By Jesse Weisz
Traveling is one of the most educational experiences a person can have and teachers that travel can share their experiences with hundreds of students. That is philosophy of Global Exploration for Educators Organization (GEEO), a nonprofit organization founded in 2007 dedicated to making travel professionally rewarding and enjoyable for teachers.
This past summer, Lauren Hines, a Spanish and global competency teacher at Murray High School (Murray Independent), traveled on two GEEO programs – a 14-day Bali and Lombok trip in Indonesia and a 14-day trip to Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Here’s what she had to say about her experience and why teachers should take advantage of such programs:
Why did you choose to travel with GEEO?
“I wanted to get out of my travel comfort zone of Europe and Central America. I had never been to Asia and didn’t feel like I had the resources to travel there on my own. I checked out several companies for group travel, but I didn’t want to be in a huge group or use a company geared toward a young, party crowd. When I found GEEO, I knew it was the perfect fit. I was able to travel in a small group, with other teachers, and there was a huge variety of ages, backgrounds and experiences.”
What was it like traveling with other teachers?
“I loved it! I made so many friendships during my time with GEEO this summer with educators from across the country. I learned so much from them as we all brought our areas of expertise to the trip (except for me – Spanish didn’t help very much in Asia, but I did speak French in Vietnam!) It was so interesting to have a biology teacher explain the huge spider we ran across in Laos and to have a photography teacher help you catch that perfect sunset picture. Not only did these teachers share their knowledge during the trip, but they also helped me find resources to continue traveling and have inspired me to apply for grants and fellowships to extend my global learning.”
What was the most memorable experience traveling with GEEO?
“This is a very tough question. I went on two trips, so I will pick one of each. The sunset we watched over a volcano on the tiny island of Gili Trawangan was a moment I will never forget. To watch a perfect sunset on a perfect beach on a tiny island in Indonesia was breathtaking. It made me realize all at once how big this world is and how small it can feel.
“I think the most memorable experience on the Bangkok to Hanoi trip was losing the fear of venturing out alone. I walked around Bangkok, spent a whole day alone sightseeing in Laos, and went shopping by myself in Hanoi. I have traveled a great deal in my life, but this experience really made me feel comfortable being alone in a new place. The best thing about GEEO is that you have the ability to go alone, with a friend or with a huge group during your free time. “
How have you been able to bring back the experience of travel into your classroom?
“I teach Spanish, but I also teach global competency. I have been able to bring back my experiences in Asia to help students get a better perspective of the world. So when I teach about food and mention that insects are eaten in Mexico and Central America, I can show them a picture of myself eating fried crickets and silkworms in Laos! Our tour leader also gave us information on the nutritional value of insects and how eating bugs could solve the world food crisis and I shared this with my class.
“Even though I teach Spanish, it is important for students to realize that the world extends far beyond the region that we study in our content area. I like to bring in these types of connections for students to get a better picture of the world beyond what is familiar to them and Spanish-speaking countries that we study in class.”
How have your students reacted to your travels?
“My students love to hear about my travels and they always want to know where I am going next. My personal commitment to travel has created in them a desire to travel as well, and I am so excited to be taking students to Peru in June! As a world language teacher, I hope to inspire my students to not only continue learning a language in college, but also to take opportunities to travel and study abroad to give them a richer and more diverse perspective of the world.”
How has your participation in this professional learning opportunity helped you to grow as a teacher?
“I think this opportunity helped me to grow as a teacher by allowing me to see what it is like for language learners to start at the very beginning. It has been nearly 20 years since I sat in a language classroom for the first time and this experience was a great reminder of the challenges of speaking a new language at a novice level. I also was able to gain valuable insights from teachers from across the country who teach a variety of subjects and the learning I gained from them has been essential in providing cross-content cultural connections in my classroom.”
GEEO’s trips are seven to 21 days in length and are designed to be professionally interesting for teachers. In addition to tour leaders, many of the programs are accompanied by university faculty that are experts on the destination. GEEO also provides teachers educational materials and the structure to help them bring their experiences into the classroom. The trips are open to all K-12 and university educators, administrators and retired educators, as well as educators’ guests.
GEEO is offering the following travel programs for 2017: Bali/Lombok, Bangkok to Hanoi, China, Costa Rica, Eastern Europe, The Galapagos Islands, Greece, Iceland, India/Nepal, Bhutan, Ireland, Armenia/Georgia, Italy, Multi-Stan, Morocco, Myanmar (Burma), Peruvian Amazon, Peruvian Andes, Southern Africa, Vietnam/Cambodia, Balkans and a Mt. Kilimanjaro climb.