Paul Kaser, who began his career in college admissions, has worn plenty of hats. Yet through all the leaps and bounds during 12 years at Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, one thing has been consistent: Running student travel programs.
Now lead counselor of college and career relations at the selective public magnet school just outside of New York City, Kaser held various roles at the institution—business teacher, student council advisor and guidance counselor. Even in his first year at the school, Kaser didn’t shy away from leading student travel and has since taken more than 3,000 BCA students on trips throughout the world.
The passion for student travel was born of jobs Kaser held in college.
“My first job in the industry was with American Trails West, where I spent two summers as a counselor on teen travel programs,” said Kaser. “I then moved over to Rein Teen Tours, where I spent 10 years working under Norman Rein and his excellent team directing teen tours all over the U.S., Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii.”
Through these experiences, Kaser knew he wanted to blend student travel with his professional career, year-round. In explaining what he likes best about showing students the world, he notes it’s all about perspective and seeing students experience something for the first time. “Whether it’s their first time on a plane, first time in another country, first time at Disneyland, or first time trying an exotic food in a far-flung destination.”
“Things that we experienced travelers take for granted are big moments in these student’s lives—and we’re there to make them as special as we can!”
Often, Kaser’s trips are focused on taking students to colleges and universities to meet with admission representatives and alumni.
“Traveling with a school group opens doors that are often not open to individual travelers and we can create a specialized experience for them to enhance their studies back on campus,” said Kaser. “The added value of traveling with their peers and teachers is something they will never forget and that they frequently state as their favorite memory of high school.”
A favorite trip memory for Kaser happened this spring, when he brought one of the first U.S. high school groups to the United Arab Emirates.
“It was an amazing cultural experience to travel to an Arab nation where few of their peers had ever been and to meet others,” said Kaser, adding that students were in awe the entire time. “I enjoyed introducing them to this very different nation and seeing their preconceived notions change.”
Though Kaser plans his own trips, he credits SYTA and Teach & Travel with helping to keep his itineraries fresh and offering ideas about new attractions to visit.
“There are always useful articles about important student travel topics, like selecting your chaperones or setting rules for student conduct. I always pick up a few tips and ideas from each issue!”
Kaser, who has used initiatives such as T-shirt sales and parking spot raffles to raise money to offset travel costs for students, doesn’t deny that things sometimes get rough.
“There’s an immense amount of stress that goes on behind the scenes that students will never see—nor should they,” said Kaser. “Getting a group of 25 or even 40 students around a major city like Chicago, London, or Hong Kong takes careful planning and logistics. When things go wrong or fall behind schedule—and they will—you need to come up with a new plan on the spot and hope it works.”
The adults traveling with you and your students are the first line of support when things go wrong. Kaser suggests carefully choosing great leaders to accompany your group. When it comes to putting on a happy face, maintaining an enthusiastic and positive attitude is key.
If it starts raining or you’re running late, you can embrace it and make it a great day, or you can let your frustration and negative attitude trickle down. “Always chose the first option.”
And even if you’ve been to a place many times, Kaser notes, inevitably there will be students seeing it for the first time.
“You want their experience to be as memorable as possible and your attitude sets the tone.”
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for Teach & Travel.
This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.