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“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

Whenever I travel – with students, with family, with friends, or alone – I take notes. I scribble quotes on cocktail napkins, scraps of paper, and train tickets. I write key learnings and bookmark restaurants/stores/streets/spots to revisit on future trips or to recommend to friends.

I pull out my journal and list my favorite parts and my not-so-favorite-hope-not-to-repeat-parts.

When I’m with my family, we talk about our highs and lows out loud. It’s casual and usually at dinner, what was your favorite part about today? What was the best part? What was the worst part?

When I’m with my students, I ask them to share what they liked best and what they would have passed on. I call these Wows and Pows. (I stole these titles from my oldest daughter, based off a game she played in a drama class.)

In the past, I’ve transcribed what they liked/didn’t like at dinner every few nights and we’d have good laughs reminiscing about the days’ events.

This time, our table was long and my soft voice wouldn’t project well in the outdoor restaurant adjacent to the Mediterranean Sea. This time, I prompted everyone and then passed around a few pieces of paper for everyone to write their Wows and Pows.

Here’s a peek-a-boo …

Wows: View from the botanicals in Eze, Rome scenery, leisure time in Nice, view of all of the cities, the beer that I am drinking now, experiencing all these new places with everyone, watching our group grow in spirit and support, touring Florence.

Pows: Hurry hurry-pace in Rome, hot bus, small water costing 2 euros, too many churches, all of the walking, nothing, we couldn’t go swimming.

No swimming was a big one, mentioned by most of the students. It’s a Chicago Public School policy that students are not allowed to be on or in water.) Forget about adding Venice to the itinerary and the Bateaux Mouches in Paris and swimming in the Mediterranean are interdit.

My Pow

One of the mothers on the trip (let’s call her Maria) had her money stolen in a bathroom at O’Hare airport as United Airlines started to board our flight. Maria shouted “help me,” the woman in question was stopped, and the airport police were called. Meanwhile, our group stood in line, waiting to board – unaware of the theft.

Maria’s daughter started to worry, where’s my mom? and simultaneously received a text from her mom with the news. I briefed an airline employee and asked her to watch Maria’s children at the gate as the rest of our group boarded. I rushed to Maria’s side to help her.

When I reached Maria, there was a crowd around her and the woman in question. The women said she did not take the money, yet it was clear that all of Maria’s just-exchanged euros were gone (she had a transaction receipt but no money). There was she said/she said in the middle of the terminal, gawkers stopping and milling around to get the scoop.

There was a what-felt-like-forever-period where the rest of the group had boarded and I raced between Maria and her children, who nervously waited at the gate and wondered should we board/should we wait.

It became quickly clear that the matter wouldn’t be resolved in minutes as the police didn’t seem to believe either story. either women. The younger child was in tears, the oldest’s face looked so stressed my heart was breaking in a million pieces, and I begged United not to close the doors. I offered a hopeful, yet frantic reassurance that Maria would make the flight.

Meanwhile Maria repeated her story to the police and asked “Can you please search the woman for my money? My children are waiting at the gate. My flight is leaving.” The police said no to the search and did not want to let Maria board the plane without getting to the bottom of what happened.

She pleaded with the police to forget it and let her board the flight to Rome. They relented, and she boarded the flight sans euros. I felt sick to my stomach; I cannot imagine how she felt.

My Wows

Witnessing the students bonding: I knew it happened when I overheard the kids at the back of the bus playing the game Would You Rather? and laughing hysterically. They asked and answered questions, such as would you rather have surgically implanted antlers or be pooped on by a flock of seagulls for an hour?

Entering France: I crouched to the back of the bus to inform the students we were leaving Italy and crossing into France. They immediately let out a cheer. Then unprompted, they started singing our kids’ version of the Marseillaise (about the beautiful blue, white, and red flag, not men taking up arms). Even better, they shouted out random French words. Their palpable enthusiasm brought tears to my teacher eyes.

I use the participants’ Wows and Pows to iron out quirks and highlight the favorite parts to replicate. I keep a file of their thoughts and update my travel must-do’s based on what they say. I refer to the Wows and Pows when I’m working with ACIS to create our itineraries.




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