Taking Field Trips to the Next Level
Do you think we can get the school buses to take us to Italy?
By Jessica Hwang, Colgate University
Looking down on the rooftops of Florence with my classmates was the last thing I imaged myself doing as I walked into my first literature class. But months later, there I was on what was officially the biggest field trip I had ever been on.
We started our trip in Milan, making our way through Florence, Volterra (which may or may not be home to Twilight’s Volturi,) Santa Margherita Ligure, and of course, Pisa. Though we stuck together as a group of lost puppies hitting the must see spots, musuems, and countless duomos, for the most part, we were free to do whatever we wanted to.
To my surprise, we weren’t kept on a tight leash or controlled by a strict itinerary. The views from duomos were amazing and seeing da Vinci’s Last Supper in person was unreal, but the best parts of the trip turned out to be the little memories that we made.
The first night turned out a group of tentative students unsure what to do as their teacher handed them the hotel adress and walked off. Feeling some obligation to do the tourist thing, we broke off into groups, looking for maps and brochures and hunting down Trip Advisor stickers and “spectacular ruins.”
Except, instead of seeing ticket booths and info signs, we ended up lost, going in circles through confusing but neat side streets, and giving up at a tiny bistro over some of the best food I’d ever had. The adventure was more than worth it, and by the end of the trip we had forgotten that we were even trying to be tourists. Where one day we might ditch the maps and wander the city, hearing music from old churches and stopping in for what ended up being hours to hear more, another we were spending hours lugging picnic supplies in a hotel sheet through olive groves, scoping out a spot just for lunch. Another night might be spent smiling and nodding at a police officer giving us directions (we think,) just because not one of us spoke a word of Italian and were too polite to walk away.
And while it probably sounds like the “class trip” was all fun and games, (which it totally was,) it also wasn’t at all. By the time we all began to trickle back to the hotel and our teacher rounded us up in the dining room, we were all more than ready to talk about our day. We were all words and our teacher managed to twist everything we brought to him back to some educational value.
Something about being in a new city and a new place opened us up, ready to soak up our surroundings and pay a new sense of attention. I felt hyperaware of my environment and I suddenly realized it wasn’t the place that did it, but just the thought of a fresh perspective and mindset that became super enriching.
I actually had doubts about the trip as I packed up to go, worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect with any of the other students, or that it just wasn’t really worth it. I have no idea what I was thinking. The trip did unbelieveable things not just for how I thought about learning, but about everything else.
If I could go back in time and shake some sane into me, I’d tell myself how great it actually is to not follow or have a plan. That first night, I was so bothered that we weren’t hitting the postcard attractions, worrying about how “we paid for this trip and oh I didn’t come all the way to Italy just to wander around am I wasting the money ahhh!” But it wasn’t just wandering. And it’s ok and sometimes even better to go off the beaten path, even if it means chatting with a cop you can’t understand for an hour.
As someone who had already traveled a ton, I felt like I hadn’t traveled at all. Without the constraints of a itinerary telling me I couldn’t stray from intended purpose and that “this trip is for seeing,” I suddenly took a lot more out of a simple walk down the street. And spending so much time with the same people ended up creating discussions so much deeper than those you could have with people you see every now and then between classes. Even the set learning environment felt freer, as discussions over amazing food with your teacher in a café couldn’t possibly feel like work. We weren’t just having fun, but we were saying more as well. It was like he conned us into learning with spectacular sights and thoughts of gelato stands. But I guess that’s just field trips for ya!