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Meet ACIS International Program Manager Diana

June 27, 2023 Sarah Bichsel No Comments

We are thrilled to welcome a new member to the ACIS team. Diana joins us with a wealth of experience working in sales, building lasting partnerships through her own small business, and traveling across the globe. Get to know Diana and her incredible range of travel experiences.

Tell us about yourself and your upcoming role with ACIS!

I am joining the team as an International Program Manager.  My role is to work closely with our experienced group leaders and teacher’s assistants who have traveled with us in the past. I take our teachers through the entire trip planning process, from itinerary selection to return, and help them build a travel program that can continue in the future.

Prior to getting married, I had never been outside of North America.  I had done lots of ski trips and long weekends to Mexico and the Islands, but never beyond this continent. On my honeymoon to Italy, I fell in love several times over and not just with my husband.  The food, culture, history, architecture, people and topography completely captivated me. I was hooked and knew I not only wanted to come back to Italy, but I also wanted to see as much of the world as I could. 

Exactly one year after our honeymoon, my husband and I found ourselves in Greece, and also announcing to the world that we were pregnant with our first child. We promised ourselves that we would not stop traveling once we had kids.  Surprisingly to most people, we kept our promise.  Nineteen plus years later our family of 5 has been to over 31 different countries, several of them many times over.  Most people thought we were crazy taking young children overseas as often as we have, but for us, we would not have changed a thing. Was it difficult?  At times, yes.  But today the conversations we have about where we have been, what we have experienced, and the memories that we have made are so special.  We have instilled a love of travel, culture, language and food in our kids that will forever impact their lives. They are Citizens of the World.

You have an interesting story about how you came to work for ACIS. How did it come together?

In 2022, I accompanied my daughter’s 8th grade French class on an ACIS to Paris and Strasbourg, France.  We had both been to Paris several times, but never to Strasbourg.   What made this trip so special was our ACIS tour manager, Libby.  Libby has forever impacted the lives of the 36 people who were on this trip with her (adults included). I have always enjoyed watching my 3 kids being affected by our travels but watching these 30 kids be impacted by Libby and her lessons was extremely rewarding for me.  She was like having our own personal docent 24/7: She was so knowledgeable about everything we saw and every place we went. There was not a question she was not able to answer. She had so much understanding about the history and culture of France that she was able to share with all of us. In addition to her deep knowledge, her flexibility, patience, agility and sense of humor made her such a great person to lead this group every day.  Because she was with the group at all times, we all learned so much more than we could have possibly learned on our own.

While I was in Paris, I met Jill, one of the ACIS International Program Managers.  I was very curious about her job and I loved that she was there checking in on the groups.  When I decided I wanted to make a career move, contacting ACIS seemed like an obvious choice to me. I knew I wanted to continue to change more lives through travel and ACIS was doing that on a larger scale. I reached out to Jill to learn how I might become a part of their organization. And here I am today!

What does “Travel Changes Lives mean to you?

I truly believe that “not every classroom has 4 walls” and that we need to immerse ourselves in the world to truly learn.  It is evident in the way I have raised my children. Traveling has been a part of my kids’ lives since they were infants. I have watched them at zoos learning about indigenous animals; trying new foods like alpaca, guinea pig, escargot, baklava, dragon fruit and lychee at restaurants all over the world; asking well thought out questions at world landmarks such as Pompeii, the Parthenon and Machu Picchu;  tasting termites on Thanksgiving day in Belize on a hiking tour; and experiencing new activities like zip lining, bungee jumping, falconry, spelunking and sailing.

How do you approach planning educational tours?

I believe that working with teachers is a true partnership and that a teacher’s success is my success. Having three kids of my own, I fully understand that we are there for the common goal of helping children learn in a safe environment. A successful trip also takes good communication on both sides to make things work effectively. I want the teachers to be able to come to me with any questions or concerns they have.  We must work together to make that happen from beginning to end.

I also want to learn from the teachers’ experiences.  I can only continue to get better by watching and learning from them. When I was on my ACIS trip, I watched my daughter grow so much by the faith and responsibility that her French teacher gave her during that trip. It taught me how giving a child a little bit of room and independence can help them grow so much.

What are some top travel tips you have learned in your work?

I always tell anyone who is traveling to a new country to make sure they learn a couple of key phrases in the language of the country:  Hello, goodbye, please and thank you are mandatory but adding a few other key phrases such as “Do you speak English?” or “How do I say [insert English phrase]” will show people that you are trying and that we do not assume English should be spoken in their country. Trying to speak the native language goes such a long way with locals. They usually smile (or laugh), but most will help with whatever it is you need even if they do not speak fluent English.

I also always tell travelers not to overplan a trip.  Give yourself and your students time to explore and get lost.  These are often some of the best times spent and where the most memories are made.  Overly planned trips are exhausting, and you often do not feel like you really saw anything. It is better to choose 1 or 2 things to see in a day and spend the rest of the time just exploring and getting lost in the neighborhoods.

I am a big believer in immersing yourself in the local culture. This does not usually happen at tourist spots.  It happens at bakeries, bookstores, small specialty shops off the beaten path and in the parks. Find out where the locals eat and eat what they eat. This is usually where the best food is and it’s often less expensive.  Besides travel, food is my biggest passion.  I learn so much by asking locals where they enjoy going. You will unlock a whole new world that is not in the tour books.

Sarah Bichsel

Sarah Bichsel

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