Secondary Language Learning

Student Travel is Advocacy in Action!

Lisa Sobb, OFLA Secondary Language Learning Committee Chair
Spanish Teacher, Sylvania Schools

To me, nothing can compare to the look on students’ faces when they use their language for the first time with a native speaker and are understood. It’s like a whole new world has opened when they realize that what we’re learning in class isn’t just some secret code that I’ve made up; it’s a real language that real people use to communicate! Many teachers bring guest speakers to our classrooms for a day to interact with students, but have you ever considered going a step further and taking students abroad?

Traveling with students has provided a multitude of benefits to my program. Not only do my students get to experience the target language and culture firsthand, but I also get a chance to expand my horizons, practice my language skills, take pictures of those hard-to-explain things and record videos of authentic interactions with native speakers. Whether the thought of traveling with students has you breaking out in hives or you’re ready to tackle the challenge head on, here are some tips for planning and executing a successful trip.

1.Do your research! At my school, we begin the process of contacting tour companies for quotes about two years ahead of time. This gives us enough time to select and organize the trip, recruit participants, and create an affordable payment installment plan. We travel every other year and always price check with different companies. From volunteering to home stays to tourism, there are a variety of options! Choose a trip that meets your goals and will fit into the budget of the area in which you teach.

2.Get your legal ducks in a row. Contact your administration and school board to inquire about the process to get a trip approved. Be ready to explain the educational benefits to your students and to the other teachers in your department! Ask about how money for fundraisers (if you choose to do them) needs to be handled. Ask your chosen tour company if you are covered by their insurance should there be an accident on tour.

3.To fundraise or not to fundraise? At my school, students pay the entirety of the tour cost out of their own pockets. This does tend to limit the number of students who are able to come on the trip, but many tour companies are beginning to recognize this and are offering need-based scholarships. Also, companies will generally offer to let students pay on an installment plan. If you wish to help students fundraise, start early and fundraise often. Some of the most lucrative fundraisers for our speech and debate team (which I coach) are car washes and gift card sales around Thanksgiving and Christmas time. Plan fundraisers that are different from other organizations at your school so that you’re not competing for money.

4.Decide who will be invited. Visualize your trip and what you see students doing. Will you invite only students who are studying the language, or will you extend the invitation to the entire world language department (or the entire school!)? Will you invite only upper level students or will students of all proficiency levels be invited? Will you let any student sign up or will you require a teacher recommendation before extending the invitation? Will you make your trip cross-curricular and invite the science or business departments as well? Will you allow parents to accompany their children? Is there a minimum age?

5.Start recruiting! Once you’ve made an agreement with a tour company, start planning recruitment meetings. We generally hold approximately three meetings throughout the year on weekday evenings at 7 pm where students are required to come and bring a parent. I generally open recruitment meetings to any student who is interested in traveling, but I make an extra effort to try to get my most enthusiastic students to attend. The recruitment meeting is your opportunity to talk up the benefits of the tour you’ve chosen! Use videos and images to make the tour exciting and always leave the price tag for last. Your tour company will probably send you promotional materials that you can use, or you can make your own. Be ready to answer questions from parents about fees, activities, cancellation policies, insurance options, vaccinations, passports, and anything else that may come up. If you don’t know the answer, reassure parents by letting them know you’ll get the information for them and follow up at a later date.

6.Create a contract. Create a student travel contract that clearly outlines your expectations. Make students and parents sign it. This is your opportunity to lay the groundwork for how your trip will run and head off any problems before they begin. There are many examples on the internet that you can adopt or tweak to fit your expectations.

7.Choose a deadline. Set a deadline after which you will no longer accept enrollments. Many tour companies have their own deadlines (for example, ours is usually in late February for an early June trip), but we prefer to cut off enrollment about 8 months before the trip. This gives us time to have regular meetings with the students to prepare them for the sites they will visit, the cultural differences they may encounter, and do icebreakers with the students so that they are comfortable. We also have two or three evening meetings with parents to inform them of vaccinations and passport requirements, get emergency medical information, and talk about a suggested list of items to pack.

Traveling with students can seem daunting at first. However, with preparation and planning, your trip can inspire students to continue their studies, provide them the opportunity to get to know the target culture, and allow them to put their language skills to the test. Be a language advocate and start a conversation about traveling with students in your department today!