5 Things I Learned My First Time Taking Kids Abroad

Caitlin Howard, Spanish Teacher at Clover High School

After taking my first group of students abroad for two weeks this summer, I picked up a few pointers that I believe will help other teachers plan as they prepare to take their students abroad!

  1. Animals We are all animal lovers and our high school students are no exception to the rule! However, some caution needs to be exercised when encountering animals abroad.  I witnessed several students pet stray dogs and cats in Europe and didn’t immediately dowse themselves in hand sanitizer.  Sure, we’d all like to believe our furry friends are clean, disease-free, and friendly, but the truth is we just cannot know that.  Pigeons are another crowd pleaser.  Students who are not accustomed to city life will look at pigeons like a rare treat.  Street performers looking to make a buck will try to take advantage of this by asking for a euro in exchange for crumbs that attract the pigeons.  I looked up and my students had pigeons on their hands, arms, and even on their head!  I had to explain pigeons are about as sanitary as sewer rats, not to mention, you can save a euro by simply tossing your own food crumbs.  Horses, too, are found in the city between mounted police, carriage rides, etc.  They are beautiful creatures, but unpredictable when you don’t know their personality.  One of my students stopped to pet a horse and was quickly bit on the arm.  Luckily the bite did not break the skin, but needless to say, I will be having the “don’t pet the animals” talk before my next trip.
  2. Cash Only It’s surprising that in today’s modern world there are still places that are cash only.  There seems to be a higher concentration of these places in Europe.  A couple times I asked if debit/credit cards were accepted and was surprised to hear “no.”  Luckily, I planned ahead and had cash on me.  However, I made the mistake of telling myself I wouldn’t need to take out more cash until I ran out of euros.  The problem was our next trip stops included small towns in southern France where ATMs were not readily available.  I had to ask another adult to cover me until I could pay her back.  Several students ran into the same problem when they couldn’t locate an ATM either.  On my next trip abroad, I will ask all students to hit the ATM before we leave the current city regardless of whether they have remaining euros.
  3. Less is More When it comes to only having a couple days in a big city, there’s a lot to hit and it’s nearly impossible to cover all of it.  That’s why it is important to take your trip itinerary to-do list and divide it into smaller to-do lists.  While some places only require a small amount of time to view the landmark or take in the scenery, I heard several students say they felt rushed and wished for more time at certain places.  So the adults decided to divide and conquer.  For example, the students had the option of spending the afternoon shopping in Paris with one chaperone or going to the famous Angelina’s to sample the chocolate and to Saint Chappell with another chaperone.  The students and adults alike appreciated having more options and more time at the place of their choice.
  4. Tell them what to Eat No matter how many times you tell your students to branch out, you will still see several spend a meal in Europe at a McDonald’s.  In an attempt to have my students make the most of their experience, I will set a “No McDonald’s” rule my next trip.  Since lunch is the meal they are on their own, I’m thinking each day will be like a scavenger hunt where I will assign each group a pre-selected destination for them to find and they will be asked to order one of the many things that city specializes in.  For example, they will be asked to find a restaurant that serves cinghale and sample it while in Florence. Free time at lunch is an opportunity to experience the culture and we hate to see this opportunity wasted!
  5. Survival Skills like a Scout As a former girl scout, I try to always be prepared and this is especially important when taking a group of teenagers to Europe.  For example, the last morning of the trip the line for breakfast was so long that most students had to go without it.  Then, our bus to the airport was extremely late.  The problem with that was it left no time in the airport to purchase snacks.  A crowd of hungry teenagers is enough to startle the masses, but not me.  I had peanuts, granola bars, and chocolate cookies in my purse and these helped keep the “hangry” monster at bay.  I also instructed the students to keep an empty water bottle and refill it after airport security.  Sometimes you have to think like a scout to survive in the wild of traveling abroad with a group of teenagers.

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