Gail Gillis is a Spanish Teacher from Gig Harbor, Washington, and an ACIS Group Leader. She led a group of students on an educational tour to Spain this spring where they visited Madrid, Seville and the Costa del Sol. Gail is a big believer in the power of global citizenship and using language skills as a means to empower her students to explore foreign cultures.
We asked Gail about her experience traveling with different student travel providers, what inspires her to provide these opportunities to her students, and what made her experience traveling with ACIS different:
How long have you been traveling with students?
What inspired you to lead your first trip?
I lived in Aix-en-Provence, France for a semester in college, and it was life-changing for me. I wanted my language students to have a taste of the experience and see how big the world is. It was my hope to put the travel bug into them, and show them that their language skills are the key to truly understanding and appreciating other cultures.
What led you to choose ACIS as your student travel provider?
In the 90s and early 2000s I used EF for a few trips, and then another small group, Travel Selections. I had 2 very poor experiences with EF, at which point I switched to TS, which no longer exists. When I returned to teaching after 9 years as an administrator, I asked colleagues on a Spanish Teacher’s group on Facebook which tour group they would recommend, and ACIS came highly recommended. Before making a decision, I put out an online survey asking families who were interested what their priorities were: price, location, quality, and timing of the trip. Quality and location were most important to them, so we went with ACIS.
Over the years, you’ve traveled with a variety of student travel providers. What were the major differences between your experiences with them?
The location and quality of the hotels was considerably better. The food was better. The customer service overall was impressive- the ACIS staff truly went above and beyond my expectations.
How do you structure your trips to accommodate your educational goals?
I choose countries that speak the languages I teach, and I ensure that there is a balance of culture and historical experiences for students. I also try to make sure they have opportunities to speak the language, like free time and buying their own lunch.
You’ve just gotten back from a trip to Spain. What were some of the highlights of the trip for you and your students?
Wow, so many things. The tapas and churros night in Madrid was a big hit. Sevilla was wonderful – the sights were amazing, the hotel was great, and my kids can definitely shop like pros. The Alhambra was breathtaking – I think everyone agrees on that. And learning about bullfighting in Ronda was a unique experience. Our hotel in Torremolinos was a pleasant surprise – far more extravagant than anything we expected. Four pools, entertainment, and right on the beach – just wow.
What do students stand to gain from a life and educational experience perspective by going on a trip like this?
As I mentioned, I think once they travel abroad it becomes a part of who they are. They will remember it forever and know that there is a whole world out there waiting for them to explore. I want them to realize that knowing a language and studying other cultures opens more doors for them, and that what they learn in the classroom is just a tiny peek into what they can discover when they travel abroad. I hope many of them will consider a study abroad experience after high school.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I was fortunate to have the most amazing group of students and adults with me on this trip. They got out of the trip what I hoped. One student mentioned that it was the first time in his life he wasn’t homesick when being away from home. The trip kept them 100% engaged and interested, and there was no time to miss home.
Our guide, Janan Batteh, was the BEST. She related well to adults and students alike, answered any and all questions, was quick to reorganize schedules to meet our needs, and able to resolve problems efficiently as they arose. We were especially fortunate to have a few visits from Deborah Wilson along the trip as well. She took excellent care of us, and made us feel special!
Want to speak to an ACIS teacher as a reference before you plan your own trip with ACIS? Click here to request a reference from a teacher in your area!
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