Managing student expectations to be prepared

The Cure for Hiccups

by Dan Robertson

If you subscribe to “Murphy’s Law,” are you a pessimist or a pragmatist?   I prefer to take the side of an optimist and call you a realist.  So, will anything that can potentially go wrong, actually go wrong on your trip to Washington, D.C. or New York City?  According to another oft quoted “law” – The Law of Infinite Probability – yes, but that doesn’t mean that it has to.  I view these kind of like hiccups:  trip hiccups can be nothing more than a little annoying, temporary in nature, and will eventually go away.  This is yet another way that using the most reputable tour operator out there can be a key factor in the success of a trip.

School Tours of America boasts the most experienced staff of professionals who have operated tours to the historic East Coast of the United States of any company out there.  With this experience comes the ability to foresee many of the potential problems that could arise during the course of a trip.  Let’s face it:  any time you try to take a large group of school-age kids across the country, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way.  However, there is no need to worry!  All you need is a little preparation and management of expectations.


1.  You’re going to have hiccups, so expect them

If you knew that sometime over the next few days that you were going to get the hiccups, you would be less annoyed when they show up, and better prepared to take care of them.  The same applies to your tour.  With the best staff in the industry behind them, even the most seasoned teachers and chaperones will run in to unforeseen circumstances, pleasant surprises or down right difficult situations.  When these things occur, the best thing to do is not panic.  First of all, you will always have an STA representative in the city whose sole purpose is to make sure things go smoothly for your group.  When a potential roadblock does pop up, your representative will spring into action with the ability to call upon numerous resources to help remedy the situation.  Secondly, STA has a comprehensive emergency response and mitigation plan that immediately goes into effect when issues do arise.  Our goal is to make sure that problems are resolved as quickly as possible, with the least amount of time lost to your group – many times solving problems before the students or other chaperones even know there was a problem.  At times like this, the attitude of the tour leaders and adults sets the tone for the group.  It is important that you remain calm in the face of challenges and trust that things will be resolved as quickly and easily as possible.  


2. It’s a big and crazy world out there...But that’s why it’s so amazing!  

To many students, this trip is their first venture away from home without their parents.  We have also found that this trip is the first time that many students have ever flown on a plane or even left their hometown or state.  As a traveler myself, I am always curious and a bit awestruck when I visit a new city.  The sounds, smells, sites and culture can create a cacophony of sensations that are both exciting but can also be overwhelming to someone who may not have much experience with traveling.  Preparing your students ahead of time about what to expect is important in making sure that those sensations are ultimately good and don’t put them in a potentially scary situation.  Every city has a different culture and set of norms that dictate the pace of activity and attitudes of its people.  

For instance, in Washington, D.C., an unwritten rule when using the Metro system (subway) is to “stand to the right; walk to the left” when riding on escalators.  Sometimes, eager Hill staffers aren’t too patient with their expression of this “rule” when trying to pass a large group of students not abiding by it.  There are also many different languages spoken in DC and NYC.  It is important to remain culturally sensitive to others that seem different or with whom you find it hard to communicate.  And finally, there are just some people out there that should be avoided.  Residents of these cities are very used to tourists and are overwhelmingly kind, but sadly not everyone is quite so friendly.  Although extremely rare, having something stolen is always a possibility.  Encouraging students to not keep all of their money and valuables on them at all times, will help minimize loss in the unlikely event that it occurs.  It is possible to be completely aware of what is going on around you, while still soaking in that barrage of new experiences that makes traveling around this great big crazy world so amazing.


3.  Lions, Tigers and Bears – Oh wait!

You will be glad to know that over the long history of American Student Travel (our former company) and School Tours of America, no student has ever been attacked, injured or come in direct contact with a lion, tiger or bear.  With a track record like that, it may seem unlikely that any other potential issue of safety could possibly arise.  However, food allergies, surprise weather outbreaks, bus breakdowns or a once in a lifetime earthquake can cause hiccups with little warning.  Since we don’t live in an insulated bubble, there is no way to completely prevent some of these things from happening.  However, with experience and readiness, we have a strong record of handling these, along with many other issues, when they occur and with little to no impact on the overall trip.  Bringing a raincoat, an EpiPen for allergic reactions, all necessary medications for each student, and having a solid communication plan between students, chaperones and home can make addressing many hiccups much easier.  We have all heard the adage, “Always be prepared.”  Nothing helps with the hiccups more than simply being prepared.


4.  Fun…it happens!

After all of the preparation and planning for both the expected and unexpected, the trip is ultimately fun for everyone involved – even the Tour Director!  The one constant in all of the conversations that we have with both teachers and students is just how much fun they always have.  Even at the end of the trip when everyone is exhausted and ready to sleep in their own beds, students’ eyes always light up when asked what their favorite part of the trip was.  They often act surprised at just how much they enjoyed the historical sites and museums and how the learning finally came alive to them.  Tour leaders and chaperones express their excitement for new experience every time they come on tour – because no two trips are ever exactly the same.  When you prepare adequately, and manage your own expectations along with others, hiccups of fun and learning dominate the experience.  This case of the hiccups lasts a lifetime and needs no cure!

When hiccups occur, and Murphy’s Law seems to be going full bore, there are opportunities to teach and learn, but also ways to avoid them all together.  You don’t have to hold your breath, drink a cup of water upside down, or have someone scare you silly to cure tour hiccups – just being prepared for them makes all the difference in the world.


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