Mike O’Neal, a seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher from Kirkland, Washington, never wanted to be the type of person who one day would reflect upon his life and say, “Coulda, shoulda.”
When it comes to traveling, he certainly has accomplished that goal. Mike has taken more than a dozen EF tours and traveled on five Teacher Convention Tours. From Kenya to Russia to the Galápagos Islands, Mike has explored six continents with EF!
Mike (pictured above at a Turkish market) took a few minutes to talk about how travel impacts his students, planning and recruiting his tours and watching the pelicans and sharks in the Galápagos:
Tell us about yourself. What is your teaching background?
a blue-collar early life as a cotton chopper, furniture mover, cook and
glass factory worker, I figured there must be a better way to live and
make a living. I went back to college and earned my degree in history,
along with my teaching credential back in 1983. I’ve been teaching
Tell us about your experiences on EF conventions.
conventions are the best! A long time ago, my tour consultant told me
the conventions were the best bang for the buck, and he was right. I’ve
been to Kenya, Morocco, the Galápagos Islands, Peru, Russia,
Scandinavia and Iceland on conventions! A lifetime goal of mine was to
walk some of the Inca trail into Machu Picchu, and I accomplished that
in 2006. Eating whale in Norway was fun; being surrounded by baboons in
Kenya was not. No worries. I wasn’t their type. But, the Galápagos
Islands were truly amazing! From the bow of the ship, we watched
pelicans, seals, flying fish and sharks all swimming together. I was
hoping a pelican wouldn’t be eaten right in front of me by a shark, but
I was also hoping a pelican would be eaten in front of me by a shark!
For two hours, it was better than TV.
You’ve spoken at many Paris Orientations. Why do you think it is
important for new group leaders to attend Paris O? Do you have any good
advice for them?
Oh, baby! The orientations are so much friggin’
fun! And, they give new group leaders a real taste for what it is like
to run a tour. The EF staff gives a good overview of what EF is all
about and how they run things, and address any and all questions. I
strongly recommend the orientations for any new group leader. Like
teaching, it isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about taking
time-tested techniques and making them your own.
What kind of an effect does traveling abroad have on your students?
few of my students come back the same kid as when they went, and all
the changes are positive. They have more self-confidence and refined
problem-solving skills, they pay more attention to the news, especially
if it concerns the country they visited, and they become more adaptive
and assertive when traveling, dealing with others and communicating. It
is really fun to watch them as we travel and see their manifestations
take place daily!
You traveled on EF tours all over the world. How do you decide
where to take your students on tour? Where will you be traveling next?
the initial years, I picked countries I wanted to see. As the
popularity of my trips grew, I began to take requests from students and
families. I like it when parents come with us. It is a great bonding
experience for child and parent. This spring, I am headed to England and
Scotland, and that tour filled up a year in advance! As a result, I’ve got
so many Quadruple Global Points that my son and I will be able to
travel to three countries in Southern Africa for the 2009 summer
Do you have any tips for recruiting students for your tour?
easy. I get very excited for every place we visit, and it’s contagious.
For this upcoming trip, I recruited another popular teacher to help me
chaperone, and once students learned the two of us were heading up the
trip, the sign-ups came in like wildfire.
How do you handle all the pre-tour planning? What ways do you keep your participants up-to-date with the latest tour details?
have been doing these trips since 1996, and my school and community
know there is always a student trip planned for spring break. Making EF
trips a constant really helps with the recruiting. I pass out materials
at school, put announcements in the school newsletters and the PTSA
fliers and I email my past travelers. I run meetings before, during and
after sign-ups, and recruit along the way. The EF website is a great
way to stay current with tour news and payments. I email my
participants and make phone calls, and stay in close touch with my tour
How have you used your Global Points so far?
televisions, many domestic flights and five conventions! I really try
to rack up the quad points when recruiting. The points are relatively
easy to accumulate, and sure are a lot of fun to trade in! A cruise in
the Galápagos Islands—c’mon, I almost feel guilty!
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
don’t mean to sound cliché, but EF has truly become an extended family.
So many EF staff members have become such good friends of mine; the
trips, orientations and conventions create a bond not easily undone.
These trips with EF will always stand out as the highlights of my life.
I told myself long ago that I would never be one of those guys who sits
on his porch in the rocking chair saying, “Coulda, shoulda … ” EF has
given me travel bragging rights that will keep my grandchildren
(To recommend an EF Group Leader for the Group Leader Spotlight, please email us at [email protected].)