About the Author:
Dr Frank Pitt is an educator with a strong interest in creating learning environments that provide all students with the skills and capacities to thrive in a fast changing world. He has held leadership positions in primary, secondary and special schools and has been appointed principal of St Mary Star of the Sea College in Wollongong in 2009. Mr Pitt’s career in education has spanned more than 35 years and he said he has never had a bad day in the job. His perspective on educational travel:
Students from St Mary Star of the Sea College Wollongong have been involved in immersion trips to Italy for over 15 years. During this time, we have witnessed immense growth in our students’ language development and greater understanding and appreciation of Italian culture, customs and social life. Our students have also developed lasting friendships with their host families that have resulted in return visits and hosting of Italian students by families in Australia. Following are some of the benefits I have observed as a result of these biennial immersion trips:
We have observed significant improvements in the spoken language of students as a result of the Italy trips. Students are totally immersed in the language as they are attending an Italian school, staying with an Italian family and spending as much time as possible conversing in Italian. The value of this immersion experience can be measured in not only greater confidence with the language but also increased motivation, greater commitment to study and a deeper understanding of the value of having a second language.
Relationships are strengthened throughout the trip as students get to know each other, share new experiences together and learn to depend on each other. We have had wonderful experiences of students who hardly knew each other returning as good friends. We have also seen girls who left Australia feeling very insecure about their place in the group returning with a new group of friends and these friendships have been maintained as the girls feel they have a common bond – the Italy trip.
While travelling overseas with students is always exciting it can also be quite exhausting for staff. The difference with this trip is that groups travel at a slower pace and, because there is a home stay opportunity for students, teachers are much fresher throughout the entire journey. This has wonderful benefits as students come to both trust and rely on teachers and teachers have the time and opportunity to really get to know the students. As the teachers who escort students on these trips are generally their language teachers, we find that the relationships become much stronger, the students and teachers become co-learners in a new environment and there is great respect developed. I believe that this immersion experience strengthens teaching and learning, however, it also strengthens relationships between teachers and students.
Staying with host families is often the highlight of the trip for our students. They become part of the family and often develop warm relationships with the extended family. They gain a unique insight into family life in another country and they are provided with wonderful cultural experiences while staying with host families. Our students have experienced tremendous generosity while staying with host mum and dads and we have had a number of students who have returned to their host families after leaving school for extended stays.
One of the wonderful benefits of providing an immersion trip is that we have very healthy numbers in our language classes. While languages are now compulsory at our school from year 7 – 10, Italian numbers have been strong for a long time, largely as a result of having this immersion opportunity available. Having students visit our school is a highlight for many of our students as families are delighted to have the opportunity to return the hospitality their girls received. I am told that there is competition between students to have one of our Italian visitors stay in their homes. In the same way that our students have formed bonds with their host families, our students and their families are forming bonds with the Italian students that visit St Mary’s.
The bonds formed between our girls and their host sisters are both warm and enduring. These relationships often develop even before the girls have met each other face to face as they make contact through social media and have often met the family before landing in Italy. As mentioned earlier we have girls who will remain in contact with their host families for many years after the visits and, in many cases, our girls have made lifelong friends. We have had students who have spent time living and studying in Italy and invariably they catch up with their host families and in some cases, stay with their host families. We are beginning to see the same trends happening with the Italian students who are remaining in contact with their host families and making arrangements for return visits.
For many of our students, the Italy immersion trip is their first significant time away from home and this can be challenging for students and their parents. However, in every instance, I believe that there has been great benefit for girls and their families. It is not unusual for girls to become homesick and for parents to worry about their daughters, however, they get over it and are stronger as a result. The growth in the students and the resilience they show is a real benefit of this trip. Parents are amazed at how independent their girls are during their time away and how self-sufficient they can be. This is a major revelation for parents and one that can result in girls being given greater responsibility and independence. Students get the chance to show that they can not only survive but thrive in new environments and parents are delighted with the confident and self-sufficient young women that return from their Italy experience.
We would like to thank Dr Frank Pitt for such a great ongoing relationship with St Mary Star of the Sea College and look forward to planning your upcoming trip.