Guest blogger, Bunmi Ishola, teaches 8th grade ELA at YES Prep Southeast. She has worked at YES Prep for seven years. She obtained her bachelor’s in journalism and English from Texas A&M University, and a masters in journalism from Northwestern University. She’s a proud Nigerian-American, an avid reader, and has been to six of the seven continents (with plans to knock out Antarctica soon)!
When our manager of student opportunities suggested that I spend a month in Ghana, West Africa with students, I thought, “She must be crazy…” But it was instantly followed by a “Yes!” I’d always wanted to go to Ghana (my mom was born and raised there), and AFS, the organization sponsoring the trip, was paying for the students to go—all they needed was a chaperone. A few weeks later, someone from EF Tours reached out to me and asked if I’d consider leading a trip through their organization to Costa Rica. Suddenly, I found myself planning two international trips with students, in my second year of teaching.
In Ghana, we worked to clean and repaint the kindergarten wing of a primary school in Accra. Students were thoughtful about what type of art they wanted to surround the children with, took so much initiative, and were willing to work extra hours to get it done. My heart nearly burst when the group of YES high schoolers asked to donate some of their spending money to help purchase the materials needed to install ceiling tiles and fans.
In Costa Rica, we took in the wonders of the rainforest and ziplined through the forest canopy. We went horseback riding through the rain. We hiked up a volcano and soaked in hot springs. When we visited a village school, I watched as my students made instant bonds with the Costa Rican children, and a few even cried when it was time to say goodbye. Towards the end of the trip, we planted trees to help restore the damage to the environment.
Since that year, I’ve had the opportunity to take students on international trips every summer. This will be the first summer I am not planning a trip, and I hope to pass the baton and encourage other teachers to consider leading a group themselves.
The initial appeal in chaperoning a trip was getting to travel for free. I’ve always dreamed of getting to see the world, but have never had enough money to do it. And besides living in Nigeria as a child, and a one-week trip to Mexico with a church in college, I hadn’t seen much of the world. Both AFS and EF Tours, which make travel educational and affordable, opened an unlikely door for not just me, but also for my kids.
As I began recruiting students and preparing them for each trip, I discovered many other rewards, too.
For one, it was an immediate relationship-builder between me, my students and their families. Before the trip, I helped parents figure out how to apply for passports, I organized fundraisers, and held regular meetings. And on the trip, chaperoning created opportunities to get to know my students in ways that I never could in the classroom. It also helped me get to know students from other grade levels who I had never taught. All barriers drop away the moment you hold a student’s hand to get them through their first plane ride or help them complete a million custom forms. And after spending almost every moment of two weeks together, not only did I have a special bond with my students, but they had built bonds with each other that crossed grade levels, ages, and genders. And those bonds continue to exist years later.
For me, teaching at YES is all about providing access to opportunities that will set our students up to be leaders of tomorrow. Our world is becoming more and more global, and choosing to lead international trips was a way to give them access to that global society—to see it and experience it for themselves.
I’ve watched students become more responsible and more confident on these trips—from having to plan and manage fundraising, set fundraising goals, learn to manage their money on the trip, navigate foreign streets, and build relationships with other students from other grades, cities, and states.
And I can’t even begin to explain the joy I felt as I watched students hike around Machu Picchu, marvel at the history of the Vatican and Colosseum, frolic through lavender fields in Avignon, or snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. While I had never done any of those things either, their childlike wonder with each new experience fueled my own. And I felt privileged to be the one to help make this opportunity possible.
- EF Tours: The easiest way to get involved with chaperoning your own international trip is through EF Tours. You simply need to express interest on their website, and they have a whole team of travel consultants that walk you through everything. They help you pick the best trip, customize the trip, set deadlines to follow, and even create PowerPoints to help you run meetings. You are responsible for recruiting students and providing fundraising opportunities for them. (This fundraising part is completely optional, but helps keep EF travel affordable for families).
- AFS: I love the mission of AFS, but it is more of a foreign exchange program and requires more work to set up trips for students. Chaperoning a trip with AFS also requires you to become an AFS volunteer and go through training.
Because of how often I’ve travelled with EF, I’m considered an EF Ambassador and would be happy to provide advice and ideas to help anyone get started.