Sunday, January 17, 2016

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!

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