Group Travel: Recognition

In light of my upcoming time in Greece with a group of 145 students, 11 other staff and myself, I’ve been thinking about what has made my past travel groups some of the best communities of which I have ever been a part. 

The way we recognize the members of our community shows a lot about ourselves, and what we value.

A fraction of the students, posing above the city

I’ve had some truly beautiful communities, like the Egypt and DR summer experiences, as well as the past spring’s Model NATO/Model Arab League travel teams.  I’m trying to draw from these good examples when I plan the activities and traditions I want to embed in this year’s Greece program.

At the end of our Benin trip, during our wonderful Memorial Day at a Lebanese hotel (read: a pool and American food) we had two great forms of recognition: superlatives and speeches.  The superlatives covered everything, from most afraid of bugs to to most prepared to most likely to eat cous cous again.  With write-ins and multiple winners, it was a laid-back way to reminisce.  After, we gave our speeches.  The day before, each of us had drawn a name out of a hat of someone else on the trip.  That night at dinner, starting randomly and following the chain of speeches back around, we each took a turn to rise and recognize the singular, spectacular achievements and contribution that person made to the group.  While this can be uncomfortable if the group stays sectioned off, it’s a nice way leave everyone feeling good about their time.

When Esther was in Zambia, they passed a baton that had been all over the world.  The idea is to recognize those who have been excellent (diligent, polite, optimistic, helpful, kind) but who have been lacking in attention thus far.  This original baton continues on, and you can track it at The Baton Lives Free.  In order to recreate the awesome of the baton but not have to continually hijack it, SEI has opted to create a new baton or set of batons for every trip.  They are passed from Professor and Esther, and from there they are awarded to students, by students.  Each student adds or alters the baton in some way.  For example, with our capstone baton, Kevin added a star to DR on the globe.  The baton can be anything–for our Dialogue, it was a star wand and a crown.  It’s interesting to see the meandering path of the baton, and the speeches for the next recipient are thoughtful and heartfelt.  People tend to pay more attention to their behavior, too, when they know they could be publicly awarded for it (or not).

Superlatives are a great way of ending your time in any type of group.  It’s important to make sure someone is in charge of it, although I would say not a student, as people sometimes vote for cruel or thoughtless superlatives.  We did these in Benin as well as the DR, and people got pretty rabid in the DR when we delayed announcements in an effort to add photos.  I noticed that the superlatives that mean the most are more creative than “best smile” or “best laugh”, and less obvious than whatever running jokes have been present from day one.

I’m looking forward to adapting these to our large group of 145 in Greece.  We’re going to need a lot of batons.  What methods of recognition have you seen in the past?  Do you have any ideas for how to recognize good behavior and create a strong sense of community in such a large group?

Signs I’ve Been Traveling too Long

  • I don’t think of time in semesters, seasons or years, but rather locations
  • I don’t actually have a primary care physician, just a doctor at the travel clinic
  • Everyone asks, “where are you going next?” and “how was wherever you went?” instead of “what are you doing with your life/where are you working,” and, “how are you?”
  • No one is mad about my new piercing/unemployment status/messiness, because they’re just excited you’re home.  WARNING: this only lasts about 48 hours. 
  • Even my Gram makes cracks about you being in the state for more than 24 hours.
  • A toilet is a luxury
  • An eight hour bus ride seems like no big thing
  • Staying in one place for a week or more leaves you feeling settled, calm, and eventually even a little stir crazy.
  • I find myself referring to your time abroad like prison stints, “Yeah, I did three months in Havana, then after that I was in West Africa for three weeks.”
  • I try to reuse everything, and hoard weird stuff like plastic cutlery and sauce packets
  • I am appalled by things like baby/wedding showers, and the excessive and overlapping nature of most of the gifts.
  • Supermarkets are scary but sort of awesome.

On the flip side, check out Signs I’ve Been Home too Long.  How do you know you’ve been gone too long?

Signs I’ve Been Home Too Long

  • I resort to watching reality trash like “Love in the Wild,” just to see the Costa Rican landscape
  • I’m trying to learn another language
  • I go out to dinner and on vacation with my parents.  often.  willingly.
  • I’ve made several fantasy itineraries for future travels
  • It’s been months since I’ve eaten fresh, local, fruit
  • I talk to myself in Spanish
  • My workout music is all foreign
  • People have no problem getting mad about my new piercing/unemployment status/messiness, because they’re completely over the novelty of my being home.
  • I have plenty of time to write but nothing to say
  • People keep asking which country I’m in and/or trying to hang out with me, “before you leave again!” assuming I should be leaving any day now
  • The excitement of living near a target has (almost) worn off
  • My parents’ upcoming trip to Montreal for 3-4 days sounds mouthwatering.
  • Walking for 40 minutes seems absurd
  • I don’t get excited about tap water; I expect it
  • I waste things without even noticing
  • The idea of a beach being for wealthy people is annoying but expected

On the flip side, check out Signs I’ve Been Traveling too Long.  How do you know you’ve been home too long?

Evening in Havana

Aliesha's camera 246After a long day at the beach, watching backflips and swimming to sandbars and eating little cajitas of fried chicken and potato chips for a CUC, we would climb the fourteen floors up to the penthouse.  A shower and a Cuba Light*, dancing along to Otis Redding, the Hold Steady, Lady Gaga or perhaps all three.  We didn’t even fight over who got the shower first, because nobody wanted hot water on those days anyway.

batista weekend 158There’s something wild and liberating about drinking in the shower.  It’s just enough outside the norm, just strange enough.  Like life really could just be fun forever.  And on a sunny day, after a lot of laughs and swimming, it’s the perfect way to wash off the salt and sand.  It’s days like this that made me love the cool showers.  And the precarious genius of Tomatina parking her laptop in the bathroom.

A cajita of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten.
A cajita of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

After a shower its time for the balcony, for reading and writing as the sun slips below the malecon.  There’s a
balcony right off my room, and I usually got it and it’s perfect breeze all to myself.  The advantage of having your own spot is that everyone knows where to find you, and the company was always good when it came.  Somehow writing feels special if it’s from a balcony in Havana.  From there I watched the floods, the fights, the niños skating, the guys rolling up to see which chicas would come out that night.

week 7 and 8 190On these perfect days, these three-day-weekends-every-week days, these relaxing in Havana days, these full and content days, the food was somehow always good.  Rice and beans, meat that didn’t look creepy, or the occasional pizza or even sometimes POLLO NIGHT!  Fresh fruit juice, rolls AND butter-like substitute, and yuca french fries. If there were shortages on those days, I didn’t notice.

batista weekend 122
These are the days that keep me up dreaming of Cuba, that have me re-creating our playlists, and wishing Havana Club wasn’t illegal to import.

*our very own creation, a Cuba Light is rum (usually some clear anejo havana club aka the cheapest good thing) and water and crystal light mix in a dasani water bottle.  for a variation on a hot day, throw it in the freezer and it’s a Cuba Ice.