Welcome to our very first installment of a new feature on the blog, teacher spotlights. Every month, we’ll introduce you to an extraordinary educator from the US who believes in the power of educational travel to shape the lives of students, both academically and personally.
This month, meet Keith Kregel! Keith is a German teacher, husband and father from the great state of Texas.
Keith, tell us about your first time traveling overseas. What was the experience like?
When I was sixteen years old, I took the national German exam offered by the American Association of Teachers of German and won a scholarship to spend 5 weeks in Germany staying with a host family and attend a German high school.
Up until this point, I had only learned about Germany through books and really old movies (the Internet wasn’t available!), and nothing from my formal education was comparable to seeing the culture with my own eyes. I distinctly remembered thinking for the first time that the world was something much more than the few square miles I called home; the world was bigger than just me.
I gained confidence and my language abilities soared! I felt a sense of freedom that I had never experienced before. It has now been 21 years since that trip and I still keep in touch with some of these friends all because we were able to share an amazing connection.
Sounds like this trip really paved the way for a lifelong love of travel and learning. Was it your travel experience or someone in particular that inspired you to teach?
I became a teacher just out of university because I was highly inspired by my high school German teacher. She was a friend to me and created a relationship with me when it felt like I had no other. I wanted to teach because I had a desire to have that same impact on someone else’s life that she had on mine. I wanted to create relationships, laugh with kids, hurt with them, and show them the world.
The most rewarding aspect of teaching so far has been the relationships created in the classroom that are long-lasting and exceed the boundaries of high school.
I have attended weddings of students and even met some of their children. I’ve had opportunities to help and tutor them, even well into their college years. These relationships inspire students and I get reminded frequently of my part in that – when I see them move on into language careers, travel, and even become teachers themselves.
What do you hope your students will get out of traveling abroad?
In the classroom, I bring the rest of the world to my students. I can teach them, show video clips, and show pictures of other places, but they will never truly understand what they are like without the full experience of all of the senses.
When I travel, I bring my students to the world. I hope they will gain an understanding that countries other than your own mean much more than a separation of language. Culture and customs from other places are not weird; they are different. I hope that students will become global citizens and see the world through a united viewpoint.
That’s a great way of explaining the classroom learning vs. travel exploration dynamic. Now that we know what you hope to get out of student travel, what’s the best part about bringing a group of students abroad?
People ask me all the time how I can take the same trip over and over again, even though I’ve seen some of the places many times. My favorite part about touring is that these places are not the same because I’m always with a different group of students, and when I see those places through their eyes, it is like seeing them again for the first time.
I feed off of their excitement every time they see the Neuschwanstein Castle for the first time, or they catch a first glimpse of the Bavarian Alps as they come into view. The excitement of traveling with students, many of whom have never traveled by plane before, is an incredibly joyful experience.
I’m guessing a lot of teacher travelers can relate to that feeling! Must be so infectious. In all of your experiences, has there been a student in your past who really stands out in your memories?
John had always been an overwhelmingly average student in class. He earned mediocre grades and frequently messed around during class.
John was a student difficult to engage. When he decided to travel to Germany for the first time, he expected that he would be on a full party vacation. Our tour manager was fantastic and brought the history and culture of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland to full life right before his eyes.
I noticed an immediate change in him. He became immediately inquisitive and began asking more questions – and even began engaging me in conversation which was certainly a first! Upon return, John shared his experiences and even asked to switch seating in the classroom to be moved to the front of the room. His grades improved from low-C range to high-A range and his attitude towards learning changed.
I believe that travel was a life-changing moment for John.
What advice would you give to a teacher who is thinking about traveling with students for the first time?
The thought of traveling with students can be seriously overwhelming. As teachers, we have enough on our plates and the highest priority is doing what is right for the students.
Planning a trip on your own requires time and resources. Using a high quality travel company will take the worry and stress away from you and leave you with the time you need to spend with your students. They will plan for you, organize meals and overnight stays, secure travel reservations, and put thought into every detail so that you can keep and protect what is most important: your students.
New Year’s Eve in Munich is a sight to behold. The locals really know how to slide well into the new year with a celebration that trumps the dropping of the New Year’s Ball in the Big Apple.
On one of my Munich New Year experiences, New Year’s Day brought a fresh and quiet blanket of snow over the entire area in the early morning hours. I rose early with a few students and we walked deep into the Englischer Garten to the Chinese Tower. During the summer, this area of the Englischer Garten is a lively bustling German beer garden, but on this day, had been transformed into a quiet and peaceful place to talk with friends, get a hot drink, and talk about what the New Year could hold.
It was one of those rare life moments that forced a pause, time for reflection, and vision casting for the future. I feel like however hard I may try, this is one experience that will never be replicated.
Bonus material! Keith was so generous to sit down with us last summer to discuss his experiences with student travel. Here’s a clip! If you’re a teacher and an ACIS Group Leader, a former student traveler, or a parent whose child traveled on an ACIS tour, we’re interested in sharing your stories with our community!
Lastly, we owe a big THANK YOU to Keith Kregel for taking the time to chat with us. Danke, Keith!