By James Morris | 2012-4-25 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
SCHOOLS pride themselves in opening up young people's minds through various engaging activities. But what is the best way to do this? Well, one of the best ways is to place students in a completely different context from their own - get them out of their comfort zone.
Educational trips are an excellent way to do this by providing a unique learning experience. On such a trip, students see life and the world from a totally different perspective. They realize that their view of the world is only one of a myriad of perceptions. It can be a humbling and an exhilarating feeling at the same time.
Trips do not have to be in exotic locations to create this transformational thinking. Parents do not need to fork out colossal sums to enable their children to receive this educational experience, as some travel companies would have you believe.
We are fortunate enough in Shanghai to be living in one of the most fascinating metropolises in the world. It is possible to organize an educational trip in this great city to a number of diverse locations to learn about almost every subject under the sun. The Shanghai Museum, Art Gallery, Science and Technology Museum and many other museums in this fair city offer excellent educational opportunities.
However, it is worth considering other types of trips to enhance students' educational development.
First, we have the "regional" or "national" trip. This type of trip can be organized by families, and China has some excellent locations to expand one's educational horizons. Beijing, Chengdu, Xi'an and Nanjing are ideal for historical interest but do not forget Hangzhou, Suzhou and Moganshan for the great outdoors.
This is but the tip of the iceberg, as Tibet and a trip to Mount Everest, Base Camp, can combine a truly once-in-a-lifetime-experience connecting a colorful history and vibrant society with the power of nature. Such a trip is powerfully educational as it requires the traveller to exert mental, physical and even spiritual faculties that enables him/her to become a more self-reliant and culturally sensitive person.
This type of trip falls into the category of the "adventure" trip. This can either be as part of an existing educational program the student is following at school or a stand-alone challenge. The former might be part of, for example, Creativity Action Service (CAS), an integral part of the world-famous International Baccalaureate (IB) that most international schools offer. This could involve students going to a foreign country to work with a local charity, for example, teaching English to village students in Nepal.
This might also involve as part of the trip an adventure element, such as rock-climbing, kayaking, hiking or camping out on mountain trails. This type of trip has the potential to not just give students a different perspective on the world and a deep understanding of different national customs but also to strengthen character. However, in order for this to happen it will require the student to experience a certain degree of hardship - no pain no gain! For some, this might be overcoming the withdrawal symptoms of not being in the vicinity of their beloved PlayStation, while for others it might involve coming to terms with the physical demands of such a trip.
The "challenge" trip is one that involves a high level of physical exertion, stamina and a strong, unyielding spirit. By far the most memorable trip I assisted in as an educator was sailing across the North Atlantic Ocean with a crew made up of 14 to 18-year olds, the boat owner and captain. This trip was sponsored by the Royal Navy, UK, which involved us receiving naval training from experienced, professional seamen. We sailed our own yacht from Scotland to Iceland, more than 1,300 kilometers in Gale Force 7. At one point, we had spent a four-hour watch in the freezing cold, sodden and lashed by violent waves, only to discover at the end of it that we had in fact gone backwards and were more likely to reach the Faroe Islands rather than our intended destination!
Nevertheless, there was calm after the five-day storm when sharks, dolphins and whales swam beside us in what was a truly moving occasion. The education I received from this experience was second to none, and I was a teacher! For the students it was surely an accomplishment that will make them shine at many a job interview.
All the above types of trips are educationally worthwhile and strongly encouraged for all students, as they not only broaden their educational horizons but often can be quite liberating and self-revelatory. However, you only get out as much as you put in, and preparation before trips - whether it involves training or reading up on the places one is travelling to - will impact positively on a student's educational experience during the trip. In addition, after the students return home, it is essential to reflect on what was learnt during the trip, not just about the culture and history of the places visited, but equally importantly, about oneself.
(James Morris is vice principal of Shanghai United International School's Gubei campus.)