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Our Culture of Care in a Time of Coronavirus

May 1, 2020 James Glavin No Comments

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted literally every area of our lives—how we work, how we learn, how we eat, shop and communicate. And of course, travel plans all around the globe have been disrupted completely. For some teachers, the pandemic hit just as they were on their long-planned ACIS trip. At ACIS, we pride ourselves on our culture of care and so for us it was important that our groups on the road felt safe and supported. In the first of two blog posts (here’s the second), we spoke to two of our group leaders to find out what it was like to be on the road at that time.

Tim S., Assistant Principal and math teacher, Florida

Tim had been a chaperone on a number of ACIS trips and took over as group leader a few years ago. He has traveled all over Europe—England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein.

Tim's group in front of the Paris Arc de Triomphe

Why is travel important to you as an educator?

As a teenager, I spent a semester as an exchange student in Mexico and that was a life-changing experience for me. After my first time chaperoning the Europe trip, I realized our students can have similar experiences even after just a week or two overseas. They are clearly getting historical and cultural lessons on a level that can’t be experienced in the classroom. But there are some even more valuable lessons they are learning such as how independent they can be without their parents. They also create incredible bonds with their fellow travelers. Even students from trips years ago, will reminisce with me about walking through a little town in Switzerland or dancing to polka music in Munich.

Tell us about your most recent travel experience—what was your planned itinerary?

This past March, I took our students on the London/Paris/Madrid trip. We had an amazing tour manager (as we always do with ACIS) named Alma who had lived in all three of the cities on our itinerary.

Tim's group in Madrid

Where were you when news of the coronavirus made you realize you’d need to adapt your plans?

It was our last night in Paris and we were supposed to fly to Madrid the next morning for the last two days of our trip. It was gone 1am and I was asleep when my assistant group leader, Vanessa, came to my room to wake me up. Before answering the door, I looked at my phone and saw 23 new texts which was weird. When I answered the door, Vanessa explained that President Trump had just announced a travel ban from Europe was to go in effect on Friday night at midnight. That explained all my texts.

How did you work with ACIS on this?

We spent the rest of that night in the lobby of the hotel trying to figure things out. We called ACIS and they were very calm, friendly, and accommodating. They assured me they would get us all back to America before the travel ban went into effect. They told us that it would be easier for us to leave from Madrid, especially if we wanted to stay together as a group. Not long after landing in Madrid later that morning, we had another message from ACIS telling us they had us booked on a flight out of Madrid the next day, landing in the U.S. a few hours ahead of the travel ban. That meant, we were able to spend the rest of the day in Madrid. Alma (our tour manager) worked hard to change reservations and schedules so that we could squeeze in most of our 2-day Madrid itinerary into one day.

Tim's group enjoying churros and chocolate in Madrid

How did your students react to the situation?

Our kids were shockingly calm when we explained the situation to them and how we were going to leave early. None of them complained. We also talked to them about not worrying about the details—their job was just to continue to enjoy their trip and know we’d take care of everything that needed to be done to get them back sooner. Alma was great and reinforced our message to the students about not worrying about the virus or the changing trip plans, but focus on the fact they’re going to get to Madrid…and see a lot of fun things once we get there. Our students really did seem to put the craziness out of their mind and just enjoy the remainder of the trip. Again, Alma was a big part of that because she kept us so busy for the rest of our time, even giving us some great tips about where we could take the kids for a late night walk around the city the night before we left.

At ACIS we say we have a culture of care, and taking care of our group leaders and their participants is our mission. Did you feel this care when traveling?

Yes, we definitely felt that “culture of care” from ACIS. Everyone we communicated with over the phone who helped us change our plans asked us if there was anything else they could do for us to make the situation a little less difficult. I can imagine all of them were stressed out themselves with managing so many groups changing their plans all at once, but you’d never know that from talking to them. They were as calm and as reassuring and as accommodating as anyone could be even in normal circumstances.

What’s next for your school travel program?

At this point, we are planning to have another Europe trip next March. One of the first things I told the students after we landed back in Orlando is that I hoped this experience didn’t discourage them from traveling in the future. Their reaction was very encouraging—even with the craziness, they said they had the best time on this trip and would love to go again.

What has your experience taught you about educational travel?

The biggest lesson I learned on this trip was the fact that we’ve made the right choice to use ACIS for our international trips. I have always been impressed with almost every aspect of the company, but what we just went through reinforced what I’ve always felt. And if ACIS was able to take care of us in these crazy, unprecedented circumstances, I feel confident they will never let us down. After having this experience, I don’t think I could ever consider using another company for our international student travel.

Tim and his group in the London Underground

Jim Y., Student Activity Coordinator, Hawaii

This was Jim’s first trip with ACIS, but he has years of experience of chaperoning and leading student trips. He was traveling with students when the news of the travel ban broke.

Tell us a little about yourself!

I am currently the Student Activity Coordinator at Kealakehe High School. We are a public high school located in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. I’ve been here for almost 20 years now, 16 in this position.

Had you previously traveled with ACIS or led students abroad?

This year was the first time I used ACIS and I couldn’t have been more impressed. Previous to this year, I led/chaperoned 15 tours using another tour company all around Europe, China and Japan. The experience this year was night and day compared to the competitor’ the ACIS experience is exactly what they say it is. Literally everything about the tour was better (and not just by a little).

Why is travel important to you as an educator?

We live on a secluded island in the Pacific. Most travelers I have taken never left the state before their trip, not even to the US mainland. A handful never even left our island!  These tours allow my students to see what’s out in the world and how all humans are pretty much the same. The cultural barriers that are broken when we travel cannot be understated, especially when it comes to our students. I now have travelers living all over the world and it all started because of their trip.

Tell us about your most recent travel experience – what was your planned itinerary?

We did an eight day tour that took us to London, Paris and Madrid. We were lucky in the sense that, at the time, these cities were not hotspots or even on the CDC’s advisory list. After holding a parent and traveler meeting it was determined that we should still travel.

How did you work with ACIS when news of the travel ban broke?

My Tour Consultant, was incredible; she kept me updated every step of the way. Even better, she did this in a “non corporate” type of way. She wasn’t trying to force us to travel for the sake of ACIS making their money. She and ACIS even offered a modified refund policy for those who may not have been comfortable traveling. I can almost certainly say the travel company I used before would have never reacted this way.

What happened next? How did the situation play out?

First, let me start out by saying that we had a great tour. We went through London and Paris like we always do, the cities were still very much alive and vibrant. I went to bed our last night in Paris and by the time I woke up the world’s entire situation changed with the implementation of the US travel restrictions. In accordance with the CDC travel guidelines, we continued to Madrid but when all was said and done we had to leave a day early in order to beat the travel restrictions. ACIS modified our last day in Madrid so we actually got everything included in our itinerary, even with the missed day. After all the dust settled, they even kicked back the cost of the missed day to my travelers.

But here’s what is incredible. By the time I got up in Paris, I’m talking only hours after the restrictions were released, we already had our new flights confirmed. It was comforting to know all of this before I called my parents as I already had the answers. Every single one of my parents were pleased.

How did your students react to the situation?

They wanted to stay our last day. Again, the situation in these cities were not severe at the time so they really didn’t understand. We had a quick meeting over breakfast, I gave them all the info and told them to focus on our last day on tour and to have themselves some fun. An hour later, as they ate their fresh churros, they were all smiles. They’re still sending me text messages about the great time they had and how they already want to go back.

At ACIS we say we have a culture of care, and taking care of our group leaders and their participants is our mission. Did you feel this care when traveling?

100%! The entire ACIS team was incredible during all of this. I’m sure they had a ton of groups out and about during this time but they gave me the attention I needed and answered every single one of my questions. You can tell a lot about a company when things go wrong. ACIS shined! I already have a trip planned with ACIS to Greece in the summer of 2021!


James Glavin

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