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World-Class Education

Studying abroad after college and later in life

Though his friends wonder how, taking a vacation to Mongolia, a remote country located between Siberia and China, didn't seem unusual to Thomas Atkiss, a 64-year-old salesman from suburban Chicago. He'd been reading about Genghis Khan when he found the tour, "In the Footsteps of Genghis Khan--History, Culture, Nature," in his graduate school's alumni magazine.

Atkiss signed up for the two-week trek, which will take him through a Genghis Khan archeological dig site, the Gobi desert and Erdene Zuu, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. A history buff, he's a regular on educational tours through areas he's interested in. "I like to go places I've learned about, especially trips with an escort who knows history," Atkiss says. "I travel a lot."

Sponsored by the Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago, the Mongolian tour will be led by John Woods, a University of Chicago professor specializing in the history, language and civilization of the region. Atkiss and nine other participants will join archeologists on an expedition in search of Genghis Khan's tomb and, among other things, they will view dinosaur excavation sites in the Gobi Desert.
The cost of the tripp is $3,840 per person for double occupany and $4,480 for single occupancy. "It's not a first-class hotel trip," Atkiss says. "This is roughing it."

It wasn't so rough for Atkiss in Rome. There on an Elderhostel trip, participants immersed themselves in high culture, touring ancient baths and aqueducts, palaces, the Vatican and modern city streets.

The first and largest not-for-profit educational travel organization in the world, Elderhostel generally selects three- and four-star hotel accommodations--unless the tour goes through Cambridge and Oxford universities in England, where participants stay on campus, immersing themselves in the lifestyle of students past and present.

Elderhostel offers "8,000 program dates each stay on campus, immersing themselves in the lifestyle of students past and present.

Elderhostel offers "8,000 program dates each
year to 165,000 people," says Steve Lembke, vice president of programming worldwide. "At any given time of day or night throughout the year, there are 6,000 Elderhostelers doing something somewhere in the world."

Regardless of where these travelers are in the world, one thing they're all doing is attempting to learn. Programs like those offered by Elderhostel, the Graham School and others are meant to provide travel opportunities for people who "appreciate the value of a program that does all the planning, provides an educational component and brings together a group of people who become best friends," Lembke says.

In most Elderhostel programs, travelers must be at least 55. "We want the group to have continuity," Lembke says. "That's why we have an age limit. Keeping people of similar interest together while they study brings out a dynamic interface among participants."

But an interest in learning about a certain subject is sometimes all participants may have in common, which is a good thing, Atkiss says. "The people on the trip are very similar in one way. They like to travel. They like novelty and things that are different. They want to learn about other people and places. Other than that, it's people from all walks of life."

"Dinners are unbelievable," Lembke says. "People come together."

It's true, says Chris Guymon, associate dean for administration at the Graham School. His programs are open to any age, but everyone has one thing in common, he says--"an interest and commitment to learning about the world."

"One thing I love about what we do here is bring together people with a variety of experiences who love travel and education, and that enhances it for everyone," Guymon says. "It's amazing how well the participants enjoy being with each other."

In other programs, the common link is formed through an interest in politics (www.worldaffairscouncils.org), social service (www.crossculturalsolutions.org) or art (www.studyabroad.com). There are programs for grandparents and grandkids, people who want to travel with a group at certain points and alone at others, those who want adventure or exercise and those who prefer the library.

Some organizations, such as the not-for-profit United Planet (www.unitedplanet.org), offer travelers tax-deductions for going on the trip. These excursions stress the humanitarian component. There must be "no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation" in order to take advantage of the deduction.

Along the same lines, if an employer provides matching funds to 501(c) 3 tax-exempt non-profits such as United Planet, the organization can apply the donation to a traveler's program fee.

Speaking of which, fees for adult study travel programs--ranging between $800 and $3,500--tend to be good deals, according to Guymon at the Graham School. "Our trips are all-inclusive," he says. "All you need is extra spending money for souvenirs or gifts. It could be difficult to do these trips on the same budget on your own."

Indeed, one of Elderhostel's commitments is to make the trips a "good value," Lembke says. Unlike some other programs, Elderhostel includes all components of the trip in the price upfront. "Some trips offer a low price," he says, "but then some components must be bought overseas." The best thing to do is thoroughly examine the details of available tours.

And after that, reap the benefits of exploring the world. Elderhostel, in a report issued in April, found that life-long learning leads to healthy aging. "We're hoping that this study can serve as a roadmap for healthy aging as people live longer and fuller lives than ever before," the report says.

In another study, researchers found that study abroad programs, "foster transformative learning." And in many cases, they make dreams come true.

According to Guymon, one elderly, ailing participant in the Graham School's Oxford University program cried when it was over. He never expected to fulfill his dream of studying at Oxford. A trip such as his, Guyman says, "will be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your life."


Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI)
Since 1985, the Center for Cultural Interchange (CCI) has been dedicated to the promotion of cultural understanding, academic development, environmental consciousness and world peace.

Cross-Cultural Solutions
2 Clinton Place
New Rochelle, NY 10801

These are international volunteer programs that bring people together to share an enthusiasm for making a difference and experiencing another culture. Programs are open to people of all ages and abilities.


1 Avenue de Lafayette,
Boston, MA 02111
Elderhostel offers in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning experiences for almost every interest and ability.

The Graham School of General Studies at the University of Chicago
1427 E. 60th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
Several hundred adults with special educational interests join in the school's travel and study abroad programs.

International Opportunities Program

This is a website with links to teaching opportunities abroad and listings of well-known programs.

International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA)
31 73rd Street, Suite 2
North Bergen, NJ 07047
A search site for international volunteer and internship opportunities.

Northwestern University
633 Clark Street
Evanston, IL 60208
For more than 40 years, Northwestern Alumni Association has offered opportunities to travel around the world. NAA currently offers more than 40 trips a year that combine learning, recreation, fellowship, luxury and leisure. Participants do not have to be Northwestern alumni.

Study Abroad
1350 Edgmont Avenue, Suite 1100
Chester, PA 19013
StudyAbroad.com is a comprehensive directory of study abroad programs, including summer study abroad, internship, service learning and volunteer abroad programs, intensive language programs and more, all organized by subject or country or city.

Transitions Abroad magazine
Dedicated to work, study, living and cultural immersion travel abroad, Transitions Abroad gives practical information that aims for a greater understanding of other cultures.

United Planet
11 Arlington Street
Boston, MA 02116
People from all walks of life, countries and backgrounds are invited to join United Planet's membership in "a community beyond borders." The educational charity is designed to foster cross-cultural understanding and friendship, support communities in need and promote social and economic prosperity among cultures.

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois Alumni Association tours are open to all UIAA members and their families, as well as friends of the university.

The World Affairs Council
One South Broad Street, Suite 2-M
Philadelphia, PA 19107
This national association is the center of a network of 87 non-profit, non-partisan organizations open to all who wish to join. The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia organizes the council's "Travel the World" trips. Tours include access to political and local experts who give behind the scenes views and briefings

2518 29th Avenue
South Minneapolis, MN 55406
World Endeavors is a U.S.-based organization that provides volunteer, study and intern programs in numerous locations around the world.

Published: August 07, 2007
Issue: Fall 2007