Tips for a Successful Family Immersion Trip Overseas -

Editor’s note: To go along with our SpanglishBaby Live Google+ Hangout about immersion travel, we’ve prepared a whole week of posts about this topic. Our first one is by Susan, one of our regular contributors, whom we would’ve loved to have as a guest on the Hangout, but who’s unable to join us because of her job as a Spanish teacher. Susan, her husband and her two trilingual kids will go on their third immersion trip — their second to Peru — this summer and she has tons of info to share.

Visiting and traveling in Spanish speaking countries is an educational and fun way to enrich your child’s language abilities. While traveling with children can be challenging, the rewards are well worth the effort of planning such a trip. A journey abroad exposes your child to another country and culture, improves their Spanish skills, and is a great way for the entire family to bond and learn together.

Schools and Homestays

I have always been an independent traveler, and like to set up our Spanish classes, homestays, and excursions by doing my own independent research on the Internet. Once my husband and I have decided on a destination, I do a Google search of Spanish schools in the area. I read through the websites of many different schools to see what classes and programs they offer, and then visit different travel forums to read the reviews of former students. Once I have narrowed down the selection, I email the directors to see if they will be able to accommodate our special situation — a bilingual family with young children. This process does take some time, but the research and planning of our trip is a lot of fun.

It seems that traveling with children is becoming more popular. Most schools have a teacher that works with children, but it is always important to emphasize that your children are bilingual to avoid the teaching of the basics such as colors and numbers. I always request that the kids are read to extensively and immersed in children’s literature since educational research emphasizes that reading expands a child’s vocabulary and improves their language skills. I bring some books and always buy a supply of Spanish books to take back home.

A homestay experience can be a wonderful way to get to know the culture of the country that you are visiting, but it is important to be with a good family. I have always used homestays that have been arranged by the school. In an earlier post, I described our experiences at wonderful homestay and a horrible homestay. Last year’s experience was so bad, my husband was reluctant to do another homestay this year. To avoid an awful situation, I have stipulated beforehand that we can change houses or even go to a hotel instead of staying in a homestay where we are miserable. I am confident that things will go well, and that we will once again have the experience of getting to know a local family.

Medical and Security Concerns

My husband and I traveled a lot and even lived and worked abroad before having children. I didn’t worry too much about health issues or security concerns. That all changed when we had children. Unfortunately, I learned the importance of researching health issues the hard way.

Two years ago my husband and I had decided to take the children to Peru, a country we had visited as a couple several years earlier. I had the airline tickets purchased and plans made. When discussing with the doctor which immunizations we would need for the trip, he expressed serious concern at taking our children to Cusco where the altitude is around 11,200 feet. Since we live at sea level, there was real concern of altitude sickness. Since our children were only 3 and 1½ years old at the time, the doctor advised us to change our plans and visit cities at a lower elevation. We still traveled to Peru, but I had to change our plane tickets, reservations and plans, and we faced financial penalties for changing the flights. Now I look into the medical recommendations months before making my travel plans.

The CDC’s travel website is an excellent source of information on health and immunization recommendations and requirements. If you are unable to see a doctor who specializes in travel medicine, it is a good idea to print out the information and take it to the appointment so that your pediatrician can use it as a guide.

I also find it prudent to check the State Department’s Travel Website. I always like to read the country specific information and to check if any travel alerts or warnings are in place. While I won’t necessarily change my plans based on what I read, it is a good idea to be informed. For our trip this summer, I have found the Facebook page for the U.S. Embassy in Lima to be informative. There are also recommendation for places to visit and fun activities in the country.

Traveling with Children

When we first traveled to Peru, my youngest was still in diapers. While most big cities do carry the same products that can be found in the United States, smaller cities and towns don’t necessarily have these same products. We visited some remote villages and even hiked to the bottom of the Colca Canyon. Diapers would have been impossible to find, so I was glad that we had carried them with us.

I do not recommend taking a stroller. They may be useful in big cities, but for the most part, the roads and sidewalks are not conducive to rolling around your child. I prefer carrying my kids in a child carrier backpack. Peruvian mothers carry their children on their backs using beautiful decorative cloths. They loved talking to me about my carrier and just being a mom. I really became aware of how much we as mothers have in common in spite of our cultural differences.

Most importantly I think it is important to prepare your child for the trip to a new country. I get books out of the library and we discuss where we will travel and the sites that we will see. Children’s books and YouTube videos can help give a deeper understanding of the country and culture before traveling. Having some prior knowledge of the country will enhance their learning and experience during your travels.

A lot planning goes into putting a travel immersion experience together for your child. The language learning, the cultural understanding, and the knowledge of another country provides an invaluable learning experience that will always be remembered.

{Photo courtesy of Susan Stephan}

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