The school trip….
For years and years I’ve been travelling – either alone or with a friend. I like both. I like touring with a good travel companion, but I also relish being on the road independently. But, once or twice a year, I hit the road with a large number of middle school students. This is a whole different style of travel all together!
The opportunity to take extended school trips to interesting places was one of the things I most looked forward to when I decided to teach overseas. First of all, I love all travel and especially free travel. Second, I would not have to worry about accommodation, transportation or meals – it would all be arranged for me. Third, I would get to take young people to see some wonderful sites and educate them on the culture – what could be more fun? The problem is this…I love teaching and being around young people, but when spending 5 days straight with them, they require a certain amount of “mothering”. This tends to be a problem for me, since I have never had a maternal instinct in my life. So, I set some goals on these
trips - I keep them safe, I educate them, and finally, I try to provide fun, but I tend to leave the mothering to the more experienced members of the team.
I’ve gotten to see some terrific destinations on school trips….some of them, over and over, year after year. But, this was going to be my first trip to Yogyakarta in Central Java. I was excited. The theme of the trip was “communities” and the focus was on the cultural aspects. The group of 47 students met Monday morning at 4:30 am and set off for the airport. Check-in went smoothly for such a large group. The kids were enthused and some of them were even helpful. After a short flight we arrived. Our luggage went into one bus and the students went into others. We hit the ground running. Our first stop was a royal burial ground. We worked up a sweat climbing 360 steps in the heat to see the site of the first grave. We all had to be dressed in traditional sarongs. We got some good photos….and some whining began.
After this stop, we went to lunch before splitting off for our afternoon activities.
Meals on this trip would be buffet. The food was to be a combination of local delicacies, typical middle school food, and something that would meet various dietary restrictions. This means every single meal consisted of rice – steamed and fried, fish, chicken, tofu or tempeh, and some version of spaghetti and french fries. Veggies were not in great supply. I always find it difficult to eat well on a teenager diet.
In the afternoon we went to a batik workshop. The kids got a chance to learn this Indonesian art and make their own batiks. The staff was patient and the group put a lot of effort into their projects. I was feeling pretty good about this trip. Finally, early evening, after 12 hours on the road, we head to the hotel to check in. Within four minutes of arriving in my room, there is a knock on the door. A student wants to know what time we are meeting for dinner, even though this is clearly marked on the schedule. After dinner, suspecting that my earlier knocks were prompted by the novelty of being able to visit their teacher, I make it clear to my group that
if someone knocks on my door, they better be on fire. My warning works and I top off an 18-hour workday by getting 6 peaceful hours of sleep, which is more than I can say for my colleague. He was woken at 11 pm because a student wants to watch a soccer match and the TV is disconnected (also clearly stated in the trip book).
Day 2 starts with an early wake up call, a quick breakfast, and then off to see a fully sustainable, organic farm. This is exactly the kind of thing that I would never have the opportunity to do if I were traveling on my own. The farm is the culmination of 50 years of dreaming and research and is fascinating on so many levels. I start thinking that I really have to learn to grow things. If I didn’t already love it, they present us with a mid-morning snack of homemade sweet potato bread, jam and butter. One of the students looks at the spread, heads to his backpack and pulls out a bag of potato chips. It’s time to have the first of many, many conversations about manners and consideration.
to the farm is only the start of the day. Afterwards we go to a workshop that does batik on wood. The students have a chance to try their hand at making a mask, bowl, or platter. They are less engaged than the day before and don’t seem to appreciate just how unique and beautiful the artwork of this shop is. I, on the other hand, purchase as many pieces as I can carry. They also don’t seem to have much appreciation for the traditional Indonesian dance performance that night. Granted, it had been a long day and the show was long. Most of us nodded off once or twice. But, it was a valuable cultural experience. Fortunately, there was a good amount of fire on stage, which has tween appeal.
I wake up on day 3, another early morning, and I can’t believe the week is less than half over. We’ve already done more than I do, in a full week, when I travel alone. I feel like I’ve been away from my home forever and I’m missing my quiet, child-free apartment. I’m exhausted and my patience is wearing thin. But, we have a good day planned, so
I rally. The day starts with rafting through some of the most beautiful scenery. It would have been a perfectly peaceful morning, but for the kids splashing water at each other. I wonder what contaminants might be in this river water?
After lunch, we head to a Habitat for Humanity build. Each school trip contains several service components, which I think is excellent for these kids, most of whom live fairly privileged lives. Some of them have clearly never lifted a finger to any physical labor in their lives. When shown a pile of bricks that had to be moved down to the job site, they just looked stunned and bewildered at what was expected. However, on this occasion, they did great. In fact, this was the day I was most proud to be with these students. Not one complained, whined or dragged their feet at the task at hand. I think that the ones that were most hesitant actually got the most satisfaction out of the physical labor.
Thursday arrived and the early mornings were just getting earlier. We’re to spend a good part of the day at a local school that was affected by the 2006
earthquake and the 2010 eruption of Mt. Merapi. We pass by some of the most beautiful Central Java scenery. The view of rice patties, palm trees, and a smoking volcano in the background appears postcard perfect. In the middle of this classic scene, we pull up to small school. The school is for 180 local kids that are lucky enough to attend. Some of them walk more than an hour every morning to get there. We arrive just as the whole student body is lined up in the courtyard doing their morning exercise routine. Our students, at least the ones with the correct attitude, join in with them. It is a pleasant sight.
The visit to the school is something else that would be hard to replicate when traveling on my own. Our students have had a book drive to donate to the school’s library and they have planned lessons. They are going to be working with three classes. Several in my group really rise to the occasion, showing that they can be leaders and educators. However, several others are trouncing on my last nerve. They seem to think they are here to play and keep misplacing their young
charges. Trying to get them all back together is a bit like herding cats.
On these trips, the kids’ behavior, manners and attitude can be charted on a bell curve. Eighty percent of them dance around in the range from tolerable to pleasant. But, that lower tail on the curve includes the kids that seem to have no manners, consideration of others, or ability to follow the most simple rules. This small group is extremely unpleasant and they almost ruin the trip for everyone. But, then there are those in the upper tail. These are the kids that are so delightful, so helpful, and so well-mannered that I would happily travel with them anytime. In the end, it does balance. But, sad to say, by Thursday of 24/7 kid contact, they are all the same to me. I’m starting to be anxious to get them back to their parents and my thoughts tend to be consumed with the idea that I should have my tubes tied first thing Saturday morning!
Finally, the final day of the week that won’t end arrives. Our wake-up call is 3 am so that we can see the sun rise over Borobudur Temple
– the largest Buddhist temple in the world. We get up, pack, load the buses, arrive at the temple in the dark of night, silently climbing the steps. Everyone places themselves around the temple and waits for the morning light. There is a heavy fog below us at ground level which gives the whole scene a misty magic. This is a perfect way to end the week. We don’t get to see the brilliant colors that sometimes appear at sunrise, but it is a clear morning and we can see all the volcanoes in the area. After the day becomes light, we take a few minutes to tour around this lovely, spiritual place and then head to breakfast. One quick stop to see a volcano affected area and we’re off to the airport. It’s still many hours until I’ll be home, but I start to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I want to be clear – I think school trips such as this are a valuable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I support them. I cherish them. I would choose to go, if I had a choice. But, traveling with a group of 13-year old students in tow will never be my preferred travel mode. I'm not going to sugarcoat it - it is mentally and physically exhausting. However, once or twice a year, it is a nice change. I get a shot of youthful energy. I get to teach them things that will never come up in the classroom. I get to see things that I wouldn’t see on my own. Finally, and I can't stress this enough, I really appreciate going home at the end of the trip. When this one was over, as I was relaxing on my balcony…looking forward to a quiet, restful weekend, I was already thinking of ways that I could make things more fun or interesting next year…..
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