High school history teacher Gail Ingram has made a career out of bringing the world to her small South Carolina town of Cheraw—and, more importantly, of showing her students the world on her educational tours.
Gail is a longtime EF Group Leader, a frequent mentor to new group leaders and a regular presenter on EF’s Free International Training Tours. Gail also has won two national teaching award from National History Day, including the Patricia Behring Teacher of the Year Award this year.
Now, we are honored to have Gail join us here as a regular contributor to Following the Equator. Gail—pictured above with her daughter, Ruth, on tour this summer in Scotland—has a lot of wonderful stories and valuable advice to share, plus she’s got a terrific sense of humor. So, in recognition of her joining our blog team, we’d like to introduce her in the Group Leader Spotlight.
Tell us about yourself. What is your teaching background?
For the past 30 years, I have been a high school history teacher at Cheraw High School in Cheraw, South Carolina. Cheraw is a beautiful, historic town that is the birthplace of Dizzy Gillespie, a famous jazz musician, and the home of Tom Brewer, a Boston Red Sox baseball player from 1954 to 1961. The town has a population of less than 6,000, and the high school has less than 900 students. My husband is from Cheraw, and he returned after he graduated from law school. I became a teacher simply because I knew I had to get a job in Cheraw. What a great career choice I made for myself! As I begin my 31st year in the classroom, I’m looking forward to at least another decade of teaching (and traveling with students). I credit my longevity as a teacher to the fact that I travel with students. Forget about Botox—traveling with students is the best way to stay young (or at least young at heart)!
Did you travel abroad much growing up?
Making that all-important decision to travel abroad with students was an easy one for me because I already had three passports by the time I planned my first student tour. My twin sister and I were born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1956. Our mother is Japanese and our father was a U.S. serviceman who was stationed in Japan. (He told our mother that he was from Hollywood, but neglected to mention that it was the one in Alabama and not California.) They were married a couple of years after the American occupation of Japan ended. As a “military brat,” I lived in many places, including Germany for several years during the 1960s. I also studied history at Warwick University, located outside of Coventry, England, as an exchange student in 1977-78.
How did you first begin traveling abroad with students?
Knowing full well the impact that travel had on my personal life, I was certainly open to sharing that experience with students. However, I had to first establish myself as a capable and strong teacher in the classroom and as an active and reliable person in the community. I also had to wait until my two children (born in 1983 and 1985) were old enough for me to leave them for an overseas trip.
A local attorney and friend organized his own overseas tours for his Boy Scout troop and for other groups. We sat together at a community banquet in early 1988 and made plans to do a tour together to England for March 1989. I recruited 10 seniors from my Western Civilization class and another teacher from my school. My husband and our friend took care of driving our van in England. That 10-day tour cost only $850 with all meals provided and most of the entrance fees to various historic sites. We even booked direct flights to London. My first trip abroad with students was a great adventure, but it was so exhausting for me. I spent most of my time booking places for us to stay (B&Bs, hostels and even a YMCA) and organizing the meals, not to mention trying to provide as much “tour guiding” as I could along the way. I would go to bed exhausted each night of the tour and tell my husband, “Never again.” It took me five years to get the nerve to travel again with students. That’s when I picked up my first EF Educational Tours brochure in the fall of 1993. I found a much better 10-day tour to England (“King Arthur’s Britain”) for less than $1,000 departing in March 1994, and I could “leave all the driving” to EF! (Does anyone still remember the old Greyhound bus commercial?)
How many international tours have you led?
I have been traveling with students since 1989. My 2011 spring break tour to Japan will be my 20th group tour. This past summer, I organized a small group of adults on a tour to Scotland with Go Ahead Tours (EF’s adult travel division). I use my spring breaks for student travel and my summers for adult travel groups, family vacations and for the many travel opportunities available to teachers when they apply for such programs as the Fulbright-Hays Seminars Abroad and the Korea Foundation.
Where have you taken your students on educational tours?
For my first nine student tours, I traveled exclusively in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the Republic of Ireland. I went to Italy for the first time in 2002, and I have been there several times, including Sicily. I have also taken my students to Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic (with a lunch stop in Slovakia), Hungary and Poland. Because the French teachers at my school traveled with student groups, I have always avoided the France and Spain travel itineraries out of professional courtesy to the foreign language teachers.
What’s your favorite tour destination?
My favorite destination is always going to be my current tour, so right now, Japan is my favorite as I plan next spring’s tour.
Why do you enjoy leading student tours? What do you get out of educational travel? What do your students get?
Having experienced it, I am not a fan of solo travel. I enjoy the camaraderie of group travel and I enjoy the challenge of getting a group tour off the ground from start to finish. Educational travel is definitely “my cup of tea” whether I travel with students, adults, teachers or a combination of all three groups. I love being a student again whenever I am on an educational tour. I have never been a comfortable “leisure traveler.” Just ask my husband and our children. They are all scuba divers (I only go snorkeling), and they always make fun of the fact that I’m not going to sit on a beach and relax. My students get an amazing experience out of an educational tour. For these first-time travelers, they get a chance to see something of the world outside the confines of our small, semi-rural community.
Do you have a personal travel philosophy—as a traveler or as a group leader?
My personal travel philosophy lines up with what Mark Twain wrote about travel: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” The students who travel with me may never study abroad when they go to college or they may never travel again to another country. Even if they spend the rest of their lives in Cheraw, at least they have been exposed to a different place and culture. Perhaps their attitudes may have softened toward people who are different from them. My opening unit for my world history classes is called “Cultural Crossroads: The United States and the World.” I want all of my students, whether they travel with me or not, to understand what it means to be a “global citizen” and to appreciate and understand all kinds of international cultural exchanges.
As a group leader, I ask my students to follow these guidelines:
What do you plan or hope to write about as a regular contributor to Following the Equator?
As a regular contributor to Following the Equator, I hope to share what I have learned over the years through experience, and by trial and error, about group travel. To date, I have been an experienced group leader presenter at 12 EF teacher training tours—11 in Paris and the first one in Beijing this summer. I always learn something new from the first-time group leaders and from the EF staff members. I am not an expert by any means, just someone who has survived many student tours and enjoyed every single one of them. I travel internationally at least 2-3 times a year, and I learn something new with each trip. I have lots of tales to tell, and if I can help any group leader in some way, then I’ll be happy and be motivated to help even more in the future. Just remember, it’s not “my way or the highway.” All group leaders are experienced about travel and they know their own groups.
(Editor’s note: If you have a question about student travel for EF Group Leader Gail Ingram, or an idea for a blog post topic, you can email Gail here, and she will answer readers’ questions in future blog posts.)