This summer, a group of 55 adults—some just out of college, others long since retired—will gather at the University of Virginia for a weeklong symposium on Thomas Jefferson. They will live in dormitory rooms that Jefferson designed in 1819, take a private, after-hours tour of Monticello, and participate in discussions led by some of the most distinguished Jefferson scholars in the nation on his relationship with such figures as John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. For someone interested in Jefferson, this is an unbelievable opportunity—and it's just one of thousands of tours offered to alumni and the general public by colleges and universities around the nation.
If you're looking for a guided vacation that is a little out of the ordinary, consider university-organized tours. The Virginia experience captures the many advantages of these programs. The foremost is that they are led by eminent university faculty, people who have devoted their lives to their subject and who excel at conveying it to others. Most decide to lead a tour because they relish the chance to share their passion with adults.
When you are selecting a college-sponsored tour, the quality of the faculty is as important as the destination. At Stanford, alumni interested in the environment can tour the Panama Canal with MacArthur Foundation award winner and conservationist Paul Ehrlich. Princeton alumni who are amateur astronomers can tour the new astronomical observatories in Chile with another MacArthur fellow, astrophysicist David Spergel.
Another characteristic of the best college-sponsored tours is access. Because these tours are affiliated with a college or university, the organizers can offer participants the kind of behind-the-scenes connections to key people and places that make an indelible impression.
For instance, this October, MIT is offering a tour to Russia to track the journey of a Soyuz space capsule as it makes its way to the International Space Station. Participants will watch the launch from the VIP viewing area at the Soyuz base in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, along with the families of the cosmonauts, top officials, and special guests. They will then enjoy real-time access at Moscow Mission Control to observe the Soyuz docking at the ISS over live satellite feed. Any closer to the action, and you would be space walking!
If you're interested in college-sponsored travel programs and you are a college graduate, you can find out about tours by visiting your alumni association Web site. And if the tour you want is offered by another university, you may be able to take advantage of it. Many are open to "friends" as well as alumni. You might also have luck checking the continuing education programs of the larger universities. They may have the resources to offer tours for the general public.
For more information about the travel and learn programs offered by the University of Virginia, visit the School of Continuing and Professional Studies.