I teach at an urban college preparatory high school, often considered elite, serving 116 students. Our style is military—and successful—with high graduation rates and test scores. Expectations are high and so are the opportunities.
This year for the first time, an international travel experience was among those opportunities. Sunny Spain for spring break! Our trip made possible through a partnership I formed with EF Education Tours.
Asking my 9th grade History students if they could imagine going to Spain, I met legitimate fears anyone would face when encountering something new.
Can we afford it? Is it safe? Can we speak the same language? What do we eat? Where do we sleep? Who will we meet? Building skills along the way, we answered these questions one step at a time. As we progressed, parents/guardians and students were required to acquire passports, manage fundraising efforts, attend meetings and keep an open mind.
First, to address costs, students created a social media fundraising page, copying its link to a flyer using an example created by a parent, one whose child received a sponsorship paying his entire trip. I solicited gift cards from Walmart, Dog Town and Cheesecake Factory as raffle prizes. We sold Entertainment Coupon Books. I also received a $150.00 scholarship from the school for one student’s spending money. Parents/guardians also used their own funds. Through coaching and a lot of humor, we worked together to pay off students’ $3,100.00 travel expenses. American Airlines gifted students with first class tickets.
As for safety, students were given both the foreign 24-hour emergency number and U.S. emergency number. We also had a knowledgeable local tour guide on-site 24/7. Students’ medical conditions were documented prior to the trip. I had an emergency plan to contact home for any reason. EF was well-informed of safety threats, even changing our itinerary to stay out of Morocco.
We discussed keeping bags locked and doing passport checks every night. Students were instructed never to leave the group without permission and only for short distances while traveling in pairs. These instructions put safety concerns aside.
As students signed on, we were resolving all their questions:
Can we speak the same language? Luckily, our students take Spanish in their high school and had some background. We also had a Spanish-speaker travel guide in our group who helped with communication.
What do we eat? Dietary restrictions were communicated to EF before the trip and students learned to welcome new foods. By the end, they loved trying new foods. Calamari and mussels were one student’s favorite!
Where do we sleep? In their home away from home, students slept in groups of two to four. Sharing rooms with students from other schools on the tour was a bonding experience as we became more comfortable with each other in these new cities.
Who will we meet? Several activities allowed us to speak with locals. Through an act of service, we gave food to a homeless woman. Through group play in Seville’s scavenger hunt, students asked locals for directions. They tied for 2nd place. They shared a homemade 5-course Spanish cooked Abuelita Aracelli and enjoyed with fellow students.
These combined experiences made it an experience beyond the experience.
The students will remember the benefits of answering opportunity knocking. Envisioning beyond their local communities, beyond their city, beyond their country to a world embracing vision — priceless for our open minded urban youth in Rochester who were able to take it on and carry it through across the globe.
Next year, we hope to go to Costa Rica. Never too early to take it on, please see our GoFundMe site.
OTHER PIECES BY AND ON SHADI BELOW