Teachers Bring Students to Europe

Imagine spending two nights in Bruges, Belgium


Travel across the battlefields of WWI through Amiens to check out the Mona Lisa in Paris.

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Spend three days in Paris…

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Before heading over to Lausanne, Switzerland

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Now imagine bringing your students with you on this amazing trip?!?

Jessica Little and Megan Shifflett, foreign language teachers from Fort Defiance High School, made that brave decision this past summer.Belgium, Paris, & Switzerland 291

Lead Your Students on an Educational Tour

I sat down with Jessica and Megan to ask them a few questions about bringing 6 students to three European countries.

Here is My Interview:

Erik: I love traveling and I would love for my students to gain all the experience and knowledge that comes with traveling. However, I am scared of all the headaches and challenges that come with such an adventure.  Did you have similar concerns before taking this trip?

Jessica: I was super nervous before the trip. Megan can attest to the fact that I was a complete basket case until we got there. Between all the planning, money, and parent concerns I was in well over my head, but we made it through! We ended up having an awesome time! Once we got there the kids kind of fell into their own and they learned how to adapt in each country. The tour guide was a huge help too. What I couldn’t answer, she could. The kids took most of the pressure off of me and put it onto her. It was much easier once there was someone else to help with all of the why’s and what if’s.

Megan: Honestly, I was terrified. I didn’t do a lot of the planning side, but taking someone else’s child to a foreign country (especially one where I did not speak the language) was very intimidating for me. Luckily, we had a great group of students – as well as a parent – travelling with us, so that reduced much of the apprehension I felt. It was also a little scary knowing we didn’t have the same consequences in place that would be available to us at school (referrals, threatening to send them to the principal, etc), but explaining that rules violations could result in the student being sent home early seemed to deter any misbehavior.

Erik: Megan, I love the method for deterring misbehavior.  I know some of the companies that place foreign exchange students who use that method and it seems to really work.

map of tripWhat company did you guys use?  It sounds like they did a great job.  Would you do another trip through them?

Jessica: We used the company Passports out of Massachusetts. They were fabulous. We are actually going on another trip with them next summer to Costa Rica.

I also have a question regarding language: I found that Belgium was not very English friendly (at least Brussels wasn’t). How did the students (and Megan) adapt to using French?  Were the students you brought all current French students?

Jessica: Everyone was very kind to us in each country, maybe because we were with a group of kids. The students were practicing their French a lot. I only had three French students go, the rest were Spanish students. The Spanish students and Megan were picking up a lot of things. By the time we left they had learned a lot. I even have one who liked the language so much that he is signing up for French I & II in his senior year! The immersion is definitely one of the best learning tools that I’ve ever seen!

Megan: Half were French students and half were Spanish. Almost everywhere we went, they could speak English, so it wasn’t a huge problem. Switzerland was probably the most accommodating. We had trouble with one taxi driver in Paris, but in general it was a breeze. I think it bothered me more than the kids because I hated the “touristy” feel that came with not knowing the language.

Erik: What was your personal favorite part of the trip and what was your least favorite part of the trip?

Jessica: My favorite part of the trip was getting to know the kids out of the classroom setting. They all have an awesome sense of humor. I also got to know their individual quirks and interests which was way cool. For example, I didn’t know that one of my kids’ life dream was to buy macaroons from La Durée on the Champs-Élysées or that one of them had an obsession with looking fabulous at all times. 

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My least favorite part of the trip was actually being in Paris. I love Paris by myself or with other adults, but with kids it becomes so stressful. I hate to say it out loud, but it was the most stressful part. As a French teacher, I wanted them to have such a high opinion of Paris that I couldn’t bear the thought of something bad happening. I was terrified that they would be pick-pocketed or get lost on the subway.  Although we created many awesome memories in Paris, I was constantly worried and stressed. The other cities we visited were much smaller, so I didn’t have the same stress level there.

Erik: Concerning the planning and logistics, I think most teachers would not begin to know how to prepare themselves, let a lone a bunch of students.  Did you guys provide packing lists?  Are there rules about how many students per adult? Were the students given “free time” or were they always under your supervision? Did the parents sign waivers?  My head spins thinking of all the ins and outs with the logistics of bringing kids to a different continent.

Jessica: The travel company provided a pretty comprehensive packing list and we had our suggestions as well. There aren’t really any rules for a student to adult ratio. I personally would not want to be watching more than five or so at one time. Our students were given free time, but surprisingly enough they were willing to share that free time with us! I think they understood that they probably couldn’t get very far without someone helping them map the subways, etc. The parents did not sign waivers to us. I believe the travel company had some kind of waiver but Megan and I never required one. They did, however, have to sign a rules list where we talked about drinking, drugs, etc. It was understood that if the kids were out of line they would be shipped right back home as soon as possible on their parents’ dime. So, maybe that is some kind of waiver? When I think of waivers I think of accidental deaths and that kind of deal. Rule list sounds better to me. =)

Erik: You indicated that you are planning a trip to Costa Rica this summer, is there anything you will do differently this time based off of what you learned on the European trip?

Costa Rica Ecotourism photo courtesy of The Earth Explore Blog

Costa Rica Ecotourism photo courtesy of The Earth Explore Blog

Jessica:We are planning our trip to Costa Rica in June of 2015.  One thing I will do differently is try to make sure that the tour guide has the same rules for ALL participants in the trip. Last time, for example, there was a teacher from California who allowed her students to drink which I am totally not cool with. It was really confusing to my kids why there were different rules for different participants and it was hard to explain. This time, I think I will definitely stress less. The first time I felt like we did a pretty good job of planning it and now that we have that under our belt I’m not quite as worried.

You two are so brave and  I have to admit I am a little jealous.  Thank you so much for answering my questions.  And good luck recruiting amazing kids in which to share Costa Rica!

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A special thank you to Jessica for sharing her awesome photos!  Below you will find a small gallery of some more of her pics:

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