Are teen tours actually educational?

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So you are thinking about a teen tour next summer: it sounds fun, you might see some amazing places, make new friends, try new foods, but will you actually learn anything? Of course the answer depends.

When I was a high school student I traveled on some pretty standard “educational” teen tours. In Europe, during my last high school summer before starting my senior year, I traveled on a teen travel program and visited over 12 cities in 6 countries in just under 3 weeks. The trip was a lot of fun, fast paced, and as long as you arrived curious, there was a lot to learn. You can learn something on any trip, and years later I believe this even more.

Is every teen tour automatically academic?

But the educational experience of this trip came up short. Our exclusive meeting with a parliament member in London was a massive lecture with multiple tour groups coming together in matching polo shirts. Learning about french food meant taking my 5 euro lunch allowance to the crepe shop on the corner one day. At the end of this teen tour, I knew I had learned lots of little things, but I didn’t come back with the big ah-ha moment, the connections, the cultural competency, or even the ideas that define how I travel today.

The real shame was that the learning was separate from the ‘fun’. We had a chance to go kayaking on a river in the British countryside–that was a highlight, but perhaps the moment of the trip I learned the least . The next day we had our meeting with a British politician. We sat in a big stuffy room and could barely hear the man who was speaking so generally and without passion–that half the room was asleep.

When we started Atlas Workshops this experience was in the back of our minds, but we were also inspired by years of travelling with a different approach. In college and grad school I joined a number of travel programs ranging from a collaborative project in Northern Haiti to an urban design practicum in Istanbul. When I started my design research organization, I began travelling in order to answer complex questions and develop new ideas. From researching taco stands in Mexico to testing video games in India, I learned more in a weeklong trip that in many of my semester long classes.

What type of teen tour do you want?

There are lots of different types of learning possible on a teen tour. From language and outdoor skills to cultural competency and field research. Our suggestion is to really think about the type of experience you want and then ask every program you are considering questions about the educational format and outcomes of their trips and tours. Ask who will be teaching an/or leading the program? What type of students sign up? What’s the balance of activities and what’s the typical day like?

Our Global Innovators Trips are driven by our project and educational outcomes. These trips are a great alternative to the typical teen tour. We aim to balance a lot of different priorities on a trip while constantly challenging our students to think creatively and critically about the world. Our trips aren’t like any other teen tour, in that the learning experience is very intentional and blended throughout the program. On the other hand, while our trips and projects can be deep, the travel skills and experience are still a huge chunk of the experience.  This means that these trips are totally different from a classroom based academic program or other project based summer opportunities.

ANy questions about our teen tour alternatives: we want to chat with you!

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