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(L-R:) Gabrielle, guest speaker Theresa Syer, Grace, Hilary, Daina, and International Exchange Coordinator Gillian Bishop.
March 6, 2013
Travel Expert Prepares Students for Upcoming Exchanges
“When I was 19, I travelled to Spain on my very first business trip,” Theresa Syer tells students. “I decided to go for dinner at a fast food restaurant. While in line, someone at the front began yelling that their order was not correct. 

Within moments, the commotion was over, but when I looked down, my purse was open and my wallet and passport were gone. Anytime there is a commotion, always guard your bags,” she advises.

Students in Grades 8–10 listened carefully to all of Ms Syer’s travel tips. She is an expert, after all. Working for 14 years as the Director of Sales and Marketing for the Sheraton Hamilton Hotel, she has travelled the world and has many stories to share—some funny, some cautionary but all entertaining and informative.

Working now as a professional speaker, Ms Syer came to Branksome for the seventh year to speak to students preparing for their exchanges. She gave practical tips to the group of 22 students set to travel around the world on a five-week exchange in the coming months.

With students going on exchanges all over the world—Spain, Scotland, England, Japan, Korea and Bermuda—Ms Syer’s tips were universally applicable and made students think about how to act in many situations. From dining etiquette, to body language to being street smart, students were already feeling confident about meeting their exchange families and becoming immersed in the culture.

“What will you get from your exchange?” asked Ms Syer. “A new perspective. You’ll also get to appreciate what we have here in Canada and enjoy how other cultures can be different.”

A few of her travel tips:

  • Make a copy of your passport and visa and keep them separate from the originals.
  • When using a public washroom, don’t hang your purse or bag on the hook behind the door, or put it on the floor, as someone can quickly take it. Wear it on your back, or if you must place it on the floor, wrap the straps around your ankle so it cannot be easily pulled out from under the door.
  • Let others know if you plan to deviate from your original itinerary.
  • Have medical insurance and review it in advance.
  • To remember which place setting is yours at a dinner table, use the phrase, “BMW” while looking from left to right: bread, meal, water glass.
  • Review the local laws and customs (Ms Syer once had her rental car towed in Mexico!)
  • Don’t carry all of your money in one bag.
  • Try to be open-minded about eating food from other cultures.

Ms Syer also spoke to students about the importance of an upbeat and open attitude.

“Make everything positive,” she says. “This will be a unique learning experience for each of you. You’ll make new friends and find an ‘adopted’ family. It will be both a chance to be an international ambassador for Branksome Hall, and an opportunity to challenge your own way of thinking.”​​​​​

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