“All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind.”
This is a companion blog to my post on Finding the Best Small Language Schools.
Why I Love Learning Vacations
Learning vacations (also known as educational travel) are my favorite type of travel experience. These experiences have given me a one of a kind, insider’s view of daily life in many destinations throughout the world. While participating in these experiences, I have met numerous long-standing friends, including a girlfriend. Also, thanks mainly to these experiences, I can communicate in French, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
I have discovered more about myself, my interests, and my passions by participating in volunteer and learning vacations than perhaps anything else in my life. Memories from volunteering and educational travel have also left an indelible imprint on my life.
What are Learning Vacations?
Learning vacations refer to organized courses that you take away from home for personal interest. Usually, tourists in these programs also live with a local family while taking the course. The variety of educational travel opportunities available is astounding. Classes are available in nearly every aspect of life (culture, history, economics, politics, art, language, cuisine, etc.) in another country.
I have studied, for example, Tuscan landscape architecture in Florence (through the British Institute) and Elephant Training in Lampang, Thailand. The most common type of learning tourist experience involves cooking and language classes.
A Couple of Comments About Learning Vacations
As you will discover throughout this blog, I am a massive fan of learning and volunteer tourism. It is important to note that:
- Learning vacations are available all over the world and typically last from one week to a year.
- Many learning vacations also include opportunities to stay in locals’ homes (and often eat meals there as well).
- Learning vacations has taught me not just language but a lot of other things as well. The teachers are well-informed people who are eager to help students learn about their homeland. Thanks to these teachers, I have uncovered information about history, economics, politics, music, literature, and art that would be hard to find elsewhere.
- In addition, I feel privileged to be included in the lives of the learning vacation’s host families and to truly understand what it feels like to live in their hometowns.
Learning Vacations Have Been a Vital Part of My Life
The following is a list of some of my experiences with educational travel programs:
- Being spoiled rotten as a teenager as a Youth for Understanding exchange student in Yaizu, Japan. and with Experiment in International Living (EIL) in Tepic, Mexico. (Note: EIL today mostly offers short-term travel-study courses for college students in a variety of intriguing topics).
- Participating as an adult lifelong learner on the fall 2011 semester voyage with the Semester at Seas (SAS) program. (My favorite travel experience as an adult). I can’t imagine a better mixture of fascinating and thought-provoking classes, on-board lectures, field trips, and excursions. Also, the Lifelong Learners aboard formed such as strong bond that we have had several reunions (I even helped organize one of our reunions in Oaxaca in 2012. (SAS website)
- Improving my Spanish, partying, living in the hipster Palermo neighborhood, and trying to learn the tango in Buenos Aires. (By the way, I still have two left feet). (The school is unfortunately out of business).
- Counting different dolphins and other species in the Golfo Dulce in Costa Rica through Earthwatch while staying in rustic but comfortable huts and eating excellent home-cooked meals. (The Golfo Dulce is one of only three tropical fjords in the world, and the sea mammal life is some of the best anywhere in the world).
- The best place I’ve ever been for one-day workshops on any imaginable topic is Chiang Mai, Thailand. In the three weeks in 2005, I attended an elephant training course, a week-long massage class (I was not any good at it, but I received dozens of messages from the other students), four cooking schools, a jewelry making, and a batik class. All were well-done, enjoyable, and reasonably priced.
- Attending the Chautauqua Institute in Western New York State for three weeks in August 2012. The Chautauqua Institute every week for seven weeks in the summer offers dozens of lectures and events organized mostly around a different theme. In the three weeks I attended, the three topics were: Presidential families and the former President’s Club: cheating and lying (much more interesting than it sounds!); and Pakistan. The Chautauqua Institute also provides additional classes (I took one on the value and future of Liberal Arts education) and presentations by famous entertainers, religious figures, and politicians (including when I was there, Andrew Young and performances by Vince Gil, KD Lang, and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp). I stayed at the Institute in bed and breakfast and ate on the grounds or in nearby restaurants. The classes, food, and accommodations were not that cheap; but, the overall experience is well worth the costs. (If you choose to stay in one of their dorms in the City’s denominational houses (a.k.a. churches), you can stay there for as little as $120 a week). Smaller-scale Chautauqua-inspired educational programs are available in many places in the US, including Boulder, Colorado, and Reno, Nevada.
- I have loved most of these experiences. However, I have attended classes that were way over my head. Don’t ask me why I ever thought that I could learn how to surf and do yoga in Costa Rica. (The school, School of the World, also offered photography classes that I found useful and well-organized, and I enjoyed my homestay immensely (great food, friendly, and interesting family)).
- Want to learn Spanish? Let me help.
- Want to learn more about my experiences learning foreign languages and how to select the best small foreign language schools abroad.
- Also, some of the tours I have been on, particularly through Overseas Adventure Travel, Road Scholar, and Seasons of My Heart, felt like educational travel.
Overall, despite a few relatively minor bumps in the road, I wholeheartedly recommend that all Fifty-Plus Nomads check out educational travel. (Sometimes, I think I loved the programs partially because of the problems). They are the best way to get under the skin of your destination and learn new skills while getting to know yourself better.
They also are one of the budget vacation options available. I believe that once you give educational travel a chance, like me, you will be glad you did.
Many of the Learning Vacations Are Very-Well Suited to Singles
The volunteer and learning vacations explored in chapter 7 are designed for singles, though they also work for couples. Let us look at why they work so well for singles:
- None of these options have single supplements or other such fees. A couple will usually pay twice as much as a single person.
- Most of the language and other schools have many activities such as optional tours, cooking demonstrations, and informal nights out on the town designed to bring single students together.
- When singles choose to live with families as part of educational travel, they can avoid loneliness and meet locals easily. (I have stayed with twelve families as part of these programs and always found it easy to become friends with the families.)
Non-Language School Learning Vacations
Take Classes at Schools Where the Subject You Want to Learn is their Primary Emphasis
Many times, language schools offer non-language classes sort of as an aside. As a whole, you’ll be better off taking classes at a school that specializes in that subject. Often classes added as an aside don’t have good quality instruction and knowledgeable instructors. That said, there are times when these classes may be worth taking at a language school if the school:
- Has a long history teaching these extra classes?
- Integrates these other topics into the language curriculum. Some schools will offer lectures and activities in many ecological and political courses and then use these activities as a base for the language classes, as well.
Questions to Ask the School
While most of the advice in this chapter is good at all schools, there are a few particular issues for non-language classes that you should discuss with the school beforehand:
- In what language will the instruction be given? Many dance, art, and other schools have mostly instructors who speak the native language exclusively. You may have a small choice of teachers (sometimes none) who speak English. Learning how to do a sport in another language is challenging even if you know the language somewhat well. It is almost impossible if you don’t have much of the language under your belt.
- Does the school provide supplies, food (cooking classes), utensils, etc.? Most schools will provide materials as a matter of course. However, I have heard of some classes that require you to bring your own materials. Based on the cost of materials, you should expect to pay more for art and cooking classes than you would for a language class.
Cool Classes in the US and Abroad
Many people assume that the only subject available for travelers to study abroad is in foreign languages. However, you don’t have to learn a foreign language to take a class in another country. Look at some of these fantastic programs that offer alternatives to language schools. (These are classes I have not taken but want to take in the future):
- Eco-Maya provides a combination of Spanish language schools and environmental education/volunteer opportunities in Guatemala. It also offers a chance to live in a small, indigenous town. The profits go back to the community.
- Crow Canyon gives archaeology classes in Colorado and archaeology tours worldwide.
- The World Fellowship Center in North Conway, New Hampshire, allows you to stay in a dorm, get three meals a day, and participate in many “progressive” political discussions and lectures for a low cost.
- Incas del Peru provides one-on-one instructions with Peruvian artists involved in dancing, weaving, gourd carving, pan flute, and jewelry making, and spinning (in addition to Quechua and Spanish language classes).
Want Additional Information about Learning Vacations?
Some Additional Posts About Educational and Volunteer Travel
- 12 Creative Tips for Learning a Foreign Language for Long-Term Travelers and ExpatsI like learning foreign languages. Over time, I have tried to learn ten languages and have become reasonably conversant in four languages. Through trial and error, I have found these 12 tips for making learning more fun and rapid.
- Discover 16 Top Hospitality Exchange TipsHospitality Exchanges are a great way to meet people and travel the world on a budget. I once even met a woman who spent a year traveling around Europe staying with hospitality exchange hosts and only spent $7000 on the whole trip!
- 5 Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Finding the Best Small Foreign Language Schools Abroad for Long-Term Travelers and Expats over 50I love learning and teaching languages. I think more expats and long-term travelers would share my passion if they learned a foreign language in a small school abroad while living with a local family.
- Learning Vacations: The Best Kept Travel SecretMy favorite type of group travel is learning vacations. No aspect of group travel has so influenced who I am as a person and how I view the world.
- My Crazy Top 26 Favorite Stories From Teaching English as a Foreign Language Volunteer in the 1990s in Kaliningrad, RussiaProbably my favorite travel stories come from spending a year and a half as a volunteer English as a Foreign Language teacher in Kaliningrad. It was a wild, once-in-a-lifetime experience that shaped a lot of who I am today.
- Homestays (Staying with Local Families While Traveling): My Favorite Insider Accommodations For Long-Term TravelersLong-Term travelers should stay with local families in homestays, usually as part of language schools or volunteer travel programs. Homestays have made a significant impact on my life and are also highly economical.
- Semester at Sea Lifelong Learner Program: My Favorite Long-Term Travel Adventures (Under Construction)Under Construction
- Volunteer Travel: How It Changed My Life and Could Change Yours, Too (Under Construction)Under Construction
- My Complex Language Learning History: How I Learned 4 Foreign Languages Without Going CrazyI have learned Spanish, French, Italian, and Russian using a wide variety of methods. Some were more successful than others. I believe the most effective way is to combine several methods like I do with my exclusive polyglot method.