How To Help High School Students Have A Fun, Safe, and Educational Trip Abroad
May 8, 2010 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I am chaperoning a high school trip to Europe this summer. What are your tips and suggestions to making this trip a great experience for everyone involved?

I will be traveling with 20 or so high school students to Italy and Greece next month. I've traveled to Europe before, but never with a group of students. We are traveling with a student tour travel company and there are several other chaperons going. If you have traveled with high school students, I would love your insights.

Thanks, O wise and well-traveled ones!
posted by mmmbacon to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you need to make sure all the students are present, you can try "gating." Two chaperons stand facing each other with space in between them for students to walk in between them double file. The chaperons count out loud together as students pass through the "gate." Once everyone gets used to it, it goes pretty quickly.
posted by oceano at 10:18 AM on May 8, 2010

Make sure there is a clear policy on drinking. Kids will definitely want to try alcohol while they're there, your group should have clear expectations.
posted by Think_Long at 10:20 AM on May 8, 2010

Response by poster: All of the students and their parents are signing agreements that there will be no alcohol consumption on the trip. That's a tour company rule as well, which helps us with enforcement.

The tour company also insists on an 11:00pm curfew.

I think those are the only rules we have set so far.
posted by mmmbacon at 10:27 AM on May 8, 2010

When taking group photographs, designate one camera, maybe two as the official group cameras, lest everyone stand in front of every famous landmark for far too long as each person squeals in turn "Wait! One with mine too!"

And make sure that chaperons hold onto all passports except when absolutely necessary.
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:36 AM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Follow up to the passport thing: Make a few copies of the front page of everyone's passport -- one stays with the student, 1 stays with chaperone A, while the actual passport stays with chaperone B, or something like that. Copies of your passport make "oh God I lost my passport" issues easier to fix, and it's a real possibility.
posted by brainmouse at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2010

All of the students and their parents are signing agreements that there will be no alcohol consumption on the trip. That's a tour company rule as well, which helps us with enforcement.

The tour company also insists on an 11:00pm curfew.
I did something similar to this trip in high school, and we basically completely ignored these rules, though they both existed. The unspoken agreement seemed to be that if we didn't cause obvious havoc or get into trouble (and weren't visibly drunk around them), the chaperones looked the other way.

Of course, being drunken high school students, we did cause some trouble at one of the hotels we stayed at. The result of this was that the following evening, the rules were enforced very strictly. From then on, we were allowed to go out as normal again, but because no one wanted to get into that kind of trouble again, there was a lot of peer-policing going on.

I would really encourage you to take a similar tack here (although it may be up to the touring company as well), as some of the most meaningful experience I had on that trip were wandering around European cities late at night with some of the closest friends I've ever had.
posted by !Jim at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2010

They will drink. Deal with it.

When I was in 10th grade we did a similar thing over spring break. The kids who got belligerently drunk were the ones to cause problems, and the ones who were swiftly and brutally dealt with. This was a good thing, and encouraged the rest of us to be classy and under control.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 12:02 PM on May 8, 2010

They'll definitely drink-- the opportunities to purchase (and consume) are boundless. As your ultimate concern is safety, it's a good idea to have an amnesty policy for students who seek medical help due to drugs or alcohol. You want them to feel comfortable coming to you for help. A bit of alcohol education (amounts, drinking water, etc) is necessary.

Another problem that my classmates encountered on our trips was running out of cash. High school students aren't accustomed to carrying around so much money and they'll likely spend too much, too fast. Perhaps you should familiarize yourself with the various ways parents might wish to transfer money to their children. Of course they may have debit/credit cards but those can be lost too.

Suggestion for the long bus rides: bring DVDs of fun movies about Italy and Greece. Examples off the top of my head... Roman Holiday, Gladiator, Italian Job...
Also, prepare some reading material (pertaining to the region) for students to peruse on the bus if they're so inclined. iPod batteries run out, and eventually they might tire of talking. I'm sure the school library can lend you some stuff. Phrasebooks, too! At least one person will want to learn a bit of Italian.

Discourage electric hair appliances. Personally, I wouldn't allow laptops either, and just make a common one available at night.

posted by acidic at 2:25 PM on May 8, 2010

Ask them to set guidelines as a group. They are more likely to follow rules that they have all discussed and agreed on.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

On any school trip of that nature I was on people did drink and stay out late. But there was very little trouble as such. There was a lot of self policing going with people looking out for one another and making sure people didn't do really stupid things.

Educate them about budgeting their cash and about the currency.

Ensure everybody knows the name of the place where they are staying so they can find their way back.

Ensure they know what is acceptable/unacceptable conduct in the country they are in.

Discourage most electical applicances, especially expensive easily lost/stolen/broken ones.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:38 PM on May 8, 2010

Do you both male and female chaperons? I ask because during a similar trip, a student who lost her passport had to stay back and only make chaperons went on the trip. In a situation like that, especially with all the sex scandals going on, it is ideal to have a chaperon of both sexes.

Similarly speaking, bringing one internal cell phone or getting one over there isn't a bad idea either- for emergency uses only, of course. You may be with a tour group, but they can't cover every issue possible.
posted by jmd82 at 2:57 PM on May 8, 2010

Best answer: During one trip when I was in school, we were all given little cards written in the local language saying who we were, where we were staying, and how our chaperones could be contacted. They called it a 'get out of jail free' card.

None of us ever found out whether they would, in fact, get us out of jail for free - but giving out the cards struck me as a sensible thing to do.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:05 PM on May 8, 2010

(Assuming your from the U.S.) Hammer home the fact that the Constitution does not apply beyond the boundaries of the United States, they don't necessarily have First Amendment, Fourth Amendment or any other amendment rights that they think they have, and they had better be damned careful about following the law. Being American does not guarantee them any special treatment.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:30 PM on May 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can't tell if you're a teacher, but if you are, have a few mandatory (but fun!) lunchtime meetings in advance (if everyone's at your school...), with a pot-luck set-up featuring foods from the places you'll be going.

Before each meeting, a few students from the trip are responsible for researching an aspect of the trip like those below, then presenting the information to their peers:

- how bank/credit cards may not work over there, so students need to have another way to access funds: this is a *major* issue on these kinds of trips and students/parents NEED to talk to their banks in advance about how cards, traveler's checks, and cash can make sure students don't get locked out of accessing their money
- how appliances, cell phones (with pricey data roaming charges), internet access, and other modern conveniences will (or won't) work
- a few phrases in Greek and Italian (can students make up a little business-card-sized thing with, say, the numbers 1-10, basic phrases to ask for directions and order in restaurants, etc?)
- Italian and Greek signs: these books are great for showing rather than telling...perhaps students can even cobble together a little quiz for their peers after a brief lesson!
- the history of a monument or museum you'll be visiting
- how to read a mass-transit map

Overall, keep it useful and fun. The more empowered they are, the more likely they are to appreciate the experience - and the less likely they are to end up being sent home.
posted by mdonley at 3:23 AM on May 9, 2010

This was probably only ever going to happen once, but with the slight possibility that I can spare somebody some trauma: if you hand your group's plane tickets to the people behind the hotel desk and say "please put these in the hotel safe, so that we may retrieve them upon our departure", make sure that they did not hear you say "please put these in the garbage can, because they are garbage." Otherwise everyone is likely to end up cranky on the last day of the trip.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:13 AM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

students/parents NEED to talk to their banks in advance about how cards, traveler's checks, and cash can make sure students don't get locked out of accessing their money

A lot of banks/credit cards nowerdays will temporarily block cards if there's an unusual activity pattern - such as buying a few meals for 20 people, in a foreign country. Usually this gets resolved by either your bank phoning you, or you phoning your bank.

With this in mind, make sure you know your bank's phone number, and your account number, and details like that.
posted by Mike1024 at 8:50 AM on May 9, 2010

I went on a school trip to France when I was 15, my mother chaperoned.

Some of us drank. Very few of us got drunk in any problematic way. It's a bit silly not to drink, really -- are the chaperons never going to have wine with dinner, even when they're not with students? My advice is to not make a big deal about it, and if kids get out of line deal with them case-by-case. (The memory of being a bit tipsy on the local wine in Avignon and running into the chaperons...who I later found out were ALSO tipsy...and the mutual moment of careful sober-acting remains one of my mom's and my favorite stories.)

Copies of everything, yes. And I agree that asking the hotel to lock up the plane tickets is a bad idea.

Pack as smart and light as you can. If you can't carry your suitcase with one hand for a good distance, it's too heavy. Period. My mom was trying to plan for every contingency and still, over 20 years later, grumbles about dragging that big heavy suitcase around while trying to help keep an eye on 40 girls.

Is this this sort of tour company that has arranged meals in local restaurants? Ours were uniformly bleh versions of what they thought American teenagers would want to eat. Really sampling local cuisine largely came out of our own pockets. This was a bit tough on the kids who didn't have as much disposable income. I know that in at least one case, a chaperon periodically gave a few bucks very discreetly to one of the girls. I'm not saying you should plan to do this, but bear in mind that the trip might be more stressful for some of the kids if they're having to worry about money.

Do not assume that the kids will have been given any common sense about money. They'll be excited and feeling independent -- even if they started out with common sense, it may fly out the window. Changing money costs you money. ATM cards don't work everywhere, banks may not be open all night. If you buy something large, how will you get it home? You need to budget your money if you want some at the end of the trip; that means that if you have X dollars to spend and we'll be here Y days, you should plan to spend no more than X/Y per day.
posted by desuetude at 11:46 AM on May 9, 2010

I chaperoned a trip to Italy/Greece (and then one to France) with my students a couple of years ago. A few points:

You should have a cell phone. (Some of the tour companies will offer you one; I used the 'rent a phone that works internationally' plan from Verizon, while the other teacher used her (AT&T, and thus able to work out of the US) regular Blackberry.) When you're stuck in a foreign country (as we were, repeatedly -- our tour company was incredibly non-helpful about airline problems), it's really nice to be able to just call home. It also means that if one of the kids gets lost (heavens forfend, but it will probably happen, temporarily, that they miss a check-in when they have some free time), you *can* be contacted. Otherwise, the tour director will have a (local) cell phone. Make sure the kids have these numbers (I never gave mine out, but the other teacher did) to have, say, the police contact you if they are lost.

Do *not* let them go wandering around on their own at night. They should be in the hotel, no other options. They can get in a *lot* of trouble otherwise (the story about our kids who wandered around shouting Italian obscenities at local football fans on the streets of Sorrento goes about as you might think). Dark = in the hotel.

Enforce curfew in the hotel. Yes, it will mean you have to stay up to check on them (maybe several times), but the lost sleep is worth it for having the kids where they are supposed to be and not irritating other patrons at the hotel. A lot of kids just can't think how noisy they are. 10 (or whenever) = lights out, no leaving the room for any reason.

Leave the hair appliances home! I had a group of girls start a small fire in our hotel in Rome, the very first day, because they had brought a plug adapter for the hair straightener but not a voltage converter. Sigh. They have to have *both*! Better just not to bring it, but try telling that to a high school girl. (The group who set theirs on fire were so ashamed of their hair the rest of the trip that it was in a braid every single day. Poor things.)

Collect money for tips -- tour director, bus driver(s), and possibly tour guides (sometimes it's already paid) -- in advance, before you leave. Don't try to have the kids give you that money while on the tour.

We never had any issues with credit/ATM cards not working. The kids, if they can, should bring a few Euros already, so that they can buy food or whatever in the airports as soon as you get there; teenaged boys are *always* hungry. In fact, our boys were starving all the way through Italy, they claimed. They liked the food in Greece a lot better, actually. Maybe it was the smaller amount of pasta, I don't know. But if they already have a few Euros with them they won't need to change money/get cash from an ATM to eat as soon as possible. No one uses travellers' checks anymore, that I saw.

Remind the perpetual shoppers that everything they buy will have to go home in their suitcase(s). We were standing at the airport in Nice, shoving things into random other students' bags so that we could get all of the kids' stuff through. Some may even want to bring an empty suitcase with, if they're really planning on shopping. (If you're ending your trip in Athens, they will *love* the shopping available in the Plaka, and most of them will have a great time bargaining. That's the place to do the souvenir buying. The designer stuff, on the other hand, is in Rome [and Capri, if you're going there, not on a Sunday].)

Teach the kids a few politeness words in Italian and Greek -- hello, thank you, etc. The difference between our kids, who had been taught those (and used them) and the group we travelled with, who had not, was really striking. Remind them before you ever go (and repeatedly thereafter) that they are going to a foreign country, and things will be different. The food will be different. The people's customs will be different. Not bad, not wrong, but *different*. A few judicious reminders of that (not bad, different) will help keep some of the complaints about the food, the hotels, the bathrooms, and so on down -- again, the other group we were travelling with in Italy had not been told not to talk about how weird or gross the food, etc., was, which behavior I found absolutely appalling, whereas I heard very little of that from our kids.

Have photocopies of their passports. We did allow our students to hold onto their own passports (super important: they should have a hidden money belt thing!), but we checked at each hotel that they still had it. Takes just a minute on the bus. They are required to have it on their person if for some reason they're stopped, I believe, and they are not always with the chaperones.

Most importantly: some things will go wrong. That's the nature of travel. When they (inevitably) do, the more you can keep calm and positive, the more accepting the kids will be. Some may be veteran travellers, but others will be away from home the first time, and it will be difficult for some. The chaperones' attitude is crucial. Everything will work out, you'll bring all of the kids you took back home with you, and that's all that really matters. They (and you) will have a fantastic time!
posted by lysimache at 8:43 PM on May 9, 2010

I also chaperoned high school students to Italy and Greece a few summers ago. It was my third time as a chaperone, 9th as a traveler on an escorted group tour. (My mom used to be the teacher group leader- free spots!! yay!) I also used to work for a student travel company in Cambridge, MA.

The students will drink, there is nothing you can really do about it but supervise and set a good example. Having a chaperon on the trip who can play "cool guy or girl" who the students know are aware of their drinking can help. They have someone they can go to if they think a student has drank too much. I tried to lead a good example and let the kids know it was OK to have a beer or glass of wine with dinner (if they were legal age) but binge drinking would not be allowed. As soon as the first person gets hungover and throws up on the tour bus, the rest of the group usually calms down their party habits. Because that's gross and embarrassing.

The thing is about Rome, its difficult to find non-sketchy, non-drinking night activities. See if your tour director will take the kids for an evening stroll to the ruins to see them lit up. In Athens there are usually markets out later in the night that are student safe (if they watch out for pickpockets). Also, if your hotel is ever near the beach (one of ours was) we took the kids for a night swim. We had three chaperons there, one with lifeguard training, to make sure they didn't drown. Hotel pools are great for this purpose, especially if your are touring in the summer- it gets hot! The trick is to get them so exhausted from the days activities that all they want to do is sleep when they get back to the hotel.

On our first night we sat all the kids down and gave them the "guys are going to cat call at the girls on the street. Watch your drinks, so no one drugs you. You're a young American, men will try to take advantage of you, don't go with them. Boys- you have to watch out for your girl friends and protect them. Its a little retro, yes, and a little broad, yes, but it got everyone seriously thinking about the consequences of running off on their own. And the guys really stepped up their maturity- the role of Protector gave them a cool purpose. And it brought the group together. Also, because we waited until we were on tour and away from parents, it showed the students we were serious and not just saying it because we had to.

The boat. We took an overnight cruise from Italy to Greece. It was a lot of fun, but totally full of other people. The students need to know that they cant run around in the middle of the night screaming. There may be a disco and a bar. There will most likely be college students and Australian backpackers on Contiki tours trying to get your girls drunk. My mom and I sat up on the deck where they were with a cup of tea and talked and read while they kids ran around. They knew where we were, but we weren't just watching them. Because of the aforementioned "creepy guy talk" the girls watched out for each other and made sure no one was snuck away to a room they shouldn't.

What else? Tell the kids they are not allowed to call their parents for the first two days of tour. Make a phone chain to let the parents know when you land and that you are having a good time. But if you give a jet- lagged, first-time away from home, 16 year old a phone- no one has fun. She will liven up two days later and will go from Worst Time Ever to I Cant Wait for College.

Food. The food in Greece was the best student tour food out there- and the kids are usually familiar enough with it: hummus, grape leaves, meat- that they are OK to eat it. And the hotels and restaurants usually serve western food anyways. Let the kids know they can bring snacks or have another dinner if they want later- but its at their own (their parent's) expense.

Lastly, the kids will talk up this tour when they get back as the best time of their lives. They will talk about the drinking and who hooked up with who. They wont talk about seeing the Colosseum or going to Olympia because it's not cool. However, when they take Classics 101 their freshman year in college, it will be all they think about. And they will think about you and thank you in their minds. And you may never know how grateful they are that you schleped all these stupid kids halfway around the world as an excuse for a good vacation that you could not afford normally on a teacher's salary... but they will be grateful. Good luck!
posted by nbaseman at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great answers!
posted by mmmbacon at 5:53 AM on May 26, 2010

« Older What is the benefit of "double red" blood donation...   |   Who makes gray soled, gray calfskin, sneakers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.