Over the summer, Shaler Area High School led two groups to Italy and France. Mr. Jason Pirring, a history teacher, took 21 students to Italy while Mr. Andrew Koller, a French teacher, took eight French students to France.
The trip to Italy was eight days in total from June 27 to July 5 while the trip to France lasted three weeks from June 22 to July 12.
“The three weeks went really fast, but I think it was the perfect amount of time away from home without getting too homesick,” senior Addie Devlin, a French student, said.
For several students this was a first time experience leaving the country or even getting on a plane. Mr. Pirring thought it was really interesting to see students interact with one another and experience the different culture together.
Although the trip to Italy was more based around touring historical monuments and locations, France added a more in depth experience for the students enrolled in French classes.
“I went into it excited for the students knowing that for most of them it’s the first time they’re going to get to actually use what they’ve learned in French class and see France,” Koller said. “I was excited for them to see the things that they’ve studied for so long and then get the chance to see what it’s like to live with a French family for a week and see how the French live day by day.”
The students who went to Italy traveled all around the country. They went to Florence, Pisa, Venice, Assisi, Orvieto, and Rome. The students got to see all of Italy’s famous landmarks including The Leaning Tower of Pisa, St. Mark’s Basilica and Bell Tower, St. Francis of Assisi’s Basilica and gravesite, The Colosseum, The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, and The Vatican.
“Florence was definitely my favorite city. I loved the beauty that is associated with the Medici family in Florence. I didn’t know what to expect when I went there, but when we arrived I was astounded by the beauty of the city and the people in it,” senior Kaitlin Parente said.
Shaler Area High School’s trip to France was a trip more based around the French curriculum. Each student on the trip spent a week living with a different host family. The students had to speak French with their families for the majority of the trip.
“The language barrier was definitely the hardest part, but as time went on I became more comfortable speaking French with my family. My French speaking skills improved greatly over the three weeks we were there,” Devlin said.
After spending a week with a host family, the French students traveled across France to numerous cities including Nice, Annecy, Beaune, Tours, and Paris. They went to the beach in Nice, traveled to vineyard wineries, hiked through the Alps, visited The Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Eiffel Tower.
“We went to a place in the Alps where you can take a cable car, go up 8,000 feet and look out over all the Alps. It was a beautiful day, we had a great time,” Koller said. “That’s probably the moment that sticks out to me just because the kids had been with their family for 5 or 6 days. It was a chance for them to share what they had experienced with the families. It was really neat.”
Though the trips were a great experience for the students, several hours and month of planning and organization went into each trip.
When it came to planning the trip to Italy, Mr. Pirring used a traveling agency for teachers and students called Explorica. While working with the company, Mr. Pirring explained that Explorica will not allow a group to go places if t didn’t feel comfortable taking you.
“Every month we did an evaluation to see if we should go or not. As you get closer to the trip, you have to make the final decision for if you’re going to go. Every day I was online reading about what was going on in Italy. I kept talking back and forth to the person that was helping us with this trip and we agreed that we were going to do it,” Pirring said.
Mr. Pirring ensured the safety to the parents of the group because he told them he was taking his own family. He said he wouldn’t be willing to take a group of students across the world if he didn’t feel comfortable bringing his own children.
“I think that helped a lot and with traveling. You can’t be afraid to travel. You have to go see the places. If you want to go out and see places, you can’t live in fear and think things will go bad,” Pirring said.
During the trip, Pirring made sure that he stayed near the back of the group so he was able to get a good view over everyone and make sure no one was being bothered by a gypsy or surrounded by someone who was acting out of control. When the night came, he gave the students a specific room check time and made sure all doors were locked so no one could randomly come in, trying to keep the students as safe as possible.
Preparation for the school’s trip to France began last fall. The students had monthly meetings where they would discuss what to do and what not to do, how to handle emergency situations, and how to deal with the people they met.
The November before, 130 people were killed by 7 terrorists in Paris. These terrorist attacks led to greater safety concern. When talking to parents about the trip, Mr. Koller explained that terrorism is a worldwide issue. He believes it can occur any time, anywhere in the world.
Only two days after the students left the country, 86 people were killed in a terrorist attack at Nice after a truck was driven into a crowd.
“I’m glad the kids weren’t on the French soil when it happened, but really having lived through 9/11 I just remember how awful it was. The first thing I did was contacted the host families to see if they were okay. Nice, geographically, isn’t that far from where they live,” Koller said.
Though there were acts of terrorism months prior and two days after the trip, the students in France were safe the entire time. They enjoyed the excursion trip and further developed their French speaking skills.
A really funny, yet terrifying moment during the trip to Italy was when the group lost one of its chaperones, Mr. Smith. The group was at the Pantheon and left for gelato without waiting for Mr. Smith. The group did not see him again until they returned to the hotel for the night.
“I couldn’t believe he lost such a big group. Finally he did find his way back to the hotel so I wasn’t really mad I just didn’t understand how he lost such a big group of us. That was great and it was funny, poor Mr. Smith,” Pirring said.
Despite occasional homesickness, there were no major problems on both trips. Students in Italy and France embraced the opportunity to see the world while learning about different cultures.
“I really liked the way the trip flowed. Everything went really well and by the end of the day I was completely worn out, but it was totally worth it. I’m happy I went and really enjoyed every moment,” Parente said.