THEN In 2008, I decided to take two students with me on holiday. The two girls, just out of third-grade elementary school, left with my three sons and me for Texas. It was an experimental holiday, planned to last six weeks. The holiday proved to be a great success. From that summer on, I have been traveling with students in the summer ever since. My students keep daily journals, in English, of course, where they document each experience of our days. Those journals are their ultimate souvenirs! We travel in small groups, and we rent houses or stay in hostels, so not speaking English is not an option. The general rule is that we do two cultural activities, and then we do one fun, recreational activity. Traveling and speaking in English, that’s the goal!
HOUSTON When most Europeans think of traveling to the United States, Houston is far from their thoughts. Houston is so big, and it is so far from New York and California that people don’t even consider it most of the time. Physicians, scientists, and astrophysicists certainly know that Houston is worth visiting though. At least them! The immensity of Houston is enough to shock you. The latest loop around the city is called the Grand Parkway, and it is 270 kilometers long! Galveston is where the beaches are, and it’s fun! Children’s Museum Houston (https://www.cmhouston.org/) is one of the best! Houston Zoo (https://www.houstonzoo.org/) is one of the best zoos, too! Between parks, museums, beaches, malls, and more, Houston is a great city to visit! Of course, if you can’t handle 40-degree (celsius, of course) with 120% humidity weather, you might have a problem with Houston. Yeah, just like John Swigert had a problem with Houston.
LONDON Londonium, as the Romans called it, London proves to be the most popular requested city, and, off the top of my head, I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been. Oh, London! London is so alive and so kid-friendly! From “The Making of Harry Potter” Warner Bros Studio (which must be booked months to a year in advance!) to the National Gallery (digs deep into my soul every time I go!), my students never get bored. Seeing Tower Bridge in 2012, when the Olympics were taking place, was very cool! Each time we seem to find new adventures to embark upon and new things to learn.
NEW YORK Well, there’s no way to describe how thrilling New York is. Bike-riding in Central Park is always fun, and, yes, we know where the Balto statue is. The Empire State Building is never dull. Between Ellis Island, the MOMA (except maybe for the golden poo we were so lucky to have seen), the Guggenheim, and Radio City Music Hall, enhancing our knowledge of local culture is a must. If you ever want to drool over books, visit the JP Morgan Library (https://www.themorgan.org/). Seeing Daniel Radcliffe in “The Cripple of Inishmaan” was a definite memory-never-forgotten. Finishing out New York with a day at Coney Island is a particular prerequisite in the program.
PHILADELPHIA Philadelphia’s rich history allowed infinite opportunities to learn about American history. Great hostel in Philly! We couldn’t miss out on the chance to make a Rocky run up the stairs to get to the Museum of Art.
BOSTON Now, Boston is a city that makes you want to buy a collegiate textbook and have at it. The air breathes of learning and exploring and wanting to plop down in a park and read for hours. Visiting Harvard and MIT is downright exhilarating!
CALIFORNIA AND ARIZONA I could write an entire blog post about California and Arizona. We’ve trekked around California and Arizona twice now, on extended holidays visiting L.A., San Francisco, Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley, and Page. The most memorable activity was our private plane ride over the Grand Canyon. Tears of awe were pouring during that one! Our train ride from L.A. to San Francisco was enjoyable! The earthquake was not in the least bit fun, but we survived. Getting stuck in the sand with our van was an adventure. Getting towed out by a 1973 Ford after the 911 responders sent us a local guy with his rigged pickup made me want to rethink the vehicle I drive. There is nothing better than a road trip in the USA, and it must include California and Arizona!
WASHINGTON DC The second best 4th of July I ever had in my almost fifty years was in Washington DC. My students seemed American-born that day! We visited museums in the Smithsonian, listened to people dressed up like American founders read the entire Declaration of Independence, watched a pretty good 4th of July parade, enjoyed food from the stands at the international food festival going on, went crazy on a scavenger hunt (proving that Americans are the best at really getting into scavenger hunts!), and finished the day with the most spectacular fireworks display I’ve ever seen. Tears were rolling as the music blared during the fireworks. D.C… stunning city!
TALLINN While many Europeans are traveling maniacs busy hopping on flights from one capital to another, many of them overlook the enchanting city of Tallinn in Estonia. A lot of people have probably never even heard of it. Tallinn is small, but it is so full of interesting historical places to see. Kadriorg Palace is gorgeous. Old Town Tallinn seems to take you back in time with its artisan shops, cobblestone streets, red rooftops and towers. Bike-riding around Tallinn to finish off with a breathtaking sunset proved to be the best activity with my students. We read every historical plate on every building in Old Town!
AMSTERDAM While most of my students are oblivious (not forever!) to the most popular of Amsterdam’s attractions because they’re only for adults, the city in itself is like walking in a vast outdoor museum. And it is just plain fun! We leave bike-riding to the locals, and we always wonder how Amsterdam has such a low death rate caused by bike accidents. Rijksmuseum is never humdrum, and students awe over Dutch art, primarily when I show them those crazy minuscule reflections of windows they painted on the already tiny wine glasses on the already small painting. Seriously, how did they do that? Van Gogh? Well, who knew how many self-portraits he painted of himself? Who doesn’t love Van Gogh? But, visiting Rembrandt’s house… oh, the joy! When you visit all those little rooms in Rembrandt’s house and breathe the air inside, you want to pull out a paintbrush even if you’re not an artist! We can never miss the tear-jerking Anne Frank House, putting so many things in perspective, forcing my Italian students to remember their dark moments in history. However, I think that the best times are just sitting in the park in front of the Van Gogh museum and having our picnic lunch. People-watching is never more fun than right there!
DUBLIN Oh, the joyous city of Dublin! I think I’m the only non-Irish teacher who takes students to the Dublin Writers Museum, most likely because it’s a bit tricky to find. But it’s worth it! National Gallery is lovely. Chester Beatty Library (https://chesterbeatty.ie/) is one of my absolute favorite places to visit anywhere in the world. I saw my first Guttenberg Bible there years ago. I swear, the Chester Beatty Library has more stuff that the Vatican! It feels like it anyhow. Dublin is so alive, a bustling city full of people out-and-about doing their thing. Students like it! I love it!
GORTNAKILLY Now, I can’t leave out Gortnakilly! We ended a holiday by spending three days in a beautiful house on Sheepshead Peninsula on the southern coast of Ireland. We spent our chilly days biking around the sheep-filled green pastures throughout the peninsula. Bantry House and Gardens was breathtaking, and we enjoyed seeing the Italian mosaic floors there. We spent an entire morning chilling out deep in discussion whilst my yummy pancakes just kept on coming! I had some great girls in that group who have grown up to be some pretty incredible young women. I miss them!
STOCKHOLM – HELSINKI – VISBY – Scandinavian cities easily measure up to their reputation of being family-oriented, kid-friendly, kind, and calm. Visiting the Viking city of Birka was a must-see for students. I’m not sure which the kids enjoyed most: the boat ride over from Stockholm or seeing the Viking boats docked near the village. It was a good adventure! Vasa Museet (https://www.vasamuseet.se/en) really should be seen by everybody at least once in their lives. Too cool! Korkee Adventure Park in Helsinki is one of the best adventure parks around! Students loved visiting the Royal Palace in Stockholm just about as much as they enjoyed visiting Buckingham Palace. You probably don’t even know about Visby, or maybe you do. We learned about Visby when we biked out to Pippi Longstocking’s house. And boy was it worth it! Without a doubt, however, Scandinavia’s most memorable event for us is eating local, delicious berries on our picnic lunches! Swedish blueberries are the best!
ST. PETERSBURG Russia. I had never thought about traveling to Russia until the opportunity was right in front of me. And it seemed like an occasion to allow at least a few students not to miss! And so, on guided tours, we visited Peterhof Museum, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and The Catherine Palace. Before visiting, I didn’t know how much Roman architecture influenced construction there. It was gorgeous! Because I wanted us to see how local Russians live, we took a tour based on the daily lives of the people there. The tour took us inside the unbelievable metro system of St. Petersburg full of chandeliers, mosaic tiling, and intricate design work. Stunning! We also visited a local market, where locals were busy choosing all their favorite weekly goods. It was life as usual, surprisingly normal-like for us.
SINGAPORE Singapore is the furthest Extreme English 4 Kids has traveled with students. It was simply stunning! Wandering around with the Marina Bay Sands always in view was pretty neat. Gardens by the Bay gave us a great evening light show and breathtaking indoor fauna show. The Singapore Botanical Garden is a wonder all on its own, with many various
flowers, plants, and trees. Who knew there were so many species of orchids on this planet? We couldn’t help but enter the Buddhist temple to surround ourselves with all the people chanting away. Such passion! We got pretty grossed out with all the strange things to eat like turtle soup, shark and crocodile paws. Ew! I had a pretty hard time getting my Italian students to eat chicken with rice! The Night Safari and River Safari were fun and educational. Our trek on the elevated walkway, Southern Ridges, was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure and so much fun! As far as fun goes, well, you can’t beat Universal Studios. It’s excellent in Singapore! However, seeing the beautiful, modern Singapore of today was educational and fun, I couldn’t let the students not see how Singapore was fifty years ago. So, we headed out to Pulau Ubin! Our ferry got us to the island where we picked up our bikes. We spent the afternoon biking around the island, finding hidden lily-pad-covered lakes, enormous leaves, and small run-down houses with people showering in the yard. There were no cars around and very few people. We reached the other part of the island and stopped for a break when we found ourselves surrounded by monkeys and wild boars coming up to us as if they were our pets from home. The monkeys knew how to open
our backpacks and suspected they could find food in them. While it was fascinating to be around them, we kept our distance from them as we regrouped before we started heading back. Wow! We finished up this holiday with a beach barbecue at Changi Beach Park. What a great adventure it all was!
NOW With all the latest developments on this planet, Extreme English 4 Kids and Teens has taken a traveling pause, as has the entire world it seems. We’ve all reminisced during Summer 2020 about all our great adventures in so many unbelievable places. Staying close to home is a necessary measure this summer as the human race attempts to get COVID 19 under control. But I think we’re all looking forward to better days when we can dust off our backpacks, get our travel apps ready and get on our next plane to who-knows-where. I miss our English adventures around the world!