Curious about affordable group travel for educators?
Let’s hear from Gina Elia, a Florida teacher who has a tip on an excellent nonprofit teacher travel organization with which she toured Morocco.
Teaching Traveling: Gina, tell us a bit about your background.
Gina: I work as a Mandarin Chinese teacher at North Broward Preparatory School, a private K-12 school in the South Florida region, north of Miami. Before this, I earned a PhD in Chinese Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and I am originally from Boston, Massachusetts. I am in my fourth year of teaching.
I have traveled extensively in Asia, Europe, and North America, but my trip with a nonprofit teacher travel organization called GEEO (Global Exploration for Educators Organization) to Morocco was my first trip specifically for educators and my first time in Africa.
TT: Wonderful! Tell us about these travels.
G: This past summer (Summer 2021), I traveled to Morocco with GEEO, which arranges group travel programs for educators at affordable costs. We spent two weeks in Morocco and explored the country from end to end, stopping in most major cities and every kind of terrain in-between, from mountain to desert to seaside. I feel like GEEO gave me the opportunity to get a good feel for Morocco in a short amount of time for a reasonable price.
TT: Nice! How do you find your travel opportunities?
G: I stumbled upon GEEO through a colleague at my school who had gone on their Morocco trip and shared an email of theirs with me, which I then used to subscribe to their listserv. Ultimately, following up on this one recommendation from a trusted colleague led to an unforgettable summer abroad, so the lesson from this experience is to network with your colleagues!
You never know what interesting opportunities the people right around you know about, and the best way to find out is to get to know them and ask.
TT: How did you find the money to fund your travel?
G: In my case, I had savings, so I was fortunate. However, there are several Facebook groups that regularly post really cool opportunities for subsidized and/or fully-funded travel for teachers. Some of these can be applied to an itinerary of one’s own design, which could be used to participate in a program like GEEO.
The two such Facebook groups I recommend that I regularly follow are: “Scholarships, Grants, and Summer Institutes for Teachers” and “Teachers on the Move: Programs, Grants, and Scholarships for K-12 Teachers.”
TT: Excellent. Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful, interesting, or funny.
G: One of the reasons I chose Morocco as my destination, other than that it didn’t require a quarantine period, is because French is one of the lingua francas of the region. I speak some French, but am definitely at an intermediate level, not yet fluent.
I teach Mandarin Chinese, but I haven’t been at the level of my students in a long time, and felt that I was out of touch with how scary it felt to approach someone and speak in a language you knew you weren’t fluent in. I wanted to remind myself of that by using my French, which is more-or-less at my students’ Chinese level.
I did have some negative experiences with people switching to English or acting annoyed, but I also engaged in several long conversations in French with more patient locals about tourism in Morocco. These conversations made everything worth it.
It is so cool to think about the fact that just by speaking another language, however imperfectly, it was possible for me to listen to the observations and insights of locals with whom I could not have spoken otherwise. All it takes is one experience like that to remind you of the power of speaking a second or third language.
TT: Beautiful. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher (if you went back to teaching) or in your current career, and how have your travels impacted you as a person?
G: I learned from traveling that I have to draw explicit instruction in good social-emotional mindset practices for world language learning into my classroom. Otherwise, my students may be afraid to speak because the idea of making mistakes in a second language has not been normalized for them.
I kept a blog of my French-speaking experiences in Morocco. When I returned, I shared the blog with my students and spoke to them about it, connecting my experiences speaking French to American psychologist Angela Duckworth’s concept of Grit. Grit is a measure of someone’s willingness to persevere through failure and, in fact, to embrace it as an opportunity for growth and improvement.
Because it is so scary to speak to someone with a language in which one is not fluent, and because we all do necessarily fail all the time when doing so, it is vital that we develop high levels of grit if we want to learn to speak foreign languages well. Every opportunity to speak in a language one is learning should be viewed first and foremost as a chance for learning–not to be dreaded, but rather embraced as an opportunity to see where one will fail and, consequently, what one can improve and thus be better at the next time.
It’s through many sequences of such experiences that I became qualified to teach Chinese, and I was reminded during my Morocco trip that given enough time, the same thing could happen with my French.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
G: Definitely utilize the Facebook groups I listed above, which are chock full of great opportunities for learning and travel, many of which are affordable, subsidized, or free. Other than that, just constantly keep your eyes and ears open.
Read everything you can get your hands on, speak with colleagues, listen to podcasts and radio stations, and attend events of interest to you. When you encounter any information that piques your interest, look into it! You never know what you may find. A colleague of mine recently asked me how I always know about so many cool and unique opportunities. I told her it was from years and years of subscribing to listservs and collecting information about organizations that interest me like it was my job to do so.
I have been collecting information for close to a decade now, and other cool opportunities my collection of such information has resulted in include a year-long Fulbright Student Grant to Taiwan and mainland China and a workshop on teaching environmental sustainability in the Humanities almost entirely subsidized by the Florida Humanities Council, during which we did many outdoor activities in Florida’s natural habitat.
Bottom line: keep your eyes and ears open, write interesting information down, and look into it! You never know what you may find or where your research may lead you.
TT: Thanks so much, Gina! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!