Persistence in Portugal

Julia Garms

More stories from Julia Garms


Photo courtesy of Luka Goldstein

Students laugh beneath The Dom Luís I Bridge entrance in Porto. On this rainy day they watched chaperone Kim Rief slip in the rain several times.

Spring break has come to an end and we are back in the prison cell we call school. For the first time in what feels like forever, people have left their homes and begun to step back into the world of travel prior to Covid-19 restrictions.

Students and teachers have embarked on long desired journeys with their families these past few weeks and are able to say it feels good. Whether it was inside or outside of the country, traveling rules have changed because of the pandemic.

After waiting two years, teacher Elizabeth Muehl was finally able to carry out her trip to Portugal. This trip is not organized by the school, but given as an invitation to students who she believes will thrive from the learning experience. This year’s trip was finalized with 28 students and three other chaperones: Kim Reif, Tobias Meier and Jason Campbell.

“I was able to see their faces and create a bond with students outside of the classroom which has been difficult during covid times. The students spoke up and were engaged and it reminded me of why I love being a teacher,” Muehl said.

In the past two years it has become normal to sit silently and hide behind the muzzle which is our mask. Teachers would ask questions on Zoom, and all they saw was a black box with a name and no face leaving it up to them to draw you in their imagination.

While on this trip, the chaperones saw an entirely new side to their students. They watched their students eager to learn about a new culture with different foods, music and language. Of the chaperones, Muehl in particular was ecstatic to see the joy in students’ experiences because she was once the student in that experience. At age 14, Muehl joined her English teacher for an EF tour outside of the country. Her love for travel was sparked at a young age and has been prevalent ever since.

Tour guide Jaime and chaperones Jason Campbell, Kim Rief and Elizabeth Muehl posing by the waterfront on their way to Porto. (Photo courtesy of Luka Goldstein)

“I have taken seven trips with students ranging from Central Europe to Greece to Costa Rica and finally to Portugal. The Portugal trip was my favorite due to the combination of the country itself, the students’ energy and excitement and the tour guide whose passion for traveling came through every day,” Muehl said.

Although the majority of these trips are filled with light and laughter, stressful situations arise when just four adults are incharge of 28 unpredictable teens.

While visiting the city of Nazare, students were sight seeing at the top of a mountain looking over the shore at about 100 meters above sea level. There was a point where they went to the edge of the cliff for a photo op when their tour guide shook as he feared for their safety.

“When kids got close to the edge of a cliff I got a lot of anxiety because if they mess up, I can’t do anything as a chaperone,” Meier said.

Aside from safety precautions, the chaperones had a lot of anxiety about students being responsible for their belongings. On the flight arriving in Portugal, one student’s luggage was lost and did not receive it until the last day of the trip. In that time chaperones and fellow students did their best to accommodate the student with extra clothes and shopping sprees. The tour director of EF tours also took extraordinary lengths to stay in contact with the luggage company and airports to find their luggage.

On the way home everyone felt a little anxious due to the dreadful security check: US customs. Ensuring each passenger didn’t have food products in their bags along with their passports and vaccination cards was essential.

“Getting through customs is nerve-racking and making sure everyone is on a plane or the bus or enjoying the trip is also a lot of pressure,” Muehl said.

These chaperones could not have been happier with how this trip turned out. You’d never see students laughing so hard they couldn’t breathe in the school building, but on the bus and at restaurants, kids expressed themselves the way they would at home around their friends.

“You get to see a different perspective of teachers and students that you’d never see outside of the school building”, Meier said.