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If I’d Only Known Yen What I Know Now

A Staff Perspective on CLE’s Trip to Japan

by Scott Allen, Psy.D., CLE Austin

Last summer, I had the privilege of taking part in CLE’s annual trip abroad. Although I learned much about Japan and its culture, this trip helped to solidify many good lessons for me in my everyday life. Traveling with a group of students with disabilities can have its unique challenges; however, with every challenge I had the opportunity to grow and learn about myself as well as the people who traveled with me. Below are what I considered to be the 5 most important lessons that I learned as a result from the trip. Although these lessons apply directly to traveling overseas with groups of students, they also apply in their own ways to “real life” back home.

Read Scott’s Journal from their Trip to Japan

Scott, Mary and Jake - CLE Trip to Japan

The three of us, Jake, Mary and myself, planned what we considered to be the PERFECT trip.

1. Have a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C, and be prepared to throw those plans out the window… in other words, be flexible.

Karaoke in JapanAs we were preparing to travel to Japan, I made a complete itinerary, everything from where we would go, to the cost of entry, to the train lines we would need to take; I even scheduled breaks. As in “real life” back at home, stuff happens and we just needed to be flexible. For example, no one could predict that we would arrive 20 seconds late for a train, or that a venue would be closed on one particular day. These experiences gave us the opportunity to put on our thinking caps and be flexible as a group. Often, we found that the alternative course of action was preferable to the original. Karaoke night was a prime example of this phenomenon. We showed up to eat at a particular restaurant to discover that we needed a reservation, we made a reservation for the next day and decided to go to karaoke that night. All of us agreed that this experience ranked among our top experiences of the trip, and it might not have happened if we weren’t flexible.

2. Asking for help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

Don't be afraid to ask for helpBy Days 6 and 7 I was feeling physically and mentally exhausted due to the constant activity on the trip. I talked with my colleagues, Mary and Jake, about the situation and both of them helped to give me a bit of a break. We divided up tasks among us so that no one person had to do EVERYTHING. Asking for help is a relatively new skill for me, and it leads to two very positive outcomes. First, I am perceived as (and arguably actually am) a stronger person when I am able to admit my shortcomings and ask for help. Second, and perhaps even more important, research shows that asking for help leads to positive opinions from those who help you. We, as people, inherently strive to help each other, it’s how our species has survived and thrived. Never, never, never, be afraid to ask for help!

3. You can’t please everyone, but you can compromise.

Ultraman in JapanWith the exception of karaoke, there were not many activities that appealed to absolutely everyone. That is the beauty of traveling in a group… you get to do all of the things you want to do, but you also get to try lots of new things that you may or may not like, this is compromise. We had two students in our group who were HUGE fans of Ultraman. We went somewhat out of our way for these students to find the ultimate Ultraman collectibles. On the final night of our trip, we dined in a restaurant that was loud and a little scary for these same two students. However, because we went out of our way to help them earlier in the trip, they were more than willing to wait in a nearby gift shop while the rest of us ate. Sometimes we had to make McDonald’s trips because some of our students struggled with trying various forms of Japanese cuisine. However, these students were willing to wait while others ate their fancier meals. Most social relationships are built upon compromise; no two people agree on absolutely everything. In group situations, compromise leads to everyone getting what they want (at least at some point) and increased harmony in the group.

4. Appreciate challenges as learning opportunities.

CLE students traveling to JapanNo international trip is completely smooth sailing. One area of particular difficulty was learning about Tokyo’s transportation system. Tokyo’s train system is a labyrinth consisting of many networks and several different companies. We made our share of mistakes; we got on incorrect trains or disembarked at the wrong stations. These situations turned out to not only be learning experiences for the students, but for the staff members as well. Through these experiences, staff and students learned all about the train system to the point that on our last couple of days, students were directing the group through the train stations and on/off the trains. Our most valuable lessons in life come through adversity, and this trip was a prime example of students and staff using our challenges to learn new skills.

5. Have faith in yourself and in others. It will work out!

CLE trip to JapanI can remember feeling my share of stress and anxiety going into the trip and being nervous that something bad might happen or that this would not be the perfect trip for the students. The stress did not go away until I talked about it with some friends. I came to accept that the trip WAS NOT going to be completely perfect, but we as a group would be fine. I needed to trust in myself, my colleagues, and our students to be able to handle whatever issue might come up. With this mindset, we were able to handle every misstep with grace. Now that the trip has happened, I can fall back on it any time I deal with a potentially scary situation and know that if I was able to handle the trip, I can handle pretty much anything “with a little help from my friends.”

When looking at our travel to Japan, I see it as a semester (or longer) of experience compounded into eleven days. There were so many opportunities for learning and we capitalized on these. I saw our students grow up before my very eyes. This year, I hope for a similar experience as CLE goes to Great Britain in July and August.

Newsletter Articles – May 2016

Plan to get help with moving

Moving or making a transition to a new environment is always going to involve a little sweat, but the more work you do up front, the less you have to worry about the day of the move. To minimize the anxiety and stress associated with moving, one of the most important things you can do is to be organized and start the moving/planning process right away!
So you’re going to move? What are you waiting for? Let’s get started!

Traveling with CLE Students

At CLE-Rockville, many of our students are very well traveled, in the U.S. and internationally. (A recent outing to a restaurant featured a table of students all swapping stories of different trips to London … they hadn’t known they all had it in common!) For this month’s travel issue, we interviewed a few students about their favorite trip, and asked for their advice to others setting out on travels.

Travels to Japan

Riley Smith is a student at the Costa Mesa center who traveled with CLE to Japan in summer of 2015. He was interviewed about his experience.

Traveling luggage

by Terri Shermett, Program Director, CLE Davie


At College Living Experience in Fort Lauderdale, we have many students that travel to visit family during their school breaks, or to go on vacations with their loved ones. The instructors of our Independent Living…

CLE to visit Buckingham Palace July 2016

This year, CLE students will be traveling across the pond to Great Britain. From July 23rd to August 2nd, students will be exploring England, Edinburgh, Wales and the beautiful landscapes in between.

While students immerse themselves in a new culture and explore a new environment they will have the opportunity to continue to practice their skills sets from budgeting, navigating, developing friendships, and time management.

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.