“So, what are you going to do this summer Rick?”
The question from my colleague seemed to be a natural enough one, considering that we were all teachers and friends, who were all sat down together in the canteen having a coffee between lessons.
“Well, I’m going to be visiting Clifton College in England for two weeks with 16 students from the school.”
I could tell from the expressions of the other teachers sat around the table that they thought that my choice of holiday was, well, a little unusual.
“Really? That’s going to be your…holiday?”
“Well, not exactly a holiday. More of a language holiday. The students will be on a study holiday, and I, we’ll be looking after them. We did exactly the same thing at Clifton last summer, actually, and it was great fun.”
The other teachers were now really interested in my answer, and I went on to bore them for the next 15 minutes with stories about our trip the previous year, and truth be told I could have talked for over an hour. That’s because whilst such a holiday trip to the UK is not exactly a romantic, relaxing trip to the Greek islands or to the Caribbean, I’m convinced that for a teacher it can be one of the most rewarding summertime experiences possible and a real highlight in the year. In short, something to really look forward to just like, well, a holiday.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand any teacher who decides at the end of the school year to forget about teaching for a while, to go off and have a bit of free time for themselves. teaching is hard work, and they certainly deserve it. On the other hand, while travelling to a foreign country with a group of your students, and living alongside them for 16 hours a day may seem like hard work, the positive elements far outweigh the difficulties. Let me explain why…
The biggest plus of trips such as ours, from a teaching point of view, is that the students grow, and they grow quickly. First of all, they grow as students, because at Clifton they study intensive English courses of 24 hours (kids) and 30 hours (teens). It’s so gratifying to see their English improve as much in two weeks as it otherwise would do in a whole school year. I saw teenagers who had been afraid to speak to me in English at the start of the trip, who were able to tell me stories, anecdotes and jokes in perfect English by the end of our stay. We were determined that the students would be able to speak English both inside the classroom, and outside. We’d chosen Clifton because the teachers work for International House, Bristol. It’s a great school and offers a real guarantee of high-quality teaching.
So, I had no concerns about the quality of the lessons but the main problem on such ‘campus’ trips is that often the students don’t speak enough English outside of the classroom.Therefore, right from the start of the trip I spoke with them in English during their free time, constantly engaging them in conversations about anything and everything: when going to breakfast, in the canteen, during sports, excursions or organizing the laundry. Initially, some of them were resistant to speaking English with me, but then it become normal for them to reply to me in whatever English they knew. They realized that I wouldn’t be grading them on their answers, they wouldn’t pass or fail, and our conversations got better and better! Above all, I admired the efforts of the students who have a lower level of proficiency who tried their best to reply to me in the target language. Their efforts have produced excellent results, and I’m sure they will continue to do so in the future!
So, whilst we visited some memorable places, such as Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge, the historic city of Bath and Oxford University to name but a few, the changes which I saw in the students during their stay in the UK was far more impressive then any monument, building or landscape to be seen in the UK!
But they don’t only grow as students. They grow as people, as well. For example, another notable change which I witnessed was in their level of independence and their sense of self-esteem in being able to cope with daily life without their families. I saw children who had been tearful at the start of the trip because they were saying goodbye to their much-loved parents, who become equally tearful at the end of their journey as they would miss their new-found friends from Switzerland, Italy and around the world. They built many new friendships at Clifton and, overwhelmingly, English was the language used to communicate and oil the wheels of these frienships. Now and in the future, thanks to social media, the students will get to practise their English more and more in ongoing communication with their new-found friends around the world in countries as diverse as Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Spain, Argentina, France, Turkey and China.
The students grew into their roles of international ambassadors for their families, hometowns, countries and yes, also for our school! Outside of the classroom sport played a large role in building bridges with students from other countries. In a world where so much conflict exists between nations and ethnic groups, this mutual understanding and respect can only be a positive lesson for young people: that we always have something in common with other people, regardless of their nationality.
The students grew more and more autonomous by the day. For example, at the start of their courses they had to be woken up to get to breakfast on time. By the end of their stay most of the group were getting up independently. They organized their own laundry, and managed their pocket money impressively. For many of them this would be the longest time that they’d ever been separated from their families, and they all rose to the occasion, without exceptions.
At the end of our stay, we returned to Lugano Airport and the students were met by their families. We shook hands, exchanged jokes and wished each other well. Finally alone with my family, after two intense weeks, I tried to get in touch with my feelings. How did I feel? Well, relieved, certainly. We had safely returned all of the students to their families, they had all had a great time and the trip was a success. However, I felt an even stronger emotion, one of pride. No, I wasn’t proud of myself. I was proud of them. Looking at the trip from their point of view, after a long and demanding school year, they had studied hard for two weeks in the UK, getting up at 7:00 six days a week. Not one of them had missed a single day of lessons during our stay and everywhere we went the directors, teachers and activity workers at Clifton complimented me for the excellent behaviour of the students in our group. They all received positive written reports from their teachers at the end of their stay in Bristol. Ambassadors, one and all!
So, if any teachers are considering making such study trips to the UK, I would strongly recommend going. Make sure that the school is a good one, such as Clifton, with high-quality teaching staff and a rich activity programme. Avoid thinking about the hard work involved, but focus on the results for the students and you’ll miraculously find the necessary reserves of energy to lead the students through. And, for parents considering sending their children on such trips, I would recommend that they focus both on the language learning element and also on the opportunities presented by such trips, when well-organized, to help their children grow and move along the path towards becoming responsible and autonomous adults in the future.
Thank you to all of the directors, teachers, staff and students from all around the world who made out stay at Clifton such a memorable one. See you all in 2017!