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First Year Trip

Page history last edited by Robert Hackett 15 years, 11 months ago


Background & Rationale | Benchmarks | Examples of Excellence & Innovation |

Campus Examples & Resources


Background & Rationale: 

The First Year Trip is a key activity in the Bonner Scholars Program. While not a common practice for Bonner Leader Programs, many campuses have begun exploring the integration of a first year trip. Typically, the trip is a 4-7 day event that takes the students as a class to participate in service in a geographic region outside their campus community. This trip happens in the second semester of freshmen year, in most cases during a break or at the end of the year. In compelling circumstances it can happen during the sophomore year. While the trip may revolve around service, activities generally include meetings with community residents, agency representatives, and others that provide students with an educational context about the place. In addition, both the process of preparing for and the time during the trip can be an intense educational experience for students, providing them with even more opportunity to develop identity and unity as Bonners and servant leaders.
While designed to address the First Year Trip, the content of this section is largely applicable to other trips or projects, such as Sophomore Service Exchanges or trips in other years.



We have focused the benchmarks for first year trips into three main areas: (1) program/service activities and the total experience, (2) educational preparation and reflection, and (3) planning and implementation.
  • Before the trip, participants should be prepared for the intensity of the trip and the expectations for their own participation. Set ground rules well in advance and discuss them before and during the trip. Make sure to address expectations around sleeping, eating, packing, discussion, listening, visits with agencies, and other components that will be crucial to a good trip for the group. See the examples of preparatory materials later in this document.
  • The activities and agenda of the trip should be designed in a way that provides students with a full immersion into the culture and place. Participants should learn about the history, current population, and culture of the place they are visiting.
  • The activities and agenda should provide a variety of engagements, including service, cultural learning, organizational exposure, social and fun activities, and time for reflection and rest. A daily reflection and evaluation is recommended.
  • Be prepared for conflict resolution and crisis management. Experiences of this intensity and constant contact often are accompanied by a need for raising and addressing problems that arise. Have a back up plan.
  • Ideally, have more than one staff person attending the trip or have staff support on hand if necessary. Trips are demanding and tiring on staff, and it helps to have other support people involved.
  • Keep in mind that food and relaxation are important elements of the immersion experience too; try to expose participants to the typical foods and cultural pastimes of the area.
  • The trip doesn’t end when the trip is over. Include a debrief, reflection, and the opportunity to present about the experience to the broader Bonner/campus community. Some schools even plan for reunions later.
A trip with good service and fun social activities isn’t a great trip without strong reflection and educational learning. Trips that have deep and long-lasting impact on participants often include intensive educational and reflection components.
  • Before the trip, provide students with an opportunity to learn about the place, community, and region they will be visiting. Make sure they know some about the history and culture of the place. (See examples of excellence below).
  • Introduce students to relevant frameworks, such as community asset mapping and “no service-learning tourism” in order to help prepare them for the experience. (See examples of excellence below).
  • Involve students in their cultural learning, if possible, by delegating research and teaching roles throughout the group. (See examples of excellence below).
  • During the trip, community residents and agency representatives should be involved as teachers, leaders, and resources.
  • In addition, take the opportunity to meet with civic leaders or policy makers whose work shapes the issues in and community you are visiting.
  • During the trip, incorporate a variety of reflection activities and styles. Keep in mind that Student Impact Surveys indicated students’ high responsiveness to reflection that involves discussion with community agency staff and community residents. Written journaling can provide more introspective focus or quiet time. Service-based reflection can help students make connections to larger issues of root causes and policy.
  • Choose a destination wisely. Campuses generally try to take first year students to a place that will be culturally rich and expose them to a community that is different from the place they are living. Some campuses give students a few selections to consider. Set parameters (such as cost and distance) beforehand.
  • Carefully choose a key agency partner. Key factors are the quality of the program and staff; the ability of the agency staff to provide an educational and meaningful experience and exposure to the community are important.
  • Delegate leadership from planning through the trip’s end. Give students roles in the preparation of the trip, ranging from educational research to organizing food. Also give students roles during the trip, whether serving as timekeeper or photographer.
  • Involve the Senior Intern in the planning and implementation of the trip, if possible.
  • Also involve upper-class students, especially directing them into stronger leadership roles such as designing the week’s activities, planning reflection, etc.
  • Think carefully about the timing for the trip’s activities. Be sure to budget adequate time for travel, reflection, re-orientation, breaks, and sleep.


Examples of Excellence and Innovation:

Have a comprehensive letter and/or packet to prepare students for their trip.
  • Many campuses tend to have various types of preparatory materials. Consider how various documents should include: (1) an educational or cultural piece, (2) the agenda itself, (3) information about what type of accommodations and food will be available, (4) packing list (and packing limits!), (5) what else students should bring. Some schools even try to prepare parents; check out the example materials from Emory & Henry for their First Year Trip to New York City or Guilford College’s Avantis.
Involve students in education and reflection during the prior semester
  • While most freshmen trips are great at helping students in the class bond with each other and foster identity, not all trips are equally good at helping students to develop critical thinking skills and cultural awareness. Some campuses have built in structured time for students to meet prior to the trip to engage in relevant learning about the culture, context, and place they will visit. Maryville College, for example, involves freshmen in weekly meetings in the semester leading up to the trip, and students each take on a different component to research and teach about, guided by the Coordinator.
Give students a framework for approaching the place so that they don’t just see it as simply “other” or “foreign.”
  • Great freshmen trip destinations often take students to a place very different from their home/campus community. To prepare students to have an open-mind to these experiences, campuses integrate a range of educational frameworks. Berea College, for example, helps students to steer away from “service learning tourism” by asking students to think about how the issues they encounter or learn about in the trip community are present in their own communities. Many campuses use the Building Communities from the Inside Out book (by Kretzmann and McKnight) to introduce asset mapping. Attached is a module from the COOL Civic Engagement Curriculum based on this concept that engages students in the process of asset mapping. Another resource is the “Stranger with a Camera” film.

Campus Examples and Resources:

Trip Examples and Supporting Documents



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