Even though our group had an early flight (except for the three of us who would be staying in Europe), we gathered in the hotel lounge after an evening of reflection and a great meal at one of the oldest Bierhauses in Berlin. We didn’t want our trip to end. Two weeks earlier, we had met in Washington, DC, excited to be a part of this experience and unsure of what it would be like to travel with such a large group. This tour would not be a vacation, it would be hard work. Anyone who has traveled knows it can be difficult at times, even when traveling with loved ones. Yet, here were fifteen teachers and their tour leader willing to take a chance on each other. We hoped for the best.
On our last night together, we discussed how this trip was full of many “bests.” The best professional development we have ever experienced, the best group to travel with, the best cities and villages visited, the best tour guides, the best food and drink, and the best group leader. Our ages spanned four decades, we were a combination of history geeks and social justice warriors, experts in German history and generalists who just happen to teach social studies (me), experienced and first-time travelers, introverts and extroverts, pregnant and not, married, single, gay, straight, Southerners, Northerners, East coast, West coast, and the list goes on.
Throughout our travels, no one complained, everyone remained flexible, and everyone showed up on time. The days were long, sometimes leaving our hotel before 9:00 am and not returning until after 9:00 pm. We walked for many miles every day and caught trams, buses, metros, and trains. We attribute a large part of our success to our group leader, Bruce. He sent us early-morning reminders via WhatsApp about where we were headed, what type of dress to wear (some days were formal while others were casual), weather updates, and what time to meet in the lobby. He moved throughout the group during the day, talking with everyone and making sure we were okay. He motivated us with short speeches full of metaphors and movie references, and entertained us with at least a hundred puns a day.
The Transatlantic Outreach Program organizes at least five of these tours for teachers every summer. I am grateful for all of the careful planning that went into this trip and for the TOP partners that make this program possible: The Goethe Institut, Deutsche Bank, Siemens, Robert Bosch Stiftung, and The Federal Foreign Office of Germany.
As I Ieft our hotel in Berlin the next morning to catch my train to Prague, I felt suddenly lost without our expert guides and a group of 14 other teachers around me. I kept checking for my name tag and hoped I caught the right S-Bahn train to the main station. It would be good to have time to reflect on my experiences, but I missed being with the best group ever.
Next stop, Cuba! I do not expect reliable wi-fi there, so I’ll be sharing photos and stories after I return on August 3rd. Thanks for reading!