One of the things I have enjoyed the most about teaching and leading independent middle schools is the opportunity to travel with my students. Day trips, overnight trips, or service trips are all unique and provide me with a unique perspective of my students. I am such a huge proponent of student travel that I practically had to force my daughter to go on her eighth-grade trip a few years ago. She was one of those kids who never wanted to spend the night at a friend’s house or go away to sleep-away camp. I felt it was such a valuable learning lesson that I insisted she go with her peers to Washington D.C.
Having spent many years coordinating trips for students, I often have heard that it is too expensive, students have been there before, or “I” will just take them there on our next family vacation. All of those are valid reasons why you might not want to send a child on a school trip, but here are just a few reasons why I think that student travel (without parents) is so important:
- EXPANDS HORIZONS: Students who are able to embark on traveling outside of their city, state, or even country get the opportunity to see new things they might not normally see. Whether it is new landscapes, art, or people, they will be exposed to a different world that will help them see outside of their own bubble. When we are able to engage in new surroundings, we have an opportunity to learn more about the complexities of the world, including geography, economy, and culture. It can be the first step in realizing that the world is and not everyone will share your points of view.
- OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW RELATIONSHIPS: When I sent my daughter on her trip to D.C., this was my biggest reason for sending her. My daughter is a self-described “loner”. She likes the solitude of her room, and she has only a few close friends. In reality, what she really doesn’t like is conflict. She feels awkward when confronted by new situations or social situations that do not fit her “normal”. Getting the chance to meet new people or learn more about people who are only acquaintances was an important life skill for her. In the workforce, it is necessary to get to know people with whom you might not usually socialize. In addition, I thought some good ol’ fashioned middle school drama would be good for her. That might sound tough, but we learn so much about people, relationships, and life through adversity, and mom is not always going to be there to solve problems. This was a sink-or-swim opportunity to solve social problems without intervention. For the record, my daughter learned some valuable lessons on this trip in regards to character. Her one friend (according to my daughter) turned out to not be very nice to other people, and my daughter ended up forging a lasting friendship with another person who she would have never met otherwise.
- FOSTERS INDEPENDENCE: This goes along with number 2. Traveling requires patience, attention, and responsibility. When children travel with their parents, they are often disengaged in what is going on around them. Why? Because their parents tend to do all of the work for them. Parents remind them to dress, “be here”, “do this”, and hold all of their expensive items so they don’t get lost. When students travel in a large group, they have to attend to all of those matters on their own…with guidance. Teacher chaperones will remind them to put away their boarding passes or passports. They will show them how to carry their backpack or purse on crowded city streets to avoid pickpockets or loss. Ultimately, the student is responsible. In addition, they teacher chaperones will guide students on how to navigate changing social situations, especially with middle school students. Again, it will ultimately be up to the children to resolve the conflict. This is what happens when children go off to college or jobs. It gives them a taste of what life is like away from home.
- DEVELOPS EMPATHY: One of my favorite type of trips are service trips. My profile picture is from a service trip to the Dominican Republic a few years ago. The ability to connect with other cultures and see how people live outside of the United States and perhaps in developing areas of the world is a powerful experience. On the service trip in that picture, we visited remote villages and helped to build portable water filters that villagers could use to carry water to their homes. Learning that the water in the D.R. is highly polluted from nickel mines in the area. Clean water is something that most people, especially students of privilege, take for granted. It was an eye-opening experience. In addition, students felt the joy of giving and of receiving gratitude. It is truly an eye-opening experience.
- ADVENTURE: This goes without saying, but having fun is one of the best parts of traveling. Even as an adult, I get to see things I might not normally see on a family trip. We, typically, squeeze a lot of activities in on trips. In addition, I believe wholeheartedly in learning by pushing outside of comfort zone or taking risks (safe risks, but still risks). I push myself just as much as the students do. For example, I am terrified of heights. On a recent student trip to Iceland, I was in love with Haunted Viking Gorge (Fjadrargljufur), but the lookout point was a metal structure that jutted out over the gorge. The bottom was grating, so you see to the bottom of the gorge just below your feet. I was terrified to go all the way out to the railing, but the students encourage me to go. You can tell in the picture below that my smile is not terribly convincing, but I did it anyway. I embraced the fearlessness of my students and made my way out on the platform. By the way, I highly recommend Iceland as a point of travel. It is truly other-worldly.