From attending a Wiccan wedding at Stonehenge to bribing a housekeeper to let her see the suite where Agatha Christie wrote her novels, Linda Piccolo has had her fair share of adventures while traveling abroad with her students on EF tours.
The high school English and theater teacher from Montana has even been inspired by her travels to write a play, which was published and performed by one of her drama classes last year.
In this installment of the Group Leader Spotlight, Linda shares some of her experiences, describes how important travel is for students and hints at her next travel-inspired play.
What inspired you to begin traveling abroad with students?
One day in 1993, I received a brochure about going to London with my students and thought, I can do that. I had been to Europe only once, at 28, and desperately wanted to travel. But it sounded too good to be true. I found other people in Montana who had traveled with them, and I called and grilled every one of them. I finally believed it must be OK. I got 14 kids and their parents for the first trip and loved it. I have been hooked ever since. It has been a huge part of my life and my family. My son, daughter, husband, parents, brother, niece, nephew, sister-in-law, aunt and cousins have been on the 19 EF trips I have taken. Our Christmas cards are full of photos of us all over the world. What a joy it is to share your stories and adventures with people you love and get them there for free or at a discount!
Why do you think it is important for students to travel on an educational tour?
I think travel is one of the most important ways we learn. It teaches us beyond history, literature and art. It makes these things come alive to us and teaches us we are all connected to everything and everyone. It is probably the only way to end the hatred and fear people have of “foreigners.” It empowers our students and makes them self-confident. If a kid from rural Montana can find his way in the Paris Métro, he can do anything! Be forewarned—travel is contagious. Once you try it, you will be hooked for life.
You’re a published author. Tell us about your play. Where did your inspiration come from?
I am now a published playwright. My play is Curse of the Pharaoh Queen, or Agatha Christie at the Old Cataract Hotel. In 1996, I went on my first EF convention to Egypt. Our cruise took us to lunch at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. This is one of the most famous hotels in the world. In 1931, Agatha Christie and her husband, Max, an archaeologist, stayed there, and she wrote Murder on the Nile in a suite that still bears her name. My roommate and I bribed a housekeeper to let us into the suite, and I saw the very desk she wrote one of my favorite novels at! I took pictures, and the memory of it stayed with me all these years. Last year, I started writing the play and finished it in time to have it performed at my school by my advanced acting class. It was such a success, I tried to have it published. It is officially available for production and sale now at playscripts.com. I am so excited. I am planning another based on my travels with EF. This time, Agatha will be in Ephesus, Turkey. Then another one set on a cruise ship. Just think of all the ideas I will have if I keep traveling!
Do you have any good advice for new group leaders?
My best advice to new group leaders is never to think you can’t do it. You can. You can get a group together, you can raise money, you can travel 2,000 miles from home and eat food you have never heard of, and you can make a lifelong difference in the lives of your students.
Oftentimes, EF travelers are combined with other travelers from different schools. Tell us about your experiences traveling with other EF groups.
Mixing with other groups is often a great thing. You get to meet new people, it is fun for our students to meet someone from another school or area and often their group leaders have been on some fun tours you haven’t ever tried. My favorite consolidation came in 2003, when my group of 23 Montanans, 17 Tennessee Baptists and a group of four from Arizona went on the Britannia tour. The folks from Arizona were (I am not making this up) Wiccan and on their way to have two of them married in Stonehenge in a Wiccan ceremony! As you can imagine, it made for some strained times on the bus, but by the end of the tour, we were all friends. I was the photographer at the wedding (held in Glastonbury Abbey), and the Baptists gave them a wedding gift. Roll with the punches and open yourself up to new experiences.
How do you handle all the pre-tour planning? What ways do you keep your participants up-to-date with the latest tour details?
It is hard to keep kids motivated when the trip starts building 15 months before we actually go, so I do a monthly newsletter with info and pictures of the sites, cities and special interest things we will see and do on the trip. I make poster-board-sized collages of each trip, using pictures of the high school students and hang them in my classroom so everyone sees them. The whole point is: If students see other kids in Europe, then they can see themselves there as well.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I have loved my 15 years with EF. I have made so many friends with EF staff and other group leaders that I do feel like we are part of one big family. I would never have had the chance to see Machu Picchu at dawn with my daughter, stood at a sunset on a beach with my parents and daughter, swam in Australia with my son and rode in a gondola with my brother and nephew without EF. This association has changed my life and the lives of more than 500 of my students and their families.