I am a self admitted travel junkie. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, primarily that fact that I have to work and do not earn 10 million dollars a year, I do not travel as often or as far as I would like to….they tell me that is what retirement is for…it better be!
Since I started working as a teacher in 1992, I have traveled with students. My first year as a teacher, it was Toronto, with a group of kids, many of whom had never been past Hearst or Sault Ste. Marie. Walking up Younge Street was priceless, as they bumped into skin heads sitting on the sidewalk, because they were staring at how high the buildings were.
I have taken students to Toronto several times, both grade 7/8 kids, and senior level high school kids. Even though the sites of Toronto were not “new” to me, coming from a small town, it was still priceless to take the subway, ride public buses, and teach kids the basics of getting around in an urban environment. For those of you reading this who may not know me or where I live, I live in Hornepayne, Ontario. Google it. Seriously, do it! We are a small town, situated, basically in the middle of nowhere. Roughly 1000 residents. 100 K from Highway 17, 70 K from Highway 11. 420 KM from Sault Ste. Marie, 500 from Thunder Bay…you get the picture! :D. We are not a poor community, most of the people here either work in the lumber industry, or for CN Rail. However, the culture in our small community is typical of other Northern Ontario communities: fishing, hunting, snowmachines, boats, quads, Seadoos, etc. For most people, travel is to Cuba in the middle of February to relieve the pressures of 4 feet of snow and -30 temperatures.
I have also been to Montreal and Ottawa with kids. However, recently, as in last March, I traveled to Europe with a group of kids. We visited Switzerland and Italy. I suppose I should post some of the 3500 photos I took, but I will save that for a later post. Instead, I will try to get to my point. The trip was absolutely amazing. A few of the kids on the trip, had never been out of the country, and it was an amazing experience. From the Alps, to the Italian Lakes Region (Star Wars fans…we cruised past this Villa, which apparently is quite famous…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_del_Balbianello) to Venice, Florence, Pisa, Assisi and Rome, it was a breathless experience. We were very fortunate enough to be in Italy as the Pope was chosen. Actually, we were in Rome the day after the Pope was chosen, and as a result we could not see the Sistine Chapel, but to have stood in St. Peter’s Square, scarcely 12 hours after Francis was chosen, was literally being in the middle of history. Furthermore, the day that the Pope was actually chosen, we were in Assisi. We toured the Cathedral in Assisi, and our host, a priest from North Africa, spoke excitedly about the soon to be chosen Pope. I wonder what he must have felt, as the Pope chose his name based on St. Francis….of Assisi!
I am now off to Paris and London in March. Another small group of kids, 7 of us in total, touring all the sites and enjoying the experience. I have been to Paris and am dying to return. I have never been to London. I cannot wait. As we are now only 98 days away from departure, the kids and I are almost daily talking about how excited we are to go there. Due to an exchange my daughter did in France a few years ago, I know people in France. I may be able to see them again. My wife has family in England, I hope to see them too. As a history buff (the only degree I was ever interested in getting) I am so thrilled again to be in Versailles, to be in London, to see Stonehenge, etc, etc, etc. However, these trips are not just about me…believe it or not! They are about kids, and about my desire to open kids’ eyes and to see them broaden their horizons, past our little town, past the trappings of our modern society, towards something deeper. It sounds like hyperbole, I know, but it isn’t. I want kids to go to Versailles and walk through the hall of mirrors, and realize that history, and what happened in that room, affect them today. They might not know it now, but the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles are with them today, not to mention the fact that the German Empire was declared in the Hall of Mirrors, after the Franco-Prussian war.
So, I have a few kids heading to Europe with me. Some will be more interested in the stores on Champs Elysees (despite the fact they cannot afford to shop there) than in the Place de Revolution or Buckingham Palace, but I am now getting closer to my point. I have tried to make these trips as “grade 12″ trips. In order to make travel affordable, we need 6 travelers each time. You would think in this environment, even with our smaller classes, that this would not be too hard. However, I have to tell you it is. Go back to the point I made about the cultural life of our town…quads, snow machines, trucks, hunting, fishing, etc. A trip to Europe for a week will cost $3000 dollars and up. Same price as a used snowmachine, or dirtbike.
The wall I have come up against, is so many kids, while vaguely interested, would rather put their money into other things. Their arguments, and I totally understand them, are like this: ”I can buy a dirtbike for that kind of money and use it for years. This trip is only a week!” I get it. I understand it, but if I could just get them to reconsider, it would open so many eyes and give them experiences they may never have again. or at least for a long, long time. When I went last, I had a student who had not traveled much and had never flown. He was very nervous on the Dash 8 Flight to Toronto, and even more so on the Transatlantic. However, by the time we were in Venice, he was comfortable going out on his own, with one or two other kids and checking out the sites. It was a dramatic transformation.
So, once again, we are sort of at the topic of engagement. How do I engage these kids into considering these trips? I have a trip planned in March of 2015. I only have three kids signed up. I think I will get more, but there are several kids in that class who would sooooo benefit from an experience like this. How do I get them to realize that the intrinsic benefits cannot really be explained, but have to be experienced? The looks on our kids’ faces last year, when the tour guide pointed out, in the Roman Coliseum, the place where the lions and slaves were kept was priceless.
I will end with two stories. Story number one. The summer before my trip to Switzerland and Italy, I was at an anniversary party for my sister. My brother in law’s brother was here for the party. His son, who is a year older than my daughter was with him. Gilles (my brother in laws’ brother…:D) was asking Jessica (my daughter) about her upcoming trip. She was very excited to explain our trip. Then he said “Ask Bradley (his son) about his trip to Italy”. Bradley blushed a bit and admitted he had signed up to go to Italy, but backed out. His reason? Money? Nope? Health? Nope? Time off of work? Nope. His friend had gone the year before and told him that all it consisted of, was “looking at a bunch of dumb statues”, so he did not want to go. This young man embodies the battle I try to fight everyday….BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS!
The last story, and I promise, the last, even though I have edited out a pile of side stories is related to my daughter. Our kids are fortunate and have had a lot of good experiences in their lives. My oldest, now at Lakehead U in her first year (Chem, Math, Physics, Geology and Francais….ouch…) participated in an exchange in France while she was in grade 10. Her host family were fantastic. They treated her as family, as we did with our exchange partner when she was here. They traveled with her in France. She of course has been to Paris. She lived outside of Orleans. They took her to the west coast. She saw the beaches of Normandy. She went skiing in the Alps. The summer after our partner was here, we invited her back to visit us for a month. We went on holidays to Pennsylvania, New York City, Boston, Vermont, Montreal and Toronto. The following summer, Jessica was invited back to France. The French had endured a terrible spring and summer, weather wise, and decided to take a two week vacation in…wait for it….the south of France! They “camped” about 500 m from the Mediterranean. The visited Monaco and other sites in the south of France. By the age of 17, Jessica had traveled throughout France!
Now, fast forward to the summer of 2013. Poor Jessica had a job in a convenience store. One day, a stranger walks in. He was either a construction worker, or off the Via Rail train. As he is ordering ice cream, he mentions to Jessica that he sees a lot of houses for sale. He inquires why? Jessica responds with “Small town, I guess some people want to leave”, or something like that. So he says to her “why have you not left?” She replies that she is still in High School and is going to University in Thunder Bay in the fall, but defends her little town by telling the guy she likes living here. So, he responds, in a somewhat sarcastic, condescending tone: “OK, but have you really ever been to a real city, and I do not mean Sault Ste. Marie or Timmins?” She looks at him and responds: I have been to Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Barrie, Easton PA, New York City, Jersey City, NJ, Boston, Middleboro, Paris, Tours, Monaco, Zurich, Luzerne, Venice, Florence and Rome. She left out the Caribbean cities we visited when we took a cruise. The customer said “Holy F…..”, grabbed his ice cream and left!
The point though…”finally the point”, they collectively say….is that we live in a big world, but a world that is so accessible, and it is so important for our kids to experience something other than they are familiar with. I would love to go really off the grid, head to Africa and Asia, but for now, I will settle with Western Europe. My final thought though, is….how do I inspire the kids and their families to put the funds toward these trips? How do I convince them it is not just a “holiday” but potentially a life changing experience? How do I convince them that they can buy a dirtbike when they are 20…they can to to Cuba when they are 22, for 800 bucks in February…but they may never go to Europe and experience a different world and the cradles of our current society, at a time when they are most able to be influenced by the experiences they are going to have?
And with that, I bid you adieu!
It is engagement my friends. We solve that problem, we solve most problems!
P.S….I might blog about my trip to Ukraine in 1996 with my father, who was the first of his family (then all deceased) to return to Ukraine since they left in 1928….it too was a trip of a lifetime!