Ian Lowe, a teacher and former football coach at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute in Alberta, Canada, first began traveling with students on the football team and in the high school band. After seeing the value these experiences provided to the program and his students, he promoted trips to Europe, and his travel program took off from there.
Now, Ian travels with a large group of students every year. He even has parents calling him, trying to get a head start on enrolling their children.
Ian (above right) shares his thoughts with us on the importance of student travel, advice for new group leaders and how traveling with students is like coaching a team.
What inspired you to begin traveling abroad with students?
I coached football and was always looking for opportunities to travel. We traveled as a team to Montana and Idaho. I liked the idea of enhancing the students’ experiences in whatever area I was working with them. I asked myself how I could make football better, and our travel program grew to include international travel. After retiring from coaching, travel opportunities with the Travel Club grew to include Italy, Greece, Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Turkey and Costa Rica. You need to work with kids in areas other than school to build relationships and to build a community within the school. This extracurricular community adds to their educational experience while they’re in high school.
Why do you travel with EF?
Before I began traveling with EF, I traveled with another company, but I found I would have done things differently. At EF, my tour consultant promptly answered my questions, and everything was well organized prior to the trip. Our tour directors have been fantastic, too. On both our brochure and customized tours, the tour directors have been very flexible and have tailored the trips to our wishes. Also, the way that EF collects money for the tours has been a huge advantage and a huge help for us.
Why do you think it is important for students to travel on an educational tour?
My students see that there are different ways of doing things, but they also learn to appreciate what they have when they return home. Traveling opens their eyes to how big the world is and how much history there is out there. For many of my students, it is their first time away from home. Travel enhances their idea of acceptance. They return home more mature, and they develop a sense of adventure. They realize there is more out there than their small corner of Alberta. They come back from the trip and are already asking where we’re going next.
What kind of an effect does traveling abroad have on your students?
Travel is a unique experience for kids, because it is more valuable for them after they’ve returned. They develop lasting friendships, they realize there is more out there, and they understand the world better. The effects are long-lasting; they’re inclined to find jobs that allow them to travel and to encourage their own kids to travel. It’s a domino effect; they want to provide the same experience for others.
How do you get your students excited to travel and keep their excitement up until it is time to depart?
We meet monthly. During these meetings, I have my past travelers come in to talk about their experiences. The program has grown to a point in the school that it promotes itself simply from the positive experiences our students have had. Parents and students speak positively in the community, and the program grows from there.
What good advice can you share with new group leaders?
If you’re just getting started, travel with someone who has traveled before and combine your ideas with theirs to make the experience as valuable as possible. Think about which kids you want to recruit and have the kids self-recruit in their groups. If you recruit a group of well-behaved kids, the others will step-up and behave themselves, too. Get to know your travelers, encourage the team aspect, and things should be good!
Do you have a favorite memory from tour?
One thing that inspires me to keep traveling is just watching my students’ excitement. It’s like watching kids on Christmas morning; they are so excited about where they are and they don’t want the day to end, even though the next adventure will begin. After the first day of touring, one of my students came to me and said, “Today was the best day ever.” The following night, she came to me and said, “Today was even better than yesterday.” I loved hearing the excitement in her voice when she told me what she’d done. The other thing I enjoy about traveling is watching the kids come together. Traveling with a group is like coaching—you build a team. The kids really come together to create a unique and friendly bond.