It doesn’t matter whether it’s a school group, employees from a company, students from a university or members of a club or association, there are six key aspects which can really make a difference to a group stay at a language school.
The first thing to recognise is that the success of a group stay may be interpreted differently by different people. The course participants may, and often do, have very different views on the most important aspects of their stay from the group leader(s), the group organisers, the school/company/organisation sending them, the people paying for the experience (such as parents or a company) and of course the language school itself.
Identifying the criteria of what is important for each of these groups, ensuring they are achievable and appropriate, and aiming to please them all means everyone is happy.
One of the most important ways of pleasing everyone is to have clear objectives for the course, that everyone knows and works towards. These must include academic needs and objectives as well as extra-curricular goals, such as particular requests (a school visit, company visit, a theatre trip), reenergising enthusiasm for the language, confidence-building, discovering the culture and way of life in that country, and anything else identified when planning the course.
Once these objectives have all been identified, everyone (the students, the group organiser, group leaders, the language school teachers etc.) needs to know what they are before, at the start, and throughout the course
Communication is key. Good channels of communication between the language school personnel, the group organiser, group leaders and the course participants before and throughout the course helps everyone to feel involved, avoids misinterpretation and resolves any misunderstandings.
This should also spread out further so that the class teachers, the administrative staff, managers, the homestay families, the social assistants, the airport transfer company or taxi driver all feel involved and understand their role in creating a seamless experience.
At Hilderstone College we like to identify key ‘magic moments’ which make the experience particularly memorable for the participants. Meeting your homestay family for the first time, walking in through the front door of the language school on your first day, getting to know and understand your classmates, meeting your teachers, a welcome evening, an excursion, your last class, saying goodbye to your newly-found friends and homestay family are all examples of key moments students may remember for a long time. Understanding this and aiming to make each of these as ‘magic’ as possible adds an important extra touch to the overall experience.
Each student in the language school should get the same experience and feeling of personalisation, whether they are an individual or part of a group. Integrating the members of the group with other students, wherever and whenever possible, removes any ‘them and us’ feelings and brings everyone together. This can be taken even further if integration with other people; such as homestay families or members of the local community (local school/college students, professionals in the same industry, members of a local sports club etc.) can be achieved.
One of the strengths of IALC schools is that they offer a high-quality personal touch with key decision makers being available to liaise with group organisers and group leaders throughout the stay. This, as well as the touches and aspects of quality and added value which each school offers, ensures the participants experience an effective, enjoyable and successful course.
Jon Burton is Principal of Hilderstone College in Broadstairs, Kent on the south-east coast of England (School profile | www.hilderstone.ac.uk). The College has been organising high-quality group courses for students, teachers, business people and other organisations, many returning year after year, as well as courses for individuals, for 45 years.