You wouldn't believe what happened when I got stuck in New York City with the 8th grade mean girls...

I attended ITMI at a time in my life, like most of us, when I was looking for some sort of change in my life, some sort of new direction. I was 24, had lived in three countries doing various things and decided my big kid job was going to be running a residential group home back in Vermont, where I quickly fell in love with working with people but burned out.

While in class at ITMI, listening to all the options, looking at all the brochures, I quickly saw what was going to be MY calling – high-end wine tours of New Zealand. I was 24 at the time, had never been to New Zealand and to the chagrin of Ted, I hated wine.

This calling was obviously going to go FLAWLESSLY.

I graduated and gave my two weeks’ notice. Of all the resumes I sent out, I got one call back from a major Tour Operator. As you can guess it was NOT a luxury company saying “It doesn’t matter you hate wine, have no knowledge of New Zealand – why don’t we send you on these glamorous tours.”

It was, however, a lovely student tour company. Never in my life did I think that hanging out with 14-year-olds in New York City would be the direction of my tour directing journey. But hey, I was young and I needed a paycheck, so student tours it was.

My first group of students was a shared tour and so I had three schools on one coach. I was shaking like a leaf convinced that these kids were going to be just as awful as the 8th grade mean girls I grew up with.

I couldn’t have been more wrong!

I met them and their energy was contagious. They had never left Louisiana, Puerto Rico or Texas, the locations those three schools were from. They were hungry for their own adventures and I quickly became excited to give them this experience. 

On that tour, we went all over Washington DC. Their feet hurt but it didn’t stop them and they all made new friends from a different school. We even had a long-distance relationship develop. The group had inside jokes, exchanged SnapChat names and bonded incredibly well.

I knew before this tour that I loved people and that I couldn’t travel enough, but it was at the airport saying goodbye to all these young adults that I was able to remember how traveling in my teen years is what led me to my international adventures and introduced me to so many of my current passions.

This isn’t a feeling that has left and it’s the reason I keep coming back to student tours. From every student tour operator, you will hear how they love their job because we change these young adults’ lives.

Sky MacLean

ITMI Instructor / Student Tour Specialist

My favorite example of this is a short and sweet story.

I did a tour with fourth-graders and a couple lovely chaperones. On day two of this tour, my group leader asked if we could stop and get one of the girls some underwear as she forgot to pack some.

Luckily we were having lunch in the mall so it didn’t take much work to make this all work. As the week went on we watched this girl literally skip around the city and smile from ear to ear but was rather quiet.

On the last day of this tour, the girl came up to me and handed me a stuffed panda toy. Pandas are my favorite animal so I thanked her and in the back of my head said, “what am I going to do with this”?

The chaperones were so amazed when they saw what she had done and pulled me aside. They took this moment to inform me that this lovely child was on this tour on a scholarship and currently resided in a homeless shelter with her family.  When we boarded the bus little girl asked for a hug and thanked me for showing her a place she never thought she would ever get to see.

In my seven years since graduation, I have led adult tours all around the United States and I have watched adults have experiences that they have dreamed of and there is a wonderful amount of joy I get from these moments, however, being able to influence a student in these pivotal years is something I walk away from fulfilled and proud.

The reason I keep coming back for student tours is simple, I get to change their lives in a way I never dreamed of, and I have never loved wine as much as I love that panda.