Scott Saks is a Spanish teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ. He found himself in a difficult place in late November when news broke about terrorist attacks in Paris: he had a trip planned for late December to Paris with 30 students. He wasn’t going to do anything to put his students in danger, but he knew how life-changing a trip abroad would be for them. We asked him to elaborate on his thought process during that difficult time:
1. How long have you been traveling with ACIS, and why did you choose ACIS when you got started?
I’ve been traveling with ACIS since 2012. I initially had traveled with another educational tour company but after being unhappy with the tours, I was recommended to ACIS by a colleague of mine. I’ve been with ACIS since with two more trips planned through 2017.
2. When did you start planning your December 2015 trip? What was the original itinerary?
We typically start planning our trips about 15 months in advance. Our itinerary was Madrid and Paris and we had 30 participants by mid September of 2014 already excited to travel with us to Madrid for New Year’s Eve.
3. After the events in Paris, did you think about cancelling your trip?
Cancelling the trip didn’t cross my mind, but I knew we were going to have to modify it in some way or another. I was on the phone right away with my international travel consultant when the events occurred, and we had already started to come up with a contingency plan.
4. What were the conversations with parents around that time like?
They were very positive but concerned. The parents were concerned about the safety of their children, but I informed them that ACIS would continue to monitor the situation and would not put the students, tour guides or group leaders in an area which was unsafe.
After a few days, I polled the parents to see their comfort level with traveling to Paris and based on the groups response, we decided to go with modifying our itinerary and eventually ended up with a Munich and Madrid itinerary which the kids loved!
5. What was traveling abroad only a month and a half after the Paris events like?
In Germany, it was business as usual. The streets were packed with locals and tourists, the restaurants were filled and the tourist sites were filled with everyone taking selfies! Taking a walk around the English Gardens was cool and crisp, but the locals were out walking, jogging and even surfing!
In Spain, the streets were populated with Spaniards and tourists alike celebrating the new year, shopping and eating. On New Year’s Eve, there were over 25,000 people celebrating in La Puerta del Sol and even more people on the side streets. It was like celebrating new years with over 25,000 of your closest friends.
6. Did you notice any extra security or feel any more or less safe?
We didn’t notice anything different although, Madrid decided to allow only 1/3 of the people to enter the main plaza to bring in the new year checking everyone that entered. The lines were not any longer entering any of the museums or any of the attractions we visited.
7. Did you do take any extra safety precautions leading your group while you were abroad?
We had the safety precautions as we do for every trip. Safety is our primary concern when traveling with the students. They must always be with a group no less than four students, they have my cell phone number and the address to the hotels in which we are staying. Our tour guide Jana was excellent. She was on top of everything throughout the trip making sure that our students were in areas that were going to be safe.
8. In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to go ahead with the trip?
As long as we weren’t putting our students in danger, cancelling the trip wasn’t an option. Most of the parents still wanted to continue with it and so were the students. For most of them, this was their first experience out of the country and they called it one of the best moments in their lives. It’s the reason why I continue to lead tours year after year.
The parents expressed much gratitude for me communicating with them every day once the Paris attacks occurred relaying them updated information from ACIS based on our tour. They always felt well informed of the events and the possible modifications that were going to take place.
9. What advice would you give to teachers and parents planning trips to Europe for the spring and summer?
Continue on as planned. I know many teachers that have their tours still running, and it’s the best thing you can do! Continue to give the students the trip that will end up being the most memorable experience in their life.
10. How have the last few months affected you and your perspective on taking students abroad in general?
It hasn’t deterred me from wanting to travel with my family or my students. I have 30 students registered for our tour this summer and I’m almost ready to start promoting our June 2017 tour!
If you would like to talk to Scott more about his experience, you can find his contact info on this page along with local area representatives from around the country.