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Alumni News — Spring 2004

Pack Your Bags, The University's Travel Program

Ten or twelve times over 25 years, I have participated in University-sponsored group trips—here in the U.S.; in England, Ireland, and Scotland; in France, Spain, and Italy; in Germany, Russia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Holland. Sometimes, I have joined groups for a day or two, and at other times, I have taken entire trips. Each trip has provided chances to make new friends and renew old friendships and has been wonderfully instructive and pleasant. Among my fondest memories are a soggy afternoon in the Burren, a magical July 4 in St. Petersburg shortly after Communism's collapse (with Russian fireworks for American independence), and seminars in Paris and London and Oxford and Dublin.

Jack Syer, Sondra Stallard and Bob Sweeney are working to improve our travel programs, particularly to make them more broadly available and more diverse. Americans are once again going abroad in large numbers. More students want foreign study than ever. We are working on travel programs that do more than get people there, house them, and bring them home. We are especially working on programs that engage the mind and the senses—including, of course, the sense of enjoyment.

University ravel can create impressions that endure. I remember an afternoon and evening spent along with two of my children walking among Venice's piazzas, palazzos, canals and bridges with Mario de Valmarana. Ever since, Mari's perceptions of that place (and many other places) have lived in our minds and family conversations. Similarly, time spent with Virginia people in other places repeatedly draws me back—to Avignon, to Santa Fe, to London and Oxford and Paris, to quiet, wild places in the west of Ireland.

This fall's discussions have made clear that in order to build larger, more inclusive travel programs, we need to involve faculty members and alumni leaders with expertise that will enrich travel. That is, we need knowledgeable leaders—women and men who know the neighborhoods, the cultures, perhaps even the hotels and restaurants, and who can provide insights and understandings well beyond what might occur to typical travel guides. Our trips need to be content-rich. Most of us have read Thomas Hardy's novels. Getting to know Dorchester and Hardy's Wessex might restore heart and head and body—Hardy country is walking country. The Medicis' (and Dante's) Florence, Georgia O'Keeffe's Santa Fe and Ghost Ranch (and Charlottesville and Palo Duro), Nelson Mandela's South Africa, and the sites and remains of our own national history, from Gettysburg or Chancellorsville to Yorktown to the earliest Amerindian and European and African-American settlement sites—these are natural gathering places for women and men educated in Charlottesville.

The University offers excellent programs. Petie and Ernie Er's treks through favorite parts of the UK are good examples. Our successes in Oxford and Paris suggest that alumni often enjoy travel with a coherent theme. Future offerings may be built around the gardens of France or California; medieval Spain; Greek architecture; or the life cycles of South American rainforests. Spain interests me especially because our undergraduate program in Valencia is thriving. Former Valencia students and others might enjoy programs combining our existing academic strengths there with the pleasures of the surrounding city, countryside and Mediterranean coast.

In addition to travel programs, other universities have developed family options that excite us. Most universities nowadays sponsor summer camps like the ones we operate through the Curry School and through Athletics. Generally intended for middle schoolers, these camps combine learning (e.g., computer skills or creative writing) with sports. They work well. Stanford, however, has for many years gone much further toward involving entire families in its camping experiences. See
www.stanfordalumni.org/learningtravel/sierra/sierra-camps for a good description of the program and the options.

We are exploring this kind of program for two reasons. Alumni who know Stanford's Camp Sierra believe that Virginia alumni and their families would thrive in a similar environment. The concept turns up separately in preliminary planning for eventual use of one section of Morven, John Kluge's home and farm south of Monticello, an eventual component of Mr. Kluge's magnificent gift of land and facilities. Morven might offer alumni groups a Chautauqua experience combining sports activities with lectures, concerts, visiting artists or political or business leaders, and the like. Specially designed programs for young, single alumni, for families with and without children, for retirees, and for specific professional groups seem all to be within reach.

Finally, an invitation to an experiment: Betsy and I wonder whether a group of 10 or 20 (older and younger persons, single and married—no preconceptions) might want to join us for a week or so of walking, staying in small hotels and B&Bs, stops in pubs and tearooms, and a mixture of reading and group discussion (Hardy? Fowles? Stephen Hawking?) in the south and west of England, perhaps starting in or near Salisbury and working our way out into Cornwall. We have in mind combining walking (perhaps 10 miles on a good day, perhaps less) and travel by rented van, with time for interesting places, local people and villages, and loafing along. We are holding the final two weeks of June just in case anyone wants to go along. If enough people want to take part, we will recruit faculty members to lead discussions, work out a schedule and room reservations, and find a contractor to haul luggage and people from place to place. We are thinking of this as basic but comfortable travel, with more emphasis on good fellowship and good experiences than on luxury. Send a note if you are interested: jtc@virginia.edu. And whether this idea interests you or not, please let me know your own thinking about how to make Virginia travel work well for you.

Sincerely,

John T. Casteen III
President