With 15 EF tours and nine convention tours under her belt, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Carolyn Sanders, a physical education teacher at Bill Reed Middle School in Loveland, Colorado, has visited 40 countries with EF.
Besides traveling to every continent (yes, she used her EF Global Points to take a trip to Antarctica!), she’s also met some of her closest friends through EF.
In the Group Leader Spotlight, Carolyn recaps some of her favorite travel adventures and talks about how she and some other EF Group Leaders once created their own EF convention to Thunder Bay, Canada.
What inspired you to begin traveling abroad with students?
I went to Mexico when I was in the ninth grade and decided it would be fun to take kids on trips like that when I became a teacher. Another teacher who was retiring handed off the travel program at my school to me. I feel pretty fortunate that the opportunity to travel kind of just fell in my lap. On my first trip, I took eight kids to Greece. Now, I travel with 30 to 40 people every year. Because I travel with middle schoolers, I take parents, too. I don’t limit whom I travel with. My trips are a community effort—past participants, even some who are in college, come back for the trips.
Some people think that middle schoolers are too young to travel. What do you think?
I think middle school kids behave better; they tend to stick right beside you. EF keeps them so busy that they don’t get homesick. For anyone who thinks they’re too young, I say, “Try it. You might like it.”
Tell me about your experiences on EF’s Teacher Convention Tours. Do you have a favorite memory from convention?
I have been on nine EF conventions. I have traveled to the Galápagos, Brazil, Scandinavia, Egypt, Vietnam and Cambodia, just to name a few. I also used my Global Points to travel on a Go Ahead tour to Antarctica (above). It was an amazing trip—we took these little raft boats out onto the water and saw penguins and sea lions up-close. One of my favorite memories is from the Botswana convention. It was 6 in the morning, cold and misty. We were freezing our butts off, looking for a leopard. Then suddenly, I spotted one! It was just really cool and very exciting to see so many animals. At night, on the boat, you would go right up next to the crocodiles. Between trips and conventions, I have been to 40 countries with EF.
You’ve spoken at Paris Orientation. Do you have any good advice for new group leaders?
I think Paris O is huge. I wish I had known all the stuff you learn there before my first tour. One piece of advice is to make sure you take a couple of chaperones with you. Unexpected circumstances arise, and it’s always helpful to have some extra hands. Pick a fun teacher whom the kids love; it will help with recruitment. Remember that it doesn’t really matter where you’re going, you’ll have fun no matter what. Remind any adults that EF tours are designed for kids and that they need to be flexible and provide them with examples of what you mean so you’re sure they understand. Lastly, when I’m combined with other groups, I bring gifts for the other teachers, usually something from Colorado, and the kids bring something small, like key chains or candy, for the other students. It helps the groups bond.
How do you decide where to take your students on tour? Where will you be traveling next?
Every year, I just pick a place I haven’t already been to. I’ve never done the same brochure tour twice. I usually pick between Europe, Costa Rica and Australia when I’m traveling with kids. Next year, I’m traveling on Costa Rica: A Touch of the Tropics. The kids want to go to Japan, and I’ve never been there, so that’s where we’ll go in 2011.
How do you handle all the pre-tour planning? What ways do you keep your participants up-to-date with the latest tour details?
I hold three main meetings. The first is a recruitment meeting at which I teach the students and their parents all about EF. I hold the second meeting in November, and the theme is basically “what to get your kids for Christmas.” We go over what to bring, how to pack, bills, insurance and optional excursions. My final meeting is a review of all the trip details.
Do you have any tips for recruiting students for your tour?
I travel during spring break to help keep costs down. I also start recruiting a year and a half in advance. I’ll take itineraries for my upcoming trip on my current trip so the kids can sign up while they’re excited about traveling. I also mail home postcards to the students that have already signed up for my upcoming tour; it’s cool for them to see a foreign stamp, and it keeps them excited about their trip. I also have a huge bulletin board (above), where the kids can see pictures and a list of all the people who have traveled over the past 15 years. Kids can see which of their friends traveled or even that their neighbor went on a past tour.
How do you teach cultural etiquette to your students?
At the last meeting, I serve food from all over the world. I set up the kids’ chairs as if they were sitting on an airplane. I tell them they must try everything and they can’t blurt out that they don’t like something, but must instead kindly push it aside. On tour, I just try to lead by example.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I have made so many great friends all over the United States and Canada because of the EF conventions. The friendships I have made are just amazing. I have traveled all over with some of these friends and have traveled to many places to visit them. One year, six of us didn’t have enough points to go on convention so we organized our own in Thunder Bay, Canada (above). We made “fake” convention packets, itineraries and vests.
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