When traveling for fun, we know that the person alongside you during your journey can really make or break the experience. Whether you call them tour guides, leaders, teachers, or in our case program leaders, traveling with students for experiential education programs around the world requires a certain set of skills and expertise. Student travel is unlike any other form of travel and you need the right leader to help you truly experience the trip of a lifetime.
In fact, being paired with the right Program Leader for your tour is key to the success of such a travel experience, since they navigate the majority of the logistical details, language barriers, and group dynamics along the way. Having a well-rounded and intentional approach to leadership hiring, training, and support enables us to create these spaces so you can travel with ease.
Here are the top 5 most important aspects to choosing the right Program Leadership for your immersive international travel experience.
1. Language Fluency
When leaders speak the language of the host country well, everything from transportation to mealtimes goes much more smoothly. Vetting this language ability is important to us, so we always interview our Program Leader candidates in the host language to make sure they will be able to communicate well with partners, locals, and in the destination country. Whether your group is looking for a language immersion experience or just looking to pick up a few local words and phrases along the way, having a leader who is confident in their language abilities is the way to go.
Having a leader who understands the educational content and goals of your trip makes for a more enriching experience for all the participants - including teachers! If your travel program has a particular educational focus, whether it's language immersion, history, or biology, we strive to pair you with program leaders who can go beyond logistics and contribute to the educational components of the program in a meaningful way. This includes leading engaging group reflections with participants to make sure they are getting the most out of their experience through introspection and personal growth, leading them to become more engaged global citizens. Finding leaders with a background in education, or in your focus area, is a top priority.
3. Personality Fit
As true in any relationship, having a leader who is aligned with you in personality, communication style, and interests can go a long way to making your travel experience a pleasant, successful one. By filling out a Getting to Know You survey, our leaders give us an in depth look at their personal philosophies, leadership styles, and even travel pet peeves, meaning that we have a good sense for who they are and how compatible they will be with a teacher or Group Organizer. These Getting to Know You surveys are also passed along to teacher or group organizers once a leader has been assigned, so you can have the same knowledge and confidence surrounding your guide as we do.
Not only do leaders need to be trained in First Aid and CPR, which are crucial in the event of an incident or emergency in the host country, it is also important that leaders have been trained to relate with students and teachers who are stepping out of their comfort zone to experience international group travel. By participating in a Leadership Training Summit, tour guides have the unique opportunity to learn from veteran program leaders, practice positive relationship management, and develop even more confidence in their leadership skills. Working with leaders who have previous leadership experience or classroom management experience can make your group feel much more safe, organized, and prepared for anything they might encounter throughout the journey.
5. Connecting in Advance
Being able to start building a positive rapport with your Program Leader before you arrive in the host country is essential. The conversations that take place beforehand will give you both a strong foundation to build upon, and allow you adjust to one another's communication styles.
Each teacher and Group Organizer is unique, as is each tour guide, but when the two vibe well together it can make for an unstoppable leadership team and a fun, impactful travel experience for all. This is why the careful, individualized approach to assigning program leadership is so essential for success.
Check out one of our amazing highlighted Program Leaders below to get a sense for the type of guide that may be right for your travel group.
Program Leader Spotlight
Name: Juan Pablo (JP) Rabanales
Lives in: Costa Rica
Countries lead in: Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru
My Hobbies: Art and design, almost any outdoor activity, photography
My reason to travel: One thing I love about traveling is connecting with people in ways you wouldn't at home. When you travel and do different activities you end up meeting people you wouldn't normally meet. Trying new foods, exploring new areas, and getting lost in translation are all ways in which I've made good lifelong friends while traveling.
My favorite part about leading student groups: I love being there to see the expression of a participant who is doing something for the first time in their life, or realizing that something they had never thought of before is completely normal for someone else.
One thing I never travel without: I always pack a pair of shoes I don't mind getting destroyed. That way I don't ever have to pass up any exciting (even messy) experiences. Nevertheless, traveling is all about flexibility and adaptability so when I travel by myself I've learned to do it without really depending on a lot of things.
My leadership style: I’m a very organized person who puts attention to detail, so it makes sense that I like to have a plan and know my options beforehand, but I’m also very adaptable leader. When it comes to decision-making I like to evaluate my options more than improvising, but growing up with a large family, constantly moving around to several countries, traveling has led me to embrace change as a fun and challenging aspect of leading. I’ve learned to navigate change well, and I constantly look for opportunities to get out of my comfort zone.
To travel with JP and other passionate, experienced leaders like him, reach out to us now to discuss your ideal travel program and leadership team!