I have always been an auditory learner. Tell me something once or twice and I remember it (for the most part). When I was in high school, I never liked activities that involved drawing pictures or watching films -- I always thought I don't need this, just tell me what I need to know and I'll take the test. I think that a lot of students feel this way in school.
When I went to college to study history, my attitude never really changed. I immersed myself in books and journal articles and loved every minute of it — I didn't need pictures or anything else to help me understand the material. But then something changed. I spent some time at Oxford University in Britain, where I studied the French Revolution. One day, while at the Bodleian Library, I had the chance to hold a page of Napoleon Bonaparte's diary written during the French invasion of Russia in 1812. Suddenly, my understanding of the campaign changed. I can't really explain it, but it was like I could smell the gunpowder on it. Suddenly, I had a whole new understanding of history. When I went back to my books, the words were no longer just words — they were a story with life and depth.
After I graduated from college in 2006, I went on a battlefield tour of Western Europe. We traveled across France, Belgium and Germany visiting some of the most famous sites of the two world wars. I had traveled quite a bit in the past — to Gettysburg, Lexington and Concord, and even to the dreaded Dachau concentration camp in Bavaria. But while I was there, these sites were just wide-open spaces with a bunch of monuments. It didn't really feel like I was there. But one day, while we were at Dunkirk, our professor sat us down on the beach and told us the story of the Nazi invasion of France in 1940. He used a stick to draw a map in the sand that showed how the armies moved and fought. Again, like when I was at the Bodleian Library, my understanding changed. After he finished the lecture, Dr. Conner allowed us to walk along the beach and climb (legally) on the many ruined structures found there. I could smell and taste the salt on the air, feel with my own hands the immovable concrete of the bunkers, hear the calls of the gulls. I realized that the soldiers at Dunkirk fleeing the Nazi onslaught in June 1940 experienced these same feelings — along with the terror of war — and I began to understand the event in a whole new level. A few days later, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, the same thing happened. What I had read about in the past now came alive as I walked in the footsteps of history.
This is the power of kinesthetic education, using all five senses to teach students. You can show pictures to visual learners and lecture endlessly to auditory learners, and they will know and remember the material. But when you take any student, regardless of his or her learning style, to a place and let them learn by seeing, touching, smelling, tasting, and hearing, they will begin to understand the material. Academic Excellence in Travel allows our students to do just that. On a history tour, we take them where events happened; on a cultural tour, we let them interact with real people and not actors or paid tour guides; on a literary tour, we show them where authors lived and worked. We use students' foundational knowledge gained in a classroom and build upon it a house of wisdom and understanding.