Foreign Travel FAQ
Margi Missling-Root, Director of Experiential Education, has been organizing foreign trips for LWS for years and has personally traveled almost every year for the last 20 years. Faculty members who participate in the foreign travel program are well versed in the LWS program which has over 50 years of experience in travel with young people. No question is too small when it comes to parents who might be concerned about the LWS concept of travel.
Four weeks seems like a really long time to travel.
Our program is based on immersion, which can’t happen in a week or two. The idea is to put students in a situation outside their normal scope. We get as far away from 7-11 and McDonalds as we can. It takes time to reach these destinations, takes time to adapt to the environment and begin to enjoy the opportunities. We combine homestays with community service and adventure. We use every bit of those four weeks. When students come home, they say the time flew by and the trip felt short. Very often, students are so immersed, they don't want to leave. We take this as a good sign that the foreign trip has been a success.
What if students don’t speak the language?
We try to put French students on trips where French is spoken and Spanish where Spanish is spoken. But it’s likely that students will travel where they don’t speak the language and neither do the teacher leaders. We have travel guide companies all over the world who have been working with us for years. Much of the traveling and logistics are done with their professional assistance. As well, we have been doing these trips for so long that our teacher leaders are comfortable all over the world, using their skills in travel to overcome language barriers. Groups do rudimentary language study before they go so they can speak and understand basic words.
Why don’t the trips go to Europe or places like England, France, or Germany?
LWS goes to countries like India, Mongolia and Peru because those indigenous populations are still living like they did centuries ago. Chances are they are living much closer to the land and in stronger social groups than the students have ever seen. We aren’t traveling just to see the sights but because we want to understand how others live. It’s no accident that people in the third world are often happy and content in their lives ,even if they have very little. We are looking for a pure cultural experience uncomplicated by malls, ipods and cell phones. While we’re doing so, we give back to communities that need our help. We paint schools, put in community gardens, visit hospitals and orphanages, and help where we can. We raise money before we go and try to spend it in the best way possible to support the communities we’re visiting. In this way, our students learn how very lucky they are, and they learn the value of giving.
Aren’t there shots needed for different parts of the world?
Yes, but we’ve been traveling with students for over 50 years. We have a very professional staff of doctors and nurses who oversee the process of getting the correct inoculations for the countries we will visit. This starts sometimes three months before the date of departure. Parents are well informed of what vaccinations will be recommended for their student's trip during Winter Parents Weekend. All questions and concerned can be addressed during meetings with foreign travel groups and leaders.
What if my student has never traveled before?
No problem. The groups are carefully chosen to give the individuals the best support possible. Our teachers are well traveled and they have so much experience dealing with young people in this situation, that your student will soon feel confident. Hesitant students usually make the best travelers in the long run and learn to love the adventure
Do we need special luggage for foreign trip?
Large backpacks used in our outdoor program work best for travel of this kind. By the time we leave for foreign trip, your student will have camped or backpacked three times and will have become accustomed to carrying this backpack. We’ll know well in advance if our destination is a cold or warm climate. Spring break is a great time to get the appropriate clothes and supplies according to the packing list for the country to which your student will travel.
What if my student doesn’t know anybody in the group?
We’re a small school on purpose so that is probably a remote possibility. But groups are chosen based on a number of factors. We mix ages and social groups to get the best possible mix for the destination. If a student doesn’t know group members well the first day, that will change quickly before the group ever leaves. Activities, research, planning sessions and activities for two hours every Thursday before the departure date blend the group and build relationships strong enough to cross borders. When students return, they are closer to their foreign trip group than they have been to any friend groups in the past. These relationships last long past graduation.
What about countries with political problems or unrest?
We have relationships with the state department and other organizations which help us determine which countries to avoid. Because we travel to the third world, this is a concern we take seriously. We continually monitor reports on the countries we plan to visit right up to the departure date and continue to do so while groups are abroad.
What about communication while students are abroad?
Leaders and students can often find cyber cafes abroad or use computers in host schools. In some cases, cell phones do work or a phone card can be purchased to make outgoing calls. Since we travel to remote areas, groups cannot always communicate often, but they try their best to do so at least twice a week. Circumstances involving a trek or a homestay in a remote village may not allow this. Students often do find the time and opportunity to email their parents. Many Leaders create email groups in Gmail for the parents of their students and email them directly as well. We put emailed journals and contents of phone calls on our web site on our Foreign Travel Blog when we receive them. Parents can bookmark this page and check it daily or they can contribute news of their own.