6 Steps to Creating a Sustainable Student Travel Program

In my last post, I wrote about The Benefits of Creating a Sustainable Student Travel Program. The piece generated a lot of discussion and feedback as it made its way around social media. As promised, my next post shares specific tips and detailed advice on putting the program into place. Below is an easy to follow, step-by-step guide that describes the process I’ve used for establishing my own sustainable student travel program.

Scott Hemker's Student Tour

Via Scott

Immediately Recap and Revise Your Tour
You successfully planned your first student tour, and your students have returned with new global perspectives. With momentum in your favor the best time to begin building a sustainable student travel program is immediately following your trip.

Upon returning from my first tour I quickly carved out time to recap everything that happened while it was still fresh in my mind. Although the tour was a success, I knew there were areas I could improve. Recapping the tour not only helped me recognize what I could change, but it also helped outline the areas I really wanted to promote and share with others.

Brand and Promote Your Student Travel Program
Before promoting your student travel program you have to first give it a proper name. You could choose a fun and creative name, or as we did you could keep it simple. I wanted it to be clear that our program was affiliated with our high school’s language curriculum, therefore we became the St. Louis High School Spanish Club.

Once I was finished recapping our tour and organized all our photos and videos I began outlining the easiest ways to promote our tour and program. After eight tours with EF I still follow this strategy today.

  • Pitch the tour and global student experience to your local community news outlets
  • Distribute tour photos and videos to student travelers and parents so that they can share them across social media
  • Produce a tour photo and video highlight reel
  • Host an open house movie night for family and friends to watch the highlight reel and learn more about your student travel program (Make sure to include a sign-up list for future student travelers)

Recruit and Mentor New Student Travelers
Recruiting has always been an organic process for me. For the first time ever there is a waiting list for our next tour…I created this program with a goal of showing the world to as many students as possible, so as an educator and a Group Leader having a waiting list is a bittersweet problem to have. The promotional efforts have certainly helped, but past student travelers are the ones that really deserve the credit. After returning from tour the students are naturally eager to share their experience with friends, and because of this our program has grown each year.

I could discuss the benefits of student travel all day, but it’s important that interested students are not just hearing this from me, but from their peers that have experienced it for themselves. Student mentors are the key to making your program sustainable. Obviously recruitment and expectation setting needs to start with the teacher, but students provide a peer-to-peer element that helps create an organic recruitment cycle that takes some of the responsibility off of the teacher.

Become Involved in the Community
It’s always been important to both me and the students that our community identifies with our program. Unlike an athletic team or a school band the local community doesn’t witness what we work so hard for. Obviously we can share the experience through photos and videos, but I’ve always felt that it’s important for the community to know and understand why traveling and experiencing new cultures is important to us.

Experiential Learning in Costa Rica

Via Scott

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Many of the students are involved in a variety of extracurricular programs, so working around everyone’s schedule can be tough, but regardless we volunteer in the community a few times a year. Some of the proudest moments I’ve had as a teacher were seeing students visit our local nursing home or voluntarily work with the Salvation Army during the holidays. Not only does this help us continue spreading awareness and share our experience, but this also makes it easier to apply for grants and ask for donations from local businesses. Over the last few years I have created a community sponsored scholarship contest for the students going on tour. Students present projects on why travel is important to them. Local businesses know who we are and what we represent, and because of this they’re more than happy to donate and help support the group’s passion for international travel and cultural immersion.

Build a Tour Fundraising Strategy
If you read some of my older posts you’ll see that our program has a pretty thorough fundraising strategy. We’ve done everything from running concession stands, selling coffee, to having a helicopter drop 300 plastic footballs labeled with raffle numbers at the center of our schools football field. We’ve never put restrictions on our fundraising strategy. Certainly there are things we just can’t do, but I encourage the students to toss out the rule book and brainstorm as many fundraising ideas as possible. Our town is small and if we’re regularly going to go back to the same people we need to keep our fundraising ideas fresh and creative.

Innovate and Grow
Developing the St. Louis High School Spanish Club isn’t something that happened overnight. It’s been a gradual process that has taken 14 years of hard work. After investing considerable effort initially, it became easier each year. I leaned heavily on the support of many, including my colleagues that I often use as chaperones, my administration, my students and their parents, and of course, the remarkable Tour Consultants I’ve worked so closely with at EF Tours. Everyone involved has helped make this program a success and we’ll continue looking to improve and grow our student travel program.

Leading student tours is no doubt an incredibly rewarding experience, but creating a highly regarded student travel program for a school and community to be proud of years to come is even better. I want to wish you the best of luck in taking the next step in creating your own, unique student travel program. And remember, you are not alone. There’s a wonderful team of friendly and knowledgeable people at EF ready to help you every step of the way. I can’t wait to hear your success stories!

Scott is a high school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led 8 student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.

Scott H.

Scott H. is the Dean of Students and former high school Spanish teacher. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led dozens of student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.

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