Taking Students Overseas

ANA plane

I just returned from our second overseas study trip with young learners. It was one of the most exhausting things I have ever done, and involved a large amount of stress for a relatively small return.

Taking students overseas can be a very positive activity for an eikaiwa school:

1. It can be profitable
2. It can raise the school’s profile and image
3. It can be hugely beneficial to student motivation

However, there are also huge potential risks:

1. Worst case scenarios are really bad, and could prove fatal to the school
2. It can involve a huge amount of supplementary work
3. Unexpected expenses can eat up your profit and even push the trip into the red

After two ‘successful’ (I define successful as not having encountered any serious problems) trips, I have learned a huge amount about what doesn’t work. The next two posts will be detailed trip reports and reflections.

Does anyone else organize overseas trips?

I haven’t done an overseas trip for 6 years. Prior to that I did 8 (7 to Australia, 1 to the UK).

The main reasons I stopped are:

Quality control is difficult.

It’s a huge responsibility for the school, causing me many sleepless nights before and during the trip. The worst could happen…. We’ve had a few illnesses and accidents, one of which could have been fatal (one boy put his hand through a window and got a long, deep cut up the wrist right beside a very important vein (artery?)). I shudder to think about it even now.

Younger students (elementary students) don’t benefit as much as they would if they waited a couple of years, so if I did restart the tours, I would only take junior high school students and older.

The amount of work involved in organising them.


Hi Laura

Completely agree with all your points… you’ll enjoy the next two posts ๐Ÿ™‚

Leaving on Friday for a trip! Looking forward to the next couple of posts.

Have a safe and happy one!

I have organised trips for groups of students and individuals for the past ten years and yes, it is very hard work indeed both in the preparation phase and during the actual trip especially if you try and do everything yourself. The keys to success are ruthless (Japanese levels of) attention to detail and (forgive the business speak) finding tried and trusted partners on the ground. Even then there are plenty of ways things can go pear-shaped. We have survived terrorism, swine flu, lost passports, mentally unstable students and homestay parents and a trail of wasuremono a mile long. It has still been the most amazing experience and I know for a fact that the students go back to Japan utterly changed. The value of those 2-3 weeks outweighs anything else they do. If it doesn’t kill you though, it makes you stronger, especially if you are taking students back to the same places. Really looking forward to your posts and glad you got back to Japan in one piece.

A trail of wasuremono a mile long…… hahaha.

Hey Patrick

Hope you’ll have some advice for us once you’ve read the trip reports!

It really is a learning experience though -I can see it getting if not easier then at least less frenetic the more we do this.

I’m actually in the US right now half-way through our trip. It’s our first trip and we’ve brought four elementary and one JHS student to a summer camp north of Seattle. Going quite well so far. Leaving the programming details to the summer camp here appears so far to have been the right decision on my fronts.

Hi Ryan
Just saw this! Seems an interesting approach with potential. Did you have a connection to the summer camp already?

It’s the summer camp I went to when in elementary and JHS, but that’s the only real connection. It’s been 25 years, so none of the same staff are still here. It’s working out pretty well so far, though there are some changes we will make if we come back again in the future.

Sounds really interesting! Would you be interested in doing a guest post here about it? I’d love to hear more, and I am sure everyone else would too ๐Ÿ™‚

I could do that. Wait until after we get back late Monday night, though.

Great! No rush, just let me know when you have some time.

The trouble with on-the-ground operators is they don’t understand the Japanese market. Homestays are unprepared in dealing with unsophisticated and often passive Japanese children. They know little about how to speak to someone whose productive skills are still low. Tour coordinators / government officials / summer camp operators don’t know what types of experiences are both educational and fun, and which are merely fun (nothing wrong with that provided it’s not all that) and which are emotionally draining and stressful with little payoff. And many operators – government-run tours – are unwilling to compromise.

For example, I’ve always requested the public schools we work to place our students be put into lessons according to content, not placed with a class for the duration of the trip. Sports, music, computer classes, language classes, science classes with a hands-on component, some maths classes and so forth are well-suited. Straight science classes, social studies, English classes and the like are so far above the head of the students that they don’t even listen.

One of the schools we worked with wasn’t willing to compromise, another school was (until the headmaster changed). One school left our students back at the school when the school students all went off campus for sports day. Our students spent the day with the infants class (4-5 year olds).

Gotta run. Unfinished but will send it anyway.

Thanks Laura. We also ran into the same kind of problems. Not too sure how to deal with them apart from working really closely with the local providers and go over the proposed itinerary with a fine-toothed comb!

Hi Ben,
I’m writing from Cairns Australia. Cairns is a tropical area with a few sightseeing things to do including good access to the Great Barrier Reef. My Japanese wife and I (American) have been doing this for six years now. Other than our second time in which we went to Guam, we have always come here. We come here because:
1) kids are still in school here in Australia.
2) “chian ga ii” –> we don’t have that uneasiness or fear for our safety when out in public places.
3) it is somewhat of a resort area with visitors from a variety of foreign countries so the locals make an effort to communicate with us in our very broken English.
4) ~ 7 hour direct flight and only one time zone difference from Japan.

We never went back to Guam because the level of education was ridiculously low and there were some places that we visited where I felt I really needed to be on my toes and be particularly diligent as far as the kids security was concerned.

I agree that these trips seem to be much more effective for Jr. HS and above. Still though, there doesn’t seem to be anything negative for the elementary children.

Of utmost importance to us during these trips are:
Safety first, in everything we do.
Fun. (kids being kids, they always manage to have fun in whatever they are doing…)
Parents agree and support this approach.

All our participants go to a private, prep through year 12, school here. The school is accommodating to “education tourists”. They are well organized and way overpriced.

We feel that 4 students per adult would be our maximum so we have never made a profit. We do offset some of the costs that we incur putting our daughter in this school.

I look forward to the rest of these posts.

Hi Richard

Sounds like a good approach. I really like the idea of partnering with a ‘real’ school (the two we have worked with so far have been less than stellar).

We find it difficult to balance time, money, and educational objectives. It may be worth our while in the future to design different trips for different levels of commitment/goals, from the casual to the hard-core. I’ll have to give that some thought…


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