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Educational Group Tours to Latin America and Spain

Chill Expeditions Team, Isabella, Galapagos.
Chill Expeditions Team, Isabella, Galapagos.

Teaching Traveling: Curious how teachers can become travel entrepreneurs? Check out this story of Crawford Hill! Crawford, tell us about your background.

Crawford: I taught high school biology for 35 years outside Philadelphia (where I grew up) while pursuing a lifelong passion for wilderness travel and exploration. My father’s idea of a family vacation in the 60s was to drive cross-country from Philly (5 kids at the time) and spend 2 weeks backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California — so I caught the travel and wilderness adventure bug early.

Having accumulated considerable mountaineering experience by my early 20s, (Climbed Denali when I was 19) right out of college I guided summer climbing and backpacking expeditions for students and eventually friends and family. Over the years we covered most of Switzerland, the Pacific Northwest, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho but also explored southern Spain and Norway on these expeditions.

I considered starting a full time business guiding such trips but fell so much in love with teaching and coaching at a great school that I had to confine my expeditions to summers. I started working with Costa Rican Adventures as a client 15 years ago and took about 800 of my students and many colleagues (~35) on amazing educational expeditions there.

CRA loved working with our groups because of the unique approach we already had- what I call the Expedition Mentality. This involves the very refined art of how to create and maintain the best possible internal group culture for the duration of the trip. We were very good at this and the CRA guides loved it.

Two years ago my buddy and fellow teacher (Spanish) Eddie Rodriguez and I had the opportunity to take over Costa Rican Adventures (now Chill Expeditions) and run it full time as a business, which we have been doing full blast ever since. Full Circle!

A snow covered volcano, enroute to Galapagos, Ecuador.
A snow covered volcano, enroute to Galapagos, Ecuador.

So, we are teachers turned entrepreneurs and have been having a blast while adding considerable educational depth and value to what were already powerful experiences in Costa Rica. Of course we have infused all our trips with the Expedition Mentality and other strong elements from our combined years teaching, counseling, coaching… and travelling- both as clients and with our families.

So while we previously leveraged our travel experiences in the classroom, we have now turned it around and look at every aspect and component of our itineraries as educational moments and thus are extending our years of experience doing this at school in these phenomenal outdoor, exotic and compelling ‘classrooms’ and ‘labs’. Cool job, huh?

Stole a couple of teachers from my school, hired some former students who had transformational CR trip experiences themselves and added some great guides as full-time colleagues in the business.

I immediately added Andalucian Spain as a destination as I have been travelling there for 25 years, know it well and had an instant on- location team in mind ready to guide trips there, which we are now doing. It is a remarkable setting for what I call Eco-Immersion Travel, much as is Costa Rica and Ecuador.

The wide mouth of a Galapagos hawk.
The wide mouth of a Galapagos hawk.

TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels in Latin America.

C: While travelling to Ecuador this spring including the breathtaking Galapagos, on a trip with my family, I met an incredible guide- Maria Clara and had my colleagues Eddie and Audrey join me and my daughter Hadley- a seasoned veteran of Latin American travel and culture- for further, professional exploration there.

After 2 weeks of travel with Maria Clara not only in Galapagos but also in Amazon and highlands and getting to know her incredibly talented corps of fellow guides and collaborators we decided to partner up.

After she spent time with us in Costa Rica this summer we have fused our experiential education philosophies and practical field craft and Chill Expeditions now offers not only another special destination- magical Ecuador, but our combined, unique approach to travel now informs all our trips wherever the location.

Chill Expeditions Team exploring Volcan Chico, Galapagos.
Chill Expeditions Team exploring Volcan Chico, Galapagos.

TT: What helped you open this new Ecuador and Galapagos wing?

C: Of course as a biologist (and actually teaching a great deal about the Galapagos in classes over 35 years) I had always had a strong desire to get there! What was special was the serendipity of finding Maria Clara. Through an Internet search of like-minded folks already taking students there I was eventually led to her.

As it turned out she was looking for a team with an educational like ours to collaborate with! Now we are one team. It has already been a remarkable symbiosis as we have all learned so much from one another! Ecuador is both similar and yet so very different from Costa Rica and certainly Spain. Each is a phenomenal place to leverage what great teachers do in their classrooms.

Isabella, Galapagos.
Surreal landscape, Isabella, Galapagos.

TT: How do teachers fund going on your tours?

C: Virtually all providers allow teachers leading student groups to go for free and but at Chill Expeditions we even have a free trip for any teacher interested in leading such a trip to go learn about what is possible in our locations by travelling on a summer Educator’s Journey.

This is an 8-day educational adventure with both like-minded teachers from all over North America (including some veterans who share ideas) our local guides and our on-site trip planning staff. It is a very powerful experience!

TT: Wonderful. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

C: A defining moment which certainly gave me and others present pause, took place on one of our service projects involving students together from the site- a rural elementary school in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica, an inner city charter school in LA and a suburban prep school outside Philadelphia.

One of the LA kids- clearly ‘disadvantaged’ in the eyes of many of the suburban kids from across the US for sure, remarked when the local kids were not around, “Wow, seeing this school and their homes, I am amazed at how content and happy and thriving these kids are without the material possessions all of us from the states take for granted.” That was a profound moment!

A seal in the Galapagos.
A seal in the Galapagos.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your current career?

C: Travel has always informed my teaching and I started doing unusual things to get students out of the classroom early on- such as hiking a segment of the Appalachian Trail and eventually leading large numbers to Costa Rica.

I called my approach to teaching biology (which has an ever exploding body of information) the story approach — it was all about creating the context and subsequently the motivation to learn and eventually own that learning so what results is what Einstein would call an education. I accept and embrace his definition that ‘ Education is what remains after all that you have learned has been forgotten.’

I was always aware of the power of immersing students in what I would call a 360 degree approach to a topic… and most importantly, making it relevant to their own life. This is the critical step for students to take ownership of their learning. The most transformative experiences my students and I shared were these unbelievable Costa Rica trips.

Now I am focused on fully leveraging the educational impact of such experiences to both more students and in more places. It is exciting to wake up everyday at 60 and be as fired up about teaching as ever!

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?

C: Travel has given me great pause about what is most meaningful in life and how best to fuse my passion with a concrete way to make a difference.

C.Hill and family, Galapagos.
C.Hill and family, Galapagos.

TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

C: One of my central themes in all my teaching years -whatever the topic- was and remains, ”the abnormal reveals the normal”. For example, Lance Armstrong, performance enhanced or not, is a spectacular, intriguing and extreme biology story to students of all ages — but his biology is simply an extreme version of all of ours.

By examining how he was able to do what he did — whom I found everybody finds fascinating, we more easily and clearly see how us mortals function all day, every day. The processes and structures are the same — the variation is a matter of degree.

Putting human physiology in the context of ‘how does he do what he does’ hooks virtually every student and mesmerizes them with the ordinary functioning of our actually, extremely amazing bodies. They become fascinated with physiology- ‘how do I (we, they) do what I do’ in a way not possible through the textbook approach.

Textbooks should be resources, not primary sources. There are so many cool stories- leverage them as the way to reel kids in—it works! The exotic, the strange and bizarre, the weird and extreme- all are extensions and exaggerations of the ordinary, the normal, the daily routine all around us.

Thus, sometimes it takes going to a foreign place to see in full glory what is more subtly present at home. Whether this is an ecological situation, cultural nuance, community challenge or one is given pause about what matters most, getting kids out in the world in a context rich way is a powerful way for them to see themselves and who they might become much more clearly.

They return home with a much more sophisticated perspective. Anything you can do to take such an approach- creating rich context for what you teach, will bring your students closer to Einstein’s “education” whether in the classroom or beyond.

TT: Thanks so much, Crawford! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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Monday 17th of December 2012

Your perspective as both teacher and traveler quickly prove how lucky both your students and fellow expeditioners are. I'm proud to see education broadening beyond the classroom, and understanding growing beyond the textbook. Travel can do that. Terrific interview top-to-bottom.

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