Places I Remember with Lea Lane

Learning Through Travel: Family Trips, Gap Year, Exchange Programs, International Schools

July 06, 2021 Bob Gogel, CEO of Worldstrides, the foremost student travel facilitator, and student traveler Sabrina Lane, share views from both perspectives. Season 1 Episode 23
Places I Remember with Lea Lane
Learning Through Travel: Family Trips, Gap Year, Exchange Programs, International Schools
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

 "Life is short and the world is wide. The sooner you start exploring it the better" is a popular quote from Simon Raven. Family trips,  backpacking, gap year, exchange programs, international schools -- all are wonderful for young travelers, say guests Bob Gogel, CEO  of WorldStrides, and student traveler Sabrina Lane.
-- Bob covers the first section of the podcast, explaining why it's important for young people to travel outside of the classroom. "It's all about learnable moments." He describes his own early travels as an exchange student in Nicaragua.
-- When traveling with family, he gives three suggestions, and shares some of his favorite destinations. He discusses exchange programs, backpacking, the gap year and the need for people to start traveling again.
-- Bob ends with his favorite personal memory of
an archeological dig in France.
-- In the second part of the episode, Sabrina Lane describes her young travels with stories of family trips, traveling to Paris with her grandmother, living with a volunteer group in Peru, and plans for her senior year in high school -- in an international school in Bosnia.
-- Sabrina's stories are vivid, and she ends with a memorable tale in the Golan Heights of Israel.
Bob Gogel is  President and CEO of WorldStrides, the global  leader in educational learning and experiential learning. It runs programs in over 100 countries for more than half a million students in over 5,000 schools and universities.
Sabrina Lane will be experiencing her high school senior year and a following gap year at an international school in Bosnia. She's  already traveled  to over 20 countries, through family trips and volunteer experiences. She is an activist for peace and  climate awareness.
Podcast host Lea Lane blogs at, has traveled to over 100 countries, written nine books, including Places I Remember, and contributed to guidebooks. She's @lealane on Twitter; Travelea on Insta; on  Facebook, it's Places I Remember by Lea Lane. Website: placesirememberlealane.comPlease follow, rate and review this weekly travel podcast!

Lea Lane  00:04

Hi, I'm Lea Lane, an award-winning travel writer and author of Places I Remember: Tales, Truths, Delights from 100 Countries. On this podcast we share conversations with travelers about fascinating destinations and memorable experiences around the world. Life is short and the world is wide. The sooner you start exploring it, the better. That's a quote from Simon rave. I took my first trip abroad I was 22. Two months around Europe. It opened my eyes and led me to pursue a career as a travel journalist. I wound up traveling to over 100 countries. We're talking on this episode with Bob Gogel, president and chief executive officer of WorldStrides, the global leader in educational travel experiential learning, it runs programs in over 100 countries for more than half a million students in over 5000 schools and universities. Bob has a great outlook on the return and resurgence of travel, particularly around young adults and students. And he knows the importance for students to get back out into the world. And in the last part of this episode, we'll be talking to a high school student Sabrina Lane, who shares some of her own international travel experiences. Welcome, Bob. How are you? I'm fine. Let me ask first, why do you think it's important for young people to travel?


Bob Gogel  01:27

For us the journey is very much part of the educational experience. Young people learn lots in the classroom. But there's nothing like the actual experience outside of the classroom. In fact, if you go back to the history of the company over 50 years ago, we had an eighth grade teacher who was trying to get their students with a number of other faculty members excited about learning American history. And the kid sat in the class and dozed off and said, How am I going to make this experience real decided to rent a school bus drove the kids from Illinois to DC and had the kids experience Washington DC. And they saw the Washington Monument to Lincoln Memorial Arlington Cemetery, the White House Congress, and suddenly it clicked. And it's that moment, that's a learnable moment where the teacher came back and said, this is cool. This is how to make the learning experience complete. This was not the virtual world. This was the real world. And from that the business grew and we cover a number of segments for young people aged from six, up to 3540 into graduate programs. And it's all about creating learnable moments outside of the classroom.


Lea Lane  02:43

I know that your passion for experiential learning was born from your own international experiences that were part of your own education. Tell me about your high school exchange program in Latin America.


Bob Gogel  02:53

I spent the summer in Managua, Nicaragua, on a summer exchange program sponsored by a group for Central America. I didn't know word of Spanish, I probably didn't know where Nicaragua was. But the family had always traveled internationally. And my parents said, Gee, are you interested in signing up for the program, I said, Sure, and signed up for the program, and had a unique experience, learned, learned Spanish, got to travel the first time ever by myself between junior and senior year. And it certainly was more challenging at the time than traveling much later in time. And what I learned then was one how to be independent and be in all sorts of new situations. And that really had an impact on me to the point that the following year, I wrote an essay for a contest for a jeans company and became one of 60 students who were sent to seven countries in 21 days, there's almost like a movie. Wow. And I had such a great experience seeing Europe that it had to have had an impact on me because all of my professional job sins have been International. I've moved overseas 35 years ago from Chicago to Paris. And although my jobs have been based all around the world, you are a product of your environment. And you know, early travel, I think changed the way I saw the world and I have four adult kids now and they've all experienced both domestic and international travel and I think the changes and I think I've got the coolest job in the world.


Lea Lane  04:31

I get it. We're both lucky.


Bob Gogel  04:35

Share those experiences with with my own passion for travel and learning experiences. You know, we said earlier we provide those experiences to over a half a million kids every year and it's just a great experience to see the transformation even if it's just one moment during a whole trip where a young person sees the name of a relative to Vietnam memorial or sees the certain grade sights at Arlington Cemetery or walks into the Congress and runs into their senator. Those are all moments that you know, will stay in the memory of a person forever. And you can see the impact that has.


Lea Lane  05:15

Absolutely. There are many popular ways that young people travel here and abroad. Before we discuss learning programs a little more, let's talk about some of the others. In the beginning is traveling with family intergenerational travel has become a big business. I know grandparents now have special tours and cruises available. When I took my granddaughter's on special trips, when they were 10. I took went to Paris went to Los Angeles at different times. I really enjoyed the alone time we had but if you want you can go on a tour and be with other family members, other grandmas and grandfathers. I know that family travel is a big beginning you you mentioned it, what are some tips you can offer for planning family travel?


Bob Gogel  05:54

Great question, several things. One, this generation today is far more sophisticated than ever before, you need to get them actively involved in the planning of of that kind of travel to they need to hold diary. Because that's part of the learning experience. And there's a combination of photos. It's a combination of learnable moments, but it's not just an I think this is the obviously the nature of the relationship in the family. But it's a family learning experience. It's not just all about let's go out and have fun it we're going out and having fun through learning. And then the third thing is don't over plan because it particularly in today's world, even the best laid plans get usually pushed aside. And and usually young people are far more flexible than the people they're traveling with. So don't over plan and be flexible and learn how to adapt. And it's okay, if you miss that museum opening. You can learn as much by taking a long walk or a hike and the kids are happy with that flexibility.


Lea Lane  07:00

Yes, I would add I think you have to compromise and balance and not only museums, but but age appropriate activities that all all can enjoy. For example, my nieces just came down to Miami to visit we took a boat ride in Biscayne Bay, we visited the Bizkaia estate. And then one evening, we went to something called Top Golf where we could practice our golf swings and eat junk food and just have fun and they love the mix. And I think as you said, if everybody plans it together, there'll be a nice balance there. So aside from Family Travel, what destinations would you say work best are a few of them there your favorites for family travel in general?


Bob Gogel  07:34

Couple places, pre COVID are lots of places in Asia, where there was India or China because it is so different than the classic domestic experience. And children are typically very welcome. And the exotic newness of those kinds of destinations for young people are excited, they're willing to try new foods. They're fascinated by how different the scenery and the environment is. So for young people I happen to we brought all of our four kids to both destinations and they and they all fell in love with it to study Chinese one studied Indian in university as a result. So again, that's a great question, obviously going to DC Boston, Gettysburg Williamsburg are great places to take young people whether it's for day trips or week long trip in groups or as as families, those are fantastic places going out west to some of the national parks. Absolutely fantastic. And then there's sort of the classic family vacation of going to the theme parks Disney universal wherever our great learning experiences for the kids and and their family. There's not very many places you take me where I have a great time.


Lea Lane  08:50

That's true. How about exchange programs? They're very popular with high school kids and gret and college kids, where you live with families. What are some suggestions of how to find good exchange programs? 


Bob Gogel  09:02

Well, there are a number of providers including ourselves that provide exchange programs where you know, there's two models one is family living, which is typically for high school students, college students. Also there is an opportunity to be situated in a family setting or in a independent living apartment, depending on the age group and the level of independence of the student. The kinds of questions that you want to ask first and foremost is who's watching for my child when they go overseas? Are they easily accessible? 24/7 Second question of equal importance is health and safety. What if my child breaks leg gets the flu? Who's going to watch my child? What options are available? Are there going to be English speaking doctors, we hear all of the questions. You know, will my medical insurance pay for this? What do I need to do? Can I come visit my child in pre COVID days you know in countries where You could just get on an airplane and go, obviously with post COVID situation medical emergencies are more complex to manage. So I would say in going forward, certainly health and safety and logistics are key. And then the third thing to look at is what is my young person on trip going to be doing on the exchange? They're going to be going to school, they're going to be visiting the culture, they're going to be language learning, how much free time are they going to have, how much supervision they're going to have? Is it group activities? Is it individual activities on previous trips, and get their experience and share that? And then the last thing, which is equally important, does my child have special needs, which may or may not be an issue, and depending on the foreign country, doesn't mean you shouldn't send your child it just means that you need to understand that it may be slightly different. But the experience as an exchange student, having both received exchange students in my house and having been an exchange student, there's nothing like it, you create lifetime experiences that that you don't forget friendships and the second family that you develop, it's again, part of the learnable moments that give me quite excited about what we do.


Lea Lane  11:10

Okay, what about young people traveling on a budget like backpacking, any thoughts on that?


Bob Gogel  11:14

Sure. We've all or many of us have done backpacking, both in the US and overseas. My strong recommendation is to not go alone. Some people like to do it, but it's purely for certain age groups, certainly under 18, I would much prefer to send a young person with an organized group of people, I think it's just a question in general of maturity and experience. You know, college students, obviously, enjoy the independence and freedom of backpacking. Again, I would say if plan is to do that domestically or overseas, probably a group of two or three is better, it's just the resourcefulness of that is stronger. And there's lots of opportunities. I mean, there's books, there's lots of resources available to plan backpack, backpacking trips on a budget, plenty of hotels base, historically, pre COVID, at least, whether it's a hotel, or it's, it's camping out, all the options are available. Again, it's part of a learning experience. And if you are fortunate enough to be able to do it is a great way.


Lea Lane  12:16

Now many students take a gap year for after high school or during or after college, before settling down. And some of them try to find work, some of them volunteer, what are some of your suggestions for that gap year?


Bob Gogel  12:28

Sure. gap years are increasingly becoming part of the growing up experience, whether it's between high school and college a semester off, and what we're seeing is all forms of gap years developing gap here is where you go off and you build houses, you do social work, you go work in a medical facility overseas, you've learned a new language. And you can do this also domestic, again, that the why the young people do gap years, it's a it's an opportunity to develop independence, it's an opportunity to spread wings and learn new skills and explore careers. Some people are not ready to go to college right away. Some people want to take a gap year after first year of college and say, Look, I maybe it's not for me, I want to explore the world. My recommendation to parents is that you just at the stage that your child decides that a gap year and you're comfortable with a gap year happening that you make sure that the ground rules are set. And obviously there's two ground rules. One is communication. It's all too easy to say, Oh, I'm in a foreign country. But pretty much very few places that you're out of communication. When my daughter did her gap year in India, we bought her a satellite, we rented a satellite phone that was bigger than a 20 pound suitcase, she was embarrassed by it, she never used it. So there were weeks on end that we didn't have any communication with her but the world has changed that with with mobile phones, and it's obviously comforting both for the parents and and for the young person to be able to communicate at least on a regular schedule and that you really do need to know at most times how to contact in an emergency in both in both directions.


Lea Lane  14:16

Yeah, speaking of which, I know that WorldStrides recently surveyed 800 parents of children in middle and high school to get insights on their level of comfort around the prospect of student traveling trips of interest especially this year. What what did you find out?


Bob Gogel  14:31

It was exciting to get the feedback a couple of things this was conducted the research in February where the pandemic light at the end of the tunnel wasn't quite as bright as it is today. But one of the things that was very clear was the the pent up demand for travel and experiential learning that their parents wanted their young students whether it's middle school, high school, or College students, the pent up demand to, to get out of being in front of a screen, you know that the hybrid model worked for some teachers, it worked for some students, but it wasn't the same, it was resourceful. The teachers did incredible job standing up in many cases, you know, new virtual teaching programs, but nothing beats being out outside, not in front of your screen. So one was the pent up demand to travel. The second was the pent up demand of the parents themselves to travel with or without families. But clearly 15 months of uncertainty of lockdown of terrible personal and professional trauma for lots of people. The optimism once you start talking about travel happening again, you suddenly saw a level of excitement that yes, it could happen again. And having recently been on the road to DC in Washington with a number of our groups that are traveling, it's just amazing to see our 14 to 18 year old travelers with their groups and their teachers in their programs in their course leaders, all of them are just excited to be part of the first wave, if you would, of going back out to the real world. And we've had groups that you know, get to New York City, and for three months, they've not been masked. And now they have to be you know, two weeks ago, they still had to be math. And it's that they feel like they're coming into the new world. It's almost like you know, they're landing on the Mayflower and the first adventurers back into New York City. And they're on one of the first ferries to go see the Statue of Liberty or they're at the top of the rock at Rockefeller Center and the first group that's been up there, and we took them to restaurants that haven't seen people for the last 15 months. It's pretty cool. And all of that in the in the survey number one concern was not surprising health and safety. Second concern was what will the young people be able to see or not? And how much was going to be open domestically, everything is I'd say at about 70% of, of where it was pre COVID and are our top destination cities. Europe is opening up slowly, probably mid July, we'll see Australia and New Zealand being once their vaccine rollout picks up some speed. They make changes, we probably other parts of Asia, probably until in January. But our bookings for calendar year 22 are extremely strong, which again, confirms the research we did which was we got to go and we got to go. And that's that's great news. We have increasing demand. You started this podcast and talking about family travel, we're getting increasing demand for grownup travel we're sending our kids with with their school group, can you organize a trip just for us adults? I mean, we need to learn and travel at the same talk. So we're excited about that.


Lea Lane  18:01

Sure. Well, the name of the podcast is Places I Remember and I'm sure that what you've accomplished for so many young people was influenced by your own early experiences abroad. So I'd like to ask you, Bob, if you have one special memory of your own experiences as a young traveler,


Bob Gogel  18:18

I have a very strong memory of my junior year of college abroad. I we had a week long weekend in Paris from class that was available. And we went down on a dig on an archeological site and some old chateau in the Ruhr Valley and spent three days I think digging only four steps. That, you know, we're probably medieval steps, and it wasn't it wasn't like it was, you know, a big discovery. You weren't Indiana Jones, I wasn't Indiana Jones. They were steps up to the chateau. But nobody had seen them before. And it was just it made the whole experience P I, you know, when else could I have had that experience? So obviously visiting museums, the Eiffel Tower and all that all stuck sufficiently strong in my memory that I actually went back and moved to France, but it was probably digging those steps and made the biggest impact on me in terms of understanding what what history was all about.


Lea Lane  19:20

Well, I would say that's step by step learning literally, Baba gal, CEO WorldStrides. Thank you so much for sharing with us today and helping young people better understand our world through travel. Thanks again.


Bob Gogel  19:34

Thank you very much.


Lea Lane  19:35

Our other special guest is a high school student who's traveled domestically and abroad with her family. And with me her grandmother, alone on a special birthday trip to Paris. She's participated in a summer program in Peru and we'll be spending her senior year in an international school overseas. Welcome, Sabrina. It's always great to talk with you. Hi, it's so nice to talk with you too. Well, tell us Some of the places you've traveled with your family, and what you especially liked about that,


Sabrina Lane  20:04

Well, me and my family have been doing many different countries around the world. I'm very lucky to have traveled. What instance that sticks out is the time my mom, my whole family, my mom, dad, me and my sister, they said, it'd be a great idea for us to go somewhere in Costa Rica, like completely off the grid. And to get there, we had to ride on a horse like uphill for like two hours straight. But where we were, apparently the place that we were like, we were hosted by a family, but they were kind of running a business. So nothing was really working and also it was raining, too. Everything was muddy. Like, everything was muddy. And there was no electricity. There is no, I mean, it was really I personally really liked it. Because like, we got to like ride horses in the middle of the rainforest, nothing was working, everything was muddy. The food was good, but like, if our family had been running out of money, this is kind of it. It was really cool. Also, even though it was falling apart. She's really been so disconnected from the grid and just riding around like the rain forests on a horse.


Lea Lane  21:04

Well, it sounds like you made the most of it. You saw the positive in it. How often do you get to ride in a rain forest on a horse? I like that. Now I know you enjoy just the two of us traveling to Paris when you were 10 years old. What do you remember most about that trip?


Sabrina Lane  21:19

I remember going to the museum and I really liked it. I remember specifically our spa, when you let me go to that spot. Oh, I have a specific memory. Remember you were in this really yummy dessert place. And the waiter took a liking to me. And he kept letting you have like free desserts like really expensive free desserts. And I was like I was done one thing. And he was so sweet. It was so nice. 


Lea Lane  21:45

Well, it was very nice. Because you had a wonderful attitude. And you were curious about everything. And he picked right up and when you're young and you travel like that everybody feels good about it. I remember that too. Now, tell us more about the volunteer program you were part of in Peru a couple of summers ago. Where did where did you stay?


Sabrina Lane  22:02

So I think my camp called ICEP where you get to travel for five weeks to another country. My group was 14 other students in me. What we do is it's a mix of travel and service and fun. So we sit in three different places. I'm a different type. So our first four weeks, most of the time was in Lima in Peru. And in Lima. We sit in the YMCA there and there's really nice there's a community center. I got to I got to bomb love the kids there. One time there's a dance party, and I crashed that and then everyone took a liking to us and they started like partying with us. The people from Peru. Yes. And we were like, we were like, Yeah, we were like we were watching movies. You're like listen, we heard this, like just get groceries and like really, let's just go and crash it. So we did ask Dan to your movie run and everyone's are like making a circle around me and it was so fun. And we're like especially the the Peruvians took a special liking especially to a few of the guys on my trip and he took pictures that had made them his their lock screen on their phone. So it was really fun. And then we went and we helped tried to teach English to a few kids. Then after that, we went to Cusco, which is near Machu Picchu. And that beautiful Lima it was never Sunny. It was it was a city that was I think it's just based in New York in a very chaotic, Cusco is just absolutely gorgeous. Like the age. It was really sad though, because you're walking around. And a tour guide will be like, Oh, this was magnificent circle Insight was before the Spanish came in. So there was a lot of stuff that you couldn't see because of colonization by the Spanish. But when we went to Machu Picchu, we took a train and then we walked a little bit, and it was stunning was probably one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. 


Lea Lane  23:45

I have to agree with you. I didn't get to go with other students, which would be wonderful. Much later. Yeah, it's a beautiful thing to see at any time in your life. And I can only imagine when you're young to see something like that is astounding. Now, let me ask you did that influence you in choosing to go to an international school you're going to be attending your senior year next year at an international school in Bosnia. That's one of the campuses of of this school. Tell us why you chose to go international for your senior year.


Sabrina Lane  24:16

I really enjoyed the service part of it in Lima, we went to like a really, really poor place. And I think maybe a million people were living there and it was insane. But then we bonded with like a lot of local kids there. And I realized they were just like you and me and just I wanted to seek out more of those people who had such different lives than me, but yet had were so similar in so many ways. And I don't know I just was feeling kind of unsatisfied mucker in high school and I wanted something more in my international school. So I'm just looking around for international colleges. And then when I found you WC United World College I was like, Yeah, I have to go here and I got assigned to the one in most in Bosnia and I've really ethnic conflict and stuff like that really interests me and I feel like setting it makes you realize like all the statistics kind of people, assuming the others different are assuming badly about the other one. But if you can learn Kennedy Yeah, exactly. And because of the Yugoslavian wars in the 90s, it's still very divided place. One side of the river is the Bosniaks and English that the river is the Croats. So this pushes towards helping ease the tension. But also I get to be in a completely different environment like I've ever been to the Balkans, and I'm going work with people all around the world, I think there probably be about 90 different nations represented with 200 kids total, because it's two years. So it's about 100 kids per class. 


Lea Lane  25:33

What a wonderful experience. That is amazing. Sabrina, I think you're going to just bloom bloom there. And I'm so proud of you. The name of this podcast is places I remember from all your early travels, and they are early. What is one favorite memory if you want to share with us?


Sabrina Lane  25:49

I think a very intense memory I have but something have definitely sticks out is when I went to the Golan Heights, Israel. Yeah, Israel. So we were kind of thinking we go like there. I think there's a little like, what's the term a community there? I think we just get a little tour around that complex. Yes, that's it. But what happened in reality was very different. So this guy like took us in like a jeep, all around the places in the Six Day War, and all these big buildings and stuff like that. But just I'm like, 1000 feet away from us, just on the other side of this, like Little River. It was Syria. And we went to eventually we settled in this little rundown building from the 1967 Day War, and there was graffiti everywhere. There's debris everywhere, there's a Windows, but you can just look out and see the country of Syria right in front of you. And my dad told me that when he went to Syria is like the nice people you ever met. So when I heard like a loud bang on the other side, and I think I saw like people running, even though it was a very rural part. It was to people, it made me very emotional, because number one, like, it felt so real to me, you could see this wasn't just something on the news. It was something real. And the guy there was like, Yep, the rebels are fighting again. And I started crying. So I just felt so bad for everyone there. But also I felt because I remember I came on that trip, worrying about my grades at school. And then I realized I was in a bigger context of the world. And it made me want to do something about it. And at one part, specifically, we heard footsteps and we were like, Oh, my God, and we saw like, Guys guns walk in and I was like, Yep, this is it. But there was just the IDF. They're like, hey, it was still it was outside how to see how I guess, militarize the border was no, and how different the countries were either. They were just so close to each other.


Lea Lane  27:35

Well, that's an extremely vivid memory, one that I think influenced you perhaps again, in going to school abroad? Definitely. So I commend you, Sabrina. And I thank you so much for adding a young person's perspective to our previous conversation with Bob go gal. I wish you a wonderful year learning abroad and a lifetime of special travel memories. And I love you.


Sabrina Lane  27:59

I love you too. You're the one who influenced me the most.


Lea Lane  28:02

Thank you.


Lea Lane  28:09

Thanks for sharing travel memories with us. My book, Places I Remember, is available on Amazon and in bookstores, in print, on Kindle, and I read the audio version. Please subscribe to this podcast and consider giving us a review. Until next time, join us wherever in the world we're going.

Lea's first trip abroad
Why learning experiences are important
Bob's own exchange program, later move to Paris
"Coolest job in the world"
Family trips
Exchange programs
Budget travel, backpacking
Gap year, survey of parents
Favorite memory
Intro to Sabrina, student traveler
Costa Rica- Off the Grid with Family
Paris with Lea
Fun, volunteering and Machu Picchu
International school in Bosnia
Final memory: The Golan Heights