My wife and I have been very fortunate to have sponsored several study trips while teaching here in Saudi Arabia. From what I’ve been reading about back in the States, field trips there might be limited to the surrounding counties because of bussing costs, liability concerns, and safety. However, in international teaching entire world is at your disposal if you want to take students on a study trip. Perhaps the best of all, the sponsor costs are often covered in the students’ costs, so your trip is more or less free.
Our first year here Jamie was able to sponsor a high school Habitat for Humanity trip to Kenya. During our second year, I was able to co-sponsor a trip to South Korea for my middle school students. Our third year, I took students to Prague, Czech Republic and Budapest, Hungary, while Jamie sponsored a trip to Bali, Indonesia. Last year, I took students to Switzerland on a ski/science study trip. Jamie has also made two trips with the Model United Nations to Istanbul, Turkey. This year, Jamie is going to Chang Mai, Thailand for another Habitat trip, and I’m going to back Switzerland skiing again.
These trips are “study” based in a variety of ways. Some are more scientific with students getting a chance to study environmental changes, avalanches, or drought conditions. Others are skills and survival based, like students being able to learn public speaking, how to ski or snorkel, or desert survival. Still others give students a chance to help others through volunteer work building homes and community centers, as well as organizing donation drives and raising money for direct donations. And other trips are designed to teach cultural awareness, like taking cooking classes across Italy, touring the Hagia Sophia, or visiting the DMZ between North and South Korea. Many trips offer a variety of activities that include a little of each goal so that students have a chance for both personal growth and personal enjoyment. This is a great chance for students to experience cultural interactions through foods, languages, clothing styles, and technology differences. And of course, no matter what the stated purpose of the trip is officially, students and teachers all have a chance for fun, team building, and excitement out of the classroom environment.
Other study trips that teachers have sponsored at both the middle and high school level have been to places like South Africa, Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Spain, UAE, Vietnam, Thailand, and various countries in Africa. At our middle school, teachers sign up to sponsor a trip and typically take about 20 students. The high school has a week called Week Without Walls (WOW), where a large percentage of the students sign up for trips. The remaining students come to school and do certain activities, but not necessarily in the classroom.
The planning and paperwork that goes into a study trip is quite extensive. Because you are taking students out of the country, it is not quite the same as taking kids to the local zoo, museum, or aquarium. Here is a “quick” rundown of the procedure:
- Check with your administration about any current travel practices, procedures, and expectations.
- Research places that you feel would best suit your students’ needs. After all, you will have to choose a place that students actually want to go.
- Go ahead and obtain a rough estimate of the flight and costs of the trip. Some places will simply be too costly for the flight, much less the accommodations, food, and attractions.
- Contact a tour company that caters to educational trips. There are several tour companies out there that will do all of the planning for you. These can worth their weight in gold. Many administrators and parents will want to know you are touring with a reputable company.
- Obtain pre-approval permission from administration. Each school will have a different process for this, so just ask your administration.
- Begin the recruiting process for students. This could be an assembly, flyers, or a parent night. This year, we are sending out surveys of various places for parents to choose to gauge interest level before planning too much.
- Begin accepting study trip applications and teacher recommendations. This is where you will have to begin to determine which students are allowed to go on the trips due to academic/behavioral issues.
- Finalize all of the plans along with the costs. This is perhaps the most difficult part. You simply cannot make a mistake in calculating how much it will cost the parents. Exchange rates may change, so you will have to build in extra money for that if necessary. Costs will range widely depending on where you go and the flight cost. Typically, you can plan on budgeting for:
- Cost of Tour (this will include activities, entrance fees, food, and lodging)
- Emergency Fund (Exchange rate, emergency medical, medicines, lost/stolen money)
- Sponsor Cost (This is typically just the cost of your flights divided by the number of students. Most tour companies provide the cost of sponsors at a ratio of 1:10)
- Visas (Typically, students are responsible for their obtaining their own visas, but this may vary by school)
- Spending Money (snacks and souvenirs)
- Conduct a parent night that outlines the entire trip. This will allow time for parents to ask questions about safety, events, costs, and travel. It is absolutely essential that you are prepared for this as parents will have questions you might have not even thought. If parents do not think you are capable, there is no way they will allow their children to go on a trip with you.
- Gather a deposit (25% to cover deposit of flight and tour) and develop a payment schedule.
- Keep parents informed of everything. You’ll definitely want to set up an email contact list as well as create a blog/website for your trip. Here are some things you might want to include on the blog/website:
- Tour Itinerary (daily schedule, hotel names, attractions, food)
- Contact Information
- Flight Times
- Packing List
- Visa Information
- Trip Costs
- Promotional Material (flyers, websites, videos that are provided by the Tour company)
- Important Forms/Documents
- Gather all important documents (These will vary based on your school, your location, and your travel destination but below are some of the major documents):
- Study Trip Application Form
- Copy of Students’ Passports
- Copy of Students’ and Parents’ Residence Visa
- Copy of Students’ Exit/Re-entry Visas and expiration date
- Teacher Recommendations
- Parental Permission and Liability Forms
- Temporary Guardianship Forms
- Emergency Medical Forms
- Academic Policy (Because you will travel months after students sign up and pay their deposit and final payment, it might be possible students are ineligible to go due to academic/behavior concerns)
- Copy of Health Cards/Insurance Cards
- Copy of Travel Insurance per student
- Create a Parent Contact List including emails and phone numbers. This will serve as the final student list.
- Finalize arrangements with the tour company and flight travel agent including names and information of the students attending.
- Finalize any formal school student study trip applications as necessary to gain final approval.
- Gather final payments from students in accordance with the tour company and flight travel agent’s schedule.
- Hold periodic student meetings to go over final plans and packing lists.
- Determine what the students will be responsible for concerning school work while absent.
- Make arrangements for students to be transported to/from the departing airport.
- Create assignments for students to do while on the trip. This could include daily journaling, and A-Z book, blogs, website, etc.
- Gather all documents in a folder to take with you.
- Go over any final issues/concerns with students, teachers, administrators, parents, tour company, and flight travel agent.
- Double check everything!
- Fly away for an amazing trip!
See? Just an easy 23 steps! If it seems like quite a bit of work, it most certainly is. These trips can, however, be very rewarding for the students and yourself. We’ve had students see their first snow, be away from home for the first time, be responsible for their money for the first time, learn to ski, learn to use public transportation, learn to get up on time by themselves, learn how to eat the right foods, or eat the same foods for 10 days in a row, or be sick from hunger, and learn how to make new friends with complete strangers. The students always come back with those “stories” from the trip that they continue talking about for years to come. When I see them on campus even a few years later, they always mention some aspect of a study trip. Sometimes, you see kids grow up right before your eyes within a week. As with any extracurricular setting, it is nice to interact with students outside the classroom, and it is nice for them to see you in a role outside the classroom.
Again, this is not your typical field trip, but one you will certainly remember for all of your teaching years.