School-sponsored tours take learning abroad


Photo courtesy of Micheal Battaluga

The WCHS tour group explored Vatican City on the second to last day of their nine day trip to France and Italy.

By Sabrina Chou, Staff Writer

Eiffel Tower. Arc de Triomphe. The first Ladurée cafe. Colosseum. Leaning tower of Pisa. These locations were just some of the many highlights of the nine day trip to France and Italy that happened over spring break of 2022.

These tour opportunities are organized through Education First Tours (EF Tours), a global education company with a presence in 111 countries that provides adults and teens with hundreds of options for trips. WCHS staff members such as Ian Vickery, Dylan Antonucci and Sandy Young organize trips over spring and summer break. In addition, almost all other MCPS schools use EF Tours for school trips.

“Since it’s not a school-sponsored trip, technically anyone can come if we know them and can find someone to vouch for them,” Young said. “A friend of mine used to coach hockey at Whitman, so some of his Whitman hockey players came on a trip with us when I taught at Watkins Mill.”

Last year, students and teachers at WCHS went to France and Italy. In June, they went to Peru. This upcoming spring break, they are traveling to Spain and Portugal. Over the summer, the trip is to Japan and Ireland.

Over the 2022 spring break, approximately 50 kids and eight chaperones packed their bags and flew to Europe. A common misconception that students have is that going on a trip with teachers will not be fun or enjoyable, but this could not be further from the truth. Michael Battaluga, a junior at WCHS, was one of the attendees of the trip and can attest to this. 

“At first, I thought it was very much of a teacher trip,” Battaluga said. “But one thing you need to understand is that teachers outside of school are not teachers. They don’t give you the same expectations. They don’t make it like you’re in school.”

There are, of course, still rules and expectations that come with traveling in a different country, as teachers are there to ensure the safety of students. However, students are provided with one to two hours every day for free time outside of their scheduled travel itineraries. 

“I feel like we got appropriate free time for the amount of stuff we saw,” Battaluga said. “We obviously wish we had more free time. It was the best part because we just got to socialize, whether it was shopping or meeting people in Italy and Milan.”

Although these trips may seem perfect on paper, cost is a big factor that can prevent WCHS students from attending travel opportunities. However, if students want to go on the school trips, they can apply for scholarships. If they are unable to pay upfront, there are various options to help.

“The whole financial aid that would kick in if it were a WCHS sponsored trip does not exist,” Young said. “But you can pay over time. We just announced the spring break trip for next year to London and Paris. If you enroll now, there’s an initial deposit, and then you just pay a monthly amount. Also, it covers a lot…flights, hotel accommodations, all of the tours, and breakfast and dinner every day.”

These trips are a fantastic opportunity for WCHS students to experience independence in a free and exciting yet safe environment. Going on a tour with EF can bring new perspectives that regular trips would not.

“I’ve been to Europe before, but the educational tours really taught me about the places I was visiting,” Battaluga said. “Otherwise, if I went on my own with my friends, I probably would’ve spent most of the time just enjoying ourselves, as in eating food and shopping and going out at night. This was much more of a balanced trip, and it was fun to learn about the things we visited.”

Along with learning about new cultures, the trips are a valuable place to form new relationships. It is easy for WCHS students to make new friends and meet new people. Students are bonded from traveling to new places and having a variety of new experiences with different people that WCHS students do not have on the daily.

“I didn’t go with anyone [I already knew],” Battaluga said. “So I just made friends. I wouldn’t have met all these seniors if it wasn’t for that trip. I hung out with a lot of seniors that I’m friends with till this day.”

The opportunities that presented themselves to Battaluga on the last school trip have convinced him that the trips are worthwhile. Now, Battaluga is planning on going to the upcoming Spain and Portugal trip this spring break. From forming close bonds to finding a new appreciation for traveling, these trips are unparalleled opportunities. Going on high school trips can even inspire a future lifestyle or profession. 

“I traveled [on school trips], and then those trips made me fall in love with traveling,” Vickery said. “Ultimately, I lived abroad and then became a teacher because I was teaching abroad in Spain. I became a history teacher because I loved culture and traveling.”

For Mr. Vickery, the international trips he attended as a high school student were massively impactful to him. The experiences of his high school trips paved the way for his job, and the reason he is a trip chaperone, today.

“I think it broadens your horizon,” Vickery said. “One, you can go and be with your friends and teachers and go to experience new places and cultures and adventures together. But, also you get to see what you learn about in class first hand and get multiple perspectives on things. It’s challenging to personal development because you are out of your element a lot of the times, and you have to learn how to deal with that. It’s just fun.”