Forget the Blackboard, Educational Travel is Here
Khiri Travel believes in creating valuable encounters between locals and visitors and boosting cross-cultural understanding in memorable ways. Whether you are young or old, educational travel is a great way to go about it.
Linda Oum, Khiri Travel Cambodia’s Sustainability Ambassador and Educational Travel Manager, and Edwin Briels, Khiri Travel Myanmar General Manager, describe what it takes to deliver successful educational travel experiences for host communities and those traveling overseas to learn in ‘classrooms without walls’.
A lot of work goes into preparing and implementing student group travel. Is it worth it?
Linda: Yes. We spend a lot of time building up the program from scratch. Each preparation is unique. At Khiri, this is what we love doing and I believe it shows. We feel proud that this type of tour brings a lot of benefits to foreign students and local communities in Southeast Asia.
Edwin: It’s worth it because it brings different schools, villages and communities in Myanmar in contact with international students and those of all ages who are hungry to learn. It builds grass roots relationships for future cooperation between organizations and countries. Expanding educational travel in Khiri Travel’s product offering keeps everybody alert. April to September is a good time for educational groups to travel to Myanmar as there is an abundance – an overcapacity – of hotels, flights and guides.
How is educational travel different from leisure travel?
Linda: What really makes the difference is the program. The focus is on the subjects students are following at home and how this directly relates to reality on the ground. For young students to see the impact they make in a positive way on a community is important. We often make programs that complement the research they are undertaking in Europe or America.
Edwin: Khiri Travel Myanmar deals with groups that are very focused on the educational aspect of the trip, so we include many lectures. Other groups focus more on leisure and teambuilding among group members, or an activity such as planting trees for a morning.
How are student group tours different from education travel?
Linda: For student groups we need to add more active tours and adventure-based excursions. We make sure the place we send them to is safe. This is crucial and why we do so many research trips in advance. Hotels are easy – as long as they are clean, safe and in a sociable area. For guides, students need one who is fun and can tell them in an engaging way about the country, interacting with them on a social level, not just explaining history and culture.
Edwin: Students want more action, have a faster pace and love to discover things on their own. At the same time their attention span for culture and historical buildings is shorter. We therefore include more walking, biking, free time at the swimming pool or interaction with local people of the same age.
Do local authorities need to be involved?
Linda: For some programs, we need to deal with government staff. This is usually a challenge. We need to be flexible. Sometimes there are a lot of changes in the program. We also do a lot of paper work on supporting letters for NGOs and to open doors to special communities the students will visit.
What makes these educational tour groups different to work with?
Edwin: We have to get more in touch with organizations that are not from the tourism field. We therefore learn more about different sectors in Myanmar ourselves as well.
What is the difference between organizing adult groups and student/children groups?
Linda: Most groups we handle are aged 15 and up. They are good people who listen to team leaders and follow the rules. They like to make new friends and have fun. They are always excited with new things. Some issues happen. For example, if it’s a long trip, students might get bored with local food and need a pizza or a burger. Or the weather can be too hot to work outdoors planting rice or building a fence. If a student becomes sick with an upset stomach or similar, we take good care of them. Before the tour starts we check all places are safe. For some programs students need to travel alone without a supervisor. They really rely on the in-country partner such as NGOs or village elders for guidance, support, advice and assistance. We update our partners frequently. The bottom line is you have to be passionate about running student group trips. You cannot just do it and hope it works. There is a lot of preparation involved.
How do foreign students contribute to the places they visit?
Linda: They plant trees, paint a school, exchange experiences with local students, practice languages, help cook. They learn how to wash clothes by hand. Simple things change lives and perceptions.
Edwin: They interact with local students, discuss subjects and build lasting contacts between schools and universities in Myanmar and overseas. The visiting students build a positive image about Myanmar through their pictures on social media, in articles and blogs. I love it when students do something proactive such as build toilets at a local school or raise funds in America or Europe beforehand to contribute for the construction of wells in a village in Myanmar.
How do visits benefit international students?
Linda: Of course they learn about the culture and visit the main sights in each country. More importantly, they have the chance to engage and learn from local people through participation. They have a chance to make new friends and share life experiences. It benefits international students immensely.
Edwin: Visiting students learn to appreciate the comforts they have in their own country. After a visit to Myanmar, they will have seen how tough life is for other people. Besides, they will learn about communication without modern tools – there are no roaming phones in Myanmar. Visiting students here are not connected 24/7 to the internet. It’s a good opportunity to ‘connect’ again in an off-line world.
What’s the key to a successful educational trip?
Edwin: Start with asking the right questions. What’s the objective of the trip? What are the expectations and budget? And build it up from there.
Linda: Each group is unique. Before we design the program we need to find out what kind of program they are looking for? Is it for students studying medicine, geography, cultural studies or languages? We need clear communication with one person in the home country. When you deal with one person, you avoid confusion.
How are educational travel and student trips with Khiri different?
Linda: Khiri works very closely with the local communities we visit. As a result we have gained a lot of trust among local organizations in Cambodia. They are now proud to help us build unique programs for visitors. We are flexible. We are resourceful with what we have. When working with Khiri, students feel it’s a very personal experience. We work closely with our partners and become friends. We pay close attention to our group. We fix any issues as they arise. Both the host community and the visiting students benefit. Along the way, I make friends and receive an ‘education’ too.
Edwin: I would say that the main difference is the creative interaction between the visiting group and local communities. We put the emphasis on creative programs, lots of interaction, and personal service and action – such as walking, treasure hunts, biking, and kayaking. If on the ground things change suddenly, Khiri will respond quickly.
For detailed information on educational travel with Khiri, please send an email to [email protected].
Khiri Travel would like to thank NHTV Breda and Geo Explorers for providing us with the educational travel pictures.