During the school year, Nathan Allison teaches World Geography at Marcus High School. But in the summer, the world becomes his classroom, as he leads groups of students from across North Texas on overseas adventures through EF Educational Tours.
When and why did you get involved with EF Tours?
In 2007, at the beginning of my second year teaching, I received a brochure from EF Tours in my mailbox at school. It just had some pictures of students in Europe and talked about how I could inspire my students through one of their tours. It was one of those things I couldn’t get out of my head … I made the phone call to EF, and without hesitation, I set up my first trip to Greece and Italy. In my mind it would be crazy not to provide this opportunity to my students if I have the ability to do so.
Tell me a bit about EF Tours.
EF has been around for over 55 years, and they have more than 50,000 employees in countries all over the world. It is still a family-owned business with the main goal of providing a global education for students around the world through cultural exchange. They offer a variety of tours that engage all types of students, no matter their interest. EF is accredited by the Texas Education Agency, as well, which allows students to get high school credit on tour if they choose to. Students have the opportunity to get college credit also.
How many trips have you led through EF Tours?
I have led 14 student tours so far with another seven lined up over the next 16 months as travel restrictions ease. After 2022, I will have brought over 500 students abroad! As a Global Education Ambassador with EF, I have led six training tours in Europe, as well. Training tours are for teachers across the United States that are leading their first trip.
While I know several Marcus High School students participate in the trips, EF Tours is a separate entity - not affiliated with LISD. Correct?
That is correct, and it is common around the country for school districts not to sponsor or be affiliated with international tours. The main reason why districts tend to not sponsor trips like this comes down to liability. EF Tours is a large company that has the ability to take on liability in a way that a school district can’t.
Who can participate in the EF Tours you lead?
Since the trips are not sponsored by the school or the district, I can take anyone that is in high school through senior citizens. The trips are geared toward students so I mainly take high school and some college students. With students I do look at academic achievement, types of classes they are taking and recommendations from other teachers and coaches before inviting them to join a tour. Students that join a tour from outside of the school I teach at must either be recommended by a student that has already enrolled or get a letter of recommendation from one of their teachers at their school in order for them to enroll.
How has EF Tours handled navigating tours during a pandemic?
This year has been a challenge to put it lightly! Over the years, I have dealt with swine flu, Ebola, zika virus, a volcano in Iceland exploding canceling trans-Atlantic flights, protests in Athens, terrorist attacks (thankfully not while on tour), but this has been the most challenging event … Honestly, EF is the most impressive during a crisis. Safety is my number one priority, and EF takes this incredibly seriously. I have made some changes for this year already. Since EF is a large company with offices in pretty much every country we travel to, they can move things quickly and be nimble during a crisis. I cannot imagine working with a different student tour company or doing this on my own.
You are around students each day, fall through spring, and then spend your summers surrounded by students. To many, this would be daunting. Why do you continue to lead these trips summer after summer?
When you say it like that, it seems a bit overwhelming! Since my trips are not just open to everyone, the students that accompany me have a fervent desire to grow and learn while on tour. Students also tend to be more flexible, which makes student tours easier to lead than adult tours. I have never met a Tour Director (the person that is with us the entire trip) that prefers adult tours over student tours. I find that I feed off their energy, as well, so it keeps me feeling young, at least until the moment we are climbing and endless spiral staircase in a castle and I can’t keep up!
What are the most rewarding aspects of the trips?
The most rewarding part is hearing the students express how much the trips change them and open their eyes up to the world around them. It reminds me of why I became a teacher in the first place. Having a hotel room with a view of the Mediterranean or the Alps is also nice!
Which places have been your favorite to visit?
It is so hard to pick because each place has something unique that makes it great. Overall, I would say Italy is my favorite country to visit, which explains why I have been there 10+ times. It is the perfect mixture of history, culture, natural beauty and excellent cuisine.
Which trips have been most meaningful?
The two trips that have been the most meaningful tie into World War II. In 2012, I took students on a tour of Paris, Normandy and the Brittany region. We spent an entire day focused on World War II and the D Day invasion. We visited a phenomenal World War II museum in Caen, France. After that, we went to the US cemetery at Omaha Beach and walked down to the beach from the cemetery. I had students with tears in their eyes while they sat on the beach looking at the English Channel knowing that Allied soldiers struggled to preserve freedom on the very beach they were sitting on, and many of those brave men that are buried there spent their last moments on that beach. The second trip that had a big impact was a Central and Eastern European trip I did in 2018. One of the stops on the trip was Krakow, Poland, with an excursion to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. As we were driving into Poland, I had students watch Schindler’s List on the bus. When we arrived in Krakow, we took a tour following the Jews from the area of town they lived in, then down to the area of the Jewish Ghetto where we walked to Schindler’s factory, and then we got on our bus and headed to Auschwitz. Personally, it is overwhelmingly difficult to visit a place like Auschwitz. I teach every year about the holocaust, but being in the epicenter of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century is emotionally heavy to say the least. I take students there because I know that for them, the holocaust will not just be something they learned in school that was horrible and happened a long time ago. Nothing makes history more relevant to students than walking in the places where these events happened.
What do you hope the participants take away from these experiences?
I say every year that I want the tour to be the highlight of every student’s high school experience. I want them to learn how to get out of their comfort zone, to become more confident in new situations, to better understand other cultures and to see the world from varying perspectives. I have several former student travelers that have gone on to study abroad throughout Europe, Africa, East Asia and the South Pacific. They all attribute the trip they took in high school with me giving them the confidence to study abroad while in college.
How do these trips make you grow as an educator?
I learn so much while on tour, and that adds value to what I am teaching. The insight I bring back to the classroom, accompanied by the stories, engages students on a deeper level in my class. Teaching about the world with the experience of traveling to many areas is going to automatically be more engaging. There are many locations I would like to go to that I teach about because I know it would make my lessons and activities richer for the students in my classroom.
For more information about EF Tours, visit eftours.com. For information on how to participate in one of Nathan’s upcoming trips, email Nathan at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Instagram, @GoBeyondBordersTours.
12.15.21 Scotland and England
3.12.22 The Alps and the Mediterranean Coast
6.1.22 Athens and the Islands
7.8.22 Ireland In-Depth
7.23.22 Adult Ireland Walking Tour
6.15.23 Treasures of Central Europe