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Michael Durnin
A sixteen-year-old student stands in front of a picture painted in, let’s say, 1502. The guide is explaining the balance of form and the
perfection of the line, but the student’s attention is drawn to the fire extinguisher on the wall nearby, by the people milling around this rather
famous picture, and by the fiddly bits on the frame. One could say that there are two kinds of guide. The first will – one hopes with
kindliness – direct the student’s attention back to the subject in hand, namely the painting. The second will wonder, with the student, why a
fire extinguisher is there and why it is that shape; what draws the people around such works of art and how can you tell, by their gestures,
what they are thinking; why works of art are framed and why such effort goes into making the frame itself. Then the conversation will move
back to the picture and find in it too objects which have practical functions, will find people gesturing, and deliberate framing and arranging
of elements. Then the question might arise as to how the painting belongs in such a context and why it should be the object of anyone’s
attention. In such a conversation you find out who is really doing the “work” in a “work of art”. The first guide can be admirable, but I think I
prefer the second. It is why I enjoy being a tour director with NETC.

It took me longer than it should have to realize that an NETC tour director is not passing on information, but participating in a conversation,
an especially animated conversation. And according to the fount of much wisdom, the Oxford English Dictionary, to “converse” is not just to
exchange words with someone but to keep company with them, literally to live with them. To have a conversation is to perceive the world
through another person’s eleven senses. As a tour director you have the enviable gift of spending time with students. You get to know them
for long enough to know where they are coming from, not just literally. If you are inquisitive enough you discover something of the students’
characters and become aware of differing intelligences, all of which can prompt new and interesting questions. And endless curiosity –
“’satiable curtiosity” as Kipling’s Elephant’s Child calls it – is one of the characteristics I admire most.

To be an NETC tour director is never to visit the same place twice. To be in Rome with thirty or so individuals is to experience thirty or so
different Romes. Each person brings their own predilections, prejudices, memories, anticipations, and distortions, any one of which can set
off a new train of thought.

Not much in what I did until I became a tour director prepared me for what it involves. I grew up in a cultural wilderness near London, went
to various universities, eventually studying music in pursuit of goals which changed over time (don’t ask me what I play; it’s too embarrass-
ing). I have worked as a publisher’s editor (music and books) for a long time: a solitary existence, as far as imaginable from being a tour
director, except that it involves learning. I have read some books, looked at lots (and lots) of old churches and pictures, listened to a great
deal of music, tried to know what it is to know something and wondered repeatedly at my own ignorance. I like to laugh, I am very bad at
dancing, and my dress sense is unsubtle.

I now live in the United States, the result of one of the lesser-remarked by-products of travel, meeting the love of my life. My name is
Michael Durnin.


NETC Tour Directors are cultural mediators with boundless enthusiasm to share their love of travel and belief in international education. They’re bilingual,
often multilingual, highly creative people who see learning opportunities along every street and around every corner. They pay close attention to all
details, large and small, to ensure a safe and smooth trip for you and your students.

Educational Travel