Cue the confetti—EF Group Leaders say their 2022 tours are going strong and proving to be just as transformative as ever before. Want more details on what it feels like to be back on the road? Keep reading to hear from four educators who recently returned from their EF student tours.
Lisa: I was a little nervous about Covid when I first got on the plane because, traveling with some people you don’t know, you really hope they’re going to follow the protocols as well. But in the end, it actually turned out really well.
Erin: Our trip’s dates got moved several times. So honestly, I’d say I wasn’t totally sure what would happen until about a month out. Everything was kind of up in the air, so I had to be flexible—which for a very Type A planner creates a little bit of anxiety.
As a Group Leader, it’s tough fielding parent questions that maybe you don’t know the answer to. You just have to stay calm as best you can. I wasn’t necessarily nervous, but I did have some questions and “what-ifs.” So, I had to let go and trust EF, and tell parents to be flexible as well. It was definitely different than any other experience as we were leaving the country for the first time since the pandemic.
Brady: By the time I was getting ready to get on the plane, I was mostly just deeply overjoyed and excited to be back in the world of travel. I have a quote from St. Augustine that I like to tell my students on trips: “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” And so for me, as a person who loves travel, I felt like for 19 months, I was stuck on the same page. Getting the opportunity to walk from that jetway onto the plane was like finally turning the page to start this brand new story.
More than that, the excitement, for me, was centered in looking at the joy in my students’ eyes as they got to have this experience that they had waited for so long to have. I’m sure all teachers can relate to the fact that students had so many things taken from them throughout this pandemic. This trip was something my students really, earnestly hoped for. And then, when it finally became a reality, seeing the joy on their faces was absolutely amazing for me.
Erin: You have all these “what-ifs” and anxious feelings about traveling for the first time during a pandemic—and then when you’re there, travel truly did feel like before. Every now and then we’d go, “Oh, I bet it’s like this because they’re just reopening,” but we honestly didn’t even think about it. We wore masks when we were supposed to, and that was it. Travel was pretty normal. We got to interact with locals like normal, we ate in cool restaurants like normal, we shopped in cool places. On tour, [Covid] isn’t really thought about much, which is great, because all of these anxious feelings anyone has pre-tour will go away as soon as you’re there. I promise.
Mitch: I would agree, because once we got there, we weren’t as nervous as we thought we were going to be. After everyone tested negative, and we knew the trip was going to take place, it was travel like travel before. There were different protocols and procedures in place, but it didn’t really take away from the trip. Like Erin said, we were able to go to those cool restaurants and have those cool experiences. So in our experience, we didn’t constantly think about Covid. We thought about the cool things we’re doing in the Galápagos, the cool things that we got to see in Quito.
Lisa: This is hard because I really liked the whole tour. But one of the things we really enjoyed was the fact that many of my students were now freshmen in college, because their original tour had been canceled in 2020. One of the students said this trip happened at the perfect time for her because she needed something to relax, something to feel like everything was normal again. It was really heartwarming.
Erin: Our tour to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands was very unique in that it almost felt like two different trips. When you’re on the mainland, it feels like one kind of scene with the Andes and with the indigenous locals in Otavalo. And then on the islands, you feel like you’re stepping back in time. Also, we snorkeled several times and got to see sea lions up close, and sea turtles just stayed with us for the longest time.
Mitch: I think my favorite moment was when we first landed in the Galápagos. Being a biology teacher, I really liked the different biomes. When we landed, it was like a desert, and as we moved up, the topography changed.
Brady: For me, my favorite moments on tour are when things really come alive for students. All teachers know the “aha!” moments that happen in the classroom where a student who was struggling to get something just gets it. Moments like that happen all the time on tour.
One of my favorite moments from my last tour to Italy in October 2021 involved one of my students named Rachel, who’s very artistic. She had actually done some research for her art class on Michelangelo’s David. And so when we were in Italy, and went to the Accademia Gallery, I got to watch Rachel see Michelangelo’s David in person after she had studied this sculpture for a long, long time. Getting the opportunity to see her as she looked at this magnificent piece of art that she’s always wanted to see was such a moving experience for me. She was almost welling up and she couldn’t get enough of that moment. She was making one of those core memories. And then, afterwards, she said to me, “I think this might be the best moment in my life.” Those are the things that I live for. And those are the opportunities that we, as educators, get to create for students by partnering with EF. I’m exceptionally thankful for that.
Lisa: I would say, “Just relax.” EF’s got this, I’ve never had a problem with EF before. They’ve always had our back. And so let the kids have fun, because they really need that with Covid and everything. This was their break. So just relax. It’ll all work out.
Erin: Oh, I would absolutely say the same thing, to remember that you already know the answers to most of the “what-if” questions, and that it’s okay to tell parents, “I’m not totally sure. Let me find out.” And just remind yourself and the parents that you have to be flexible. Also, understand that all of the “what-ifs” that your brain’s going through are most likely not even going to happen. We do need to address them on the front end, but don’t let them consume the excitement about the trip itself. Don’t forget the fact that you’re going to a new country, and for some kids, this is their first time. So don’t lose sight of that because even though this is a pandemic, it’s honestly going to be okay.
Mitch: I would say trust the process. I went on an EF training tour in October and we had to do the same [safety] protocols. So before this tour, I was like, “Well, is it going to be different with students than when we traveled on the training tour with other Group Leaders?” And it was the exact same. The protocols were in place.
Brady: I’ll echo everything that the other Group Leaders said in relaxing and trusting EF, but if I could tell one thing to my previous self, it would be to trust that this experience is still going to be as impactful for students as it was before. So many of us teachers obviously haven’t traveled during Covid. One of my big anxieties was, “Oh, my goodness, is this going to be different? Is it going to have that same life-changing impact on students’ lives?” And unequivocally, the answer to that is yes.
So if any teacher can take one thing away from me, it’s that your students are going to have those life-changing moments on tour. So be prepared, get ready, get excited—because you’re going to have the opportunity to radically transform students’ lives, their worldview, and make them better, more well-rounded global citizens. That’s ultimately why every single person does what we do with student travel. So get ready, travel’s back!