The socio-cultural meanings of overseas educational travel for adolescents

The aim of this study is to understand the socio-cultural experiences and meanings gained by adolescents on an overseas educational trip. Educational overseas trips are increasingly being offered through secondary schools in New Zealand but not much is known about the meanings and experiences gained by the participating adolescents. In the past, research more broadly in the social sciences has been conducted on adolescents. More recently, there has been a move towards research with adolescents, engaging them as active subjects rather than objects, recognising their rights and giving them a voice (Grover, 2004; Greene & Hogan, 2005) but this is mostly absent within tourism research. This research project is based on 11 secondary school students (aged 16-18 years) that took part in a three week educational trip to Chiang Mai in Thailand in January 2013. The students volunteered to represent their New Zealand school and teach English at a private college in Chiang Mai which exposed them to many cultural and educational experiences related to Thai customs. The trip was termed ‘Language Immersion Program (LIP) – Inbound – Thai Culture Immersion’ by the Thai hosts. For most students this was their first travel experience in a developing country. However, more recent critical scholarship has questioned the benefits of volunteering holidays and instead highlighted negative outcomes, as debated in an upcoming conference on volunteer tourism (RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, August, 2013). It is claimed that the volunteering experience is not always meaningful, but sometimes an indulgence for middle-class, sheltered people, who don’t always engage deeply with the community.

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Keywords: adolescents, Educational travel, Volunteering
Categories: Tourism and its potential as a social force