Travel Challenges for International Educational Organizations & the Benefits of Working with Tour Operators

Academic Trips have the power to transform students’ learning by bringing to life the syllabus and reinforcing it through social and cultural immersion. However, such trips don’t come without their travel challenges for international educational organizations.

  • What benefits does an academic trip provide students, and what does an educational institution look for when choosing an academic trip? 
  • Is a tour operator necessary for these programs, or can an institution organize the trip on its own? 
  • What factors help in the choice of a provider for these exchanges? 
  • Can an educational institution meet the trip objectives without external support?

We answer these questions based on our experience of organizing academic trips. We also respond to the challenges we as organizers face in continuing to meet the needs of educational travel. 👇

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Students in Seville 2021 – Source: Alandistravel.com

Benefits of International Travel for Students

An educational trip entails innumerable benefits for students. Let’s look at how and why:

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Change in perspective or worldview

On study trips, students acquire a more global perspective of other nations. This wide-ranging perspective leads to the development of skills such as understanding and tolerance and intellectual and personal development. Trips prepare students for their professional careers thanks to this development in perspective.  

Greater awareness of ‘self’

Through study abroad, the student better appreciates and understands their own culture, particularly compared to the host country, which leads to a greater appreciation of cultural differences. With this exchange, they become more aware of their progress, gaining awareness of their autonomy and independence, emotional resilience, more flexibility, and capacity of perception. It leads to greater cultural adaptation and students achieving greater maturity.

Increased independence and self-confidence

The experience of exchange increases self-confidence, independence, and personal responsibility. The ability to differentiate between the perceptions of others and one’s own is increased. Students become more responsible and independent.

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An exchange between students. Seville 2021. Source: Alandistravel.com

Positive personality changes

Study abroad trips lead to significant, demonstrable, positive, and enduring personality changes. Often, a crucial aspect is living with a host family; the longer they stay, the more significant the impact. The students will improve their perspective of international cooperation and peace. This Transition Abroad article highlights these effects thanks to educational tourism.

Cultural experience

The student’s trip turns from a combination of adventure, fun, and language into a tremendous intercultural experience: learning what the culture is, how they integrate into it and how they interpret it: no more inaccurate stereotypes and disrespect of other cultures. Future generations will become more tolerant.

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Salsa Class in Havana (2018). Source: Alandistravel.com

Intercultural development

One of the requirements of university students is intercultural competence to meet the challenges of the 21st century. For this reason, studying abroad is increasingly in demand.

Studying abroad improves intercultural competence and personal development necessary for the globalized world.

Global engagement

Today we require a more sustainable environment, and studying abroad has significantly helped this awareness. Students who participate in programs abroad become more globally engaged, produce new knowledge, engage with society, practice new lifestyles, become more environmentally conscious, make humanitarian commitments and become social entrepreneurs.

Enhanced citizenship

Relationships and contact with different ethnic and racial groups reduce prejudice and ethnocentrism. They improve cultural and mutual understanding in the long term, thus strengthening global citizenship.

Enhanced cultural awareness

With intercultural education, the differences and thus the adaptation to new cultures are improved. It strengthens communication skills and intercultural sensitivity. Differences, tolerance, ambiguity, self-awareness, and trust in new people are accepted. Educational organizations thus aim to help students become more sensitive and respectful of others.

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Rutgers University in Puerto Rico (2019). Source: Alandistravel.com

Dispelling of stereotypes

Before their trips abroad, students are filled with anxiety about cultural mistakes, language proficiency, loneliness, making friends, homework, and prejudice, often toward themselves and sometimes toward the locals. Once they arrive, these experiences turn into positive experiences, as the students shed stereotypes and prejudices. Here an IFSA student reports on his experience in New Zealand.

Intellectual and cognitive growth

The student experiences cognitive changes. This new adaptation is acquired through the ability to see the world through a more culture-tolerant framework. One’s behavior is unconsciously modified to be seen as usual within the local culture.

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Universidad del Sagrado Corazón cleaning beaches in Puerto Rico (2021). Source: Alandistravel.com

Learning

A tourism activity will always involve learning, but learning is enhanced by adding academic events such as seminars, immersion experiences, volunteering, or internships. The benefits of studying abroad are manifested in many ways, through cognition knowledge, attitude, and behavioral and skills.

You learn about political and social issues, society, geography, history, culture, and languages. Several studies agree that experiences outside the classroom have a more significant impact on the student, increasing their knowledge, life skills, and personal growth.

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Opportunity to achieve training, qualifications, and develop skills to aid career development

A student who experiences study abroad acquires perceptive and intellectual understanding and personal growth, which will guide their professional plans.

At the same time, the global perspective they acquire serves them for better professional preparation. Intercultural skills that facilitate access to the labor market.

Several studies, such as the following by the British Council, show the connection between study abroad and employability.

Travel Challenges for Educational Institutions & Benefits or Working with a Tour Operator

Educational institutions need to delegate tasks to organize their groups’ trips. Where do they need support? What challenges do tour operators face to respond to these needs?

Lack of local knowledge of destinations

Having a supplier based in the destination makes it easier to get first-hand information, particularly regarding all necessary procedures and formalities when organizing tours.

Blockade in Cuba

An excellent example of a complicated destination is Cuba. Due to poor political relations with the USA and the economic blockade it suffers, it has become tedious and highly complex to carry out procedures such as bank transfers or contract tourist services, among others. Working with a tour operator would prevent your institution from experiencing conflicts or service management issues. 

Spanish Studies Abroad is well acquainted with the problems of this destination.

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Students in Havana (January 2020). Source: Alandistravel.com

Provider networks 

Tour operators have pre-existing relationships with a wide range of providers in each destination. Institutions can enjoy a more personalized service adapted to their needs and support from the tour operator in choosing the best provider to meet their program objectives. Many educational study tours require industrial, scientific, and career-specific visits and activities, which can be extremely difficult to organize logistically from abroad without the support of a tour operator.

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Day trip to Cádiz, 2021. Source: Alandistravel.com

Language & cultural barriers

For students, the experience of traveling and studying in a place different from their culture can cause a state of anxiety due to the unfamiliarity of the language and not knowing what’s in store for them. A tour operator can help make this process much more manageable.

Cultural gaps create the possibility for misunderstanding

Thanks to several pre-departure sessions, tour operators share all the information students need to know.

We not only talk about the requirements or protocols in the host country (currency, customs, climate, etc.), but we also add cultural information such as language expressions, food that makes up the usual diet, books, movies, or music to be documented before their trip. It takes months to prepare the groups so that the culture shock is as reduced and favorable as possible.

Avoiding bloated pricing

A close relationship with local suppliers is only possible if the tour operator is on-site. It has a double advantage; on the one hand, it leads to contracting truly local companies, which helps the economic benefit trickle into the local economy. At the same time, you get honest and competitive prices. It is noticeable in the final price, and the quality of the service received.

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Cuban restaurant. Source: Alandistravel.com

Lack of expertise in organizing large groups & exclusive dedication to group welfare

A group of traveling students is not just any group of tourists, they have different needs, and different problems arise. You have to know how to manage these trips, set just the right pace, and turn this experience into a unique and unforgettable trip.

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Students in Havana (January 2020). Source: Alandistravel.com

Allowing educators to educate

Faculty leaders need to focus on other educational issues and are relieved of other responsibilities. Professors rely on the on-site staff to deal with any unforeseen issues and mark the pace of the program and help the trip flow accordingly.

On the other hand, the benefits also accrue to the accompanying professors, as shown in this study by the European Commission on the impact of ERASMUS trips, in which 70% of the teaching staff acknowledge that they increase their knowledge and skills through the trip.

Dealing with unforeseeable obstacles

From time to time – particularly in tricky locations such as Cuba – we may find that a museum is closed without previous notice or that rain prevents us from enjoying a scheduled outdoor activity. Equally, a group might not arrive on time for a visit, or a lecturer may be sick and not make the meeting. Many unexpected situations occur that tour operators handle professionally with little fuss.

Finding relevant local activities to support students’ program syllabus

Educational programs need to meet the objectives and expectations of students following their studies or careers. They must participate not only as mere observers but require more impactful experiences.

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Seville University Internships 2021. Source: Alandistravel.com

Students need points of view that contrast with what they already know—a cultural and business approach that will help them learn.

A tour operator has the relevant experience from organizing many similar trips with other educational institutions to ensure that your chosen activities and experiences are successful. It’s particularly the case with exchanges with local students or collaboration with social projects, where the student interacts and has a participatory role in the activity.

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Students visit a social project in Havana, Cuba (2020). Source: Alandistravel.com

Summary

Educational travel requires special needs, on the one hand, to satisfy the academic and cultural learning objectives for the student, and on the other hand to provide security and adequate management so that the academic institution can focus on other responsibilities.

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