The Adventurous Spirit of Educational Travel
Travelling is one of my most favourite things in the world. It’s almost an addiction. Since I seem to spend so long dreaming, plotting and planning my future jaunts, I often wonder why the itchy feet syndrome is such a global phenomenon. What is it about travel that is so exciting? How do you identify the highlights of a trip abroad? Why do some people, myself included, seem to become addicted to constantly roaming the world?
A well used passport. Photo by hjl
One of the biggest pleasures in leading an ACIS educational tour is watching the personal transformation of participants over the course of a trip. Sometimes a painfully shy student may feel so ignited by the experience that they come fully out of their shell; others may discover that they are budding linguists when the French that they’ve learnt in the classroom suddenly creates a rapport with a local; and all participants learn more about themselves through the experience of travelling with others, being immersed in a foreign culture and learning about the people and places they visit.
For Americans of any age taking their first trip to Europe, the experience can be dramatically life changing. I remember a very touching moment when, on the last night of a trip through France, my Alaskan high school group wanted to climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I spoke to one girl and asked her what she’d made of the trip; she said that every day she’d been overwhelmed by what she’d seen and learnt and that it had opened up another world to her. It turned out that back home, she lived on a farm that was off the grid, a good hours drive from the nearest small town. Looking out across the twinkling lights of Paris, she said that this was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
One of the beautiful views from atop the Arc de Triomphe. Photo by El Sumptero
I imagine that most people who love travel have, at some time or another, had a similar feeling. It’s a sense of overwhelming awe at the vastness and beauty of the world, at the kindness of strangers and at the infinite mutations in the people and places around you. It’s moments like this when you fall in love with the world and it’s an immensely humbling experience.
Other times I’ve seen a similar awestruck wonder in students who are excited about seeing a particular work of art or monument that they’ve spent weeks studying in class. I once had a group in Rome request a visit to Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. If you’ve ever tried to see this fabulous sculpture, you might have discovered that it lives in a church that’s a bit of a hike from the Spanish Steps, and that the church has rather restrictive opening hours. Altogether, in our case, visiting this masterpiece was, in itself, something of a pilgrimage. For these students, the experience was worth every effort. When they saw, first hand, Bernini’s genius that brings marble to life, and is charged with so many heightened emotions, they were stunned into silence.
Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in Rome. Photo by brianburk9
In his excellent book, The Art of Travel, the writer and philosopher, Alain de Botton, calls this excitement and wonder, ‘a traveller’s attitude.’ This, he explains, is an attitude of curiosity and interest in whatever captures your imagination. Visiting monuments and galleries unprepared, De Botton says, can feel like a chore, but by learning about what you’re going to see and awakening your curiosity, the visit will become a wonderful experience. On an ACIS tour, your Tour Manager will always tell you about the monuments, sights and artworks prior to your visit but why not get a head start and read up on the places that you’re gong to see before you set out on your trip.
According to De Botton, by mastering this traveller’s attitude, you will cultivate the perfect frame of mind to become a traveller of your everyday life. Back home, in an attempt to bring relief to the itchy feet syndrome, I’ve been pausing between commitments, hectic schedules and deadlines to try to spot the beautiful, curious and humorous. Here are a few things I came up with:
When I went to withdraw cash from an ATM in London's East End a few weeks ago I was surprised and amused at the language options I was offered. Cockney rhyming slang is a play on language that replaces common words with rhyming phrases. It was devised in London's East End in the 1820s and 30s by trades people as a bit of fun but also to talk over the heads of the authorities.
Photos by MadPole, anavrin_uk and nickburcher
Some scenes that caught my eye from my everyday (OK, so the last one is of the opening times of a ski shop in Austria, but I found the time keeping very amusing).
And to leave you, here is a clip from one of my favourite films, Paris Je T’aime, which I believe epitomises the beautiful spirit of travel.
Maggie McNulty is an ACIS Tour Manager from the United Kingdom. She caught the travel bug at a very early age and takes every opportunity to feed her passion for foreign lands.
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