There’s travel … and there’s travel with teenagers.
I’m not talking about my own teenagers this time, though. I can handle them. I’m talking about other people’s teenagers: a school trip.
To put it mildly, chaperoning school trips is not one of my favorite things!
The basic problem, I think, is the mismatch between what the kids expect from the trip and the actual purpose of the trip. That, combined with the generally constant state of snarky-ness (snarkiness?) that is natural in any adolescent, can make me feel like I’m constantly walking on my tiptoes.
At the same time as they’re expecting fun, fun, fun, I end up representing everything that stands between them and fun, fun, fun.
This week’s trip was to Bremen, Germany, for a Model United Nations. If you’ve ever attended one of these, they are very serious matters. The kids work hard all day: writing draft resolutions, lobbying, speech-making, debating and so on. My kids (a term all teachers use for whichever kids they’re working with at that moment; it doesn’t imply any actual biological relationship) did a great job considering how last minute we signed on for this thing and how little they knew about it beforehand.
Nevertheless, there were moments.
Part of it had to do with drink. The school rule is no drinking on school trips. This wouldn’t have been a problem except for two things:
- Two or three of the 11 students on this trip were already 18. That made it legal for them to drink at home. The rest of them were at least 16, which made it legal for them to drink beer and wine in Germany. So it would have been completely legal for them all to drink. If you spend any time with teenagers, you know they have a very keen sense of justice. Stopping them from drinking was simply not fair and stupid. And, to be honest, I agreed.
- Most of the participants of this particular Model UN were college kids. They were completely unsupervised, running this event or taking part in it on their own. That meant that, after the day’s meetings were over, they were ready to PARTY! My kids couldn’t fully join in.
The kids were remarkably understanding about what an awkward position I was in, and didn’t end up giving me a hard time about it, thank goodness. Having said this, I can’t be sure what they did all the time. You can’t supervise kids that age every moment of the day and night. Sometimes I let them go for short periods of time: “Meet me here by 4:30.” Who knows how they spent that couple of hours?
And after bedtime, I couldn’t really police them, and didn’t really want to. Their rooms were all on different floors, and they could surely have snuck out of the hostel without me knowing. What was I going to do? Camp out in the hostel entrance all night? I just had to trust that the day’s meetings had tired them out enough to prevent them from being too tempted.
These kids were great. Given a logical argument, they accepted the limits I set on them. Every teacher has heard, though, of kids who weren’t so great. The classic situation is the kids who bring alcohol along, so they can get drunk together right there in their hotel rooms. Or the kids visiting London who decide to buy some marijuana and smoke it in their hotel room (and this, coming from the Netherlands where they can get it easily and almost legally!). Or the ones who sneak their boyfriend/girlfriend into their room. Once, on a school trip, a couple of my students got caught shoplifting and we had to send them home early.
For a teacher, this is the stuff of nightmares. None of this happened this time, thank goodness!
I do have some other general observations to make, though, about travelling in this way:
- Traveling with teenagers is like herding cats. Or rather, it’s like herding hungry pit bull puppies. They’re friendlier than cats, though they can turn nasty at any moment if you’re not careful. Remember those aching tiptoes! And the boys are hungry All. The. Time. McDonald’s thrives on the constant hunger of teenage boys.
- Teenagers move slowly. Let’s say that a normal adult could leave at 8:45 to reach your destination on time. In that case, with teenagers, you have to leave at 8:30. But you can’t say “We leave at 8:30” if you mean to leave at 8:30. You have to say 8:15. One kid will forget something. One kid will NEED to “just” stop at McDonald’s on the way (which doesn’t, at that moment, seem like FAST food). One kid won’t factor in waiting for the shower. And so on. And, mark my words, one 52-year-old teacher carrying her suitcase (the handle broke so I couldn’t roll it) walks faster than a whole group of teenagers with rolling suitcases!
- Teenagers don’t listen. No matter how many times you tell them where they have to be and when, at least one of them won’t know.
As you can see, this isn’t exactly a travel post. I did get to see a bit of Bremen (charming old section!) while the kids were busy with the Model UN, but my impressions were mostly shaped by my efforts to move 11 teenagers from place to place:
The humorless German desk man
The morning receptionist at the hostel fit the stereotype of the humorless German perfectly. On the day we were leaving, I asked him where we could leave our luggage for the day.
“But the man who was here last night said we could leave it somewhere in the basement.”
“You’re a group. We don’t store luggage for groups.”
“There are only 12 of us. It’s not such a big group. And the man last night said we could. We planned today around being able to leave our luggage here.”
“Sorry for the misunderstanding. We don’t store luggage for groups.”
“Couldn’t you consider us as 12 individuals then?” I added a smile here.
“No.” Pause. “We have a capacity of 100 people. What if we had to store luggage for 100 people?”
At this point I gave up. Never mind that apart from us the hostel was almost empty. He was clearly not going to be swayed. We ended up having to change all of our careful timing for the day to accommodate two additional stops: one to check all our luggage into lockers at the train station (including rummaging about for exact change) and another to pick it all up again before going to meet our bus home.
The information booth lady
While the kids were getting packed up, I walked down to the train station on my own to find out where the lockers were and to see how much they would cost. I approached the information booth and greeted the woman sitting there:
“Good morning. Do you speak English?”
“Nein.” Nothing else. Just “Nein.” At the central information booth in the central station of a rather major German city that is frequently visited by tourists from all over the world.
There was another person in this information booth, sitting at the far end of the counter. Fortunately I noticed him there, because the “Nein” woman did not do the obvious thing and point me that way. It turned out his English was very good. But wouldn’t it have been simple enough for her to point him out?
If you’re a teacher, please add a comment below describing your chaperoning nightmares! And if you liked this post, please share it!