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Educational adventures without the headaches

School News sourced some opinions from experts in the field about current trends in educational tourism, discovering that educational tourism is more than the annual language trip these days. 

According to Matt Huttner of WorldStrides, foreign language learning is still “oftentimes the window that drives people to seek out international educational travel experience”, but educational tours increasingly satisfy learning objectives across the broader curriculum. Referring to Vietnam trips, Mr Huttner elaborated:

“There’s the military history link, specifically the battle of Long Tan”.  With such richness in military history, culture and culinary pursuits, is it any surprise that South East Asian features in school travel plans?

Walking the railway at ‘Hellfire Pass’. Photo credit: World Challenge
Walking the railway at ‘Hellfire Pass’. Photo: World Challenge

Peak experiences of historical education are certainly the domain of educational travel, according to TravelBound Education’s Nick Bond. “Just imagine an ANZAC Day dawn service somewhere like Thailand’s Hellfire Pass”.

In addition to traditional cultural and historical outcomes, “schools now factor in multi-disciplinary tours which focus on business, economics, STEM and food technology”, he continued.

Countries such as Vietnam have much to offer the budding ecologist, linguist, food technologist, social scientist and historian, but Mr Huttner suggests turning the process on its head. “Rather than start from the destination, let’s start with the curriculum outcomes”.

Asking “what would you like to learn while you’re there?” could land you in Turkey, or in your own backyard. The ubiquitous Canberra visit includes an Aboriginal Tent Embassy visit with WorldStrides. While the outcomes are not always predictable, the custodians have always welcomed the school groups.  The Elders are receptive to the students and willing to have conversation about why the tent embassy is where it is, and to explain the goals of the movement.

Raising awareness of the complexities of the world’s social landscape is the focus of many ‘service learning’ expeditions, according to Rebecca Christian of edu-travel company World Challenge.

“We encourage students to ask questions about any work they may be asked to help with in a community, for instance; how does a toilet improve a girl’s participation in school?” It is hoped that the process of learning about the developing world will “break down assumptions or prejudices about the people these issues affect.”

“How more developed nations should engage with the less developed world is incredibly complex”, Ms Christian asserted, adding that the short term volunteer contribution “must be driven by the community to ensure it will be beneficial in the long term”.

She urged that “working hand in hand with local development organisations” means accessing “the expertise and ownership to drive lasting change within the community”.

Students try folk dancing near Catedral de Barcelona in Spain. Photo credit: WorldStrides
Students try folk dancing near Catedral de Barcelona in Spain.
Photo: WorldStrides

All respondents highlighted how transformative educational travel is for adolescents, in areas from the simplicity of eating more adventurously— “it’s not every day a student would consider eating deep fried insects”, Mr Bond laughed—to establishing socio-political awareness.

What about security?

We live in uncertain times. The extent of safety and security provided will vary, and this is where the larger more established operatives could put anxious minds at rest.

“We diverted two groups out of Istanbul when the airport was closed due to the military coup earlier this year” Nick Bond relayed, and added that with terrorism on people’s minds, “it’s important for schools to know they have access to 24-hour support services to mitigate risks”.

Mr Huttner urged that selecting a provider with services such as international Doctors-On-Call, and the ability to ‘extract’ groups when required might help allay fears.  Contacts on the ground are also vital in uncertain times. “We have proprietary partnerships with leading global risk management organisations; in the event of a crisis we receive up to the minute information. We don’t just get our updates from the evening news.”

My intrepid informants, with more than 150 countries between them urged school groups to get creative. ‘Shake things up a bit’ said Matt Huttner, and ‘innovate in the educational tourism space’. Mr Bond offered, “don’t just take the same trip you’ve always taken”. With so much out there for students to experience, pardon the cliché but ‘the world is your oyster’.

Suzy Barry

Suzy Barry is a freelance education writer and the former editor of School News, Australia.

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