Land Down Under goes over well with culture club

After a multi-year wait, the Juneau Culture Club was finally able to depart for a much anticipated trip to Australia. The club returned on June 20 with photos and experiences to last a lifetime.

Juneau Culture Club is an organization that was formed around 2015 and centers on middle school-aged students 12 to 15 years old throughout Juneau (but not exclusively) receiving the chance to participate in worldwide travel. The group is led by local school counselors Leslie Scranton and Tristan Berkey, who recently returned from their latest excursion from Australia.

So far they’ve taken students in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 overseas for educational tours. Due to the pandemic, trips were placed on hold, That’s why the Australia trip was able to happen this year, which meant students who had originally signed up in 2019, were finishing up eighth or ninth grade by the time they were able to actually go.

Club members take a private guided tour of Australia’s Sydney Opera House on June 10. (Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

Club members take a private guided tour of Australia’s Sydney Opera House on June 10. (Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

The Juneau Culture Club is run entirely independently and therefore is not bound by any specific school or outside funding, meaning parents and/or students must cover costs out of pocket, which typically ranges up to $5,000 per student, according to Scranton. The trip locations are based around community and student interests and each destination is determined several years in advance.

“We have one tour a summer; we’ve done tours of Ireland, England, Ecuador and the Galápagos and we have our next trip planned for next year, as well, which we have just a little bit of room left for. We’re planning on taking close to 30 kids next year as opposed to just 12 from our most recent tour. We currently have about 28 of the next tour’s slots filled. Next year we’re going to Italy and Greece,” Scranton said. “We strategize with the families and figure out ways of how students can contribute to that cost. They usually sign up 18 months to two years in advance, so there’s lots of time to make payments, lots of time for kids to get a side job and earn their spending money or contribute to the cost of their trip.”

There are chaperones for every six students, and usually the group is capped off at around 30 students, according to Scranton. She and Berkey are accompanied by two to three Juneau educators who are also Education First trained. The Juneau Culture Club contracts with Education First, which has over 50 years worth of deep global travel roots established in the United States.

Posing along the Capricorn Caves at the Tropic of Capricorn in Australia on June 14. Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

Posing along the Capricorn Caves at the Tropic of Capricorn in Australia on June 14. Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

“They make sure we have a fully immersive, educational experience on tour. A big part of what the parents are paying for, aside from the airfare and hotel, is the dinner meals that are all included along with breakfast. Also, they provide a 24 hours a day, seven days a week Director that speaks the local language; they meet us at the airport, and they do not leave our side until we’re dropped back off at the airport to depart,” Scranton said.

An additional benefit to having trips arranged by EF is that their guided tours consist only of the students within the Juneau Culture Club as opposed to being lumped in with other tourists. For instance, with their most recent tour to Australia, students were given private guided tours of Hyde Park Barracks Museum, the Sydney Opera House, coral beaches of Whitsunday Island, as well as snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef alongside a Marine Biologist.

Parents can have the ease of mind in knowing that a great deal of planning goes into each trip and much time is spent not only covering the details of each educational experience but also in giving families and students time to get to know one another in the coming months leading up to the departure date. Meetings are held once a month so that parents have plenty of opportunities to ask questions and students are given time for processing a wealth of information as well as covering behavioral expectations. Once abroad, Juneau Culture Club updates the group Facebook page regularly and quickly responds to personal emails so that no parents are ever left feeling anxious or out of the loop.

Map detailing latest educational tour through Australia. (Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

Map detailing latest educational tour through Australia. (Courtesy Photo / Juneau Culture Club)

“My daughter Adelyn went to Australia with the group this summer. The trip was positioned a couple years due to Covid but was worth the wait. It was an amazing experience for her where they learn a lot about the country and the culture but also herself traveling with the group. The group leaders are amazing, and we are so thankful that they do this. My daughter got to experience the Sydney opera house, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, seeing kangaroos, and learning about the culture. She had a great time. Additionally, my son went with the group to Ireland/England/Wales a few years ago and it was equally fantastic. The group and the group leaders make it a safe, fun way to travel and learn about other countries,” said parent Stephanie Buss.

Those interested in getting involved or seeking additional information are encouraged to reach out through email at juneauglobalkids@gmail.com and efjuneautravel@gmail.com or by referring to the EF link at https://www.eftours.com/tour-website/2446557AD.

Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at jonson.kuhn@juneauempire.com.

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