Monday, 27 February 2017
January / February 2017
Fellow Travelers
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Vacationing in Big Red style

ALUMS AWAY: Enjoying (above) Italy, (below right) Vietnam, and Mount Rushmore

ImageFor some alumni, spending four years in Cornellian company isn’t enough—they’re eager to keep the East Hill experience alive long after graduation. There are many ways for alums to reconnect, including returning to campus for Reunion and Homecoming, attending local Cornell Club events, and participating in annual Zinck’s Night celebrations. But for those who want something a bit more far-flung, two programs offer the chance for Cornellians to travel together, both domestically and abroad.

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With the slogan “An extraordinary journey in good company,” the Cornell Alumni Association Travel Program organizes traditional, all-inclusive vacations whose participants have much more in common than just a destination. Cornell’s Adult University, on the other hand, delivers a spin on the typical travel experience by combining it with academia, offering study trips designed and led by faculty members.

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“Programs like this enhance the opportunity to come together as a Cornell family,” says Jim Mazza ’88, associate vice president for alumni affairs. “Most of the people who travel with us don’t know each other before they go, but they create relationships and stay in touch and take more trips together. It ends up being not just a single experience, but something they continue to think about, weeks and months and years after.”


Adventures with Ezra

With CAA, alums see the world together

SEEING THE WORLD: CAA trips to (from top) Peru, Morocco, and Tanzania, plus mascot Flat Ezra sporting a life jacket on an Alaskan cruise

With CAA, alums see the world together

Atop a sand dune in the Atlas Mountains, a group of tourists relaxed after a long camel ride in the Moroccan desert. As the sun set, someone began singing, “Far above Cayuga’s waters . . .” One by one, each person joined in with the familiar tune. “If I take any memory with me to the grave,” says Harriet Hecht Gould ’67, “it would be that one.”

For more than forty years, the program has enabled Cornellians to travel the globe together—often accompanied by a cardboard cutout of Ezra Cornell himself.The impromptu singing of the Alma Mater wasn’t as surprising as it might seem: the trip had been organized by the Cornell Alumni Association Travel Program, of which Gould is a frequent patron. For more than forty years, the program has enabled Cornellians to travel the globe together, from Spain to Zambia, Arizona to Vietnam—often accompanied by a cardboard cutout of Ezra Cornell himself. It offers between eighteen and twenty-five vacation destinations a year, with staples such as Italy and France available annually and less conventional destinations like Iceland on the rise. Says Anna Pollock, who manages the program: “We try to touch down on every continent every year.”

Though the groups—ranging from as few as fourteen to upwards of thirty—are mostly composed of Cornellians, anyone is welcome to travel with CAA. Destinations and itineraries are largely based on customer feedback: in response to alumni looking to travel with their children and grandchildren, for example, the program added more family-friendly expeditions. The trips are organized in collaboration with outside tour companies and have a wide range of prices, which are often all-inclusive. A fourteen-day excursion to Africa, including airfare, runs about $6,700, while a weeklong cruise down the Mississippi River in autumn starts at $1,700 (without airfare). “The vendors we work with provide guides and itineraries that give you an in-depth experience that would be hard to construct on your own,” says Pollock.

The Cornellians who take the trips are drawn to the program because they trust the University to offer edifying and enjoyable experiences, Pollock says, or simply because they want to travel with people they have something in common with. “It’s really fun when you sit down with a Cornellian on a trip and hear each other’s stories,” says Jim Mazza ’88, who has been on three vacations through the program. “You form bonds that last a lifetime.” On Gould’s first CAA foray—to Greece in 2010—she met a Cornellian couple with whom she has continued to travel; they are planning their fifth trip together this spring.

ImageMazza fondly recalls a CAA cruise down the Danube River in the early Nineties. Among the travelers were several World War II veterans who were returning to Germany for the first time in fifty years. Says Mazza: “At one stop along the river, I remember an alumnus from the Class of ’37 saying to me, ‘The last time I stood here was right after this town had been liberated.’ It was a very emotional trip.”

Par for the 'Course'

Cornell's Adult University offers learning vacations

EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCES: CAU trips to (from top) Hawaii, Antarctica, and the Galápagos

Cruising the Arctic Circle with an ornithologist who studies sea birds. Exploring Patagonia with a paleontologist. Studying the Arizona skies with an astronomer. Touring Tanzania with a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Faculty members don't take it easy on the travelers. While there are no final exams or research papers, the curricula include readings, daily lectures, and numerous discussions.For decades, Cornell’s Adult University has been offering study tours that combine education and travel to create unique experiences that appeal to alumni and others who want their vacations to have an academic bent. Groups spend anywhere from a weekend to fourteen days learning about culture, nature, history, and more from University faculty. “I would say that it’s a 24/7 experience, but we do let them sleep,” jokes CAU director Cathy Sutton Penner ’68, who notes that the excursions are specifically termed “courses” to reflect their pedagogical value. “It’s a chance for alums to renew their connections to the intellectual life of Cornell.”

The trips—which are offered year-round, except from mid-June to mid-August, when CAU’s on-campus summer program is in session—are open to anyone. Some of the more popular ones, including theatre-focused excursions to London and naturalist explorations in the Galápagos, are repeated biennially. CAU courses typically cost more than the average sojourn abroad: nine days studying ecology in Baja, Mexico, runs roughly $6,700, while twelve days exploring culture and nature in Thailand is just over $8,000, neither including airfare.

Faculty members don’t take it easy on the travelers, Penner notes. While there are no final exams or research papers, the curricula include readings, daily lectures, and numerous discussions. And for the most part, she says, people who sign up expect a rigorous learning experience. Near Eastern studies professor Ross Brann, who has been leading the tours for more than twenty years, says that his CAU “students,” who aren’t hindered by a full academic schedule like his on-campus pupils, can fully engage in both the course material and the setting. “We really get a chance to know the country,” says Brann. “And when we come back, we understand our own culture and background better.”

Sometimes, the professors approach the subject matter from an unconventional or unexpected angle. For example, a recent trip to Iceland was led not by a geologist or historian but by two architecture professors (Andrea Simitch ’79 and Val Warke ’76), who taught about construction materials used on an island nation that has limited sources of wood. “I look forward to the whole package—the learning and the exploring of foreign places with similar-minded, curious travelers,” says Elisabeth Kaplan Boas ’71, a self-described “eager enthusiast” of CAU who has taken thirty of the trips. Even considering the academic focus, however, participants are on vacation—so most faculty leaders make sure to include some typical tourist experiences, like time away from the group for exploring and souvenir-hunting as well as stops at iconic landmarks. “If you’re taking a course in India,” says Boas, “you’re not going to skip the Taj Mahal.”

— Alexandra Bond '12

Photos: provided. Binocuars: iStock/Epantha. Map: iStock/Blade Kostas. Camera: iStock/XXMMXX.

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