CAS Trips – redefining educational travel

Posted on 23rd Sep 2019 in International Baccalaureate, School Trips

Simon Armstrong explains a fresh approach to student travel relating to the IB's Community, Activity, Service (CAS) programme...

As a global community of international teachers, we know from first-hand experience just how eye-opening and life-changing travel can be. With the growing focus on experiential learning in international schooling and increased access to affordable travel, educational travel can offer a powerful and exciting avenue for personal development – but only if it is done right. By harnessing the power of travel to introduce, explore and engage with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) in some of the most fascinating places in the world, International Baccalaureate (IB)-inspired educational travel company CAS Trips are Redefining Educational Travel – all while staying carbon neutral.

The story of CAS Trips is one of innovation and ambition right from the start. Having taught at several international schools around the world in Europe, Asia and South America, I returned from leading one particular school trip to Vienna disappointed and underwhelmed. It was the last straw. I did not want to continue taking our students on superficial pre-packaged trips that were not meeting any learning outcomes. A colleague and I sat down to review what had gone wrong and decided there and then that there had to be a better way.

That better way revolved around fusing the pedagogy of the IB programme with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The 17 UN SDGs are a framework to achieve a better, more sustainable future for all by the year 2030. They entail 169 quantifiable targets which, when used as a lens to analyse and investigate students’ own cultures and communities, allow for the experiences from a CAS Trip in a foreign culture to be translated and applied to tackling situations in students’ hometowns and cities through their CAS output back home.

Incorporating the IB’s 7 Learning Outcomes and the programme’s core component of Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS), I collaborated with experts from the international school sphere and set about creating a skeleton program of CAS experiences in cooperation with NGOs, charities and community organizations in Prague, Czech Republic. We wanted to combine the adventure of travel and the essence of CAS to prove to our students that extracurricular activities, such as CAS or Service Learning, need not be a burden but can be incredibly rewarding and, most importantly, fun. Activities were designed in line with IB methodology: to push students out of their comfort zones to gain first-hand understanding of global issues on a local level before immersing them in genuinely meaningful Service Challenges to give back to the community.

A prime example of a CAS Trips Service Challenge is the Homeless Cooking Challenge in Prague. Homelessness is stigmatized in every society, but CAS Trips’ partner NGO Pragulic offers the chance to form empathy and heighten understanding through a walking tour led by a recovering homeless guide. After the local context has been explored and possibly some stereotypes deconstructed, students are given a budget of €200 and a two-hour time limit in an industrial kitchen with the goal of cooking a meal for 50+ homeless people that night. It is entirely the students’ responsibility to budget, plan, prepare, organize and cook the dish. Needless to say, the two hours in the kitchen are lively as students set about creating their meal, which is often influenced by their own culture. This is a collaborative effort as everyone plays their part, eventually transporting the meal to CAS Trips’ partner homeless shelter, Nadeje.

The atmosphere in groups often changes markedly at this point. From the buzzing atmosphere of the kitchen and pride at what they have produced, students are often shocked as they witness the realities of what a homeless shelter actually is. After a tour around the facilities led by a volunteer, students are invited to help with the serving process. This is when the impact of the activity really hits home. It is designed to be fun and inclusive, but the bottom line is that all of the great work and enjoyment the students have had results in fulfilling a genuine community need. The homeless of Prague have received a delicious hot meal, the homeless shelter has been able to save valuable resources, and the students have gone through a process of genuine Service Learning.

Following the success of Prague, we expanded CAS Trips operations to Berlin, Edinburgh and Krakow in 2016 before opening programs further afield in Bhutan, China, Colombia, Peru, New York and Geneva.

CAS Trips place sustainability, in all its forms, firmly at our core. In each destination, CAS Trips work with the UN SDGs to identify the key issues affecting that specific society and also the organizations working to tackle them. By working directly with local communities and NGOs and employing local guides, CAS Trips strive to contribute toward national development locally and internationally, and students can help on both levels.

But it is not just the economic and social aspects of sustainability to which CAS Trips look to give back more than they take away. As an international travel operator, the company recognizes its responsibility to nature and recently launched our own 17 CAS Trips Changemakers Goals, including a commitment to go 100% carbon neutral, planting a tree for every traveler and fighting one-use plastic.

Long-term impact and continuity are elements upon which CAS Trips place great emphasis. The Changemakers Challenge – a cornerstone of any CAS Trip – has been designed specifically with this in mind. In collaboration with educational consultants and IB experts, The Changemakers Challenge was created as an on-trip workshop to introduce students to the UN SDGs, giving them the necessary tools and framework to form small teams based on their ‘Changemaker Types’, and investigate, plan, organize and, ultimately, implement their own innovative CAS Project back home. Additionally, all CAS Trips include innovative Reflection Symposiums, which inspire students to craft meaningful reflections of their experience. These reflections come in all shapes and forms – from songs and creative videos to presentations, pieces of art, and written diary entries.

Innovation is right at the heart of everything we are aspiring to achieve at CAS Trips. The main reason we started this was to disrupt the complacent status quo of the industry to make a genuinely positive impact with student travel. Sustainability and innovation are vital. As educators, we want to inspire the next generation of leaders with experiential learning outside of the classroom to bring about a brighter future.

With customizable curriculum-tailored trips, Global Student Exchange programs and Global Student Conferences, there are a range of programs for groups and individual participants. And with exciting new destinations in The Galapagos Islands, The Netherlands, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, along with internship and Global Ambassador opportunities available for students and teachers alike – all set to be announced in 2019, there is no better time to get involved.

Simon Armstrong is founder and Managing Director of CAS Trips (

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