Saturday, 9 March, 2013 - 00:00

Overseas touring for sport, music and language specialist students.
Taking students on a one day excursion is an exercise in logistical
precision so the thought of taking kids not just out of the school, but
out of the country is probably enough to make the most organised teacher
feel faint. However, more and more schools are choosing to give their
students this option to extend their learning and expose them to the
concept of a global village at the earliest opportunity. Whether the
impetus for the journey is language studies, sport, music or simply
cultural, students participating in a well organised overseas tour are
guaranteed to return with a broader perspective of the world in which
they live.

Chris Thorburn, coordinator of languages at Marryatville High School
in South Australia, has been organising trips to both France and Japan
for language students for the past five years and says the benefits to
students far outweigh the complications.

"We find the trip really opens students' eyes to the reality of
living away from home," he says. "They learn about resilience and they
learn to share – parental attention, resources, even bedrooms. We also
find that spending time in another country allows kids to realise that
normal people are just normal people, wherever they live. The mystique
is cleared up."

Marryatville began hosting inbound French students and sending
Australian students to France in 2003, using a home stay program that
has children living with a family for four of the five week trip. One
week is spent in hostel accommodation in Paris to allow for sightseeing.
"The regulations for home stay accommodation have changed and are very
strict to comply with the child protection laws," he says. "As an
accompanying teacher, there is a huge amount of paperwork to get
through, and each year the regulations are tightened, but once you
understand the process, it is not a problem."

The school also has a sister school in Japan and groups of students
from both schools visit each other for two weeks every second year. The
school also offers individual exchanges to Japan every year ranging from
three to twelve and accept a Japanese student into their school
community each year.

Chris believes that students in years 10, 11 and 12 are at the most
appropriate stage of maturity to benefit from an overseas tour but
occasionally a year 9 student will qualify after close consultation with
parents. "The students have to be studying the language at the time of
travel and need to be able to manage their studies," he says, something
that is made easier by the timing of their exchange, which takes place
over the Christmas and New Year period when European schools take only a
short break. "It is an amazing cultural experience for students to
spend Christmas and New Year in another country. One student travelled
with her host family to Spain during the trip and woke up one morning to
a metre of fresh snow, something she had never seen before. Another
girl who was a keen horse rider was, by coincidence, placed with a
family who had horses and allowed her to ride. When she came home she
had a smile from one side of her face to the other."

Of course, occasionally things don't go to plan and it is important
to have contingency plans in place long before the plane takes off.
"When you are pairing 20 to 25 families with students there is a chance
that one may not work," says Chris. "We always have a back up plan and a
family in reserve if we need it, but usually we don't."

An advantage of today's technology is that students can keep in close
contact with family at home for the duration of the trip. "Instant
communications these days make it easier," says Chris. "If they run out
of vegemite, it can be on the plane the next day!".

On a more serious note, he adds, "The greatest gain is the
international perspective students get. They understand what it is like
to be in a different country where different rules and customs apply."

Brian Travers, Managing Director of International Sports Tours in
Sydney, has been organising overseas trips for sporting groups for many
years and also favours billeting as a great way to get kids into a
family environment while overseas. "When they are hosted, the family
drops them off and picks them up from activities and they are supervised
24/7," he says, although he notes that a combination of hosted and
hostel accommodation gives students a mental break.

Brian recommends a full program for students while they are
travelling. "We like to keep them busy all the time and get the group
together for all meal times," he says. He also believes that the
geographic location of accommodation in a city can be pivotal to the
safety and enjoyment of the students. Generally he finds that students
rise to the challenges of travelling outside of Australia. "Students
know they are in the public eye, especially as they are travelling as a
group in uniform, and particularly when in a non English speaking
country where can't speak the language."

For most groups, the complexity of organising an overseas trip means
that planning must begin a minimum of eight months prior to the proposed
departure date and some groups book 12 months in advance. This allows
time for fundraising, although both men acknowledge that the cost of
overseas travel for students is usually covered almost entirely by
parents with schools and travel companies shouldering the administrative

International Sports Tours has arranged trips to France, New Zealand
and the UK and is looking at South Africa as a destination rich in both
sporting and cultural opportunities for students. Brian notes that when
planning an overseas trip for students, it is vital to consider the
timing in relation to the school calendar in the destination country,
safety and financial restraints and access to key sites. A good
relationship with travel partners in the destination country with
intimate knowledge of the areas where you plan to travel can help to
avoid complications on the ground.

To help schools reach their travel goals, Brian has even devised a
'10 commandments of Touring' including tips such as choosing a suitable
and attainable destination and devising
a student savings scheme among other useful pointers.

A successful international school trip depends on laying good
foundations but can be a life changing experience for students who may
not otherwise travel until they reach adulthood.

students participating in a well organised overseas tour are
guaranteed to return with a broader perspective of the world in which
they live.