Leaps and bounds
International travel on the rise for U.Va. alumni, families and friends
By Mary Carlson
|Participants in the 2005 Virginia Voyages tour of the Scottish Highlands hike (top) and take time to relax by the Bellanoch Bridge on the Crinan Canal (bottom). The hikers included U.Va. alumni, faculty, spouses and President Casteen.
If you think that international activity at the University of Virginia is for students and faculty only, it’s time to think again.
Serving alumni, parents, families and friends of the University, U.Va. Travel Programs is a suite of three distinct programs, each offering its own slant on seeing the world. Cavalier Travels, formerly the Alumni Travel Program, features trips for alumni, family, parents and friends who are accompanied by U.Va. faculty. Travel & Learn is designed for those seeking to combine travel and intellectual engagement with a particular topic. The third program — Virginia Voyages — specializes in walking tours that are often led by President John T. Casteen III himself.
As participation in U.Va. Travel Programs grows, so do the variety of destinations and themes around which many trips are organized. Collectively, the three programs span five continents, with visits to such countries as Spain, Peru, China, Costa Rica, Greece and Panama.
According to Kevin Conley, director of Cavalier Travels, the University’s larger internationalization effort is one factor driving the expansion of non-student travel. “Some of the changes we’re seeing are in response to the 2020 report.” The report — “Virginia 2020: Agenda for the Third Century at the University of Virginia” — evolved from a strategic planning and development program at U.Va. that identified international activity as one of four areas for concentrated progress over the next 20 years.
As with the international programs for students and faculty, U.Va. Travel Programs aims to expand and strengthen the University’s global connections. Yet despite its obvious outward push, it also has a unifying impulse, bringing together alumni and others who want to experience different cultures first-hand. “The job of any university is to educate diverse constituencies. This family of travel programs is being developed to meet exactly that goal,” said Joan Gore, the newly appointed director of U.Va. Travel Programs in the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, encompassing Cavalier Travels and Travel & Learn.
Trip costs can vary widely, ranging from $850 for the annual Civil War conference held in Virginia to $7,000 and up for an 11-day Mediterranean cruise. U.Va. Travel Programs participants have often, though not always, been “empty nesters” and retirees who are interested in travel experiences beyond traditional tourism. But that profile appears to be changing.
Gore described the University’s efforts to serve a broadening client base. “We want to develop programs with a variety of destinations, price ranges and interests. For example, we’re creating programs for new graduates to introduce them to the world or those parts of it they didn’t explore as undergraduates.”
Gore has extensive experience in the field of educational travel. From 1972 to 1987, she served not only as a rhetoric and communication faculty but also as an association dean in U.Va.’s College of Arts and Sciences, where she created the first collegiate Study, Work and Volunteer Abroad Office. She left U.Va. in 1987 to help other colleges and universities pursue their international missions.
Back on Grounds again, Gore wants to forge new associations with schools and departments across the University that have not traditionally been connected to adult educational travel. She believes that U.Va.
Travel Programs benefits not just the travelers themselves but also the faculty who share their expertise and enthusiasm for a particular subject area. “Faculty are re-energized and excited by interacting with adult audiences who are knowledgeable and appreciative.”
The headline for a Cavalier Travels flyer reads “Get out of town!” Combining sightseeing and lectures by U.Va. faculty, this program is designed for travelers with a sense of adventure and wide-ranging intellectual interests.
This month, a Cavalier Travels group traveled to Prague, Salzburg and Vienna to mark the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Mozart’s birth.
Participants attended concerts, site visits and educational sessions on Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert with Donald G. Loach, U.Va. professor emeritus of music.
Among the trips currently being developed is one to Costa Rica, the Darien Jungle and the Panama Canal. Participants would sail aboard a small ship with stops to explore biological preserves and other natural and man-made wonders.
In 2007, Cavalier Travels plans to unveil an even more ambitious array of trips with such titles as “Hemingway’s Africa”; “Beijing, Shanghai and the Great Wall”; and “Cavaliers Care Peru.” The Peru trip has a volunteer component, whereby participants visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas and help with construction on a school in the city of Cusco.
Inspired in part by the University’s longstanding tradition of public service among its undergraduates, Cavalier Care Peru is an important test case for what could be a trend. “We’d like to develop an international trip each year that includes volunteering,” Conley said.
Who decides where Cavalier Travels goes? In part, it's the participants themselves along with all of U.Va.'s constituents. Chris Johnston, assistant vice president for constituent engagement, said, "U.Va. is enhancing our travel programs, and we're listening to new ideas offered by the University's constituents seeking to travel with us."
Kelli Palmer knew nothing about truffle hunting. But when travelers booked for a Virginia Voyages trip to France said that they wanted to try it, she quickly learned. As assistant to the president and director of Virginia Voyages, Palmer goes on each voyage, providing what she calls “front-line services” to meet the participants’ needs and interests.
What sets Virginia Voyages apart from other U.Va. Travel Programs is that its trips are primarily walking tours that give alumni, parents and friends of the University the opportunity to travel with President Casteen. The program launched in 2004 with a trip to Dorset, England, the setting for many of Thomas Hardy’s 19th-century novels. As they took in the sights, Casteen and the other travelers spent time chatting about Hardy’s fiction.
Since then, Virginia Voyages has hosted trips to Burgundy, the Scottish Highlands and Tuscany. The program is designed for travelers who want a mix of “rigorous days and luxurious nights,” with dinners and accommodations at five-star establishments.
While presidential travel programs are not unique to U.Va., no other institution offers the trip that Palmer is helping to plan for March 2007.
The “Civil Rights South” voyage will be led by Julian Bond, a U.Va. history professor and president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. William B. Harvey, vice president and chief officer for diversity and equity, will also accompany the tour, which departs from Atlanta, the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr., and heads west to Alabama, where many of the civil rights movement’s most important events took place. With stops in Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham, “the route has the advantage of following the movement’s development chronologically,” Bond said. As Palmer described it, the trip “merges a lot of the University’s goals for diversity and provides opportunity for a larger cross-section of alumni and friends to experience travel with the University.”
Travel & Learn
Travel & Learn specializes in trips with a deep academic focus. “People who choose this program,” said Gore, “are pursuing an intellectual passion, attending lectures, undertaking thematic field trips and reading and researching an area—intellectually and physically—that they love.”
One of Travel & Learn’s most popular programs is the annual Seminar at Oxford University program, whose 2006 theme is “Shakespeare’s England.” Enlivened by the perspectives of experienced scholars and professional actors, this year’s program emphasizes exploring Shakespeare’s world “through the page and on the stage.” During their six-day journey, participants will study three plays in-depth while they stay at Trinity College at Oxford University and take side trips to London and Stratford-upon-Avon to see productions of the plays.
In addition to its international trips, Travel & Learn offers programs closer to home. "Cradles of Culture: The James River Plantations," which is the theme of this year's Architecture Symposium, features classroom lectures and site visits to surviving James River plantations. Next year will see history professor Gary Gallagher and his colleagues continue their Civil War program. Gore is also working with the School of Engineering and Applied Science on "The Gathering Storm: Bleeding Edge Engineering for the 21st Century," a new program inspired by the research of SEAS professor William Wulf that will examine engineering innovations designed to prevent natural and man-made crises.
For more information on U.Va. Travel Programs, visit www.virginia.edu/travel.