Interview with a guide & international visits organiser
Q: Hello Tereza. If I am not mistaken, the past 5 years you have been in charge of organizing exchange programmes for pupils of your school with pupils from our school OLVE Edegem. Is that right?
A: Yes, it is.
Q: And can I ask you a few questions about your experience?
A: Yes, of course.
Q: What is the most important aspect?
A: To be preparedJ it is fairly complex job as it involves preparation beforehand, hosting people, guiding them around and especially troubleshooting. You can never prepare for everything, however it helps a lot if you can imagine what problems you and your guests may get into and have solutions thought through beforehand.
Q: Where do you get inspiration for the touring and guiding around?
A: The most important thing is to realize who you are organizing the programme for. Teenagers are not children anymore, but they won’t be interested in things their parents or grandparents are. So, even if you think that , for example, there is an attractive exhibition on modern arts, you should realize that not everyone finds it fascinating. The programme should also be variable. You should include both indoor and outdoor activities, a bit of sightseeing, a trip to countryside, etc. It is also important to give people some free time, to breathe and to do things they are interested in.
If you have visitors from abroad, you want to show them the best what your town and country offers. And people who decide to participate in such a project are mostly very interested in seeing what you have to offer. So, you, actually have the luxury problem of what to choose.
Q: So, that is the basic decision about what to see and for how long if I understand it well. What is the next step?
A: Then you have to decide and prepare the practical aspects of your tours, meaning, transports, hotels, meals and concrete activities for the particular places. Here comes the puzzling part, especially if your budget is tight. As far as transport is concerned, if you go by public transport somewhere, think about group discounts and prepare more options, i.e., do not rely on the last bus. Someone is always late and if you miss it, you are in trouble. If you order a private bus, double check the route with your driver, make sure he/she can park somewhere, etc.
One very important thing is meals. You should go through your programme of a day and think about when and what your guests are going to eat so that you don’t rush them around all day around a city without ‘feeding’ them. Even the most beautiful city becomes annoying if you are hungry. You also should check beforehand any dietary limitations of your guests. Talking about cities, there is one important detail. If you are touring around a group, check beforehand where there are public toilets and point them out. And reckon with the fact that you may lose a lot of time when 40 people storm limited toilet facilities.
Q: Whoops, that sounds like lots of things to think about… any other tips for city guiding?
A: Well, keep it simple. Don’ t bother people with too much history and details. Only if they are interested. Give them time to enjoy the atmosphere and in our case of exchange programmes, the social aspect is crucial, as well.
Q: You have mentioned countryside. Is there any specific advice?
A: In our case, countryside has always meant mountains. One of the most important things is to check any limitations of your guests, as well as their experience since mountains can be tricky. Give them a detailed list of things they should have: proper shoes, a raincoat, warm clothes, bandage, etc.. know your area well! You cannot afford lose your way with 30 people relying on you. Provide with breaks, so that everyone can enjoy and relax a bit. The pace of the slowest one is crucial, not of the fastest one. And have at least one backup plan for sudden change of weather, injury, etc.
If you are prepared, the number of surprises you can meet is lowered and you can enjoy yourself much more, as well. However, not everything can be prepared beforehand, so be flexible and ready to make even crucial changes. As my husband says: hope for the best, be prepared for the worst.
Q: That doesn’t sound like much fun to me…. :-(
A: Well, you have to like all this, otherwise it is not much fun. For me, the worst and most painful is to realize that not everyone will be 100 percent happy about what you are doing, there will always be people who will pull a long face, who would like to be doing something else, who will be complaining about weather, food, you, etc.
On the other hand, when you see that almost everything is going smoothly and that most of the people like what you have prepared, it is a wonderful feeling. And that is only the guiding and hosting aspect. The most important is that you help people meet new friends, have fun, get new and invaluable experience. All that is a reward worth all the troubles you may encounter.
First impressions: an alternative way of
showing visitors round the school
Here’s what worked well in Belgium, October 2014
Magical trick: a personal booklet for every project member
This one always does the trick: create a personal booklet for everyone, including a few empty pages. Then ask them to write a personal note in their new friends’ booklet. Observe & get that warm feeling that suddenly reminds you why you have been and are investing so much energy into this project.
Kehra Comenius team member Liilian asked some questions from a guide Anna-Liisa and You can see the answer as a video HERE.
Picking up guests from the airport
As our guests from Belgium, Poland, Estonia and Portugal arrived at the airport, a small group of German pupils picked them up from the airport and brought them to the school. It was important for the pupils to think about, what they must be aware, if you are guiding a big group of foreign English speaking people. Here is a checklist we did to be well prepared...
Being a good guide requires many combined skills. Broad knowledge of a town/city or region, being enthusiastic and passionate, customising the way of telling information to the age and needs of visitors, keeping the visitors focused or using appropriate body language are only few of them. Our Comenius Team interviewed two different men: a former tour guide and a professional city guide to learn how to become a good guide. Here are the tips we received:
We also participated in some professionally guided tours in order to lurk a good/bad practice. One of the most memorable ones was a visit to Albrecht-Dürer-Haus in Nürnberg, Germany. Our tour guide was a lady whose typical outfit of the turn of 15th/16th century, ability to customise information to visitors of different age range and behaviour were really engaging.
During each visit to partner schools we took part in tours, city quests or walks to discover partners’ local heritage guided by teachers or peers. All the visits gave us valuable tips to follow, too. On the basis of what we have learnt so far, the most precious advice we would like to share with young guides is : Enjoy the guiding activity and have a good fun.