Guide to Work, Study, Travel and Living Abroad  FacebookTwitterGoogle+  
As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine November/December 2000
Related Topics
Study Abroad
Student to Student

Solo Study Abroad

Just back from two years of study and travel abroad I met a friend who was preparing to go. She had found a program through a midwestern college that promised educational travel mixed with a lot of fun. I asked her what they meant by “educational travel.” She said that she was going to earn six college credits for six weeks of more or less trainhopping and backpacking around Europe exploring famous sites of the Second World War.

I told her that while I was sure they would have fun, I was not so sure how educational the trip would be. She would, perhaps, as many college students do, return to the U.S. wishing she had seen or done many things she had missed.

Besides college programs the other most popular type of educational travel is with a tour company. I took a so-called “educational” trip once through a highly respectable travel organization. The Italian cities we visited were nothing short of fascinating; however, the advertised educational aspect of the tour was just a marketing gimmick. We spent a full two hours in the Vatican (10 minutes in the Sistine Chapel). I felt like I was always running to catch up to the group.

Maybe it should have been called a physical fitness tour rather than a “relaxing learning experience.”

Educational travel is a vague term and its vagueness allows any organization sponsoring a trip to set its own definition and its own standards. If nothing else, because of the amount of time involved, college-sponsored programs are usually excellent. It is impossible not to learn at least something about the culture over a period of months. However, few people, other than college students, have the vacation days or resources to take off for that length of time.

The alternative is the tour company, which jam two months of travel into two weeks.

The company takes care of everything, down to what kind of wine and cheese to have each day. It publishes a magnificent, colorful brochure. The most respected and popular travel companies (i.e. the most expensive) will let you work alongside a biologist or zoologist tracking and researching rhinos or koalas or even snow leopards.

But meeting interesting people and learning about them and their cultures is as important as seeing the artwork (or gorillas or penguins). If this were not the case, it would be more practical to just buy a good book or take your safari on the World Wide Web.

So, ditch the brochures, surf the Internet in a focused information hunt, buy a good guidebook, and talk to others who have traveled where you want to go. If you need to justify the trip, many universities will allow you academic credit, sometimes toward graduate degrees, for writing a paper about your travels or taking a test in the classroom equivalent.

The work of planning your own educational trip will pay for itself many times over. You will learn more on a trip planned by you and for you; most importantly, you will do it at your own pace.