I’m Olivia, and I’m a Tour Consultant here at EF Educational Tours. As a former teacher (I taught Italian for four years!), I’ve seen the importance of social-emotional learning firsthand. Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is the process of developing and applying the social and emotional knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are necessary for success in school, work, and life. To me, that means learning moments in which students challenge themselves in their way of thinking, step outside their comfort zones, or try something new for the first time.
My favorite times as a teacher were when I observed students having these kinds of social-emotional learning lightbulb moments. They’d be struggling, and then I’d hear them successfully communicate in Italian. The visible joy and pride on their faces at having mastered a new skill—in another language, no less!—is something that made the more difficult parts of teaching worth it, because I knew this confidence would stay with them in other aspects of their lives.
It can feel like an overwhelmingly impossible task to support our students’ SEL while trying to achieve academic progress and accomplish all the administrative tasks that keep piling up. Thinking about our students doesn’t stop at the final bell of the day. I was often left wondering what more I could do to help and what were some social-emotional learning strategies I could use. I realized that the solution might be simpler than I thought. Enter: educational travel.
In fall 2022, EF Educational Tours commissioned a survey conducted online by The Harris Poll to find out what kinds of skills and educational experiences parents wanted their children to have. (Check out an infographic with some of the survey’s key findings here.) Over 900 American parents of varied geographic, ethnic, and economic backgrounds shared their thoughts.
98% of parents cited critical academic skills like math, reading, and writing as important subjects for their children to learn. What was especially interesting to us? Parents felt real-world skills like social-emotional well-being (96%), mental flexibility (96%), and self-leadership skills (97%) were almost as important! But the most exciting stat was that 90% of surveyed parents thought that educational travel can help students develop these much-needed, career-ready, real-world skills—things like adaptability, social-emotional intelligence, and problem-solving.
It’s something we’ve wholeheartedly believed in at EF since our inception. The opportunity to get outside of the classroom to practice these skills, especially after kids were cooped up inside and isolated for almost two years, is life-changing.
I just so happen to be an excellent case study. When I was in eighth grade, my Italian teacher took a group of us to a small town in Tuscany for ten days. It was my first time out of the country and my first time putting my Italian to use outside of the classroom. As it turns out, I was pretty good at it. I was selected to write and deliver a speech to the mayor of this small town. Thankfully, my host sister helped me write the speech so I didn’t make a fool of myself, but needless to say, this opportunity gave me so much confidence (a key tenet of social-emotional learning) and I was hooked on Italian from there on out. I mean, this experience literally put me on my career path—a testament to both the power of social-emotional learning and educational travel as an impactful social-emotional learning strategy!
It takes one teacher to change a student’s life. I know who that one teacher was for me, and I bet you know who it was for you, too. Kids need adults to believe in them, guide them, and offer them opportunities to discover who they are in the world. There is no better example of this kind of social-emotional education than taking students out of their comfort zones, immersing them in new cultures and languages, and letting them see for themselves what they are capable of.
Social-emotional learning happens naturally on EF tours, but reflection can reinforce it. A few other EF staffers and I (all of us former teachers!) came up with this downloadable list of prompts to help inspire students to reflect thoughtfully. Feel free to make copies for your own students to tuck into their journals!