Midlife is a great time to travel. Once a career has been established, once kids are out of the house (or at least self managing), once there’s a little disposable income and some vacation time built up, a woman of a certain age can turn her attention to her dream of visiting far off places. And for the kind of person who also dreams of pursuing some kind of academic study and loves a challenge, exciting options for combining travel and education are available.
Most of us who are now middle-aged are familiar with Elderhostel, the travel-learning program that our parents’ generation enjoyed. Founded in 1975, the not-for-profit organization has rechristened its educational adventures program, Road Scholar http://www.roadscholar.org/ (a much more appealing brand name for boomers, since most would likely recoil from anything with the word “elder” in it).
The program serves up an abundance of learning opportunities – 5,500 educational tours in all 50 states in the U.S. and 150 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Europe, the Americas, and Asia, including Australia and Antarctica. Taught by widely known faculty and local experts, courses supply in-depth and behind-the-scenes educational experiences, from cultural expeditions and study cruises to walking and biking tours. The sheer variety is a bit boggling – reminiscent of scouring that first college course catalog back in undergraduate days, and just as compelling. There are short trips and longer voyages, near and far, ideal for the midlife wannabe scholar who wants to fit travel experiences to particular interests, schedules, and a selection of planes, trains, or automobiles.
One option that many of us do not have to search out, because it often arrives in our mailboxes in the form of colorful brochures, is travel study programs organized by our alma mater’s alumni association. These tours offer the prospect of companion travelers who are fellow alumni and educational classes taught by faculty drawn from the college or university from which you graduated. The courses are consistently intriguing. The upcoming schedule for Columbia University, to use only one example, includes a cruise along the coastline of the French and Italian Rivieras; a jaunt via jet around the world; an exploration of prehistoric art in Dordogne, France; and an air-land-sea journey through China, Tibet, and the Yangtze River. All you need to do is join your alumni association (which has other benefits to recommend it) and check out what they have that interests you.
But if you really want to be adventurous – and if you have the ability to be away for months at a time, a truly immersive and challenging travel and learning opportunity is Semester at Sea http://www.semesteratsea.org/discover-sas/signature-programs/lifelong-learning-program/. Many people are familiar with the program as an undergraduate study offering, and therefore they assume it’s for 20-somethings only. But as Jane Pollak, one of the Northeast’s foremost coaches of entrepreneurial women, discovered, there is a place for the more “seasoned” student. This past spring semester, Jane traveled to Japan, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Burma, India, South Africa, Ghana, and Morocco as an adult auditor, the lifelong learning offshoot of the program. On her epic voyage, Jane joined with undergraduates and other mature auditors in studying with faculty from various disciplines such as history, economics, public health, international relations, political science, psychology, English, and urban planning. Jane still glows when she talks about it, searching for words to describe the impact the experience had on her, declaring, “It changed my life!”
Jane is the perfect judge of what constitutes a life-altering choice. While teaching high school, she shifted to a professional career in the unlikely field of Ukrainian egg decoration, based on one of her class projects. Her talent and enthusiasm took her from exhibiting at craft fairs to an invitation to the White House and appearances on NBC’s Today Show. A voracious lifelong learner, she developed enough business expertise to eventually launch another new career as a public speaker, author, and consultant in entrepreneurship.
So when Jane recently decided to devote three months of her life to traveling the world on a ship, studying subjects she had never tackled before – in spite of her thriving professional venture and family ties – it was both a leap of faith and a confirmation of her devotion to education and adventure.
Like Jane, many of us who have made it past the age of 50 have places we have always wanted to go, subjects we have always wanted to study, and a wish to inject some excitement into our lives. The programs above can help us do all of that at the same time, in the company of other study-buddy travel lovers looking for a new challenge. So get your bags packed and go learn something!
For those of you who might be interested, Jane Pollak has put together a series of Remarkable Women’s Network events, inspired by her travels, which will take place on November 3, and January 12. See her website- http://janepollak.com/soul-proprietors-webinar/events/ -for details.