Jean-François Henley is a French teacher at The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, and an ACIS Group Leader. He recently returned from his second ACIS trip to France, visiting Paris, Southern France, and The Alps. After the events in Paris last November, Jean-François was faced with a difficult decision: whether or not he should proceed escorting his students abroad. After consulting with the parents and students in his community and with the support of his administration, he decided to proceed with the trip.
We interviewed Jean-François about his experience, and how he feels in retrospect about his decision to proceed with his trip to France:
1. How long have you been traveling with ACIS, and why did you choose ACIS when you got started?
I first took a group of students to France in 2014 and then another trip in 2016. I consulted colleagues in school and in neighboring districts and ACIS was always very highly regarded.
2. When did you start planning your February 2016 trip?
I started gauging interest and holding meetings a year in advance. Although initially the response is always very enthusiastic, reality can sometimes set in and students who showed interest are not always able to come. One year to recruit, plan and tweak gives me enough time without having to stress about it.
3. After the events in Paris, did you think about adjusting your itinerary or canceling your trip altogether?
The events of Paris were extremely tragic and we did explore several possibilities. Several neighboring districts canceled their trips abroad and there was a period of time where we weren’t exactly sure what to do. Canceling the trip was, for me anyway, not an option I wanted to consider. We did explore the possibility of changing our itinerary to avoid Paris but in the end we decided to proceed as planned.
4. What were the conversations with Parents and Administrators around that time like?
The administration was very supportive. While many neighboring districts decided to cancel trips, I was fortunate to work with administrators who believe in the power of travel and who were committed to the idea of not allowing terrorism to change the way we go about our lives. Parents were understandingly concerned but thankfully they were also very much on the same page in regards to carrying on as planned.
5. How was your trip? What was Paris like? Did you notice any extra security or feel any more or less safe?
The trip was fantastic! We had a wonderful time visiting Paris, the Alps and the South of France. Paris was pretty much exactly how I had remembered it. There were a few soldiers patrolling landmarks and popular areas and security procedures were more thorough, but overall Parisians seemed to be going about their daily lives. We were able to visit the main attractions and explore other lesser visited areas without incident. I spent time in the Bastille/Le Marais area, home of the Jewish Quarter and never felt uncomfortable.
6. Did you do take any extra safety precautions leading your group while you were abroad?
Of course I had to emphasize the importance of being aware of your surroundings and of never being alone, always be with a group. These are things we always tell students before leaving but we made absolutely sure that everyone understood how important these directives were. We all had our cell phones with us as we did think it was an added comfort to be able to reach each other instantly in case of an emergency.
7. In retrospect, how do you feel about your decision to go ahead with the trip?
I’m extremely happy about our experience and very grateful that we did go ahead. Our tour manager was absolutely fantastic and allowed us to enjoy every moment of our trip! Hindsight is always 20/20 as they say but in our case, we really could not have asked for a better experience. We were absolutely thrilled with our time in France!
8. What advice would you give to teachers and parents planning trips to Europe for the spring and summer?
I would say give yourself enough time, do your research and go for it! Make sure you surround yourself with people who are supportive and who understand the benefits of travel.
9. How have the last few months affected you and your perspective on taking students abroad in general?
To allow random, senseless acts of violence deter us from traveling and experiencing all the benefits of travel is unfortunate. While these horrific acts were terrible and devastating for so many people, the statistical probabilities of being directly affected are still extremely minute. By going ahead with our trip, teachers, parents and students made it very clear that we will not be intimidated. We will continue to travel and offer unforgettable life experiences for our students.
Even in the face of horrible acts around the world, we must always remember that travel and exposure to different cultures enriches all of us. I am convinced that the students who participated on this trip have gained an immeasurable life experience that will serve them well in the future.
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