By Shelley Divnich Haggert
It might be hard to imagine your teen jetting off to New York City or Rome when you’ve just started to OK solo trips to the mall, but chances are your child will have the opportunity in the next few years to travel to a far-off place with his high school.
Marijke Vroomen-Durning’s 16-year-old son, Kevin, travelled to Greece last year with his Classics class from Loyola High School in ChÃ¢teauguay, Que. The trip included a stop in Italy as well. “These trips offer a whole new dynamic to education,” says Vroomen-Durning. “It allows the kids to be more independent and curious about the world around them.”
“Kids are travelling more than ever before because there are fewer barriers,” says Michael Palmer, executive director of the Student & Youth Travel Association (SYTA), a non-profit trade association that promotes student and youth travel. In fact, kids aged 12″“18 represent more than 20 per cent of all Canadian travellers, according to the SYTA. Over half of these trips are school-based; and in addition to North American destinations, teens are also heading abroad.
“I want my students to think beyond any borders they may set up for themselves in their own minds,” says Steven
Langlois, an Ontario high school teacher who has escorted teens to England, Spain and France. “They learn very quickly that the world is smaller than they think, and that they can play an active role in it.”
Schools typically work with a tour company for trips; parents should ask if the company has school group travel experience. “Detailed itineraries, contingency plans, cancellation policies and contact info should always be provided — in writing,” says Palmer, who notes companies belonging to SYTA all meet an established Code of Ethics.
Find out who will be chaperoning, as well as your school or board’s policies surrounding these types of trips. “The organizing teacher also has a responsibility to make students and parents aware of the culture they are about to enter,” says Langlois. Customs and laws can differ from one country to another, so everyone should be educated on what to expect.
As with any school-arranged outing, the organizing teacher, the student’s classroom teacher and the school’s administration should all approve the participants. “Teachers need to screen their attendees,” says Langlois, to decrease the likelihood of any problems away from home and make it an enjoyable trip for all.
Technology goes a long way towards eliminating homesickness these days. Most reputable tours will post pictures of students’ daily activities and diaries on their websites so parents can see their children every day. Students are also usually allowed to email or text home at will. “Most leave their apprehensions and homesickness on the plane,” says Langlois.
These trips are costly. Many schools fundraise so everyone can participate, not just those whose parents can afford it, and trips are often planned one year in advance, with payments staggered over time. Before packing their bags, parents and teens should work out how to share the costs. “Kevin had saved over $1,000 working as an umpire and putting away birthday money,” says Vroomen-Durning. “It’s hard to say no to someone who worked that hard.” And the cost is usually worth it for an opportunity that might not arise otherwise. “I was very lucky to be able to go to Greece at such a young age,” says Kevin. “It was an amazing experience. I’d like to go back.”
Shelley Divnich Haggert has three daughters; two of them are travelling teens.
Everyone flying abroad or entering the United States by air must have a valid passport. Canadians under the age of 18 travelling with a school, sports or religious group can enter the US at land borders with proof of citzenship and a photo ID until January 2008. For more information, regulations and to download a passport application, visit ppt.gc.ca.