I attended Elon University, where I played softball for the small division 1 school. At the time (1999) athletes were not allowed to study abroad because it would take them away from their sport for too long (even during the off seasons). I begged and pleaded with my coach to let me go for the winter term, but she was very reluctant because that was our prime pre-season training. After much persuasion she finally agreed under the following conditions: she could not guarantee me a starting position, which I had earned as a freshman four years earlier. I weighed the pros and cons and decided that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
In January of 1999 I studied the military aspects of WWII and the effects of the Holocaust across western Europe. I traveled to France, England, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Seven countries in thirty days was a whirlwind of an experience that left me with wanderlust. However, traveling the world is an expensive hobby. So, I had to figure out a way to make it cost-effective.
I began my teaching career the following year earning enough income to eat ramen noodles and share an apartment with several roommates. My dreams of international trips had to be put on hold. But in 2004 I became involved in a professional development cluster called BRIDGE (Building Respect through Internet Dialogue and Global Education). After the year long online course the Delaware Center for Educational Technology offered five full scholarships to travel to Amman, Jordan. However, I was the only person to apply. I think people were scared because there had recently been several beheadings in Iraq, which borders Jordan. Needless to say I was awarded the scholarship and therefore was able to travel internationally for FREE! I rode a camel in Petra, tried my hand at some Arabic, and saw first hand how a polygamous community functions.
During this same summer I was invited to present my findings on educational technology implementation at the annual iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) conference in Kosice, Slovakia. One of my students had been given a full scholarship to meet me at this conference so that she could present at the Youth Summit. We spent ten days networking with students and educators from around the world.
In 2005 I became involved in a project based learning group through iEARN . I organized an online forum where my students collaborated with other students from around the world. As a culminating activity several of my students presented their research at a local conference. The president of iEARN happened to be in attendance and loved their work. He offered both of them and me vouchers to travel to Dakar, Senegal to attend the annual international conference and Youth Summit. It was here that I found a simple appreciation for sanitation systems, electricity, and technology.
In 2008 I had a desire to travel again and I did some research to find a company that offered teacher incentives and rewards for traveling with students. Unfortunately I chose a company called World of Knowledge, which is now out of business. Our tour guide greeted us in Italy with his shirt half unbuttoned and a cigarette hanging from his lips. He made decisions on tour that were not part of the itinerary and many people (students and parents) became disgruntled. He lost checks and didn’t communicate well. for example, he promised a nice ferry ride to Greece with bunks so that we could sleep on the overnight trek. When we arrived at the port we discovered that this ferry was nothing like it looked in the brochure. He booked us tickets on a Greek TRUCKER ferry.
I was skeptical to travel with students again, but in 2009 I found a company with a more reputable history: EF (Education First). The tour consultants were very friendly and knowledgeable and the 24 hour tour guide assigned to our group was amazing. I felt informed, safe, and secure throughout the entire planning process and ten days in Costa Rica! Plus, I was able to travel for free with the recruitment of six people. This company also trains their teachers prior to leading a group by sending them to an orientation weekend. In the fall of 2008 I chose Paris, France as my location to really learn how EF operates.
In 2015 I applied for a grant to travel to Peru with a cohort of 11 Economics teachers from across the country. I climbed Machu Piccu, ate alpaca, and learned a little Spanish along the way!
In 2016 I chaperoned a trip to Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic with one of my colleagues. We touched the Berlin Wall, ate pierogies in Krakow, and took a river boat cruise down the Danube. Once again I traveled for free because we had the required number of students per EF’s teacher reward policy.
Wanderlust had really settled in again when I returned from Europe in the summer of 2016, so I began planning for the ensuing summer. I chose CHINA as our destination, but in the end I was not able to recruit enough participants.
So, here I am again, dreaming of some new far off lands to explore. I have two excursions on the calendar for next summer:
In the summer of 2018 I am headed to:
Trio #1 – Panama & Costa Rica (with 3 students)!
Trip #2 – Cuba (with my mom)!