“I was amazed by how much they learned about the country they were in, the city, and the people who make up the city.”
When you value traveling as much as we do, it is only natural that each of the trips we plan ends up serving as a bit of a love letter to the culture and destination we visit. Lisbon and Portugal are no exception! After a two-year hiatus, we are more excited than ever about returning to our favorite places around the globe.
To provide more insight into what you can expect when you book a trip with us, we spoke to IB teacher Tim Loughrin. He recently accompanied his year-six students from JFK Saneen through an immersive 5-day journey around Lisbon and the surrounding area. From surf lessons and sustainability-focused beach cleanups to workshops with local craftspeople—the students all returned home with a piece of Portuguese culture in their hands and in their hearts.
As a career educator who has been planning his own student trips for 30 years, Tim is in a great position to appreciate what made this trip unique and how his students benefited from the itinerary we designed for them. Here’s what he had to say about how the experience allowed his students to truly experience the magic of Lisbon.
A deep dive into the Portuguese lifestyle
Tim was impressed by how the itinerary highlighted so many aspects of what makes Portugal’s culture unique. One element of this is, of course, the ocean and surrounding marine habitat. From day one, we got students in the water to participate in Portugal’s beloved water sports and appreciate why locals love their beaches so dearly.
As Tim explained, “the physical aspect, like surfing and access to the Atlantic, was really special for the students. They hadn’t seen anything like that before, and physically getting out of their comfort zone was great.”
In the afternoon, they also learned about the beach, and that was how they were introduced to the sustainability aspect—not just from a Portuguese perspective but a global perspective.
“The students discussed all the different types of waste you typically find on the beach and where that waste comes from, and how what we normally do on an average day can produce waste that ends up in the ocean.
Students then had a chance to police a section of the beach and pick up everything found that would be considered waste. It was unbelievable the amount of stuff they found. It was a huge learning experience.”
Understanding how a place transforms over time
On day two of their trip, the students had the chance to explore LX Factory. This historical industrial complex now serves as a cultural and creative hub in Lisbon’s Alcantara district.
“The students loved the excursion to LX Factory! They discussed how the area has been transformed and what it used to be. They visited an old printing press and explored a great bookstore. We looked at the architecture and discussed how it has changed over time and what that can tell us about the city.”
Getting to know the people who are the soul of a city
As with all of our trips, we have worked hard in Lisbon to build relationships with local people our visiting students can learn from and interact with. “Avó came to work” is one example of this, where older craftswomen collaborate with students to share their unique set of skills with the next generation. Tim and his students loved working with these talented women,
“The activity with the grannies was just superb. The fact that the kids also go to roll up their sleeves and do something hands-on was really rewarding for them. It was beautiful how the children could appreciate the skills the grannies have and how they are going to be lost if we do not make an effort to preserve them.”
Experiencing a unique culinary tradition
Of course, tasting the regional cuisine is another vital part of visiting a new culture. It is an especially delightful experience in Lisbon—home to the famous pastel de nata.
As Tim explains, “some of our students are working on projects this semester specifically dedicated to Portuguese culinary traditions. So the fact that they got to make pastel de nata in a Portuguese pastry kitchen was a thrilling experience!
The chefs were great about making the activity age-appropriate and explaining all the subtleties of the process to the students. For example, they learned about how the temperature of your hands can influence how a pastry turns out. The students were so engaged throughout the workshop and, of course, enjoyed devouring their creations in a beautiful nearby park.”
Traveling under the guidance of a qualified guide
When you have so many wonderful activities to fill the days, it is necessary to have the right people to ensure everything runs smoothly. With younger students especially, Tim emphasized how grateful he was to have such an intuitive and dedicated leader to guide them.
“Our host, Rita, was excellent at balancing time and anticipating what the students needed proactively. She got to know the kids and took a real interest in them personally.”
Taking a piece of Portugal home
Souvenirs are an excellent way to remember and share a travel experience, and Tim and his students loved the fact that many of their souvenirs from Portugal were homemade.
“Getting out of their comfort zones physically—in the beach, pastry kitchen, sewing workshop—these tactile experiences stay with young people. It was also fantastic that they could produce something and see the fruits of their labor. They got the chance to make something from another country and bring it home to share with their families.
All in all, the trip surpassed expectations! It was so authentically Portuguese and is simply not an experience they could have had anywhere else.”
Thank you to Tim and the wonderful year six students of JFK Saneen for trusting us to guide them on this adventure! You can learn more about our trip to Lisbon here or discover all the other destinations we travel to.