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What is your opinion of school travel & school exchanges?

What is your opinion of school travel & school exchanges?

Apr 1st, 2006, 01:25 PM
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What is your opinion of school travel & school exchanges?

Our FL dept. has been debating recently whether our trips abroad for students are worth the enormous amount of work and energy and fear that the teachers involved have invested in them (with $0 additional pay, BTW).

The reality is that I LOVE the thought of showing my students a different culture, and going on an exchange like we have (in four countries- Russia,France,Germany & Costa Rica) is an even more impressive, life altering thing- they will have their whole lives to travel & stay in hotels, but staying with a host family is a rare opportunity.

BUT (and this is a BIG but) it is a program for those few who can afford it, and while I teach in a fairly affluent area, very few kids with less financial ability get to be involved, and those kids would probably get the most from it.

I ride the fence on the safety issue- my feeling is, I will not live in fear. If I want to travel, then I will- I won't become a cave dweller who fears walking to the mailbox. But it is different for me to travel by myself than to bring 20 teens with me.

There is a lot of work involved with arranging an exchange program, and it is the type of thing that seems easy & fun- until you actually do it. I have been fairly lucky with the turn out of the programs I have arranged, but I also feel that a year of preparation and stress and planning (outside of my regular teaching)is quite a bit to take on.

So this is the debate. Any opinions? Have you been involved? Sent kids on an exchange? I'm really curious what other people feel... thanks for your answers!

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 1st, 2006, 01:46 PM
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Hi K,

Iam completely opposed to schools traveling or being exchanged. I had enough trouble learning how to get to my school.

If teachers want to volunteer to do this. Fine.

It should not be considered part of the job by either parents or administration.

Myself, I would never consider chaperoning a bunch of high-schoolers anywhere.
ira is online now  
Apr 1st, 2006, 03:21 PM
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Thanks for your response Ira! Can I ask- are you a teacher? Do you have children who have taken part in trips or exchanges?

While the programs at my school are not "contractual", there is a precedent that was established many years ago, when traveling to Europe involved much less hassle. For example, technically the exchange that I run completes its "cycle" this fall- but the pattern has been set, and those kids that host Russian students in the fall of 2006 expect to travel to Russia in the fall of 2007.

Are most schools still offering these programs? As I stated previously, I feel that there is a wonderful side to the exchange program, but it does not come easily.

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 1st, 2006, 03:40 PM
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In general, I am weary of exchanges that involve going in groups. I did a year abroad in high school and was the only student placed in my city through my program. I had no choice but to connect with my host family and make friends at school, which is what I did. The program included a week long exchange within Spain and I was a part of the group that went to Algeciras. There were 6 of us and we were placed with host families there. At the time we all spoke pretty good Spanish (after 7 months in Spain) and even so, spent the entire week together as a group of foreigners, speaking English most of the time. We did not ignore our hosts at all, but we were sort of this amorphous group "on vacation" at their school for a week. Had that been my only experience going abroad, it would have been a really skewed perspective.

That said, I think that international travel is extremely important for students and though I understand why a teacher is in charge of putting it together, I don't agree. I did everything for my exchange either by myself or with my parents because it was for me. You can offer students an opportunity, but those who really want it are the ones who will work for it.

Then you have the money issue, which is that those who can afford it will go while others who can't won't, even if they really want the experience. That is a hard one to get around, but it does happen.

Safety is also difficult on these things becuase you have to be able to trust the kids and high school aged kids are just not the most trustworthy of demographics, particularly when released into an environment that allows them to drink when they have yet to have that freedom. It is a huge change and a lot of times they freak out. And then there are outside concerns that are more about the intentions and harms of others towards them.

However, I think that these exchanges are great, but perhaps on a smaller scale. I know of people who have set up exchanges for groups of 5 and the application process has been strenuous and those 5 have then been able to get financial aid. That sets it up for the most "deserving" students and makes sure they can afford it. Remember, quality, not quantity.
laclaire is offline  
Apr 1st, 2006, 03:52 PM
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I first went to France as part of my college's junior year abroad program many many years ago. When I got there, I never hung out with the other Americans, who did, as you say, all "spent the entire week together as a group of foreigners, speaking English most of the time. We did not ignore our hosts at all, but we were sort of this amorphous group "on vacation" at their school for a week."

As a result, I had many friends who were French, Dutch, various North African countries, you name it. And it was wonderful. And I really learned to speak french well. The other kids didn't. These programs really depend on how well the kids integrate into the host country, but, to open their minds, they are invaluable. As a country, I think we can be somewhat provincial, and we Americans may not always see or know another side to many stories. Many more Americans should travel abroad, and leave their preconceptions behind.
Momliz is offline  
Apr 1st, 2006, 04:05 PM
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Both my kids (from Canada) have gone on exchanges - my daughter to France and my son to China. They had a marvelous time and came back briming with stories and with dozens of emails for new friends. They were culturally educational and socially rewarding adventures.

Both those were short trips (2 weeks) and the kids stayed with host families. We did fund-raising as a group so that all the kids who wanted to go could. Those who preferred to pay some of the tab did so instead of some of the individual fund raising (eg selling cookie dough) but all kids participated in the group activities so that the kids with fewer resources were not singled out.

My son has now been accepted for a full year educational exchange in France. He's excited and we're delighted he'll have the chance to learn and grow in another environment. Yes there are concerns re security and safety - but there are anywhere, even at home. This way he'll come back tri-lingual and with a better perspective on another culture.

Go for it!
lal_birch is offline  
Apr 1st, 2006, 04:15 PM
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These are excellent points, and I do agree that when students spend their time with other Americans, the experience is not all it could be.

That said, there is a "comfort zone" involved as well- for example, with our program, students spend their school day with the group of Americans (all their own class mates- from the same school). Their evenings and weekends are with the host families.

Are there issues inherent with this? Sure- the Russian teens have a great deal more freedom than our students are used to, and it can lead to problems. Our students do travel during the school year & must sign a contract for their behavior- it boils down to the fact that they must behave as though they were in school 24/7- whether they are under a teacher's direct supervision or not.

I think that the idea of limiting the program sounds good, but we have enough trouble in my school keeping the number of participants to 20- this past trip we had to have a "lottery" of eligible and equally deserving students- we had 30 interested kids.

We have also not wanted to go the "essay contest" route, as some kids are just better writers, etc- and some of those "less academic" students should be equally as able to take part in this eye-opening experience.

I am really appreciative of your comments, as it is hard from my vantage point to gain an outside perspective. Keep 'em coming!!

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 12:01 PM
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Hi K,

Yes, I was in the professor business for a loooooooooong time. College freshmen are no different from high schoolers.

I have also been a chaperone for some of my kid's high-school outings, etc.

I have a great deal of admiration and respect for those who are willing to take on the responsibility you are talking about.

I would rather herd cats.

ira is online now  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 12:28 PM
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Dear Katya: You raise excellent points, and I find, as I often do, that I share Ira's point of view.

Our children have spent much time abroad, have felt very comfortable in staying entire summers away, but both daughters chose NOT to participate in school-arranged trips to France, Italy and Spain. At first, Mrs. Charles and I were affronted by their adamant stance, but later we found out their reasoning. These trips were nothing but excuses for Americans teens, in the words of my youngest, "To hook up and get drunk."

Indeed, a teacher who led a trip during my oldest's high school years related that students who behaved within the bounds of decency at home seemed hell-bent on not only drinking but also destroying private property while abroad. A warm, very flexible person, this teacher ended up using Ira's exact phrasing, "I would rather herd cats."

My children also felt that these trips were for "rich kids," not those who could best have used the exposure. Host families were not an option for the school-arranged trips, and although I am sure they would have benefited from a host experience,my children were more or less booked into a schooling/activity track that did not allow much flexibility.

Junior year abroad in college is an entirely different matter. I continue to be impressed with what those experiences do to change young people. My children didn't change that much--I think it is safe to say their tangents stayed on their continuums--but more their insular associates found the world is not such a dark place after all. One young woman who often frequented our house rarely explored food beyond apple sauce, and it was a sheer delight to have her over to dinner after her year abroad to watch her taste everything offered.

CharlesIII is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 12:52 PM
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Thank you to Charles and Ira (again) for the comments. It is quite like herding cats sometimes!

My favorite moment of feline herding was on the Moscow subway- my co-chaperone and I (plus the tour guide) had our group of 19, ready to go through the stations to see the incredible architecture.

The other chaperone and I were constantly, frantically counting noses- regardless of where we were. In this instance, we knew it would be very hard to keep our group of 22 together, so we waited for the tour guide to give the "in case we get separated" rules- but he didn't seem anxious to give them... It was just as we were about to enter the station, he said:

"Children, we are about to get on the subway. It is very important we stay together, because if we get separated, the only way we will ever find you again is if you take the escalator up at the station, hand a cab driver $20 and have him bring you back to the hotel."

The kids had never moved in such a tight group!!

I would like to think that because of the behavioral contracts, our students were not involved in any kind of illegal activity- but more likely, we were just lucky they didn't get hurt and we never found out. No matter how hard you work to take the "good kids", it is sometimes the best kids who act out when away from mommy for the first time.

The others in my faculty feel that our "discussion" has not only to do with the 2 weeks that we are abroad, but also the year we spend planning the trips, arranging for visas, collecting documents, etc...

Has anyone heard of a school where there is compensation for this work that teachers "voluntarily" take on?

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 01:08 PM
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Katya- I didn't ask this at first, but are these school to school exchanges? (definition: you send a group to one hich school abroad and then students from that school come back and are hosted). Though the students travel in groups (to which I am opposed), I think they are really great experiences and can be relatively easy to set up. Also, if it goes well, many students have the option to return in the future.

Real life example: 15 Spaniards came to a high school in Boston and stayed for 2 weeks. Each student was placed with a host family and had a host brother or sister of his/her age (they chose not to mix sexes, which is probably a good idea with 16 year olds). The Spaniards went to the school in the morning and attended their host's Spanish class and then were given English classes by a teacher (in this case a volunteer ex-teacher). They had lunch with their hosts, then spent the afternoon exploring Boston and surrounding areas in small groups (mine had 5 students) with a chaperone (our compensation was $10 per hour and they paid subway and admission for everyone. . . just above volunteering). All the kids were back at home in time for dinner with their hosts. The trip ended with 3 days in NYC.

A little over a month later 15 Americans headed to Spain to stay with their host siblings (we were lucky to not have any problems with relations. . . had there been we would have made some changes). They did pretty much the same thing, except after the 2 weeks was up they spent 3 days in Madrid (they had been placed in Burgos).

This was an inexpensive venture (price was airfare, 3 day trip to Madrid ($300) and spending money with a $200 supplement per student for the teacher chaperone- it paid her way on the trip) and was very successful. The following summer 3 of our participants returned to Spain to visit their hosts and stayed for 2 whole months, really enjoying themselves. 2 of the Spaniards have since returned for visits.

This program is great because students get a total of 4 weeks with one host sibling, which is great for getting to know one another. Students not on the program still benefit from it because the foreign students are in their language classes. It was not particularly difficult to organize. The hardest part was recruiting reliable afternoon "paid volunteers" to keep the kids busy, but even that was possible.

I think the total pricetag (spending money aside) was $2000 and participants were required to host a student, meaning that their family paid for their meals and treated them as a child for the 2 weeks. That is a hefty sum for high schoolers, but not unheard of, and the return is awesome.
laclaire is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 04:01 PM
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This is an interesting question with many thoughtful responses.

As a high school sophomore (1982), I went with my French class to France for 10 days. We traveled as a group on a tour. Our teacher had us meet as a group a number of times before the trip in order to prepare....rules, expectations, money conversions, etc...

Once there, we did a fair amount of drinking and shopping and spoke a lot of English, but did also see and experience many amazing things. I am not sure that I would send my child on a trip like that now. On the other hand, that was my only opportunity to travel to Europe during my entire growing up experience - it was an incredible opportunity for me.

That trip was magical and my love for travel can really be traced back to that trip. Seeing the Normandy D-Day beaches, Mt. St. Michel, Nice and Paris were awe-inspiring. I began to understand and appreciate that not all cultures are like ours, and my sense of history, time and connectedness began to take root.

A much more meaningful cultural exchange took place when my family hosted a single student from Jamaica for several months. We really got to know each other and I was able to view my culture through her eyes (for example, the first time she was in our grocery store). The next year I spent a week with her family, not at a resort, but at their home in Kingston. Their floors were earthern and they had no hot water, but they were kind and loving. It was an eye-opening experience for me.

I suppose it depends on what the goals and expectations of such a trip are. I agree with Laclaire that personal host experiences are probably more valuable, but don't underestimate the influence that even a group trip can have on a person. Even my tour experience with a group from my school made a huge positive difference in my life and how I view the world.

If you are willing to put in the work and find it valuable, then rest-assured your efforts do make a contribution. I do understand the stress, fear and anxiety factors which would probably have me unwilling to undertake such responsibility.

Good Luck!
fun4all4 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 04:15 PM
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Hi laclaire- thanks for your comments and explanation- I always find it interesting to see how other schools arrange these things.

I assume based on your description that the students were all from the same school (?). This would actually be an interesting thing to try- it could be tough for my Russkis, but it would definitely simplify things.

Let me explain this- for my exchange (the Russian part), we travel to Saint Petersburg and are hosted in the fall by a private school. We usually stay with families there for about 10 days, and then continue on to another more "travel-y" part of the trip for 3-4 days (we have gone to Moscow and Riga most recently).

The way our program is organized, we travel and host in the fall, on alternating years. This is partially to alleviate a full year of interrupting students in school, and also due to the fact that neither of our climates have such wonderful winter-fall weather. We usually try to go to Russia and have the Russian side visit us for the 2 week exchange during the first two weeks of October.

This does have its minuses- every year we are bringing a group of juniors and seniors, and the reciprocating group has a new mix annually as well. We usually have about 50% of our group as students who have just hosted, while 50% will host in the next cycle. It would be ideal to complete a "full circle" in a year, but my question is: does this Boston program run annually, or every other year?

Our German exchange at school hosts a group from Germany in the fall, and travels to Germany in the same year, springtime. They then take a year off, so the program goes on every other year.

I am trying to think of how to make this work for us without:

a) exposing the kids to Russian winter (we do have snow, but it isn't easy to pack all of that extra gear...)

b) living in a more viable place. Our suburban community is fine, but it is a hike to any day trips that the students want to go on. Typically we have 1-2 days scheduled for the students to attend classes when they visit us, but we are near Albany- about 3 hours from NYC, Boston, etc. There isn't much to see in our town, and getting to Albany requires some planning, too (no viable public transportation).

As far as when we are in Saint Petersburg, the school does have more options at their disposal, and we can attend classes in the AM and take an excursion in the afternoon. This is usually with one big tour bus & guide though- so they are not speaking Russian.

One hurdle we do encounter as well is that the school we exchange with is a very elite private school, and the students speak better English than... well, MOST of our students! The inclination is always to switch to English- great practice for the Russians, but less helpful for our kids.

I'm not sure if I understand the way the teacher's trip is paid for, or what his/her responsibilities are during the exchange. In our case, we do all of our own teaching in addition to planning, etc. When the Russians are here, we host teachers and plan activities. While in Russia, we are with the kids during the 9-5 day, and then they return to their host families- but we are always "on call". When we travel for the last few days, we are with the group 24/7.

As a planner/chaperone, technically my trip is paid for, but often I have to provide my own housing/food/etc., while in Russia. In addition, we are basically required to host the Russian teachers in our homes because we do not have good public transportation for them to get to school& home daily (we are talking no sidewalks- anywhere- the suburban island).

I do not really mind the hosting, but the going to Russia was quite pricy- I would estimate that this most recent trip cost me about $1000.

Okay- I feel I have vented for long enough here. I'd be amazed if anyone read that! Thanks if you did- any other comments or suggestions? I really do want to try and make our programs work, and have it be less work for the teachers, with a bigger impact for kids.

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 04:23 PM
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I'm sorry fun4all4- I was writing at the same time you posted!

Thank you for your comments- as a student I did quite a bit of the "exchange" thing, too. I traveled on my school exchange twice in HS, and hosted a number of times. Probably the most meaningful experience was also with hosting, as a senior in HS. I was matched with a girl (also Katya) from Podolsk who spoke no English. I was the official translator for the 3 weeks she was with us- she came from a rather poor family (for example- this was in 1995- she knew no one in Podolsk who had a phone, so there was no one to call & let know she was okay).

It was great practice for me, a great experience for my whole family, too- my mom learned all kinds of weird Russian words (my family doesn't speak Russian) due to Katya's food tastes. She was delighted by little things, like the grocery store and the fact that I drove a car.

I'm glad to hear that hosting has impacted others! Hopefully my own students would agree!

katya_NY is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 05:23 PM
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Have the students who have been on these trips given you any feedback - even years later maybe?
And has there been feedback from the foreign students regarding being in a smaller community than they were used to?
My only exchamge was at the end of high school in England- we hosted students from Switzerland in 1949. The Swiss students loved London, and we really appreciated the abundance of food and the cleanliness of the small Swiss town we stayed in. I am sure we all benefited, and they perfected their English in the 3 weeks they spent with us, while our German skills improved. We had corresponded with our hosts for months before we actually travelled. None of us had any appreciation of the work involved for our teacher!!
Of course, this is an entirely new world of travel, etc. now, but I wanted to add my memories to other people's experiences.
sara_qc is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 06:29 PM
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I have mixed feelings about these types of trips.

I just came back from 12 days in the Honduras with a group of 8 high school students, 5 adults
Heather49 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 06:50 PM
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I'm not sure how that got posted - my fingers slipped I guess.

To start again

I just returned from 12 days in the Honduras with 8 high school students, 5 adults, and a lonely 11 year old. We worked at two orphanages - painting and caring for kids. It was a life changing experience for most of us. We worked hard and learned alot. Several days after we returned I saw a presentation done by a group of 27 high school students who went to the Carribean primarily to play - my feeling was that it wasn't as educational an experience and it cost the parents quite a bit more. I'm sure it was just as much work to organize as our trip.

I'm pretty skeptical that a standard sightseeing trip with a group of teenagers really provides a solid educational experience. I think travelling is great for kids but as soon as it becomes a large group, the tendency seems to be that the group experience becomes more important than the travel experience.

I think it's better value for kids to go a little later in their life when they have more time and also the ability to earn their own money. There's lots of time after they graduate from high school.

Heather49 is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 07:34 PM
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I was only a "paid volunteer" and not affiliated with the school. It just happens that one of the participants was a dancer at my studio and asked if I would be interested. . . so I will answer to the best of my ability.

This is an annual program. The Spaniards come over in late February and the Americans go over in April after Semana Santa and during 2 regular school weeks (their spring break is not a part of this).

The students are all from the same high school in Boston and the Spaniards all come from one high school in Burgos.

As for accessibility. . . when you exchange you get what you get and granted, being in a suburban part of upstate New York may seem unglamorous, but it is certainly a way to see American culture. I have friends who spent their years abroad in completely podunk places and managed to love them, so undesireable location is not as much of an issue as you make it out to be, especially if there are chances to do weekend trips, one to Boston, one to New York.

The only way to overcome the language hurdle is through the will of your students. I know that the Spaniards always speak English when in Boston and that the Bostonians end up practicing english over there, but my girl (the one who recruited me) got a student who spoke horrible English so she got to practice her Spanish all the time and did really well.

the teacher pays nothing out of pocket up to $3000. Each student pays $200 which gives them that amount. it has never failed to cover all transport and the teacher lives with one of the teachers at the high school (generally the English teacher, as they coordinate with them).

This requires a business plan to do correctly, but if done right, the teacher pays for nothing and is compensated for the time spent on planning. You absolutely should not hesitate to let people know that you are being compensated. No one works for free and if some parent says that they want to go on the trip "for free" then happily step aside and see how well they do in your seat. Assert yourself, because you have every right.

Frankly, one of your problems might be that you are doing this with Russia. You mentioned other countries in your OP, and Costa Rica, for example, is a non-issue when it comes to packing (except for rainy season). However, if your students are learning Russian, that is what they have signed on for. You could always try to set up something in Odessa. . . a little more temperate, at least.
laclaire is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 07:54 PM
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I have never been involved in a school ecxchange program as either a child or adult.

My parents pulled me out after grade three and dragged me around the world.
I was forced to learn about the world and bording schools.

Not all is positive, but here I am.
icithecat is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2006, 09:45 PM
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I organise extended weekend field trips for my English students every year. We usually go to a major city in Europe. So far, we've seen London, Dublin, Malta, Prague, Amsterdam, Rome and Arosa. This year we decided to do another skiing trip and went to Sedrun.

I've never had any problems with my students. Of course, my students are all adults and well over 30. And our home base is Switzerland.

Forget the cats! I prefer my students.
kleeblatt is offline  

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