Today I welcome a Guest Blogger – my daughter, Megan.

Megan wrote the following essay for English class this year, explaining her take on Travel as an educational opportunity.

In my opinion, traveling is one of the best opportunities to enhance learning. While it should not completely replace an education, it certainly can help push the skills that have been learned in a classroom further. No matter where a person chooses to go on vacation, they can’t escape the fact that they will have learned something by the end. Whether it’s to a place that is steeped in history like England or Italy or to Disney World, everyone will take something home with them, and it won’t just be a tacky souvenir. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people seem to judge my family for the vacations that we take. They say things like “You’re going to Disney again? What more could you possibly see there?” Or “Wow, it must be really nice taking off school to go on a cruise in November or January.” To them, it just seems like I get to skip out on school without learning anything or using my brain for an entire week while they are stuck in classes. However, this could not be further from the truth. One reason why my parents take my brothers and I out of school is that they know that we work hard in school and we will work hard when we get back. They also know how many new things we are experiencing when we are on vacation, many things that we would not be able to see at home.

Visiting new place teaches everyone that there is more out there than just one little bubble. Especially if you are from a small town where everyone already knows each other. In a different culture, you are not going to know anyone. In addition, it will also show a traveler a new place and let them open their eyes to the world around them. Traveling, in general, is incredibly freeing and that might be part of its appeal. 

On my family’s last cruise, we took a bus tour of Saint Maarten/Martin. It’s a different name depending on what side of the island someone is on because one is the French side and the other is the Dutch side. While there is no denying that the island was beautiful, it was very interesting to see what an island is really like for people that live there. The island had also been hit by a huge hurricane several months before, so a lot of homes were in complete wreckage. It was sad, but it gave everyone on that bus an authentic idea of what Saint Maarten/Martin is actually like. The locals do not need to be fake or put on a show. They were struggling, but they still had a beautiful island that was amazing to explore. 

My parents have made sure that my brothers and I are avid travelers, especially in the last few years.  We have had so many experiences that we would never have had sitting behind a desk. Of course, some of these experiences wouldn’t be possible without the skills that we learned in school first. For example, on our last cruise over Thanksgiving break, my brother was using the Spanish that he had learned in school to connect and have a conversation in the native language of our cabin steward. By the end of the trip, he had made a lasting connection with this man and he even ended up giving Kevin a Guatemalan dollar on the final morning of the cruise.

My family has connected with several people from different countries, especially on our cruises. On cruises our wait staff at dinner are from different countries and they become practically like family by the end of the vacation. I have Facebook friends from India and Turkey from our cruise trips. We have had the pleasure of being served by and connected with Levent from Turkey and Suki from Indonesia. On our last trip in November, we got to know Deanroy from Jamaica and Dewa from Indonesia through our dinners. By the end of the cruise, we even knew that Deanroy had a Pit-Bull named Killer and that Dewa’s wife was pregnant with twins. Even though we had only known them a week, Kevin was getting fired up at the fact that they’d have to miss Christmas with their families to stay on the cruise ship. It was almost like hearing that we would not see one of our own family members over the holidays.

Another great thing about travel is that it lets you go to the places that you have learned about in your history books. I am a huge history buff, as is the rest of my family. On one of our vacations to Virginia, my brothers and I voluntarily chose to visit Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson and Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington instead of going to an amusement park the first day. Seeing these places and touching railings that George Washington, the first president of our nation, would have touched was absolutely insane. We spend so much time learning about the presidents in school, but seeing where and how they actually lived was crazy. We learn about these figures that lived so long ago that sometimes it’s hard to remember that they were real people with real lives. However, visiting the places that they called home reminds us that they are actually human beings, just like we are. Thomas Jefferson was very inventive and Monticello showed so many crazy inventions for the 1700’s that we had never learned about in history books. We learned how James Madison was over for dinner one night and fell out the window of the dining room, which is something that I have definitely never heard from a history book.

We could have just been content with learning all of this history from a book, but it adds so much when you get to experience it in person. 

Something that a lot of people seem to forget is that there’s no way to go through daily life without learning multiple things. Even without trying, a person will still learn several things as they go through their day. A lot of the time, vacation is seen as a time to totally shut one’s brain down and relax. However, it is impossible to get away from all aspects of learning. This could be as simple as learning the name of someone new or learning how to navigate a cruise ship or resort by the end of a vacation. It is impossible to go on vacation and not use any brain power.

As I stated before, I get so frustrated when people think that I am going to enjoy a vacation to Disney World and not use my brain once during the trip. The real truth is that Disney World is filled with new learning experiences.

For one thing, one of the four parks in Disney World is completely dedicated to showing off replicas of different countries. These pavilions are so detailed that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish them from the actual countries they represent. Not only do the countries look nearly identical to the real countries, but Disney World also has a cultural exchange program to ensure that these countries are filled with natives of the countries they work so that they can spread as much authentic knowledge to guests as possible.

For example, if you are ordering food from France, it is going to be prepared by French people. “The Cultural Representative Program plays an important role in helping us create immersive experiences and transports guests to another place” (Disney). Disney works so hard to make sure that every detail of their parks is authentic as possible and it really shows when you step into their parks. How could anyone possibly say that it’s just a place to go for fun and nothing is gained or learned from experiencing it? 

In addition to Epcot being a great place to experience new cultures while in a safe and fun theme park environment, there are several other places on the Disney World property that are just as authentic.

For example, in the Magic Kingdom, there is an area called Liberty Square that’s entirely themed to the late 1700s. It looks a lot like a Colonial Village, but there’s also a hidden fact about that particular area that I did not notice until last year. In that point in history, there were no public bathrooms, so a guest will not find any bathrooms anywhere near the small area of Liberty Square. In addition, the ground has a brown stripe down the middle that is supposed to represent the waste that would just flow down Colonial streets. That fact is pretty gross, but it shows how much effort Disney puts into making sure everything is as authentic as possible.

Disney World also includes Animal Kingdom, which is basically a gigantic zoo with African and Asian Animals. The park includes replicas of Asia and Africa, and just like Epcot, they have people from Asia and Africa doing demonstrations of their culture. Along with that, AK also has a wildlife conservation area themed to Lion King to appeal to kids.

Hollywood Studios is the final park of the four and while it does not have as many educational opportunities as the others, there are still a few pretty cool things. Hollywood Studios is mostly centered around old-fashioned Hollywood, so they have a replica of the Chinese Theater and they have their own Walk of Fame, where stars gathered to put their handprints and names into blocks in front of the theater. They also have a stunt-show centered around Indiana Jones where guests can watch how some of the biggest stunts from those movies were done, which is an incredible experience. Additionally, Hollywood Studios features an exhibit on the life of Walt Disney and his career, specifically with the planning of Disney World before his death.

Education while traveling can be everywhere, even in the place that one might expect it the least. 

Studies have actually shown that children who travel get higher grades in school than those who don’t. Taking a vacation with the family allows children to develop their brains more and experience new things that their classmates won’t necessarily be experiencing. It will also bring a family close together.

Traveling is one of the best sources of education. It teaches many skills that can’t be found in a classroom, as well as expanding on skills that have previously been learned in school. It builds lasting bonds and memories with the people in one’s life. Whether it is through a study abroad program at college or just a vacation with family, travel is educational. There is no way to escape learning on vacation because education is everywhere. 

Sending a big thank-you to Megan for letting me share this!

So – what do you think? Do you take your kids out of school to travel or wait for planned holidays and summer break?

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