by Howard Clemens
Recently, Tim Dougherty, Director of Admissions at Cathedral Preparatory School and Villa Maria Academy, took his international and foreign exchange students on a tour of New York City.
The tour was included as part of a package designed to encourage international students to enroll in both schools. It was also an attempt to introduce students to American culture, by exposing them to historical American landmarks like the Empire State Building and the United Nations.
With the help of his student travel company, Dougherty worked out a tour that turned out to be a great success, and a wonderful way for his students to make the transition into the United States. I interviewed him about his experience recently, and he went over some of the details of the trip.
Q. What is your official position at Cathedral Prep?
A. My title is Director of Admissions at Cathedral Preparatory School and Villa Maria Academy. Cathedral Prep is an all-male school of approximately 600 students and Villa is an all-female school of over 300 students. We have one common administration, one curriculum, one school calendar, but we have two campuses…one for boys and one for girls. Both Cathedral Prep and Villa belong to the Catholic Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania.
Q. When you planned this student trip to New York City, what was your vision? How does the trip tie into studies?
A. The trip was purely for entertainment and sightseeing for the students, many who had never been to New York City. We were not covering New York City in the classroom, and it was not tied into any educational program we have. When planning the trip I envisioned seeing all the famous sights in the city and allowing the students to have a real “New York” experience.
Q. Many of the students traveling were foreign exchange students. Can you explain how this came about? Give me some background on your school and families and their relationship to foreign exchange students.
A. We have recently initiated an international program (consisting of mostly Chinese students) at Prep and Villa. The students are exceptional in the classroom and pay top-dollar to study in the USA, so in order to entice them to enroll at our schools we included a yearly trip to New York City as part of the tuition package. All of the 28 students on the trip were international students, mostly from China. We had one student from Denmark and one other from Slovakia.
Q. The Empire State Building was on your itinerary. Why did you think it was important to bring the group here? What was their experience like?
A. The Empire State Building is one of the most recognizable images of New York City, and in America. All of our international students were familiar with it—they’d seen it on television and in movies. When we told the students we would not only be visiting the building, but would also be going to the top of it, they were more than thrilled. I thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity for them to visit the building that has been a symbol of NYC for so long. It allowed for several awesome photo opportunities, and an excellent view of the entire city. We went at night, and the view was breathtaking! The students, many of whom live in large cities in China, agreed that it was one of the most beautiful city landscapes they’ve ever seen. The fact that we saw the city lit up at night made it extra special.
Q. The United Nations Audio Tour must have been interesting. Was this narrated on a mobile device? If so, how did it enhance the tour? Did students get to see people in the UN at work? I imagine UN sessions are closed to the public, but please describe what you saw and learned in detail.
A. The United Nations tour was interesting, and the students and chaperones were both moved by what they saw. The work that the UN does in order to provide children and the under-privileged with school and medical supplies is amazing, and unknown to many people. Many of the students and chaperones were teary-eyed at the end of the tour when they saw the images of the people in need, and how grateful they were for the hard work of the UN. The fact that the tour was given with the assistance of an audio device was immensely helpful considering that the international students were able to listen in their native language. Unfortunately there were no ambassadors working and nothing in session during our visit. But we were able to visit the main room in the UN that everyone always sees on television.
Q. How did students like the visit to Central Park?
A. Our trip to Central Park was brief, but a lot of fun. There were still a lot of leaves on the trees, and the weather was comfortable considering the time of year. We stopped at the Alice in Wonderland statute, and got some group photos. There was a woman playing the guitar and singing beautifully while we were there, which added to the ambiance.
Q. The 911 Memorial is a site most student groups visit. Why was it important to you to bring the group to this site? Also, what were their reactions?
A. The students were anxious to visit the 911 Memorial because they are all familiar with the importance of that day to Americans. On 9/11 the entire world was impacted, so the memorial is special for everyone around the globe. The students were very impressed with the beautiful memorial, and took time to reflect on the tragedy that changed America and the rest of the world forever. For the most part, the students were reverent and respectful during the visit, and asked the chaperones several questions, which showed they were sincerely interested in learning more about what they were witnessing.
Q. Did you give any post trip writing or oral presentations projects to students?
A. The students were not given any assignments to do for this trip. They’re very scholarly and have plenty of other homework to do, so we did not require them to do anything on this trip. Most of them used their free time at the hotel to catch up on the work they were missing while they were out of school.
Q. What was your overall impression of the tour guide and your experience of traveling with your particular tour guides?
A. Our tour guide was excellent! She knew the city very well and took great care of us during the entire trip. She always had a good attitude, and when we had to make slight changes to our itinerary, she did an outstanding job of getting us all set. Not only was she knowledgeable about the landmarks and sightseeing hotspots, but very helpful with guiding us through the best traffic routes. Our travel company definitely had the best itinerary, services, and overall plan for our trip to New York City. Every detail was planned and taken care of. It was reassuring, and each night at the hotel I slept a little better knowing we had the support of the night time security worker that had been arranged. I can honestly say that I’m thrilled with our experience, and that we plan on taking more trips in the future.
Student travel can help facilitate innovative and imaginative ways to incorporate students into American culture. Itineraries may be designed to accommodate a variety of backgrounds and educational goals, and are by no means limited to American students alone. With a little ingenuity and planning, teachers can create travel tours that can open doors for students and help ease their transition into exciting new academic environments that will open doors for them.
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