The world isn’t as scary as you think. I promise. So that means it’s time to consider new destinations for student groups.
As a traveler, people ask if I feel “safe” traveling to certain countries they would feel “nervous” to visit. I think the nervousness probably comes less from fear of danger and more from the fear of the unknown.
We send thousands of students a year on trips around the world, but a majority of our groups travel to the same regions—major cities within western Europe or the United States (which, don’t get me wrong, are all worthy destinations to visit).
But what do we miss by only sticking with what is comfortable? One purpose of traveling is changing your view of people and the world. And while we have a lot to learn from the cultures where we share similar norms, we have the most to learn from those with whom we share the least.
I am grateful I’ve had the opportunity to travel, and I recognize it is a great privilege (and therefore comes with a level of responsibility). Some of my biggest surprises have happened while visiting countries drastically different from my own. Here are some places I’ve gone that may seem “scary” at first but are well worth consideration for your next student group trip.
I had always dreamed of studying abroad in school, but for financial reasons, it didn’t happen. Until two years ago, when my husband and I were presented with an opportunity. We moved not to some English-speaking, western culture country like I had always imagined. But to China.
Despite being our political polar opposite, I felt very comfortable and accepted in Shanghai. The city is beautiful, with rich history and some amazing restaurants. I was amazed to discover China has a booming entrepreneurial landscape and impressive technology adaptation. Most Chinese cities have lower crime rates than major cities back at home, and I never felt unsafe walking home alone at night.
Shanghai is also home to a number of museums and hosts art installations regularly. While there, we saw a number of popular Broadway touring productions for a fraction of the cost we would pay on Broadway or London’s West End (including The Lion King performed in Mandarin!).
And, in a country with a language and alphabet completely different from our own, the language barrier was never insurmountable.
If you want to experience the vibrant culture of China, but are a little hesitant to dive into a more traditional city like Beijing, dip your toes in and head to Shanghai.
Since I was in grade school, I have had a fascination with Africa. Morocco is the fourth African country I’ve visited and one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been.
Known as the “doorway to Africa,” Morocco has an interesting cross-section of cultures. While the country has a European influence, with African traditions, it has strong ties to Middle-Eastern culture and architecture, making it incredibly diverse. French and Arabic are the primary languages, but like many places I’ve traveled, I was surprised to find English widely spoken.
Morocco is beautiful—and more geologically diverse than I could have anticipated. One small country has desert, sub-tropical weather, cedar forests, and olive groves. It is also home to hundreds of artisans, who practice their crafts using the same methods as their ancestors. Visit a Berber rug co-operative or a ceramic tile school to see real craftspeople plying their trade.
Though tourists can’t enter the mosques, I loved learning about the culture and religion (including hearing the five times daily calls to prayer). An experienced guide will be thrilled to shed some light on their religion and beliefs.
History buffs will love exploring the winding alleys of Fes, an ancient city. One of the most surprising historical lessons I learned concerned the close relationship between Morocco and the US. Morocco was one of the first countries to recognize our sovereignty and host one of the first US embassies. Our political relationship is one of the longest unbroken relationships in our history. This meant we received many genuine welcomes to our “second home” while visiting.
Cape Town, South Africa
Before heading to Cape Town, South Africa, I was warned extensively about violence. But I quickly realized that Cape Town (at least the parts I visited) wasn’t any more or less safe than many other major cities around the world.
I’m not downplaying statistics of violence or the importance of vigilance when in a new environment (and I may have inadvertently started a political maelstrom on Quora), but stick to busy streets, travel with a buddy, and watch your personal belongings is pretty much the mantra no matter where you go in the world.
Cape Town is an incredible location—there are plenty of free historical walking tours led by locals to familiarize yourself with each neighborhood of the city and learn about South Africa’s checkered past. The local artisan markets have some of the most beautiful crafts we’d seen, and we loved hiking Table Mountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I love travel because it’s challenged my views of the world and it’s helped me become (I hope) a more empathetic person. But it takes a little courage to reframe how we think about countries we are “scared” to visit.
Student groups have an incredible opportunity to learn about other people and their lives early—creating more open-minded global citizens. And by its nature, traveling in a group can help stave off concerns traveling to a new destination.
I get it, sometimes you just want to go somewhere comfortable and familiar, so you can enjoy a stress-free vacation. But if you are ready to explore the world in hopes of challenging your beliefs, it might be time to try one of these new, interesting travel destinations!
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
― Mark Twain