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How I Got Started – Advice for a First-Time Group Leader

September 8, 2015 Marc Amigone 1 Comment
A couple posing in front of the Eiffel Tower

Jeanne McCoy started teaching high school French in 1993. She traveled with ACIS Educational Tours for the first time in 1995 before taking 10 years away from the classroom to raise her family. In 2015, after returning to the classroom at St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville, South Carolina several years earlier, she elected to explore her options for educational travel again. She returned to ACIS the second time around and was reminded of the interesting set of challenges that come with starting a travel program at a new school. We asked her about her experience:

Teacher standing in narrow pedestrian alley in Paris
Teacher Jeanne Mccoy in Paris

What was your first time traveling abroad?

I remember my first trip to France when I was in high school. I’m not exactly sure what I expected to encounter, but I do remember being surprised that French wasn’t just the language the people spoke, but it was also a way of life, a way of thinking and living that was decidedly different from my own.

Why did you choose ACIS for your first time traveling with your students?

I first traveled with ACIS way back in 1995. I remember choosing ACIS because I was able to customize a tour to suit the individual needs of my students and my specific learning objectives. Returning to educational travel after years of raising my own children in 2015, other features were added to my list of priorities. I was looking for proven safety and security, centrally located hotels, and authentic meals and experiences. I wasn’t surprised that ACIS rose to the top when comparing other educational travel companies!

What was the biggest challenge during the planning/recruiting process?

The most intimidating aspect of planning a trip was the price. I knew it was worth the expense, in fact, a bargain considering all that was included, but how was I going to convey that to the parents? Nevertheless, once I presented the price to the parents, I was pleasantly surprised: most parents saw the value in the experience. I was finally able to get over “the ask”. I was merely presenting the parents with an opportunity to send their child on an unforgettable journey.

After the price, what were parents’ biggest concerns?

Parents are most concerned about safety and security. I totally get it…I’m a parent, too. At ACIS, safety and security are paramount. With all the safety measures in place, including local offices in cities all over Europe, 24-hour on-call staff, included health and travel insurance, and competent Tour Managers, I always felt safe and well cared for. We addressed concerns at the initial parent meeting and provided parents with information so that they too felt comfortable.

How did working with an ACIS Program Consultant help you plan?

Students standingin front of Ntre Dame Cathedral in Paris
Rocking the ACIS backpacks.

Planning an educational trip is a daunting task. Nevertheless, having Heidi Pettit, my dedicated Program Consultant, guide me through the process was invaluable. Heidi connected me with other teachers in the area who had traveled with ACIS, and was always willing to share best practices, however, she was never pushy or aggressive. She offered tips of what had worked in the past for other groups and was always asking questions to find out what I wanted my students to get out of the experience. She answered my never-ending list of questions and anticipated my concerns and needs.

What was the best part of your ACIS experience?

During the planning process, the best part of my ACIS experience was the personalized attention given to me during every step of the process. From the Regional Director to the Program Consultant, to the Academic Travel Advisor, to the Customer Service Representative, I was never left guessing…and every question or request was answered with enthusiasm and professionalism.

During the actual trip, the Tour Manager is what makes the trip the absolute best it can be. I knew my Tour Manager was going to be great, but I had no idea she would be my champion. Libby was part facilitator, part mama, part troubleshooter, part fun and crazy aunt, part drill sergeant, part counselor, and always advocate! She inspired us, motivated us, nudged us, nursed us, and loved us. She was more knowledgeable than I could have imagined, more playful than I could have hoped, and more compassionate than I could have dreamed. I chose what I figured would be a fantastic itinerary, but it was our Tour Manager, Libby, who brought the culture to life and made the trip be the absolute best it could have been.

One of my most favorite moments of our trip was the evening we visited the Eiffel Tower. One of my students was deathly afraid of heights, so Libby, my Assistant Leader, and I went to a nearby café once the students had embarked on their climb with our fellow chaperones. Libby focused her attention on the student and made her feel so special, but the most magical moment was when the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle on the hour. Libby grabbed her hand and they went running toward the Eiffel Tower, giggling with delight. It was a beautiful sight…one that left me in tears of joy!

What impact did you see your trip have on your students?

This is the very best part of the ACIS experience: watching the transformation of my students! When we study culture in a foreign language classroom, we all read the same descriptions and explanations. However, when we experience culture first-hand in a foreign country, we each create unique memories and experiences that broaden our horizons and enrich our understanding of our fellow man. But not only do we get a glimpse of another culture, but we gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. This summer, I watched my students grow in independence, confidence, problem-solving, compassion, and tolerance…and I had the honor of watching it unfold before my eyes!

I actually took far fewer photos than I thought I would. Instead, I found myself watching my students experience culture first-hand. It was an amazing opportunity to see their eyes light up, their jaws drop, their hands clasp in delight. Instead of reading it on a page in a textbook, they were experiencing culture – both big “C” and little “c” – in real time! Culture was no longer a 2-dimensional photo or a paragraph explanation. The students were experiencing culture through their sense of sight, taste, smell, touch, and hearing. And in doing so, they were experiencing it in a very personal way, with their own unique memories. For example, I will always treasure the opportunity I had standing at the top of the stairs that lead to the upper chapel at Notre Dame. I watched as each student emerged from the enclosed staircase and was awe-struck by the beauty and grandeur.

What other advice would you give to a teacher planning to travel with ACIS for the first time?

I have to admit that I’m an uber-planner. Thankfully, over preparedness is a virtue when it comes to educational travel with large groups! My advice is: prepare ahead for all challenges, opportunities, and obstacles by leaning on the resources available to you at ACIS. That way, you can roll with the punches when they arrive. Because they will!

Want to talk to a teacher like Jeanne who’s traveled with ACIS in your area? Check out our reference request page.


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Marc Amigone

One thought on “How I Got Started – Advice for a First-Time Group Leader

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m just beginning to prepare for my first trip with ACIS. I’m very excited to introduce international travel, new cultures and a worldly perspective to my group.

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