Global Immersion Studies FAQ

Global Immersion Studies FAQ

The Global Immersion Studies Program has been a part of Steamboat Mountain School’s curriculum since its inception. For 56 years the school has been traveling with young people and has a long history of adventure and service learning. The current Director of Global Studies has been organizing the travel program for 20 years and has personally traveled almost every year for the past 26. Faculty members who participate in the Global Immersions Studies Program are well trained to be mindful leaders and responsible travelers. Both the Director of the Program and the leaders of the trips are happy to answer questions about the program and trip specifics.

Why should my child travel with Steamboat Mountain School versus quality summer programs?

By being a student at Steamboat Mountain School, you have the opportunity to be challenged to become your best self. We work with our students throughout the school year, and we ask them to reflect on their behavior, the choices they make, and the way they treat those around them; we teach them to develop skills that allow them to develop into curious and mindful human beings. As they grow from one experience to another, we give them the opportunity to go out into the world and ask questions which enable them to form new perspectives and expand their awareness. We empower them to engage with diverse cultures and to question the meaning of global citizenship and responsible living. Meanwhile as they begin to contemplate and gain an understanding of their experiences, we ask them to go deeper, learn more, do more, seek more, and become the best of who they can be. We build upon each experience and we are present to assist in the ongoing growth of our students.

The trips last for approximately 4 weeks. How do the students fare with this length of trip?

Our program is based on immersion, which can’t happen in a week or two. The idea is to put students in a situation outside their normal scope. We get as far away from plush living and McDonalds as we can. It takes time to reach many of our destinations, and it takes time to adapt to the environment and begin to gain confidence in and with the new experiences and opportunities. We combine home-stays, immersion, and service learning with adventure to involve students in a broad range of experiences. We know how to manage stress and homesickness with our students, and we are confident that the trips offer time for challenge, reflection, learning, contribution, personal growth, and fun. When students come home, most say the time flew by and the trip felt short. Very often, students are so immersed, they don’t want to leave or say that they will be back. And that the next time, they will stay longer!

What if my student has never traveled before?

No problem. The trip destinations are carefully chosen to give students the best support and experience possible. Our teachers are well traveled, know the students, have been on other outdoor trips with them, and have experience dealing with young people who are in different stages of their development. Hesitant students can make for great travelers because they both have a respect for the unknown and a willingness to seek boundless opportunities.

What if students don’t speak the language?

A native speaker will always travel with the group to assure that important information is clearly communicated and that the groups needs are met. We also travel with companies, agencies, and organizations with whom we trust. Much of the traveling and logistics are done with their professional assistance to assure that the trips are culturally rich and secured in logistical soundness. On the other hand, language is a tricky concept, and definitions of the word vary. The GIS program teaches this meaning of language (from the Free Dictionary):

a. Communication using a system of arbitrary vocal sounds, written symbols, signs, or gestures in conventional and non-conventional ways: spoken language; sign and symbolic language.
b. The ability to communicate.

Since we travel the globe, we cannot possibly speak all the languages of the countries we visit. If we ponder just how many languages are spoken in the world…roughly 6500, it becomes clear that we need to learn there are many ways to communicate. So we ask our students and leaders to consider:

  • What nonverbal forms of communication exist so that we can communicate with people from cultures different than our own?
  • What can we do to show people we are interested in them and we want to learn from them?
  • How can we show respect for a culture and their people when we have limited grasp of their verbal language?

During GIS trips, we often rely on interpreters, and we expand our willingness to communicate in ways beyond spoken language. We gain skills that overcome language barriers.

Why does the school frequently travel to developing countries?

It’s no accident that people in the developing world are often content in their lives, even if they have very little. Much of the time, rural people are living much closer to the land and in stronger social groups than the students see within their own culture. Steamboat Mountain School visits these countries because the indigenous populations live as they did centuries ago. We aren’t traveling just to see sights but to seek to understand how others live and learn from their way of life. Because we look for ways for our students to gain global perspectives, we want them to learn from cultures that have a global impact as well. We are looking for pure cultural experiences, travel that impacts our hearts and minds. We are committed to simplifying the experience in order to gain a deep connection-uncomplicated by malls, iPods, cell phones, and first world priorities. While we’re doing so, we give back to communities that can gain from our ability to travel. We paint schools, put in community gardens, visit hospitals and orphanages, and learn from cultures that live simply, but richly. We raise money before we go and spend it in the best way possible to support the communities we’re visiting. These ways, our students learn to be grateful and perhaps to live with less. And they learn the value of giving.

What kind of assurance can the school give me regarding safety and security practices?

Steamboat Mountain School engages in active, ongoing risk management analysis and improvements to the program. Safety and security are priorities as we prepare the itinerary, the faculty, and students for travel abroad. Judgment, health management, risk assessment, self responsibility, planning, and educated decision-making are skills that are required of all group members. The trip destinations are based on locations where the goals and the values of the program can be met, and where the school has deemed that the risks can be appropriately managed. The school monitors government sites, Peace Corps information and alerts, current events, and various travel sites and blogs to assure that thorough research and follow up occurs prior to and during students' travel abroad. We train all faculties in risk mitigation, international safety protocol and practices, and risk assessment techniques. We evaluate organizations and agencies with whom we work and require that all have an emergency contingency plan. We work closely with local experts and collaborate with them to insure quality service, trustworthy methods, and continuous risk assessment. Steamboat Mountain School has an extensive network of contacts and personal relationships in the countries we visit. We work hard to have quick access to information and knowledge of how to utilize local resources.

Does the school conduct a political and security evaluation?

Steamboat Mountain School never sends a trip to a country or region deemed unsafe by the US Department of State. If a travel warning has been issued, the school does not offer a trip to that country. We also register all groups traveling abroad with the US Embassy.

What kind of emergency information does the school collect and pass onto leaders prior to the departure of the GIS trips?

Faculty leaders are provided with a list of emergency contacts specific to their trip including detailed information about local medical facilities, English speaking doctors, agencies that offer in-country assistance, local contacts, police stations, the nearest embassies or consulate, and stateside 24-hour response numbers.

Does the school purchase travel insurance for the students?

A limited policy is acquired for students through the purchase of the International Student Identification Card. The school recommends that parents purchase additional travel insurance. Insurance information can be found here.

Do students need special luggage or gear for the GIS trip?

As much as possible, the school tries to use the same gear in the GIS program that is used during the outdoor trips. By the time we leave for GIS, students have camped or backpacked at least two times and have become accustomed to using their gear. We know by October if our trip destinations are cold or warm climates, and if going to cold climates, we always suggest to the students to utilize the gear they already have for their outdoor activities.
A packing list is included in the GIS Parent Handbook, so parents have plenty of time to gather additional gear if necessary.

How does communication work while students are abroad? Can they bring their electronics on the trip?

First and foremost, leaders carry a satellite communication device that allows them to get help or communicate with the school when they are in remote areas or when they cannot get phone service. Leaders also carry a cell phone for emergency communication. Leaders are expected to contact school at least once per week and we ask that the groups blog several times per week when possible. We do our best to meet the needs of the school, the parents, and those who are traveling.
The school believes that being fully engaged in the trip is the best possible way for students to grow and make connections. We also understand the need for students to communicate with their families. Both the leaders and students have opportunities to contact family and friends through internet services at cafes, hotels, and at visiting schools. We ask that students not bring their cell phones, iPads or computers. Since we travel to remote areas, groups cannot always communicate regularly, but the school notes this on the itinerary so that parents can anticipate times of limited communications.

How do we find out what vaccinations are needed for the trip and where do we get them?

The school works with Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) to gather all needed vaccination information. VNA, which serves as an International Travel Clinic is associated with the Center for Disease Control (CDC) through a program called Travax. Parents are informed of vaccination requirements and recommendations from three resources: emails from the director of the program, an electronic letter sent to all parents of GIS travelers, and the online GIS handbook. Parents are given the option to have their child vaccinated through clinics held here at school or through their own health professional. This information is distributed to parents by November.

Who makes the travel arrangements and purchases air tickets and visas?

The Director of the Global Immersion Studies Program plans the itinerary and makes all travel arrangements that are directly related to the trip, including international air tickets and visas. Parents do need to make arrangements for their child to fly to Denver to meet the group the day before the international departure.

When do parents need to have a passport for their student?

The ideal time to have a passport  is at the start of school. It is important that the school have a copy of students' passport when they arrive at school in order that we may get the best price possible on international airfare. To do so, we need the child’s name as written on their passport, date of birth, passport number, and expiration date. The simplest way to access that information is for us to have a copy of the passport. However, the school asks that all passports be collected and kept in the school safe immediately after Winter Break so that they can be available to scan and send if they are needed to acquire a visa.

Who do I talk to if I have concerns about the concept of travel?

Both the Director of the Program and the trip leaders are happy to answer questions about the program and trip specifics.