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How Parents Can Help Their Children Become Citizens of the World

Worth recently had the chance to speak with WorldStrides CEO Bob Gogel about how exploring the world affects emotional growth in students and how that translates to success as adults. 

Photo courtesy of WorldStrides

Despite the ongoing pandemic and the rise of new variants, the world is finally opening back up, and for many, that means the opportunity to travel again. But there’s a new trend in travel, and it’s not just about getting a little R&R; last year, nearly 70,000 students participated in WorldStrides’ experiential learning programs—a number set to grow even larger in 2022.

“As we move into 2022, there is a resounding eagerness to emerge from the pandemic and explore the world,” Bob Gogel, president and CEO of WorldStrides, the largest educational travel and experiences organization in the United States, told Worth. “Experiential learning provides students with a global passport for life, giving them the opportunity to gain perspective into how people of different backgrounds see the world.”

Worth recently had the chance to speak with Gogel about the importance of travel, how exploring the world affects emotional growth in students and how that translates to success as adults. 

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Q: Can you tell me more about the founding of WorldStrides? Why was the company originally founded, and how has it evolved since you’ve come on board? 

A: Educational and personal growth are the heart of WorldStrides’ mission. Founded in 1967 by a Chicago teacher with a passion for the power of education outside the classroom, WorldStrides has since provided more than 9 million students with lifetime learning adventures. That same passion guides us today, offering students a diverse set of programs including educational travel, performing arts, sports, language immersion, service-learning, study abroad and career exploration, which all take place both domestically in the U.S., to places like Washington, D.C., New York, Boston, national parks, etc., and internationally to more than 100 countries. 

What are the benefits of experiential learning? Why should parents consider such programs for their children?

Experiential learning provides students with a global passport for life, giving them the opportunity to gain perspective into how people of different backgrounds see the world. Our programs encourage participants to explore the world beyond their comfort zone and benefit from the effects of immersive learning. Whether those experiences are with their teacher in Washington, D.C. or Paris, whether in a pre-med or pre-law program on a college campus to explore career possibilities, whether taking a gap year post graduation or spending a semester abroad, the positive transformation of these young people is truly impressive.  

WorldStrides also has programs that allow participants to perform with a guest conductor in an orchestra at Carnegie Hall, to sing with a choir, to dance on Broadway or play soccer overseas. The feedback we get says it all: What a great experience!

WorldStrides has programs for all age groups—elementary, middle school, high school, college, post-grad—allowing each individual to explore different interests and themes over their lifelong learning adventure.

The best gift a parent can give their children is the gift of experience. As a parent with four kids, I know firsthand how eager they were, and still are, to experience the world, explore independently and pave their own paths. 

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With COVID disrupting travel, study abroad and summer programs, etc., in 2020, how was 2021 for WorldStrides?

We’ve rebounded very positively in 2021, which reflects the optimism of students, parents and educators as they continue to step out from behind the computer screen and into our classrooms without walls. Last year, we have provided out-of-the-classroom learning experiences for nearly 70,000 students.  

The pent-up demand to see the world in 3D is tremendous. I often do tag-along trips with our programs both to hear participant comments, their suggestions and to ensure that we respect the highest health, safety and quality standards. Most recently, on a trip to the Top of The Rock in NYC, listening to 14-year-olds talk about how the 360-degree view of the horizon gave them hope reminded me why what we do at WorldStrides is so important. 

What trends do you expect to see in 2022?

As we move into 2022, there is a resounding eagerness to emerge from the pandemic and explore the world. We are seeing many of our programs filling up as parents, educators and students are ready to get hands-on with their learning adventures. With domestic and global travel restrictions beginning to loosen, we are already seeing an increased interest in our programs for the 2022 spring and summer periods. Having just returned from a trip to some of our favorite European destinations, I can tell you that in most places, great experiences are awaiting and can be had safely. We are also seeing unprecedented demand for our career exploration, internships and service-learning programs for the next summer. People have clearly begun to adapt to this new normal.

We’ve also seen a societal shift in the way young professionals are viewing their careers, with many leaving their jobs and looking for new experiences. That is one of the great things about experiential learning; it’s not just for K-12 and college students, but impactful at any point in life. 

Increasingly, we have requests from the parents of our students to organize trips for them so they too can continue their lifelong learning journey. What is cool about this concept is that while the programs can be done independently, a family can share experiences. In response to this demand, we will be launching both family programs and grown-up only programs very soon. Watch this space!

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How does exploring the world affect emotional growth in students? How does that translate to success as adults?

Equipping our children with the opportunity to see what lies beyond the classroom is what makes a WorldStrides experience so impactful. It foundationally helps them grow as individuals by developing independence, leadership, problem-solving skills and provides them the ability to become more worldly citizens as they interact with program leaders from various backgrounds and regions around the world. 

As an executive, my own travels around the world have been incredibly rewarding and helpful in shaping my outlook on global business. Becoming a citizen of the world, absorbing real-time moments and exposing me to new things has helped me become a better professional and leader.  

Ultimately, what impact do you hope WorldStrides will have on the world?

Our goal is to enable students to view themselves, and the world, in new ways that will provide them with the life skills needed for future success. We want to help them grow as people and as world citizens by building connections and perspectives that transcend boundaries and borders to get them started on a lifetime learning journey.

Where are you most excited to travel next? And why?

I can’t wait to get back to my favorite places—Australia, New Zealand, India, China, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. Each visit reminds me that despite language and cultural differences, we have more in common than meets the eye. I love meeting new people, trying new foods and visiting new places—but most importantly, experiencing the world with a learning lens. After each experience, I realize that my own learning journey has just begun. 

To learn more, go to www.worldstrides.com.

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