By Meg Mack, ACIS Program Consultant
Normally, my job title is Program Consultant, meaning I help educators plan their dream ACIS educational tours from start to finish, from itinerary selection to that final return home. In summer 2023, though, I got the chance to experience life in a group leader’s shoes for an ACIS Tour.
I was lucky enough to be the acting ACIS Group Leader for a group of passengers. They all had vouchers from their canceled trips during the pandemic and decided to use them on a 2023 Paris, Switzerland and Munich itinerary. I could have never predicted how great of an experience this would be, and how much I would learn from being an acting ACIS group leader.
Getting to Know the Group
I first met our group about a month before the trip. We had a pre-departure meeting and got to know a little about each other. The next time we would be together would be on the trip itself!
Arrival day was filled with a lot of jetlagged but excited faces. It was not just my group on the trip, as we were paired with three other groups as well. Somehow, despite the jetlag, and not knowing each other, by the end of that first night’s dinner, we were one large group; laughing, chatting about what we were most looking forward to on the trip, and even singing Happy Birthday to the youngest member of our group who just turned 14 on arrival day.
Group Leader Responsibilities
There are a lot of logistics on a trip, and all of the ones related to the trip itself (dinners, museum entrances, etc) are thankfully covered by an amazing ACIS tour manager, who in this case was the effervescent expert, Peter Ede.
As a group leader, you are responsible for the general behavior of your part of the group. Wake up calls, meet up times, night checks, and head counts are all just a small part of what the week entails. With a mixed group of adults and some minors on their own, it was certainly a balancing act to find the right level of supervision, trust, and a little bit of bribery. Never underestimate the power of Swiss chocolate as a motivator for people to show up on time!
In the mornings, I used group texts to make sure the group was awake and getting ready 30 minutes prior to the meet up time. This was, for the most part, really effective: Although one morning, two of my passengers messaged me that they were awake and then accidentally fell back asleep.
From there I learned if people weren’t down five minutes before our meeting time, it was a good idea to have the front desk call up to their room to make sure they were still awake. Thankfully, between a room call and a quick dash upstairs to knock on their door (and hopefully not waking their neighbors at 6 am), we had them up and ready to go, and we made it on time for our train! Whew! That moment definitely had me sweating, but at the end of the day it all worked out, and those girls were on time (almost every time) moving forward!
The Impact of the Trip
The rest of the trip was an absolutely fantastic blur of great meals, amazing views, historical tours and lots and lots of laughs.
The best memories I have of the trip were the unexpected ones, which proves flexibility TRULY is key as a group and group leader. From speeding down Mt. Pilatus on a cart to late night trips to the Olympic Village in Munich ending in a metro surfing competition, the best times came when we all said “Yes!” So Group Leaders, say YES to everything you can!
Going on this trip was the most valuable training I could have ever had. I got to walk in a Group Leader’s shoes for 15,000 plus steps a day, and every step was a learning experience and a memory to last a lifetime. I learned how to adjust day by day and even from morning to afternoon in order to meet my group’s needs. I learned the balance of when to discipline and when to encourage; I learned how my approach and my attitude set the tone for my group.
I could wax poetically about this trip for hours, or days, or weeks (just ask my family), but instead I will leave you with this final thought:
Being a group leader means wearing many hats: cheerleader, educator, disciplinarian, role model, Mary Poppins’ purse carrier, and tour mom (or dad). To be the person who provides this unique opportunity for students, and getting to see them grow and explore who they are in the world, is absolutely priceless. I’ve always believed that travel changes lives, and my own life was changed by educational travel, but I wasn’t prepared for the unbelievable experience of being the one to help change someone else’s life through the power of travel.
I will be forever grateful for this opportunity, and I know you will be too if you travel with your students, so let’s talk about making YOU an ACIS Group Leader!