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5 Things To Do on Your First Educational Tour

July 16, 2013 Erin Stern No Comments

While many of you may be veteran travelers, think back to your very first school trip abroad. Dig deep into your memory. Uncover the days or weeks you spent traipsing around a city and culture so very different from your own. Were there things you wish you did? Were there things you’re glad you experienced?

I’m constantly reminiscing about my first trip overseas because it was such a profound experience and one I don’t want to soon forget. So that’s part of the reason I came up with this list of things to do before your first educational tour. I’m glad I did and some things I wish I did better, but I do have a bit of a disclaimer. When I say there are five things you should do on every educational tour, what I mean is this: you should do all of them or none of them or even just one. People experience travel in different ways and isn’t that one of the best parts of going abroad?

For me, travel is all about exploring by foot as much as possible. For someone else it could be venturing off to the streets and squares farthest from the tourist spots. Or it could be experiencing a new culture through cuisine.

Whatever your preferred method of travel may be, here are 5 things to do on your first educational tour abroad.

5 Things to do on your First Educational Tour

Attempt a Foreign Language with Confidence


Just as important as learning a few key phrases in a foreign language, it’s equally as important to have the confidence to speak the language. If you’ve ever struggled to learn a foreign language, this can be a big hurdle to overcome.

I was in my mid-20s when I first traveled to Europe—Paris to be exact. After studying French for nine years, I was excited to finally apply my language skills to an actual real life situation. After all those years in the classroom. When I landed at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, I was equipped with all the language arsenal I needed to survive. And perhaps even thrive, but not the confidence.

During my first attempt with the AirFrance bus driver, I began to unravel once he started speaking. I replied back with a blank stare instead of the elegant retort I had imagined. I stumbled to get some words out, but making a mistake was enough for me to switch immediately to English. That’s pretty much how the rest of the week went. In fact, for most of my stay, I started each conversation with parlez-vous anglais? So fearful I was of making a mistake or mispronouncing a word, I didn’t even have the confidence to try.

I wish I could’ve coached my younger self to push past my insecurities. I think I could’ve really surprised myself. Through the years as I’ve gained more experience traveling. I’ve learned to shrug off making mistakes because I’ve found that people are appreciative of your attempts. I’ve been met with quite a few laughs after botching phrases, but the smiles I got in return were friendly and understanding. To me, that’s more valuable than not trying at all.

Start a Souvenir Collection


Your purchases on your first trip abroad will pretty much dictate what kinds of souvenirs you’ll collect. Choose wisely as this is for the rest of your life. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it.

Will you collect jewelry or other trinkets from each destination? Will your photos be your keepsakes or will you opt for something less conventional? Whatever you decide, consider what you’ll do with these tangible “things” long after you’ve returned. For example, do you want to display them front and center (like a fridge covered in colorful magnets)? Or will you tuck them away for safe keeping (like an album of postcards).

I knew an avid traveler who purchased a small, glass tile from every place she went. Once she had enough of them, she created a mosaic coffee table for her living room. She really integrated her travels into her every day life and each tile piece had a unique adventure and story to tell.

Include Yourself in Photos


In my opinion, the best pictures are the ones that feature people. Consider this: Nearly every photo of Big Ben or the Trevi Fountain looks the same. Unless, that is, you’re posing in front of it.

I often come back from trips with 300+ photos of landmarks, buildings, cathedrals and close-ups of my food. But I have very few of me, and it’s always something I regret. In the moments of walking crowded streets or standing in front of famous sights, it only takes a second to get in front of the lens. Ask a friend or travel companion to snap a few. Your older self may thank you later down the road. Plus, opening up your travel album a few years later will be as much about re-living your travels as it will be about your dated hairstyle.

Try the Local Specialty

piece of chocolate cake from aida
try local delicacies before your educational tour

Would you go to an Italian restaurant and order chimichangas? Probably not. Find out what your destination is known for—culinarily speaking—and EAT IT! Whether it’s a decadent sachertorte in Vienna (pictured above) or crispy fish n’ chips in London, nearly every city and region has a signature dish or dessert for a reason: Because they execute it the best. They’ve mastered it.

Whatever the dish, it probably has a pretty interesting history to go along with it as well.

Watch TV

This sounds really bad, but hear me out. When I’m getting ready in the morning or packing up my things, I love to turn on the TV. It’s great to get a different perspective of a country’s pop culture. What do their talk show hosts look like? What are today’s hot topics? Do they have reality shows and game shows? What’s the news reporting on?

I find all these facets of “foreign” television fascinating.

During that same first trip to Paris I mentioned earlier, I was surprised to find and watch a few episodes of French Family Feud. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t particularly enlightening or educational. But I loved listening to the language and spotting some familiar words and phrases.

What advice do you give to first-time travelers? Is there anything you’d do differently next time you travel or are there things you always make a point to see, do or experience? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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Erin Stern

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