Ben Shofet, graphic editor
World History and AP European teacher Pete Van Rossum has traveled nearly all over the world. From Madrid to Prague and everywhere in between Van Rossum has seen it all. And when he began his teaching career at Beverly in 1999, he became of of the only teachers in the entire district to travel with his students voluntarily. Highlights conducted an interview with him to get a better look at the well-travelled teacher.
Highlights: What are some of your hobbies outside of school?
Pete Van Rossum: I used to travel a lot to Europe. I used to take my kids to Europe [for] I think 10 or 11 years in a row. But in more recent times it’s just gotten really expensive, so I haven’t been able to get one off the ground, even though I’ll always try. The last time we did a trip was in 2009.
Highlights: What was your experience with traveling in Europe?
Van Rossum: When I was in college, I went through Europe [on] two or three-month trips just backpacking, which was great. I recommend that to anybody, sometime during your college years, to just get a train pass and hit the road and see where it takes you. The cool thing was just meeting new people from around the world. I learned a lot about different people with different cultures and things like that. The idea of traveling on my own really got me into the idea of traveling with students, and kind of sharing that part of my experience because it was a lot of fun.
Highlights: Did you have a plan?
Van Rossum: I would have a basic plan, but I just followed where I wanted to go. The great thing about having a rail pass was that you could go to a train station and figure out which train was leaving next, and then you would just hop on it. And it might take you to Berlin or to Madrid, just depending on what time you got to the station. I always liked that kind of travel because everything was open and you could pretty much go anywhere.
Highlights: Where was your favorite place in Europe?
Van Rossum: It’s the classic stuff like Italy and France and great countries. I think more of the Mediterranean countries are more fun because of culture and beautiful surroundings. So France, Italy [and] Spain have been my favorites. But in terms of student trips, I think the best trip we did was Prague, Munich and Vienna. I didn’t expect that to be as good as it was, but it was a great turnout. It wasn’t the typical Rome-Florence-Venice European trip that people usually get. Everyone knows the Eiffel Tower, the Coliseum, Venice and stuff like that, but this was stuff that wasn’t that obvious.
Highlights: Can you talk about how it’s been traveling with students?
Van Rossum: You know it’s not Disneyland, we’re not at an amusement park where people have to put up with your crap, you know you have to represent where you’re from. In terms of behavior, you’re always going to have people who push the boundaries a little bit, but I always tried to pick students who I thought were mature and responsible. But you know, you’d always have kids trying to drink no matter what you told them. So, I’ve laid out a contract for the students that go so they understand my expectations for the trip. You know, this one time in Barcelona, this kid didn’t come home at night; we had a curfew. The kid wasn’t in his room and no one knew where he was. We went on a search, we called the police and were just about ready to call the parents, when, at 9 a.m., the student walks in through the door saying, “Hi there.” But you got to look at the big picture; people do make mistakes, and you learn. You know, I always tell my students that the thing with traveling is, if something doesn’t go wrong on the trip, that’s not normal.
Highlights: What were some of the extraordinary experiences that you had with your students?
Van Rossum: One of the nice things we’ve been able to do on the trip were parents who had some type of exclusive connection with a European company and we were able to receive special privileges. You know the soccer team, Atlético Madrid? Well, one of the parents knew the owner of the team. So we were able to go on the field and go into the press room because of the connection. And on another trip, we had a mom knew people in the London Theatre Company, so there we also went backstage and spoke to cast and crew about the performance. So things like that were always kind of a possibility. But being able to go on the field was probably the best thing of the trip. However, that was the same trip where one of my students was lost the entire night. So you have your highs and your lows of a trip. And that was the worst thing in all of my 11 trips.