When I tell people that I work at a travel company, I admit I get a thrill of pride when I add that we mostly work with student groups and educational travel. Then I always throw out a brief definition of that. Just to show you where the thrill comes in, I thought I’d elaborate on that definition here.
In my senior yearbook I quoted one of my favorite teachers who always said to us, “We’re not teaching you facts, we’re teaching you to learn.” At the time, it meant little more to me than the idea that she would be grading on participation – an exercise of which I was not a fan.
Being a student who relied a lot on memorization, I do not think I truly grasped Mrs. Hudson’s meaning until later. Not only did she want me to look up answers for myself, she wanted me to discover my own questions. I did not realize that what she was searching for was that spark – the light in my eyes to register some kind of thirst to know more than she could tell me, more than the book had described, and more than I could pencil onto the test.
Now a mother, I sometimes worry whether or not our educational system takes into consideration this wide view of learning. Do teachers have the freedom today to incorporate imaginative play and other methods for learning? I’ve noticed reading is considered the foundation for all learning. And as a writer, I’m all for this. But before reading, I think, there was experience. We were touched by humanity through our parents, through learning to interact with siblings, and by watching life ignite and swirl around us. Reading and writing are of course irreplaceable building blocks to education. But the further benefit of seeing and experiencing new places, many educators believe to be irreplaceable as well.
Here is a list of some of the specific educational benefits I believe to be intrinsic to field trips and student travel.
Compassion - The best way to convince young people that they belong to a global community is to let them travel the globe. By finding people who live lives similar to their own but in other cities and cultures, students are more likely to be moved to lend a hand in the areas of greatest contrast.
History – Perhaps this is obvious, but what person cares more for the dates and events in their history book than they do for the places and people around whom the events first came to life? Seeing important landmarks firsthand can instill in a young person ownership over both the tradition of history and the responsibility to keep from repeating its mistakes.
Reading Comprehension – It is well-established that reading is fundamental to all other aspects of learning. What better way to enhace comprehension than through experience? Visiting new places challenges our comfort levels. It makes us look closer, ask more questions, even read more carefully as we attempt to navigate unfamiliar territory.
Economy – Understanding our economy is crucial to growth and success. Earning money for student travel, even graduation trips, can teach a young person more about commerce than sitting in a classroom. And seeing how the economy is affected by various lifestyles and cultural centers will make a lasting impression on a young person’s mind.
Communication Skills – This is the building block for all of commerce, industry, and invention. Student travel can enhance this skill for even the shyest homebody. You only have to share a hotel room with one interesting personality to discover this. The challenges of travel strengthen this skill in every aspect, though, as we learn to participate in the culture we are visiting.
Student travel can awake in young adults a thirst for learning they may fail to grasp in the classroom. To see the evidence of history and touch it with your own hands makes history come alive. To experience the pulse of life in another culture creates appreciation in a way a book could not. In the words of Mark Twain from his book Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
Perhaps in this way, experience through travel can teach us what books never could alone.