The world of continuing-education classes may seem limited to the vagaries of estate planning and one-shot workshops in assertiveness. But now continuing ed is mitigating the regrets of those who missed junior year abroad: Several area schools offer tours for adult students studying not for a degree but for pleasure.
New York University’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS) offers the UN Geneva study tour, a one-week foray into high-level UN politics. The trip can be used as an elective course for students enrolled in one of two international-affairs certificate programs at SCPS, but it’s open to anyone interested in international affairs, whether they work in the field or not. This past year’s trip, the 10th NYU has sponsored, had students ranging in age from 20 to 76—among them teachers, lawyers, journalists, and a physician. Designed with the UN, the program lets students attend briefings, meet with diplomats, and learn about NGOs such as the World Organization Against Torture, which students visited most recently.
Matt Olim, a 34-year-old computer programmer, signed up for the trip because of a keen interest in international politics; he estimates that a third of this year’s participants came just out of curiosity. “I felt as if we were watching history unfolding especially because of all the things that are captivating the world right now,” he says, “issues like anti-Americanism, unilateralism.”
“There’s a tremendous camaraderie between people of different age groups,” said Lorella Brocklesby, academic coordinator of NYU’s Oxford Study Tour, another international program offered by SCPS. This year’s program included a course on medieval En-gland in the 14th century and another about England in the time of Jane Austen, two of five topics created by Oxford especially for the NYU program. Added bonus: Students stay at Christ Church, which, besides being one of Oxford’s most prestigious colleges, houses the dining hall that stood in for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. The program costs $1,990 for one week, $3,780 for two weeks.
CUNY’s Hunter College formerly offered continuing-ed students study trips to Italy and France, but those have been discontinued. Dr. Paula Boyum, president elect of the National Council for Continuing Education and Training, says that since September 11, enrollment for study abroad programs has dropped at her school, Bellevue Community College, outside of Seattle: “We believe it’s due to people’s reluctance to go abroad.”
Nonetheless, Baruch College, also part of the CUNY system, is starting its own study abroad program under the aegis of the Continuing and Professional Studies (CAPS) department—the first group heads to Ecuador on August 1. The 15 students, all studying Spanish either in the CAPS language program or as undergraduates, will spend two weeks in the Oriente section of the country, where they will have 24 hours of classroom time with a Baruch instructor, Umberto d’Arista. D’Arista and friends founded the nonprofit Frates to help several indigenous tribes in eastern Ecuador. Baruch students will study and live near the Centro Desideri, where Frates will be working to meet the health care and educational needs of the community. D’Arista says the program’s proximity to the rain forest and the culture of its people makes Frates unique: “It allows people to get in contact with a part of the world that’s disappearing. [The indigenous groups] have a lot to teach to Western culture.” Augusta Malacarne, CAPS director, says the college hopes to start another program in Peru and eventually in Italy. “The idea,” said Malacarne, “is to integrate culture with language programs, so students can move from the local to the global.” The cost of said movement: $2,400, including airfare; a portion goes to Frates.
Continuing education is not the only road abroad for older students. Elderhostel, started in 1975, contracts with schools and other organizations to offer “elders”— those 55 and older—short-term courses in a huge range of subjects. This year’s catalog includes a trip to Patagonian sheep ranches and a chance to teach English in Xi’an, China. (For mere babes, a loophole: As long as you’re traveling with someone 55 or older, you can attend.) The programs, says Despina Gakopoulos of Elderhostel, are always cooperative: “We develop a partnership with a local institution. They have local contacts and local instructors, and they develop the programs.” The average Elderhostel traveler is a teacher, librarian, or other such knowledge grabber unlikely to be satisfied by a five-countries-in-six-days tour. These travelers have made the program extraordinarily popular: Last year 30,000 people took part in about 10,000 courses offered domestically and abroad, including three to Cuba. Despite their popularity, the Cuba trips probably won’t be offered again next year: The Treasury Department may cancel the people-to-people licenses that make it possible for travelers to meet locals. Without the licenses, that basic aspect of travel abroad—having contact with people outside your tour group—will be severed, reducing study trips to the tour-package bubble that student travelers of any age want to avoid.