The reasons everyone should travel as much as they can, as far as they can, and as often as they can. Also, why it's a myth that you can't travel on a teacher salary. Plus, how to integrate your experiences into your teaching and take your kids along for the adventure!
I have extreme Covid fatigue. I mean, it isn't good. I'm a free spirit, and right now, I feel like a caged animal. Don't get me wrong, I firmly believe in doing everything we need to do to stay safe and protect human lives. I just need OUT! When I say "OUT," I mean out of the USA. I'm usually traveling monthly and leave the USA for over half of my travels per year. My heart is aching for France right now. I am usually there twice per year, usually a full month in the summer, and this March marked two years since I had last been to the beloved home of my heart. Travel is so much a part of who I am, and I consider it an absolute privilege to connect with peoples and cultures worldwide. For me, travel is essential, not only professionally but to my mental health and overall wellbeing. Travel plays a pivotal role in my children's education and my own personal education because travel literally grows the brain. Many people think that you have to have a lot of money to travel, but I am here to tell you firsthand that I am not rich by any means. In fact, I will let you in on a little secret- I make ZERO profit off of anything I do. I am fortunate to have a husband who has a good job and supports whatever crazy idea pops into my head, even if it does frustrate him a bit that I do what I do out of love and passion and not for the money. That's why we become educators, isn't it? To serve students in the best way we know. I do the work I do because I love it, and I love education. I want nothing more than to facilitate authentic learning for students. Everything I do is that our world is better, and our students are the key to a better world. High-quality and equitable education for all is the key to a better world, and we can't get there unless and until we get out into the world and open it up to our students. I am also fortunate that I was not afraid to go against the status quo and make the life I wanted for myself. I made the very conscious decision to follow my passion after years of working in schools and districts, fighting tooth and nail against policies that were not student-centered and went against proven best practices. When my older son was born, I knew it was time for me to take a different journey for myself and my career. This post will share my story and share with you why I feel so strongly about integrating travel as part of education and how to make that happen- especially in cases where money is tight, or it just doesn't seem possible (hint- there's funding out there for teachers to travel, you just have to find it). I will also share resources and materials to extend my global experiences in the classroom with my students and with my own children! I'll also share some pictures and videos from my adventures, keep in mind I have lost 87 lbs over the last year, so I may look a little different in the pictures and videos than I look now! I wholeheartedly believe that the more we as educators can connect with peoples and cultures outside of our own, the larger benefit on our students.
I was lucky when I started my teaching career because my first two years of teaching were in France. I was hired as an English teacher in an elementary school in Normandy. It was the same school where I had done my student teaching a year earlier when I was a student at the Université de Caen, and so I knew my team well and was excited to be continuing with them. The benefit of teaching language in Europe is that a wide variety of countries can be visited very easily to give students an authentic experience using their language. The other benefit of teaching in the European Union is that the EU has an entire section of its government dedicated to promoting languages and ensuring that educators and students can interact with the languages and cultures. It was easy to organize a quick hop over to England for the day with the students to practice their English or take the students to Germany for a weekend to practice their German. Europeans, in general, compared to Americans, travel quite extensively, not only within the continent but around the world. Data from the World Tourism Organization found that despite having the world's largest economy in 2016, the United States ranked 60th out of 100 nations worldwide for International travel and only ranked 33rd in money spent traveling abroad! Further, only 1% of Americans own a passport! There is a multitude of reasons for the difference in European travel patterns versus American: the USA is a large country bordered by ocean on both sides, and it takes a long time to get anywhere outside of North America; airfare is expensive because our airlines are not subsidized like they are in other countries; Europeans get more paid vacation per year than Americans; The European Union promotes travel and languages and makes it easy for students to study languages. Here is the main difference I see; however, Europeans are extremely intentional about making travel a priority. Europeans don't make more money than Americans, and life in Europe, in general, is more expensive than life in America. They just prioritize travel because it is a value they hold as being important to their lives. When I moved back to the United States in 2002, I had to make the conscious decision to keep travel as part of my life because it was something I valued as essential. I had to prioritize it for myself and eventually for my children. I mentioned earlier that I have a husband who hates to travel, and that is fine with me, but it would have been a dealbreaker for me if he had said that he was not ok with me traveling with our children. I also mentioned earlier that I am fortunate enough to have a husband who makes enough money to support our family and pretty much goes along with whatever crazy ideas get into my head! He doesn't pay for me to travel, though, and he doesn't pay for my children to travel with me. That was part of the deal, I could do this, but I would have to find a way to fund it. I make less than a teacher's salary, and I manage to travel abroad multiple times per year and take my children with me most of the time because I have been intentional about my plans, and I have made this a priority. I live by the philosophy travel is the only thing you buy that makes you rich. It's really true. I would rather die with a heart full of memories and human connections and a life of serving in education than all the money and stuff in the world. I have had to be very intentional in making connections, building relationships, creating alliances, and ensuring that every opportunity results in a cultural connection.
In 2016 I went to Central America with my husband, one of the rare times I've gotten him to travel with me. I convinced him that we needed a vacation, and the only way I was able to get him to agree was to go on a cruise. I HATE going on cruises, but I wanted to spend time with him, so we made a compromise (I also HATE Disney, but that's a whole other topic for another time). One of the main reasons I hate cruising is that it doesn't give many opportunities to interact with the people and culture you visit in the ports of call. It's also primarily Americans who go on cruises, and when I travel, I want to travel with the intent to connect with people from cultures other than my own. When we arrived in Honduras, we booked a hike in the rainforest to visit the Capucin monkeys. We had about an hour bus ride from the port to the trail to meet our guide. The entire ride, I stared out the window, watching the people living their lives, completely oblivious to the bus full of Americans driving through.
I saw people hanging laundry on clotheslines outside, parents walking their children to school,
children playing soccer, and children cutting cabbages. I took lots of pictures because I wanted to hold those moments of everyday life in my memory. My husband kept asking me why I cared, why I wanted to take pictures of these seemingly "mundane" activities. I told him that I was excited to see the monkeys, but what I really yearned for was getting off that bus, meeting the people, learning about their way of life, and interacting with them. After this trip, I decided that tourism was not for me, and if I wanted to travel to faraway lands and make authentic and meaningful connections with people, I just needed to come up with a plan to make it happen.
Bon Voyage world Languages Academy was born out of this trip. It was my answer to fulfilling my dreams of traveling with the intent to connect while facilitating that for others as well. Traveling with the intent to connect is a term I coined, and it means traveling to connect with other humans and cultures, learn the language, gain life skills, and step out of one’s comfort zone. When a person travels with intent, they experience personal growth, empowerment, maturity, and a realization that they are part of greater humanity. I wanted to share my love and passion for French and my love and passion for travel with our next generation. I wanted my students and my own children to experience the power of human connection and global citizenship. I wanted all students to travel no matter their socioeconomic status, which is no tall order! Bon Voyage is a 501c3 non-profit organization. It was set up that way because I wanted, more than anything, to offer scholarships and grants to students and educators who wanted to make travel an educational priority. Language with the Five Senses Education was born out of Bon Voyage. It is the educational philosophy, the methods, the curriculum, and the international programs that feed into the school and extend outside of the school. Bon Voyage and LW5S used to be one. Now we are separate but partners. Every penny made from Language with the Five Senses goes into the international programs fund to offer scholarships to students, grants to teachers and set up partnerships worldwide. In 2019, I offered two full and two partial scholarships to our French Immersion program in Vichy, France students, thanks to the curriculum from LW5S Education and generous donations from the community. Then, later in 2019, Bon Voyage experienced a devastating loss. One of our office employees stole $50,000 from the school, decimating the scholarship fund. I was not about to let the students who had earned those scholarships down, so I worked hard, scraped together the money needed, and funded those scholarships out of my own pocket. We still have not recovered the fund yet, but I am hopeful that we will be able to do so and continue the mission that I started. In the meantime, I am grateful for the opportunities I can create for others and the partnerships I have formed with organizations worldwide.
By now, you are probably asking yourself how I managed to do all this and how I actually manage to fund it! As I said earlier, I am extremely intentional in making travel and these programs a priority. Every bit of money from curriculum sales and speaking engagements at LW5S Education goes back into creating programs and educational travel opportunities. Many people tell me it is too expensive to travel abroad yet spend a week in Hawaii or Disneyland. I can tell you from experience that I can do 30 days in Europe for less than it costs to go to Disneyland for 3 days! In October, I am taking my children to Senegal, and for the three of us to go, plus the nanny, it costs less than what we spent to go to Disneyland in 2018 when I had to go to Anaheim for a speaking engagement! If you are a person who wants to travel as part of your education and/or professional development, here are a few suggestions I have for helping you fund it:
Create a travel fund for yourself- I use an app called Wise. This app is amazing because you can sort money into different currencies. You can also open "jars," which are like piggy banks, so that you can put money aside to fund different things. For example, I have several jars open- one is named Costa Rica, Senegal, etc. Every time I decide I want to travel somewhere, I wire money from my bank account into the Wise app and sort it into the savings jar. It's amazing how quickly it adds up!
Sell Your Curriculum- As educators, we all spend time creating our own materials. Sites like teacherspayteachers.com and tes.com make it easy to sell what you have created. Last month I made over $100 in sales on Teachers Pay Teachers. Every penny went into the LW5S Ed travel fund. That adds up quickly!
Find Grants- There are TONS of grants out there for teachers who want to travel, especially if they want to travel as part of professional development! A simple Google search of "Travel Grants for Teachers" renders hundreds of results! Check with your local chapter of the National Education Association as well! If you are a student or a Worldschooling family, check with your local rotary club or Kiwanis. Googling "travel scholarships for students" also gives you tons of results. The money is out there, and you just have to find it!
Work in Exchange for Travel- If you are willing to go places that are a little outside the box, there are many opportunities for teachers to teach during the summer in countries in Africa and Asia. There are also tons of work abroad opportunities in places like Dubai. Check with international schools as well. Websites like teachaway.com and goabroad.com have excellent lists of schools abroad seeking teachers. Some programs (ahem...Language with the Five Senses Education) also seek chaperones for their programs in exchange for travel and a small stipend.
Find a Travel Program that will Let You Travel for Free with Your Students- You have to be careful with this one because many large companies offer this to teachers, but they are more touristy and all about their bottom line. These large programs also require the teacher to be "working" during the trip, which can take away from your enjoyment of the experience. However, there are small programs out there (ahem...Language with the Five Senses Education) that will offer free spots to educators and group leaders when their students register for travel programs AND relieve you of any supervision responsibility.
Go Fund Me- don't discount crowdfunding. Seriously, many people are willing to donate to educators who want to travel, especially if it enhances education. People are also willing to help students travel.
These are only a few suggestions I have to help get you started finding ways to fund your travel. Now, let's discuss how to bring your experiences back into your teaching. First, when you travel with the intent to connect, you are literally growing your brain. Human brains are wired for connection. When you connect with others, you build your prefrontal cortex (here's a video I created about Culturally Responsive Teaching. I talk about how brains are wired for connection starting at 34 minutes). Traveling and connecting with other humans in other places builds empathy and critical thinking skills, both developed in the brain's prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for all of your brain's executive functioning. When you share your stories with your students, their brains actually mimic your brain! They are creating the same connections in their brains that your brain has created. These mimicked connections create a release of dopamine and oxytocin, which are the brain's relationship-building hormones. This process creates trusting relationships between educators and students, essential to creating an effective learning environment. When teachers build the prefrontal cortex of their own brains, it makes them more open to understanding, validating, and accepting the diverse populations of students they serve. Traveling is also essential for teachers in developing skills such as cross-cultural communication and Culturally Responsive Teaching practices.
In addition to the multiple benefits to brain development, travel allows teachers to bring in a wide variety of resources that help build cultural competency and Global Citizenship in their classrooms. Teachers can learn about different communities' needs and translate that into classroom service projects, thematic unit plans, and country studies. For every country I visit, I write a country study. Students can learn about different cultures and countries that you have visited firsthand. Your knowledge and experience can enhance students' learning, giving the content a depth you wouldn't otherwise have.
I have done country studies for France, Spain, Senegal, Quebec, and I am currently working on Costa Rica. I have traveled to many more countries than that, but writing curriculum takes a little time, so I am working
through each of the countries while adding new ones. The thing I love most about these country studies is that students not only learn about the country, they also create a simulated travel project so that they get to know what it takes to plan travel. This helps them see that travel can be affordable when they are intentional about it. These country studies integrate math, science, social studies, language, and more!
Quite honestly, when educators travel, it gives them more of a sense of how education is more than just numbers and test scores. Honestly, if I could rid the United States of standardized testing, I would. That is why I LITERALLY wrote a book about how testing is destroying our education system, but I digress. Travel brings into perspective what is really important in education, what will revolutionize and change the world for the better! As educators and parents, we are charged with making sure that future generations do better than we did. In my opinion, travel is not a question of "if" but "how" and "when." It is essential, and I have made it my mission to make that essential happen for as many people as possible. If I can help educators and students experience what the world has to offer, then I have done my job.
If you are interested in learning more about Language with the Five Senses educational travel programs, please visit www.lw5seducation.com/educationaltravelprograms. Everyone registering by May 1, 2021 for any of our programs in 2022 will get 20% off the registration fee! Use the coupon code EARLYREG.
To access any of our resources listed above, or to see what other resources we have, please visit our curriculum store.
To donate the Language with the Five Senses Travel Fund so we can continue our mission of providing scholarships, grants, and lower cost travel for education, please click here-https://checkout.square.site/merchant/1TSKSTGGKG1GP/checkout/C5P3S4AWEE2IECI6FTP2DQWL