Raise your hand if you like traveling! Have you ever considered taking others alongside you, perhaps international students? 

Learn from our incredible IFI staff members about the benefits of traveling with internationals and some tips that may help you lead a large group trip, or just invite a couple students along on a short adventure with you or your family!

What are the benefits of traveling with international students?

1.) Relationship building at an accelerated pace

When starting a relationship with someone, spending time with them can be sporadic, as both parties must be intentional about meeting with one another. A trip, however, is constant; it’s almost like you’re forced to make and maintain friendships, especially if stuck in a vehicle with them for more than 10 hours.

You may or may not know the students, but I guarantee that by the end of the trip, you will!” – Larissa, IFI Staff

Because of the countless hours spent together, people get an inside scoop into your lifestyle. Phil Foell, Area Director for IFI Columbus says, “It’s a mini living-together experience where others have the opportunity to see how you do life.” Being with each other almost 24/7 also allows you to break the ice and get close with the students. Larissa Swartz from IFI Dayton confirms this:“The thing with trips is that it’s such an intensive time and you’re doing a lot of things. You may or may not know the students, but I guarantee that by the end of the trip, you will!” I guess being in an enclosed space isn’t so bad afterall, eh? 

2.) Experiencing “firsts” 

Oftentimes, students have never been exposed to life outside of their university; everything is novel, unfamiliar, and exciting. Therefore, trips are a great way to expand their horizons and to provide them with new experiences.

Craig Olive from IFI Florida took his students on a boating trip in Cedar Key and shared how most had never left campus or seen the seascape before: “For some, it was their first time experiencing nature like this. It was more than just Gainesville, you know?”

It’s awesome being able to see them experience something for the first time” – DJ, IFI staff

The IFI Cleveland team also shared a beautiful bonding moment with their group of students when they took them on different trips: “It’s awesome being able to see them experience something for the first time, whether that’s ‘glamping’ or seeing the ocean or Niagara Falls. I got to experience a first with the students, too, as I had never gone to Niagara”, says DJ. Shared experiences, for the win!

3.) Opportunities for deep conversations and spiritual reflection

Like stated in the first point, long hours of travel and being together enables relationships to form quickly due to constant fellowship. As a result, deeper conversations and spiritual reflection may arise at certain points of the trip, either intentionally or organically.

“There is a depth of conversation due to time and a captive audience.” – GL, IFI Staff

“There is a depth of conversation due to time and a captive audience. Van time is usually really good; in the evenings, conversations seem to be good, especially if you’re in the same dorm with them. Student leaders have had great conversations, too!” says GL from IFI Dayton.

In addition, Phil Foell explained how students would catch him reading the Bible on some of their trips, which would then spark curiosity and discussion on spirituality. The season you take your trip could also play a factor into what types of conversations you have with your students, points out Craig Olive, who took a trip with students during Christmas time.

It’s beautiful to experience these types of interactions naturally, but you may also experience these when on a trip focused on spiritual matters, such as the Vision Conference, where a variety of spiritual workshops are available for students who are interested in exploring faith and who want to grow in that area. Diving into the deep can be scary and vulnerable, but it is where true intimacy is found. You never know what will surface once people share their stories!

4.) Cross-cultural exchange

A cross-cultural exchange is the sharing of diverse views, customs, and information with somebody who might be totally different than you. International students coming together to take a trip means enrichment not only for them, but for the leaders, volunteers, and hosts. Students will get to experience new and unique settings that will open their eyes to the rest of the world, and, in return, those having the opportunity to interact with the students will be enlightened by their perspectives and experiences.

Phil Foell and Larissa Swartz made comments on host family connections: “Some host families that have been doing this for 20 years are in better contact with the students than us leaders!”; “Students are always surprised that the most enjoyable thing was being hosted by families.”

Through the sharing of stories on the plane or in the van, over the dinner table or during tourism, various cultures will be displayed, learned from, and hopefully respected. “The time spent together will reveal peoples’ habits, character, and lifestyles that you may not see otherwise,” Larissa Swartz from IFI Dayton shares. ‘Tis the essence and beauty of traveling– embracing the unfamiliar and coming to appreciate the diversity! 

5.) Opportunities for problem-solving 

To travel is to take risks. You are stepping into the unknown, a space you are not acquainted with, or a situation where you are not sure of what to expect. Even if it is a familiar space, anything can happen– a flat tire, losing documents, somebody getting sick… You have to expect the unexpected, as the saying goes.

Nonetheless, these unpredictable moments, if seen with hopeful, silver-lined eyes, are opportune moments for problem-solving. They also usually end up being the most memorable moments of the trip, making for some pretty good stories. Larissa Swartz from IFI Dayton said it well: “It’s an opportunity for students to respond in crisis and see how leaders respond in crisis. They will see your attitude and your trust in God.”

“It’s an opportunity for students to respond in crisis and see how leaders respond in crisis.” – Larissa, IFI Staff

She recalled a specific incident when her team encountered a time of crisis during their West Coast trip on their very first day: “Our vans got broken into in California and things were stolen, even important documents. One Hindu student suggested praying. Not long after, we got a call from the police about our bags. They found them in the rain beside the road and they turned out to be ours. Although the camera, laptop, and some money was stolen, all documents and sentimental things, such as a student’s only photo of their mom, were all brought back. It was an amazing provision from the Lord that really set the tone for the whole trip. We had a mindset that even if things go wrong, we are able to enjoy ourselves. After the incident, the same Hindu student asked to start our journey with prayer. It’s opportunities on trips like this you won’t get otherwise.” 

Check out our tips from IFI staff members on How to Plan a Trip with International Students!

Traveling Tips