Smithsonian Student Adventures (SSA) offers educators the opportunity to develop a meaningful international travel program for their students, an experience that is distinct and separate from the typical tour normally available to high school students. Beyond dynamic programing, SSA is dedicated to a holistic approach to group travel which ensures that the highest standards of safety, integrity and professionalism are maintained throughout. Read on in the sections below to get a better sense of the elements that will make your SSA experience one of the most remarkable in your teaching career.
Philosophy & Mission
The SSA mission is to inspire students to become global citizens by taking an active interest in the world around them. We achieve this by providing international travel programs in the areas of cultural immersion, wildlife conservation, and leadership development.
Smithsonian Student Adventures (SSA) offers a curious and compassionate approach to travel. Unlike a typical tour, our programs are designed for a select group of high school students and educators who seek an authentic international experience that offers the opportunity to affect positive change at home and abroad.
The safety and well-being of our travelers is our top priority. We are constantly evaluating the safety and security of our destination countries, both from a macro level to a micro level with respect to our partner host communities. Our in-country staff meticulously prepares for all programs by verifying the records of our drivers, testing the integrity and safety of all excursions, vetting homestay families through interviews and home visits and keeping up on important current events.
During travel, our program leaders, who are fluent in the local language and seasoned travelers in the area, make decisions in real-time with the best interest of our travelers at the forefront of their thinking, taking myriad criteria into consideration. Prior to joining our team each leader must pass a background check and undergo thorough training in CPR, First Aid, program management and emergency protocols.
As a part of the application process, participants must complete a medical release form and sign a Standards of Behavior agreement. Information provided on the medical release form is strictly confidential and enables us to best serve and support our participants while they are abroad. SSA’s Standards of Behavior are rules which we require all participants and Program Leaders to adhere to, and help to insure a fair and safe environment.
Smithsonian Student Adventures holds itself to rigorous standards when it comes to program preparation and emergency contingency plans. We register all SSA programs with the U.S. Department of State Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and have detailed emergency protocols in place for our leaders, in-country staff and U.S.-based team.
Standards of Behavior
SSA provides fun, safe, and meaningful programs for our travelers. In order to achieve this goal, we must create an environment of trust, security and respect. All participants are required to take responsibility for their actions and adhere to a high standard of behavioral conduct. Any of the following are grounds for early dismissal or in-country consequences at SSA’s discretion.
- Possessing, consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
- Associating with participants while they are in possession of or are consuming or distributing alcohol or illegal drugs
- Behaving in a way that consistently damages the group dynamic or jeopardizes personal or group safety. This includes consistently displaying a negative attitude, intimidating or excluding other participants, sneaking out, disobeying group leaders, and any other behavior that is not conducive to an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.
GROUNDS FOR DISMISSAL OR IN-COUNTRY CONSEQUENCE
- Getting a piercing or tattoo
- Stealing, or deliberately damaging or defacing any personal property, buildings or materials
- Threatening with or using weapons such as firearms, knives, explosives, etc.
- Riding mopeds, motorcycles, or any other type of unauthorized vehicle
- Being out of designated area or accommodations after curfew
- Breaking group rules
These standards are essential for the successful completion of a travel program. Please take the time to review these rules as a family and make sure everyone understands and agrees to them before deciding to travel with us.
One of the fundamental advantages of working with Smithsonian Student Adventures is the fact that we handle each and every logistical concern from the moment a group departs the United States until their return home at the end of a successful adventure. With destinations that span dozens of countries across the globe, it’s vital that the logistics behind each and every program are handled with the utmost care and attention to detail. We book the international airfare, arrange all lodging and transportation in the destination country with the highest standards in mind, leaving you as the Group Organizer to focus on maximizing your time with your students during the program.
As students embark on a Smithsonian Student Adventure program, we understand how eager families are to be kept in the loop as the adventure unfolds. In addition to safe arrival and departure notifications, SSA is proactive in our communication with families, alerting them to the group’s safe and successful arrival in country, each time a group moves from one major destination to the next, and at the end of the program when students have boarded their flight home.
Our program leaders will also update a program blog every 24-48 hours (connectivity allowing) with written accounts, photos, and occasionally video, that gives families a clear sense of the group’s whereabouts and accomplishments. Finally, groups travel with internationally enabled cell phones which allow families to reach out to their student immediately in the case of an emergency.
Our team employs a strict emergency protocol. SSA requires incident reports and employs a robust array of safety standards guiding all aspects of program planning, implementation, and evaluation.
PROGRAM SAFETY CHECKLIST
- Program management is aware of the political and social conditions that prevail in the countries being visited and has made contact with the appropriate government officials.
- Participants are registered with the appropriate home country embassy and US State Department.
- SSA monitors any SOS travel warnings and abides by their recommendations.
- Participants and staff are made aware of the political and social conditions prior to agreeing to go.
- Health and medical considerations particular to the countries to be visited are known and researched.
- Program staff are aware of specific health and medical concerns in the countries being visited and how these concerns may or may not be relevant to the planned activities. Things to consider could be close interactions with local population; location, distance, accessibility, staffing, and training of locale medical facilities; and advising participants and staff to bring an extra supply of medications, medical kits, and any other items deemed necessary.
- Participants and staff are informed of health and medical considerations and health risks associated with the planned itinerary prior to agreeing to go and additional individual medical and health concerns for international travel are specifically addressed.
- The personal health history of all participants and staff is reviewed and considerations are made for the health conditions that may present challenges in another country.
- Staff and participants are made aware of any vaccinations required for international travel to host country.
- SSA has reviewed the carbon footprint and environmental impact of program.
- SSA has developed an emergency action plan for international travel.
- The program and/or participants have obtained appropriate insurance coverage for international travel.
- SSA has the required insurance policies to fulfill most district requirements.
- SSA plans and conducts activities with knowledge and awareness of the cultural context of the host country. Considerations include, but are not limited to, having some ability to speak the local language and communicating with local residents; knowledge of laws; knowledge of religious or spiritual customs; dressing appropriately; and understanding the contextual differences of being in a different country and culture.
- SSA has appropriately addressed possible unique situations related to nutrition, hydration and hygiene specific to locale.
- SSA has ensured that local area is able to provide sage food and drinking water for participants and staff, particularly in rural areas.
- Standards are adhered to and adapted if necessary for providing adequate drinking water. Hygiene practices are followed and adapted as necessary for the local conditions.
- Participants and staff have, or are provided with the appropriate equipment, clothing, and footwear for each activity.
- Field staff has an appropriate understanding of the equipment they will be using.
- Participants are provided with or have access to adequate water and nutrition.
- Hygiene training or education is provided, and appropriate measures are taken to minimize the spread of bacteria and disease.
Adult Traveler Expectations
Our programs are designed with our student travelers in mind. From our hospitable accommodations, to our all-inclusive tuitions, to the dynamic itineraries that maximize educational and experiential value. That said, we want to ensure that traveling adult participants have an amazing time, too. We want to make sure that your expectations as an adult traveler are accurately framed before you travel with a student group. Below are a few things we want our adult participants to keep in mind so that everyone has a memorable and enjoyable trip:
In contrast to many other companies, Walking Tree Travel and Smithsonian Student Adventures do not combine groups which means your experience will be exclusive to your select group of fellow travelers. When traveling with a group of students, staying flexible and having a positive attitude makes a huge difference. Your positivity can be contagious—especially for student travelers. And since you’re traveling as a group and not on your own, it’s important to be punctual, communicate openly with your accompanying Program Leader, and stick to the itinerary as originally designed, rather than moving at your own pace or deviating from previously arranged group activities and accommodations.
Our student programs are an introduction to international travel and are intended to give young people the confidence and desire to continue to explore the world after their program with us has concluded. We design each and every one of our itineraries to get the most out of each destination; our Program Leaders and local guides focus on facilitating meaningful experiences which take full advantage of the linguistic, cultural, and human connection available. Many of our itineraries include time living with local families and/or working on meaningful community service projects – if either of these are elements of the trip you are thinking about joining, please consult the Community & Project Details section of your program webpage, as well as the Host Communities webpage, and be sure to speak directly with your representative for more details.
Because these itineraries are designed for young adults, groups are often on the move most days with free time worked in whenever possible. Your days will often be fast-paced and include a lot of walking and/or physical activity, so be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes and be ready to participate in each activity mentioned on your itinerary! If you believe this may be problem, please bring this to our attention and we will be happy to talk to you in more detail about exactly what to expect on your trip.
In order to provide a safe and memorable experience for our participants, teachers, and staff, our Program Leaders and Country Directors follow strict guidelines when deciding on lodging, working with partner vendors, making reservations, and assigning traveling participants to rooms. You will stay in safe, clean, comfortable and centrally located hotels with private bathrooms. In order to have an authentic experience, in certain locations adult travelers need to be prepared to tolerate some discomforts they may not be used to. Some of our programs, particularly our Conservation Expeditions and Service Adventures, feature accommodations that lack certain amenities. For instance, field stations that are located in rural areas may not have air conditioning, internet, sealed rooms, or other amenities that many adult travelers have come to expect. While we do our best to always provide the best accommodations we can in any situation, “roughing it” from time to time is something that we consider to be an integral part of the travel experience for young people. In our discussions we reflect on and try and help students embrace the discomfort that comes with having a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
As an adult, you’ll be assigned to a single room whenever possible. For this reason, and for the additional administrative and leadership time traveling with adults requires, we charge a $250 supplemental fee for our adult participants. Our adult travelers will room separately from students in a private room whenever possible. Educator Group Organizers and Program Leaders will be roomed separately from each other and from student participants. A few other things to keep in mind with hotels during your program:
- We typically partner with 2 and 3-star hotels which are locally operated, centrally located and wifi enabled.
- Rooms and beds are usually smaller and have single and/or shared double beds.
- Rooms only occasionally have air conditioning or televisions.
- Not all multi-story hotels have elevators so travelers are expected to be able to carry their luggage up stairs.
- Shower pressure tends to be much weaker and, in some countries, the showerhead may be a detachable, hand-held device, directly above the toilet or sink. Fewer hotels have shower curtains and hot water can be intermittent.
All three meals are included in your tuition but alcohol is not (and is not allowed on most programs). We make it a point to eat locally as food is one of the best way to engage a new culture. Breakfast is typically enjoyed at the hotel or host family and will consist of local fare. More often than not we eat lunch and dinner together as a group when you’ll be able to choose from a selection of local options, unless we are in a host community in which case you’ll eat with your family. We are able to accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies so please be forthcoming with your preferences and needs when enrolling for your program.
Tips for a Successful Trip
- Go with the flow. Group travel can be logistically challenging at times, and there may be times when we can simply not control the situation. Stuck in a big traffic jam? Rather than dwell on the delay, why not use this as a time to play a game on the bus or bond with your fellow travelers?
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. Travel can be unpredictable at times, and although we try our hardest to make sure everything runs perfectly, there may be times when some things don’t go according to plan. By not sweating the “small stuff” we can teach students the importance of maintaining a positive attitude when confronted with an unanticipated inconvenience.
- Set a positive example. Whether they like to admit it or not, students are constantly looking up to adults and learning from the example they set. By having a positive attitude and being open to trying new things, you will be encouraging students to do the same. We believe that the key to having a successful trip is by being positive and open minded!
- Have fun!