By Matt Schepeler
Photos courtesy Dakota Bahlau
“If you’re lucky enough to be Irish, then you’re lucky enough.”
So goes a famous saying that the people of Ireland are fond of quoting. But if you aren’t lucky enough to be Irish, the next best thing is to belong to Dakota Bahlau’s travel club.
Bahlau, a second-grade teacher in the Grass Lake school district, also guides the high school travel club in excursions around the world. Last year the group went to Costa Rica and recently returned from a trip to Ireland. Next year they are planning to go to Spain.
“It was great, said Bahlau of the recent Ireland trip, noting that students from other school districts may be eligible to come as well.
The club is affiliated with EF tours, an organization that focuses on education in travel, and Bahlau said that the results she sees in the students from taking the trips are nothing short of amazing.
“It is a wonderful experience for them. It is eye opening for students caught up in their own little world. The transformation you see is almost immediate. They come home so much more confident.”
“A lot of times the student has never flown or gone through security. They need to figure out what gate to go through, and how to get around.” She noted that while in Ireland they found a wonderful little café, and once they had lunch, Bahlau tasked them with figuring out how to get back to their starting point.
“It is all such a learning experience for them,” she said.
The Ireland trip was held over spring break, and the students were gone from March 30 to April 7. “The kids have to pay their own way, so that is another [educational] aspect,” said Bahlau. “We can guide fundraising, but they pay their own way.”
She noted that working with EF Tours is a huge advantage, as they have offices in every country that offers tours, and have tour guides available, which greatly enriches the experience.
“Patricia O’Donnell was our tour director. They all come from the host country and are passionate about their country. She had a wealth of knowledge and made the trip 1000 times better.”
Yet another cultural aspect is that EF Tours pairs schools from around the country to travel together. “We were paired with a school from Tennessee and Brooklyn, New York, so the kids got a chance to make friends not only in different countries but from different regions. It was fun to sit back and watch the relationships develop,” said Bahlau.
Established prices for trips include meals and all travel expenses. “You just show up with your backpack and you are pretty much good to go,” she said.