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Study Abroad, Plan Ahead

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A press release this week touting one-week summer study programs at Oxford reminded me that it’s not too early to start planning for a summer study program. Certainly, you can find plenty of vacation/study programs here in the United States, and prices are often attractive. But the allure of Oxford reminds you of the joys of overseas programs.

Although I’ve never done a vacation/study program, my wife has done several short summer stints in Oxford—with a doctorate to show for them—and I know how much she enjoyed the experiences. If you’ve ever seen the great Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis TV mysteries, you know vicariously what a fascinating place Oxford can be. Given the immense pull, I was a bit surprised that the upcoming summer program isn’t as attractive as it might be, with a heavy bias toward all things British, but many of you would find something you liked. Cost is another obstacle, at about $1,750 per person for a week, including tuition, accommodations, and most meals.

For years, seniors have turned first to Elderhostel for all things related to vacation study for the 50-plus set. (That esteemed organization can’t seem to zero in on the right name—it started as Elderhostel, briefly went to “Exploritas,” and has now settled on “Road Scholar,” but with “Elderhostel” still there, too. Go figure.) By whatever name, it’s the 800-pound gorilla in the vacation/study business. The current offerings range from Adventure Afloat and American Studies to Train Treks and World Studies, with dozens in between them.{{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

Typically, domestic programs run about a week and cost $500 to $1,000 per person per week, including accommodations in college dormitories or budget hotels, many meals, instruction, guides, and local transportation. Overseas programs are generally longer and more expensive—Great Australian Train Treks lasts 25 nights and starts at about $11,000 per person.

Programs run all year, not just the summer. And Elderhostel adds and deletes programs every year. This year, language options are down to just two—French and Spanish—with both U.S. and overseas courses. And Elderhostel still doesn’t offer any courses in computers and technology, to my way of thinking a significant shortcoming.

Of course, Elderhostel isn’t alone—many tour operators, universities, charities, and other groups arrange all sorts of programs. Over the years, I’ve always believed that language courses represent a terrific opportunity for vacation/study, and many people I know have done French or Italian cooking courses here in the United States and in France or Italy. Among the other good sources of information (and for vacation/study for travelers of any age):

  • Language Course Finder links to more than 10,000 language schools teaching 88 languages in 115 countries. It’s hard to figure you wouldn’t find something of interest — an immersion French program in Provence, for example, looks enticing.
  • Transitions Abroad lists a large number of choices in its “Educational Travel” section. If Oxford is too high-toned for your tastes, try Cambridge, or learn to play the Irish fiddle in Kerry. For links to other resources, visit Transitions Abroad’s “key websites” pages.

Planning a vacation/study trip isn’t a complicated process. Start by zeroing in on the interests, hobbies, and favorite activities you’d like to study. Also zero in on the places where you’d like to do your vacation/study—you’ll find opportunities from next door to the next continent. From that point, it’s a simple matter to locate an appropriate school or tour option. Start with the Internet sites, or if you prefer, contact a good travel agent. No matter how or where you arrange it, a vacation/study program can be a lot more rewarding than schlepping around somewhere on a tour bus.

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