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Top 5 Tips for Taking Students Abroad

Have you ever wanted to take your students abroad but didn't know where to start? Tara Berescik, an agriculture teacher and FFA advisor at Tri-Valley Central School, has traveled with students around the United States as well as to Ireland, Scotland, Costa Rica, New Zealand, and Australia. She offers these tips to help you plan and get started. And mark your calendar to join #GlobalEdChat on Twitter this Thursday, July 23 at 5pmPT/8pmET to discuss travel opportunities for students and teachers.

By guest blogger Tara Berescik

For many, the idea of taking students into the next county or state can be a daunting challenge. Trips to competitions, fairs, and conventions have pitfalls and behavior issues that rarely occur in the classroom and those are relatively close locations—it's often difficult and fretful to imagine traveling beyond the borders of the U.S. by plane, train, or automobile. But as a seasoned traveler with students, I can say that the farther you travel, the greater the opportunity for adventure and reward for everyone.

I am fortunate because I teach a class in international agriculture and sustainability and can tie the subject of travel directly into my teaching, yet, there are opportunities for educating youth everywhere in the world.

There are things that you, the advisor and trip organizer, can do to be better prepared for your excursion. Here are some tips I have picked up in the past decade of traveling:

1. Plan Ahead
Trips take patience and money—they are like children and need time to be nurtured and developed. Give yourself a minimum of a year to develop and plan a trip. Planning ahead gives students time to raise funds and allows more people to travel. I recommend talking to and, if possible, meeting with a representative from a travel company you might be interested in working with. I have worked with two companies, EF Travel and Explorica, and both offer excellent options for tours and tips for travel. For the seasoned traveler, planning the entire trip on your own might be an option, but for someone new to this type of adventure, work with the pros—it's worth the added expense and the reduction of planning!

2. Take the Right People
As the planner of the trip, decide who you want to take with you—how many students and how many adults/chaperones? Planning a successful overseas trip requires a trust bond with those you are traveling with. If I don't trust students when we are in school, I'm not going to put myself through the stress of taking them somewhere out of school. For example, I do not travel with students in grades 7-8 if one of their parents/guardians are not also on the trip.  Younger students are usually not mature enough yet to handle all of the situations they may encounter abroad. However, traveling with parents can be a great bonding experience.   

I love taking retirees from my school and community as chaperones. The kids are on their best behavior, and the trip involves the local population, getting everyone excited to be together. When I traveled to Ireland and Scotland, I had 32 people—16 kids and 16 adults. I'm not sure which group had more fun, but it increased my FFA alumni membership, and the adults cannot wait for the next trip to Italy and Spain.

3. Give Students a Leadership Role
10400320_128064693447_7487197_n.jpgPlanning a trip abroad is creative teaching at its best. And, allowing the students to help in all aspects of the planning process really makes the trip as much theirs as yours and makes them want to have a wonderful experience. When seeking approval for the trip, make sure that students present to the administration and school board. Nothing impresses administrators like excited students. Mine have made presentations in costumes from the country they want to visit. They have made food items and served them to the Board of Education while explaining how they can bring the information back to support learning opportunities for those who could not attend. Students can also lead the fund-raising activities by first brainstorming ideas then creating a plan and implementing it.

4. Organization Matters
I am not an organized person by nature, but organization for a trip like this is extremely important. If you choose to work with a company, they will give you a detailed planning document to work with. Make sure that you follow the planning document and keep your own timeline too. Things to put on the timeline are: obtaining passports, fundraising to offset costs, and advertising for people to attend. 

Passports are vitally important for overseas travel. We work with our local post office and have a passport night at the school 6-8 months before the trip. The postal employees come to the school to help with the applications, the kids take the pictures with a USPS-provided camera, and assist with filling out paperwork. The USPS gets a portion of the fees for each passport application, and the travelers have their paperwork finished.

We have "flamingo flocked" our community, collected and recycled cans and bottles, had chili cook-offs and pet washes, sold fruit, run a concession stand, made wedding and party flowers, and much more to help pay for these trips. Find a niche in your community and fill the niche; don't just sell wrapping paper and chocolate bars—unless that's your niche market!

Plan fundraisers at staggered times and keep track of those who participate. You can have checks cut directly from school accounts to companies running the trip. You need to decide how money will be divvied up prior to fundraisers. Portions can go to individuals who fundraised or can be evenly divided between everyone traveling. Also, remember the importance of tipping. When traveling with a group, tips add up quickly (thousands of dollars actually). If you don't want your travelers to pay the tips, plan fundraisers that can meet those demands as well. In the end, as the trip planner, you are the person handing out the tips!

4. Specify Expectations for All Parties
Finally, be clear with your expectations and have them in writing. The students know my expectations, and when we meet for the trips, I am very clear what they are. For instance, I am very specific that no matter how old they are they will not drink—this is important when the country's drinking age is under 18 or non-existent. I also provide the parents and families with the expectations and our itinerary. I post pictures and updates to FaceBook, Twitter, and the school website so people can follow along and see what the kids are learning. This is something the parents and families expect and I want to provide that for them.

A successful trip allows for more travel in the future. For me, getting to see the world through the eyes of my students is amazing and rewarding. I get as much out of the experiences as they do, and it pushes me to travel with them in the future. It builds bonds and bridges between age groups and provides fodder for future college applications, scholarships, and reminiscing.  One of my favorite experiences with students included digging a septic tank for a family in Costa Rica. We chose to help others and give back, but we also zip-lined through the jungle, kayaked in a volcanic lake, and toured an alligator farm. The service meant the most to the students and is what they remember.

It's all about the experience and the memories, and those are the things that keep me going and keep me interested in teaching. I truly believe these experiences are also what have pushed 14 of my graduates to want to be agriculture teachers as well.

Feeling inspired? Get planning and let me know in the comments section where you will take your students in 2016-17 and how it will tie into your curriculum!

Follow Tara and Heather on Twitter. 

Image: Author and her students on a trip to Australia. Courtesy of the author. 

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