Multiculturalism is a fresh term for an old product. From Berlin to Paris, from the shores of Barcelona to the ports of Athens, people have come and gone from all over the world and changed the social, ethnic and cultural fabric of nations and cities. How this immigration and emigration has been processed socially and ideologically changes from place to time, but one thing is certain – the cultural diversity of Europe today is a valuable learning opportunity for students.
Before students embark on a school tour to any destination in Europe, they will have in their mind different ideas about the places they are about to visit. Whether it is the smell of bread in Paris, the rush of traffic in London, or the flow of canals in Venice, these expectations, however much they may be based on facts, can solidify stereotypes in students’ minds. That so many of these European cities have seen a flood of people from around the world flock to their streets and suburbs can challenge these stereotypes as students come to terms with the sheer mix of cultures, atmospheres and identities in Europe. This in turn can open their minds to be more critical about their image of these places.
It is obvious that students of Italian will go to Italy, of French to France, and so forth. But the changing face of multicultural Europe has had its impact on language too. It is not just the airports that have become multilingual; so many cities and towns resound with the sounds of English, French, Spanish and a plethora of many other languages. This actually gives students on a school tour a chance to pick up many different language skills and note the changing form of many international languages in a single destination.
History at work
History is rightly seen as the study of the past; but what about the history that is being made in the present? While students on a school tour are hardly expected to be futurists, it is a great benefit to their learning to leave the halls of the Louvre or the British Museum, after reflecting on how France and England formed over the centuries, and compare this history with the living, changing face of the two nations today. The city streets of London and Paris are testament to history in action, and they truly contain the flavours of the world.
Revisiting local identity
A school tour goes beyond a holiday in that it encourages students to exercise their minds. Most will come home with insights that simply cannot be gleaned in the classroom. Whether they travel for the sake of Music or Literature, whether they visit the Black Forest or Madrid, the multicultural changes to Europe give young learners a great opportunity to consider how identity and its social expression is being transformed by the changes in the social make up of these nations.