Delaware City Schools
Chair, OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee
In today’s world of instant information via technology, the idea of travel, at least on the surface, appears to be less of a priority. However, the opportunity to experience another culture and another language firsthand can be priceless. This type of exposure can be valuable at any point in the language learning sequence and does not require a certain level of proficiency to be beneficial.
For the last three years, upon completion of level one, I have taken a group of students on a trip to Quebec City. The group has ranged in size from 15 to 25 participants, about 20 percent of the students that take the course at my school. We spend one week learning about the history and culture of the city. The students use their basic language skills at restaurants, cafés, shops, the hotel, the bank and with the tour guides. After several years of seeing many of the same sights and doing similar activities, I have been asked by others and even asked myself if I am becoming tired of the trip. Without much need for reflection, I would reply with an emphatic “no”. Every trip has been a renewal of my own desire to keep teaching as I watch the students and adult participants develop a love for travel and other cultures. Their eyes become saucer-like as they stare at the macaron options and contemplate how to stretch their spending money to buy just a few more different varieties to try. They go into McDonald’s during their free time, not to eat, but to report enthusiastically which items were different on the menu. One student said about the trip “Go on the trip so you can live it yourself! It’s the time of your life!” A parent participant stated “It feels like a whole different continent – to be immersed in a different culture and language is very invigorating and energizing.”
Indeed, the trip is always a learning process, both for me and for the participants. I spend hours promoting and organizing the trip while working with the travel company trying to keep the costs as low as possible. Students go through the process of getting a passport and managing it while abroad. We experience the bumps along the way that naturally come with air and group travel. This past year the second flight in our return trip was cancelled leaving 25 of us stranded in Newark for another night. The trip ended without proper closure with all of us returning at different times on five different flights to Columbus. In spite of what seemed to be a terrible situation, parents were thanking me and telling me that they were grateful their child was able to see that traveling is not always a smooth ride. I was taken aback and realized that these trips are not only cultural and language exposures for the students, but rather, this trip is also preparing them for basic skills in life even at such a young age.
Every year, there are new stories and memories, experiences that are priceless for me as a teacher. I get the chance to live the trip through the students’ eyes and continue learning myself. I learn about their fears and challenges, as well as their successes. For many, I am joining them on their first airplane ride and for almost all, I am leading them for the first time through passport control and customs. Especially at this time of year, in the trenches of planning and wondering if there will be enough participants in order to meet the cut off for the travel company, I am in need of reminders of the joy that comes from student travel.