back here in 3 hours. Bye" and you walk away and leave your students completely unsupervised in a foreign city. You need to have students in that group that you can trust won't get drunk, won't bring drugs in their suitcase, won't wander off, won't cause problems with other students, and just generally won't give you grief. When I advertised the trip to students in my classes, I told them I would not be taking jerks, and then I made eye contact with a few of those jerks. They usually know who they are and won't try to enroll in a trip abroad. That Student that can't follow directions in class and has to be redirected 209384 times every single day and gives you an attitude about every little thing - he's not an ideal travel candidate. When That Student's mom contacted me and expressed an interest in enrolling That Student in the trip, I had the administration call her and "express their concern" for That Student going on a trip to (insert foreign country here) due to his (insert bad behavior choices here). That fixed the problem with That Student possibly enrolling in my trip. Don't ruin the experience for the dozen good kids in your group because That Student enrolled in your trip.

I hope all this information helps you choose and plan a trip abroad with students! Comment below if you know of any other factors to consider when planning a trip! My next part will focus on what to plan for before you go!

Part 3 "What to Plan for When Taking Students Abroad {Before You Go} is HERE

Why You Should Take Students Abroad {Part 1 of 4}

This is Part 1 of my soon-to-be 4 part series on traveling abroad with students. I went to Italy with 5 students in 2014 and to Spain with 11 students, 2 parents, and a teacher-friend in 2015. Both experiences were absolutely amazing and I want to encourage many more teachers to go abroad with students! You don't have to be a foreign language teacher - one of the other teachers I traveled with in Italy was an art teacher. Also, I don't even speak Italian, so you don't have to go to a country whose language you already speak.

Here's why you should add one more thing to your already long Teacher To Do List and why that one more thing should be a trip abroad with students:

1.  It's awesome! 

It's awesome for you, AND for the students and parents that come with you. Traveling abroad is quite possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many students and their parents. It will give students the chance to experience other cultures and see how people live in other countries. It will open their eyes up to the world beyond their small town or the small part of their city!

2.  It's amazing!

It's an amazing experience for your students. They will NEVER forget it. They will have a blast, they will learn a lot, and it will be the highlight of their high school experience. They will write about it in their college essay and talk about it for decades. Decades!

3.  It's easy!

It's actually really easy to put together. I'm serious. My next blog post is going to go through all the details of how to put everything together, but this is not like taking on another prep, and there is minimal planning of the whole trip. There are people who are paid to make this as seamless as possible for you and they are good at their jobs.

4.  It's free!

You can go for FREE. As in, you don't pay! And now you're thinking "What?! You should have started with that!" Yeah I probably should have. You will travel for free as long as you can get 6 paying students and/or parents to sign up. And if you get 12, then you can bring your teacher friend, your non-teacher friend, your mom, your sister, your neighbor, the highest bidder... for free. That's right. You can set up an arm-wrestling tournament with everyone who considers you their friend and take the strongest person you know. You just have to pay for lunch every day and whatever souvenirs you want to buy. So you basically get a week-long trip (or 10-day trip if you're smart like me) for like $200.  YEAH.

Are you sold on this whole traveling-abroad-with-students thing?  My next blog post will go through the planning process for a trip abroad with students.  Please comment if you've already traveled abroad with students and can think of any more reasons why more teachers should take students abroad!

Part 2 "How to Plan for Taking Students Abroad" is HERE
Part 3 "What to Plan for When Taking Students Abroad" is HERE