“How big is your fishbowl?”
Greg Holmes poses that question to his students with a poster that hangs in his classroom at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, California. His classroom also contains a Postcard Wall with postcards from every continent, including Antarctica.
A calculus teacher, Greg not only makes his students ponder their place in the world, but he’s also been expanding their fishbowls for years as an EF Group Leader. Greg takes huge groups of seniors to Europe every year with EF.
But Greg hasn’t stopped with his students. He’s been expanding his own fishbowl, as well, on EF’s Teacher Convention Tours. This past summer, he attended the African Safari in Botswana, and he’s going to Ancient Jordan and Egypt next year.
We had a chance to catch up with Greg before he left for Botswana. Here’s our full interview:
What inspired you to begin traveling abroad with students?
I had always had the idea of taking students to Europe in the back of my mind, but when my oldest son became a senior in high school, the only trips following graduation were to Cancún and Hawaii. I decided to take a group to Europe and couple a wonderful celebration with a true life experience. I only intended to do a couple trips for my sons’ classes, but when I saw the value to the kids, I never quit.
How do you decide where to take your students on tour? Where have you been, and where are you going next year?
My trip has always been “The Senior Europe Trip,” so I take only seniors and I always take my groups to Europe. I do change the trips but always include London and Paris and then vary them from there. I have been pretty much all over Western and Central Europe with the kids. Next year’s trip—European Showcase— is from London to Athens with a cruise at the end.
As a calculus teacher, how do you incorporate your tour experiences into your curriculum?
Yes, I do teach calculus, but I am a teacher first and I always share my experiences with my students. Even their parents are often catching me and telling me how I have “infected” their son or daughter with the travel bug. Of course, there are many places where art, architecture, science and math come together on our trips, and I always enjoy pointing them out. The History of Science museum in Florence, the chandelier in Pisa that inspired Galileo, or the Polygonal Wall at Delphi are but a few of many examples that I enjoy sharing with my students.
What are your students’ favorite sights? What are yours?
My students’ favorite sights are the main tourist spots. The Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Colosseum, the Alps and St. Peter’s are probably the universal favorites. I love all of those and many more. I think Santorini in the Greek Islands is the most beautiful place I have been. Lake Lugano on a clear day can be breathtaking. The Charles Bridge in Prague and its views are as good as it gets. Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh is the most exciting place I have been. I love to see new places, and I long to see special places again. It’s an itch that is tough to scratch.
What’s your favorite tour story?
I wrestle with favorite stories or favorite places. They are always tough to choose. I think the unexpected events are always the most special. Breaking down on the bus near Belfort in Eastern France and stumbling into a town celebration, where we were embraced as “locals for a day” was wonderful. None of us spoke the same language, but by the end of the day, no one noticed. We were communicating just fine. I think my personal favorite story had to do with walking into a working man’s pub my first night of my first trip. Our guide took my partner and me over for a pint, and I inadvertently stood right between a group of Irish workmen and the TV that had their football game on. After a few jabs, I noticed that they were talking to me and then I realized what I had done. I bought them all a pint, and they invited me to sit with them. Well, California and Ireland met and had the greatest evening of figuring out and comparing each other.
You have spoken at Paris Orientation several times. What good advice can you share with new EF Group Leaders?
Several thoughts come to mind. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to try things. Attitude and patience are the keys to a successful trip. Look for the positive and prepare your kids to do the same. Negativity can spread but so can enthusiasm. Read the prologue in the book “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.” It has great advice. Look for the fun as well as the education. An evening at the Prater Amusement Park in Vienna is a nice counter-balance to the somber education of visiting Dachau in Munich.
What are your favorite memories from attending EF’s Teacher Convention Tours? Where are you going next?
This is much easier. Trying to and getting lost in the Souks in Marrakesh with Rachel, climbing the Great Wall in China or taking the ferry to Macau with Steve, the “Back of the bus gang” in Morocco, riding up the Amazon River at night with Steve and Kristy are all among my favorites. My absolute favorite adventure was riding the “motorcycle taxis” with Linda across the Friendship Bridge from Paraguay back into Brazil, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic and right past passport control. You may have noticed that I always include my friends with whom I shared these adventures. That is because the friendships are the greatest things you bring home. I am heading to Petra in Jordan and Egypt next year on convention. I wonder which of my friends will be there and who my new friends will be.
What is the most important thing for a group leader to know about taking students on an educational tour?
I think the most important thing to know is that, if you are a teacher, you already have the skills necessary to lead a group. Go to a Paris Orientation if you can, but know that with a tour director, you can learn on the go. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Go to local EF informational meetings and ask questions. The experienced group leader will be and will remain a valuable resource. The hard logistical stuff is all handled by EF. You monitor kids and enjoy your trip.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from another EF Group Leader?
Far and away the best advice was to get started. I wish I had started years earlier. Beyond that was to go to the conventions. You make such great contacts both at EF and throughout the group leader community. You also are given the greatest gift that someone who loves to travel can receive. You see the world with a lot of very good travelers.