Organizing a school trip overseas for your students can be a lot of fun (apart from the fact that it can also require a lot of time!), but what are the key ingredients? Based on my experience as a school trip organizer as well as feedback from teachers and students who have been on trips with us, here is my TOP-5 essentials any overseas trip should include:
1. A dedicated, quality-focused coordinator in charge
Whether you are in direct contact with the provider in the country or going via an agency based in your home country, you must be absolutely confident that the team who will be organizing and running the trip, or even better: your contact person and coordinator in charge of the trip, is dedicated to delivering the highest possible quality when it comes to the programme. Taking your students on a trip abroad is stressful enough, you want to be sure that if any issues arise with students or in general during the trip, the organizer is trustworthy and available 24/7 to deal with situations. This is particularly important if you think about how mobile phones and the internet have made it incredibly easy for issues that students may have (however small they might be), can directly be communicated to their parents at home, potentially resulting in many a parent contacting you on your emergency phone number. Knowing that the language or activity centre and / or the agency are committed to making sure your trip runs as smoothly as possible means that not only less problems should arise (their quality focussed programmes means their detailed preparation would have already taken out a lot of the potential risks and problems), they will also be more than happy to resolve issues as fast as possible and assist you in anything you might need to satisfy your students (or their parents) as quickly as possible.
2.The programme must be a balanced mix of activities
Whether the focus of the trip is on language and culture, geography and history or work experience, it is important to remember that students, regardless of their age, need a good balance of activities. Do you want students to practice the language of the country and learn more about the culture? Great, but see if you can combine the language classes and city trips with a sporting activity. This doesn’t only appeal more to some of your more sporty students, but can also provide an invaluable experience on the language and culture side. A good example of this is padel tennis in Spain (if you’ve never heard of this, to put it simply: it is a mix between tennis and squash). This is a hugely popular sport in Spain with both children and adults. By adding a padel lesson into the programme, students don’t only get to play a sport (remember some students prefer this over visiting endless amounts of cities and museums / musea), but also learn more about this cultural phenomenon as well as being exposed to and able to practice to some “real” Spanish in the sport lesson.
Another thing not to overlook when putting together a balanced programme: chill out / down time for the students. Although I am a great believer of fun-packed days for the students with different activities and options to explore, students also really appreciate some shopping time or time to relax. If there is a beach, make sure to at least include some hours to take them there. If you are not going to a sunny / beach location, take them to a park, a shopping centre or anywhere else where they can just relax and talk to their friends about all their impressions of the trip.
3. Make sure you have an amazing chaperone
A chaperone, or somebody in charge of the trip and the running of the excursions, events and any all supplier communication, is in my mind absolutely essential when taking students on a trip. I’ve spoken to many teachers who have done trips with students overseas without any chaperone at all, and believe me: they were no happy teachers on those trips! Having to organize and coordinate everything yourself is a big strain that takes away from your own enjoyment of the trip and the opportunities to bond with your students, which are tremendously important parts of a school trip. Having a chaperone for your group is usually cheap and if you don’t currently have one, seriously consider whether you can get one or go with a different language centre. So, having a chaperone is point one, point two, equally -if not more- important is the part that says they should be amazing. (Note how they shouldn’t just be good, or very good.. They must absolutely no fail be fantastic.). So what makes an amazing chaperone? Somebody who is dedicated to the programme and to your students, who is available 24/7 at all times, who is inspirational, who is knowledgeable about the different parts of the programme, who is organized and has everything prepared for the trip, and who bonds with the students in such a natural way that the students are motivated to follow their lead, thereby taking the strain and stresses off your shoulder so that you too can have a worry-free trip.
4. Educational fun
Any school trip must have educational value (why are you taking the students on a trip? What do you want them to learn and get out of the experience?), but it must also be fun for the students and yourself! If there is no fun to be had, it can turn into a very boring, uninspiring trip with many problems arising. Ensure the trip has fun activities whenever possible. Going to a museum? Instead of doing the regular tour, can it include a scavenger-hunt style activity or quiz, to make it more fun? Doing a city tour with lots of walking? Can the students participate in a photo competition where they have to take photos of certain pre-defined monuments or people? There are endless opportunities to make the events more fun (and ideally your chaperone would actually organize this all!), and we all know that students having fun don’t only learn more but are also much more motivated and better behaved on the trip. A win / win situation for all!
5. A safe and enjoyable place
It sound obvious and many would say this is maybe THE most important part of a trip, but being in a safe environment is absolutely essential for a trip. I’ve heard many a story from teachers taking students to Paris, Barcelona or other big cities, only to live in constant fear of students having to take 3 different buses or metro lines twice daily from their host family to the language / activity centre or meeting point. I’ve also (shockingly) heard even more stories of students staying with host families that consisted of exactly 1 (!) family member: an 60+ year old lady. So much for the fun there.. When deciding on where to go, think about the safety as well as the fun side. Do you really need to be in a big city? Would it be better to stay in a smaller city and just travel in by coach for a city trip? (Staying in a not-so-big city might also give students a more realistic experience of the country.) Instead of just staying in and therefore visiting one big city, would it be better to stay in a smaller (and therefore usually safer) place and then organize day trips to various different cities? How are host families selected, vetted? And qually important: have they got children of a similar age to your students? What else is your student going to do with the host family if there are no people their age? Will they make long-lasting friendships with that older lady? If your group are staying in a hostal or residence, make sure again it is safe but that there are also areas where students can hang out, where you can have a film night or BBQ with the students, or whatever else you have in mind to make the fun for your students and yourself.
Including these five points in your overseas trip should set you up for a successful trip for you, your students, your parents, your department and your school, making all the time and effort put in worthwhile and rewarding!