Teacher report: My inspection visit to Germany with Voyager
6 Feb 2020 13:56 by Quentin Gunderson
We recently ran a free Inspection trip to our flagship new school language centre in Germany. Here's how Quentin Gunderson, Assistant Principal at Grove Academy and Key Stage Three German teacher found it.
Was this the first inspection trip you’ve done with Voyager?
The first school I worked with did German exchange trips organised with a partner school. The students stayed with host families and the schools ran the activities. It worked well, but these days requirements for Health and Safety and Insurance are tightened up. So it makes a lot of sense to use a specialist company. This was my first trip with Voyager. I was really curious to learn more and see one of their locations in Germany first hand.
Do your students already do language trips to Germany?
We're a fairly new school, so this would be a first for us. We're in quite a challenging area so we know for example that we wouldn’t get take up for skiing trips. But something with real educational benefits, such as German language immersion, or a cross-curricular trip, is much more accessible from a cost perspective.
What attracted you to this inspection trip and what did you hope to get out of it?
If I'm honest the biggest draw was the visit to the Christmas market, but there were all sorts of other plus points: meeting other language specialists, seeing a potential place to take our students. I expected much more teacher talk and sales pitch. We learnt lots of useful stuff, but the balance was just right - no hard sell. It was great to be able to take my wife and we wished we brought our daughter as well. I think her perspective would have been really useful and we'd have enjoyed spending time together.
What was the journey out like?
We went by coach - just as the school trips do. Germany's Eifel region is very accessible from Calais. I'm used to doing ski trips by coach which are much longer, so it was great to only have five hours of travel from Calais. Leaving after school on the Friday evening meant we really maximised our time over the weekend. We travelled overnight and we got a few hours' sleep on the coach. When we arrived we were able to get straight into our room to sleep a little more. Then we had a good hearty breakfast and we were all set for the day.
Where did you stay?
The centre's accommodation is the youth hostel in Hellenthal. It's in a lovely countryside location, surrounded by forest. It's spotlessly clean and the facilities are good. Obviously it's not the height of luxury - youth hostels are what they are - but it was fine for a weekend stay. The rooms were clean and spacious with shared shower and bathroom facilities. The thing I really liked was how generous the staff were with their time. Nothing was too much trouble. They all spoke great English but were very happy to let you try your German and stressed that they would only speak German to the kids so that they had a genuine German language experience. The Activities staff were very good at that too. We were really well looked after. Top marks for having a sauna there too!
What activities did you do?
We started off with a really useful walk around with the Activities Team - seeing what they could offer and how it worked. We covered other important things like sharing facilities for the sexes and catering for the needs of non-gender-specific young people.
There were heaps of different outdoor activities so we could only try three: high ropes, archery and the giant swing. High ropes were unique because they take place undercover in a huge all-weather barn. Archery was fun, people enjoyed it and it felt safe and well organised. My favourite though was the giant swing. More than all the other activities, it requires teamwork which is great for students to learn. Communication and teamwork are essential. And then of course there's a huge rush flying 40 feet in the air!
The German centre lends itself to lots of other activities you could put in a trip proposal too. Being away from built-up areas, I imagine you get fantastic night skies, so it would be brilliant for night walks, stargazing and orienteering. I loved the Build a Car exercise, particularly with its focus on sustainability. Volleyball, table tennis, barbecues - there's so much to do. I think sports and activities are so good for young people, helping them learn together and gain confidence.
All the activities were conducted in English because we had our families with us, but they explained that when they do the activities with school groups, everything is done in German so that the children get used to listening and talking in German during their stay.
Did the Christmas market live up to your expectations?
The Christmas market felt like a winter wonderland. There was Christmassy music, aromas of winter foods in the air - chestnuts roasting, hot dogs - and obviously Glühwein. (Funnily enough, that stall was our first stop!) It was great to go just before Christmas, perfect for some present shopping. That's another advantage to going by road - no problem to come home with a couple of extra bags to put in the hold!
Did anything surprise you?
On Sunday we visited Phantasialand. I'd been over 30 years ago and I'd forgotten how good it is!
It's the ideal fun thing to add to a trip to get students interested. Sure it's not Disneyland Paris, but it's easily as good as Alton Towers. We loved it. A really nice touch was that we had fast track passes. We only had a few hours, but we fitted in loads of rides. We both loved Black Mamba where you get flipped around all over the place. It all felt really Christmassy there too with ice rinks and twinkling fairy lights everywhere and (of course) more mulled wine!
Would you recommend visits like this for teachers planning modern language trips?
Just generally I'd really recommend doing an inspection trip. Nothing can replace visiting a centre in person. You get to ask all the questions for the proposal and risk assessment and that's crucial for a successful trip. But also, I think all of us who teach know we work hard and it's great to be able to spend a weekend away with other teachers who teach languages and relax in a different environment.
It was also so nice to take my wife. She had a wonderful weekend and tried lots of stuff she'd not normally do. I even managed to get her on the high ropes! Finally, I was really impressed by the organisation. It ran like clockwork and we got exactly what we needed to come back inspired and ready to start a trip proposal. I wouldn't hesitate to use Voyager and to suggest them to others.