School Leader, St Stephen’s, Bangkok

1st August 2015

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Why did you choose for your students to go on a World Challenge rather than using another expedition company?
Interesting question for me as, after I think the 2009 expedition, I had a good look at three other similar companies, all of whom I invited to school for an in-depth discussion about what they offered. 
I was pleased that World Challenge recognised the school as an important, long-standing customer and that I was able to work with their staff to build itineraries suitable for our Challengers. Ultimately it was this flexibility between a company and a school who knew each other well which clinched the deal. 
How many World Challenge expeditions have you been on?
Six – one as a School Leader (Ecuador) and five as a World Challenge Expedition Leader (Namibia, Bolivia, Malawi, Chile, Tanzania). The first from Wolverhampton Grammar School; the others from Newcastle-under-Lyme School. 
The comments below relate to my expeditions from Newcastle-under-Lyme.
How did your students embrace the build-up stage (fundraising etc.)?
It was always difficult to get students to embrace fundraising as a team activity. Most of them chose to raise most or all of the money through weekend and holiday jobs. Supermarket bag packing was always a popular team event and a good proportion always took part in a Challenger run. 
Other team efforts tended to raise quite small amounts of money per student. This type of fundraising would not work well in my current type of school; our students are nearly all Thai and they don’t do things like weekend and holiday jobs.
What did you as a senior manager/teacher/leader get out of the expeditions?
It is always fascinating and very rewarding to watch the team, and the individuals in it, grow in confidence, teamwork and problem-solving ability during the expedition; and to be able to help this growth in a number of ways such as steering team meetings, or quiet words in ears, or simply by being a reassuring presence but not doing anything (unless of course safety was at risk). 
As a teacher you get to know and understand your students much better on a month’s expedition than in two years’ worth of GCSE or A-Level teaching. Understanding your students better in general is then of a wider benefit back in school, when dealing with day to day issues (I speak as a former pastoral Deputy Head).
What has been your favourite expedition and why?
Difficult to choose as they have all gone well. Probably Tanzania because it was a challenging, varied and fast-paced itinerary, particularly well suited to the team I had. It was very satisfying watching the team cope with everything and learning as they went along.
How did you feel the students benefited? Did they come back better people?
I always enjoy the one-to-one debriefs because the Challengers have been so positive about the experiences and benefits they have gained. From the six teams, I have only ever had one unhappy Challenger and she was entirely predictable, having been sent on the expedition by her parents, who paid the entire cost, because it “would be good for her”. 
Yes, they come back better people and in a variety of ways: better team players, more understanding of other team members, better leaders, more self confident, more independent, appreciative that in at least one part of the world people are much worse off than they are. 
Parents have always remarked on these things post expedition. Students also benefit from having signed up for and stuck at an 18 month project, something most at their age have not experienced. One proof of this to me, was that many parents with younger children in the school came back as repeat customers, because they were so pleased with the benefits.
Did you always feel as though you and the students were in safe hands – balancing risk against challenge?
Yes. I have never felt the risks to be unacceptable and as a Leader I have never felt out of my depth or ill prepared or poorly supported by World Challenge.
Would you recommend other schools to get involved with World Challenge and why?
Yes, for all the reasons in answer to other questions.
Have your schools benefited from being involved with World Challenge?
Yes. Students bring the personal qualities they have developed back into school, most obviously to positions like prefect and sports team captain, but less obviously to areas like independent work in the sixth form and more mature university applications.
Do you believe there is potential for growth in the SE Asia schools market when it comes to selling in student expeditions and why?
Yes, I believe there is potential for growth, because it appears to be a largely untapped market. The number of British international schools, and the number of students in them, is growing rapidly, particularly in SE and E Asia. 
Have you found the same level of enthusiasm from schools/teachers as you did back the UK?
There is an even greater enthusiasm from teachers than in the UK, probably due to the type of teachers who work overseas and there is at least as much support from the schools. The difficulty, certainly in my school, is convincing the pupils that expeditions are for them, though I doubt that is or should be the case in schools with western expatriate students.