Ryan Petersen understands well the benefits of student travel and utilizing ETI’s services to deliver an unforgettable adventure for his band and choir classes. As a middle and high school music educator and band director (in addition to teaching anthropology and archaeology) at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Wisconsin, Petersen has had 12 amazing bi-annual trips with ETI since 2000.
“We take a band/choir/cross-curricular trip every other year and have been to locations like Walt Disney World, New York City, Washington, DC, Toronto, New Orleans and St. Louis,” Petersen said, noting his students were most recently in NYC last December. “We are taking our 13th trip in spring 2024 back to Washington, DC.”
While Petersen’s trips started out exclusively for band and choir, they eventually evolved to be “cross-curricular,” meaning they include performing opportunities for the school’s bands and choirs, but are also open to everyone else in the school who’s interested in coming along.
“Because of this, we look for locations to travel to that are valuable to everyone going on the trip—not just the music students,” Petersen explained. “This also means we're traveling with, say, an English teacher or a History teacher—and they bring added value to what we plan and do.”
Petersen grew up in Washington, DC and has family all up and down the east coast, which in turn allowed him the good fortune of being able to grow up around a lot of different cultures, history and experiences.
“I strongly feel that it’s important for everyone to be able to learn about history and culture to better understand their place in the world; traveling helps do this!” he said. “The goal I have planning our trips is to find places to go and experiences to have that will expand the horizons of my students.”
The highlights from their trips, Petersen says, come from seeing his students have the opportunity to explore the culture and history of wherever they go.
“While our school is in the suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin, we are still a small community with rural roots (there are no stoplights in Deerfield),” Petersen said, adding that for many students, these trips are the first time they’ve been to “the big city.”
“Getting to observe our students seeing the ‘hustle and bustle,’ the sights, sounds and smells of a new environment is always a highlight,” he said. “As the Band Director, I always like our performance opportunities, as well. We look for places to play where we can do a performance as a learning opportunity (a clinic at a university, exchange concert with another school), or a service (soup kitchen, senior centers/homes) where we can give to the community we are visiting.”
The biggest lesson Petersen has learned from their trips is to be flexible, whether it’s being willing to try a new food or experience, or simply learning to go with the flow.
“Traveling provides so many life-lessons that way; from watching kids try raw oysters or hold an alligator in New Orleans, to wandering around Chinatown in New York City and popping in and out of shops and cafes—trying various treats we’ve never heard of in Wisconsin—traveling provides an amazing chance to get out of your comfort zone,” Petersen said. “Also, no matter how meticulous you plan things when you travel, life throws you curve balls every once in a while. If you travel with an open mindset, you can turn those unexpected changes into amazing opportunities!”
Petersen’s advice to other educators thinking of reaching out to ETI and delving into the realm of student travel: “Do it!”
He explains that traveling with students is an amazing experience, both for them and for you.
“Everyone comes back with new experiences and memories they’ll take with them for their lifetime,” Petersen said, emphasizing how he believes everyone on his trips come back home changed in some way, with an eye open to a different part of the country or world.
“Traveling often gives students their first out-of-state trip, or trip to a different part of the country they’ve never been to,” he said. “Sometimes I even have students who’ve never been in a hotel. Our trips not only provide an educational experience, but a life experience for our students, as well. As someone who also teaches anthropology and archaeology classes, I value the opportunities that traveling gives everyone to learn about differences and similarities in our world and our cultures.”
There are a number of reasons Petersen returns to ETI year after year for his trips, including the fact that ETI takes a lot of the work out of your hands.
“There have been trips where I’ve let ETI do all the work planning for us,” Petersen said. “But for places that I have intimate knowledge of, say, my home town of Washington, DC, ETI will listen to all my ideas and experiences and activities I want to do and will make them all work.”
Petersen initially learned of ETI through his wife, who was the band director at a neighboring school at the time and had worked with ETI the year prior.
“She had amazing things to say about working with them. Ever since that first trip, I’ve never had a reason to use anyone else!” said Petersen, who also owns a yoga studio with his wife. “Being a small business owner myself, I also really value and appreciate working with a smaller travel company. ETI has always been great for us. They plan amazing experiences for our students and their team in the office and on the ground always act with our best interests in mind!”
Courtesy of ETI.