Tuesday, 28 February 2012


If you follow me on Twitter or have bothered to check out my company’s website, then you have probably noticed that I toss the term “edutourism” around quite frequently.  No, it is not a spelling error that I keep making over and over again thank-you- very-much Microsoft spellchecker so you can put away your little red squiggly line that I find rude and obnoxious every time I type out my middle name.

“Edutourism” was born through a quirk of marketing activity.  Having developed a new kind of travel program, and failing to find a word that currently existed in the Webster dictionary to describe it, “edutourism” was invented.  A basic definition of edutourism is when someone travels to a unique location for the purpose of formal or informal learning.  If Webster was to pick up this new word though, I imagine the entry would look something like this:

Edutourism - [ej-oo-toor-iz-uhm]
Derived from the Latin word ēducātiōn from which English gets its’ word for education and the combination of the Greek word tómos meaning circle from which comes the word tour and Greek suffix –ism which when used with a noun denotes an action, edu-tour-ism is the action of travelling with the intended purpose of learning a new skill or engaging in an activity that is otherwise unfamiliar with the goal of gaining educational and cultural insight into the occupation.

And for those of you who do not enjoy etymology (the study of words), here is the Urban dictionary definition:

Edutourism - [ej-oo-toor-iz-uhm]
The act of being a tourist and actually learning something about a skill or activity found locally in your destination instead of walking around completely oblivious to the culture that surrounds you.

Examples of Edutourism
  •          ecotourism
  •          agricultural tourism
  •          medical tourism
  •          cultural/historic tours
  •          language courses
  •          culinary training
  •          short/long term academic programs
  •          internships
  •          courses, conferences, seminars, colloquiums
  •          sabbaticals or employee exchanges
  •          sports tourism
  •          special interest tours

Edutourism, though it sounds similar to “ecotourism” is actually quite different since people who choose one type of travel program over the other have very different outcomes in mind.  Ecotourism focuses on travelling in a green conscious manner in order to enjoy the scenery and landscape while leaving behind the lowest ecological footprint possible.   Edutourism, while it can involved ecotourism, is all about engaging in the local culture and activities.  It is about travelling abroad in order to gain new skills and insights.  Instead of being a passive observer with a camera ready to take snap shots of whatever happens to come along, edutourism is about digging in and getting your hands dirty metaphorically and literally speaking to create photo worthy moments that you can remember for all times as you go back home and proudly demonstrate to your friends and family just how to do the “crane” as part of the water ballet routine you learn while down in Cuba alongside professional synchronized swimmers.

Now, since it is a made up word that has yet to entirely catch on (I think I am the only one who uses it frequently and my efforts to make it a trending topic on Twitter failed miserably) there are very few travel companies that offer edutourism programs. 

But for those companies that do, here is what you can expect. 
  • Choose your destination. Destinations can be anywhere in the world that you were already planning on visiting so it isn’t like you are going to have to make a special, unplanned trip to participate.

  • Choose the skill you would like to learn.  Skills vary by country and typically feature activities that are local to that area such as silk making in Thailand, porcelain making in Japan and mixed drink artist in Cuba.

  • Choose your program length.  You need to spend at least a week completing your program as most programs go deep into the cultural traditions and history behind the skill that you are learning.  In Thailand for example, you won’t just make the silk, you will learn how the silk worm hatcheries work, how the material is harvested, dyed, woven and then sewn into elaborate kimonos. 

  • Expect to spend the first few days in your destination country learning some of the language basics just so that you will be able to get around the country without too much trouble and random hand gestures.

  • And do expect some down time where you will get to play the role of tourist.  Edutourism programs are designed to allow you plenty of opportunity to be a tourist and engage in the local customs, culture, eat the local cuisine, meet the people and relax.

 What types of edutourism programs would you be interested in participating in?  Have you ever participated in a similar program?  I’d love to hear about your experiences so drop me a comment.  We might get “edutourism” into the Webster dictionary after all.


[ Edited: "Edutourism" has officially been added to the Urban Dictionary.  The definition for edutourism can now be found here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=edutourism ]

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

You’re Retired, Now What?

Building off my previous post entitled “Boomers are Getting Schooled” which talked about why some active boomers are not settling into retirement and their walkers right away, I’d like to talk about some of the preferences that these adults have when considering an active and engaging lifestyle.  And it is not all about travel and keeping oneself entertained while fighting off society’s push to put you on the bench.  Older adults are changing the face of adult education as they go back to school and as they seek to be engaged.  And just as any confident adult, these stubborn strong-willed boomers know what they want and they are not about to settle.

To Recap: What Motivates Boomers

Borrowing from another entry, I will quickly recap the motivation that most people have to pursuing further education within their industry, beyond their career or even into their retirement years and what is probably (in my limited perspective at least) going through their heads.

  • Burnout – Another stress filled day at work... and I get to do the same tomorrow. Yay?
  • Excess & Affluence – Am I really putting all that I have to good use?
  • Sensory Overload – I need to take a step back and get some perspective.
  • Depression & Trauma – I don’t want to die without ever having experienced...
  • “Danger Age” – When did I get old and how do I make it stop?
  • Freedom from Responsibilities – The kids have moved out; I can finally have a life.
  • Turning Fifty – My life is half over and what have I got to show for it?
  •  Retirement – I’ve got way too much time on my hands.

So what are these people motivated to do?  Well, I’ve already answered that a few times but just to be clear: they want to do something, anything that will convince themselves and the people around them that they are not yet dead in the ground.  They want to learn.  They want to try something new.  And it just can’t be any ol’ “something”.  It has to be exciting and something they never would have had the courage to try before.  And it had better be stimulating. 

Facts about Lifelong Learners: Their Preferences

Some adults actually choose to literally go back to school in order to learn and branch out.  Of the 16 million college students in Canada, over half a million of these students are over the age of 50 (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2006). For you younger generations, that means that for every 32 students in your college business class, there is probably going to be one “older” person sitting at the front asking a lot of questions.  (I’d highly recommend sitting next to this person as they probably study the most, take impeccable notes, and being associated with them will automatically put you in your professor’s “good” book). 

And all this does not even take into consideration the number of lifelong learners who are enrolled in non-credit and other lifelong learning courses sponsored by adult education programs.
Older students going back to school in pursuit of lifelong learning typically have a preference for:

  • community or junior colleges, where 50 percent attend, because of the convenience and outreach programs
  • intergenerational classes, where they can learn from younger students and share their knowledge with them
  • avoiding programs targeted at senior citizens and older adults. They prefer lifelong learners or third generation learners, because it implies continual learning
  • classes offered on main campus or branch campuses. However, there is an increasing number who prefer online courses because they are comfortable with technology
  • programs such as health services, teacher education, fine arts/humanities, human service and counselling, and entrepreneurship. They also enrol in both credit and non-credit continuing education courses.
Courtesy of David R. Wetzel. [2005] Why Older Adults are Going Back to School. Continuing Education Suite 101. http://david-r-wetzel.suite101.com/why-older-adults-are-going-back-to-school-a266406

Your Options

Going back to school is not the only way that lifelong learners can feel more engaged with life.  The 50+ crowd makes up a good percentage of the global population (you boomers are all advertisers talk about these days).  So it makes sense that in the past decade or so, thousands of programs have sprung up specifically tailored to make active retirees feel like they are still on the ‘up and up’ and haven’t been put on that aforementioned bench or back burner or whatever you want to call it.  Below is a list of some of the more popular options and links to programs that you might consider looking into as they all cater to mature demographics.

Go Back to School


Work Part-Time


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Boomers are Getting Schooled

As an educational travel blogger that works for a company that primarily offers internships to 20-some-odd year olds, you might think it’s weird that today I am going to be talking about Boomers or what basically amounts to my parent’s generation, 50 to 60 plus people that are nearing retirement or have already down shifted to a more relaxed lifestyle.  What purpose do Boomers have for an educational resource?  They are retired; they are done learning.  They are past their prime.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It is time they sat down, pulled up their walkers and stayed there just to be sure that they don’t break a hip stepping down off the sidewalk.

Now that I have offended every person over the age of 50 without enough of a sense of humour to know I’m kidding, let me set the record straight.  You are never too “old” to learn.  In fact, for the rest of this post I will not even use the “o” word because it does not describe this demographic accurately at all.  My father is 56 and still plays basketball three times a week, is currently doing his own basement renovation, jogs down along the shoreline with the dog every day, shovels his own driveway with an actual shovel and still finds time to beat me at chess when we get together for dinner.  He is the definition of a Boomer and he is thriving.  He might have a few grey hairs dispersed through what is left of his hair and a few more laugh lines but he is never opposed to learning something new.  As a teacher at the local high school for the past 30 years, he embraces learning and actually taught himself a new architectural computer program so that he could add it to the curriculum for students.  He learns new “tricks” all the time and I don’t foresee anything slowing him down any time soon. 

Retire ≠ End of Life
Not many people actually reach retirement age, quit their jobs and then plunk down on the couch until they die.  It is A) not practical and B) gets boring/dull/mind numbingly brainless extremely quickly.  You are going to go crazy if you transition from working 40 or more hours a week at work to having absolutely nothing to do other than cut your lawn with a pair of nail clippers.  It might seem relaxing for the first few days but eventually you are going to be pounding on your children’s doors begging them to let you babysit just so that you feel like you are contributing to society again.  Many folks don’t ever even completely retire just for that reason.  In fact, according to Stats Canada, 13% of retirees were going back to work in 1994.  And the trend is not declining.  By 2010, almost 22% of retired individuals were returning to work either full-time or part-time.  Some return to work for financial reasons but many return to work simply because they still have the ability to hold down a job and are unable to adapt to life in the passing lane so to speak.

Retirement does not have to be boring.  I have good news; you don’t have to go back to the workforce in order to feel fulfilled. 

Go back to school instead.

Ok, for those of you that stuck with me through the erroneous stereotypical rant back up at the beginning; hang in there just a bit longer for me to redeem myself on this comment as well because you are probably thinking I am just blowing hot air.  School is for young whippersnappers that wear their pants around their ankles and go out partying every Friday night.  I am not even going to bother to address that misconception at the moment since in some cases it is partially true and those students give me a bad image.  But consider that I am not talking about school in the formal sense.

School does not have to be a four walled institution with desks, blackboards, homework assignments and long cafeteria lines. 

School can mean a building full of teachers and students and jammed printers but it can also be your downtown community centre or book club or if you are really adventuresome, a monastery in Thailand where you spend the day finding balance and wisdom in community with other like-minded Zen individuals.

School is anywhere where you find learning.

If you are heading towards retirement, it is probably been something you have been looking forward to ever since you got out of high school.  There were so many things, namely work, that held you back from experiencing the world around you.  There are so many things that you have wanted to do.  Sure it would have been great to stay up to 3:00 am to watch the World Rugby Championship but you probably had work in the morning and could only catch the highlight reel.  It would have been fantastic to be able to drop everything to take advantage of last minute discounted plane tickets for an impromptu trip to Australia to visit with the kangaroos but you had that report to finalize.  And travelling anywhere when you have three teenagers still living at home is a nightmare unto itself. 

But you will soon be free and you will soon be bored.  So what are your options?

A)     Go back to work – This is possible but probably the least favourable option because you don’t work towards retirement your whole life just to jump back in.  That’s like being freed from quicksand and just turning around and stepping back in.

B)      Be bored – Again, this is not advisable but it will be relaxing.  You can sit back and relax into a vegetable as you cease developing your experiences and knowledge base.

C)      Travel – Travelling is always a popular idea for the retired folks out there because it represents the freedom that they have lacked while tied down to a job with minimal vacation time.  It represents spontaneity and can be revitalizing, relaxing and full of adventure as you travel around with only your passport and a map you picked up at the airport to keep you on track.

D)     Learn something – This is also a popular plan for those who want to continue to stimulate their minds and boast about new skills.  You could take a pottery class or learn photography.  Perhaps you could also learn how to salsa like a pro or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language.  You have the time so why not commit to something challenging, eye opening and perhaps a bit obscure just so your stories are a bit more worthwhile.

You caught me, options A and B were not really serious options.  But C and D definitely were but here is the catch...  There is actually a secret option. 

Option E. Travel and learn.

You’ve always wanted to visit Cuba but you’ve also always wanted to learn to dance.  Well, as you may have heard, Cuba is a hot spot for the mambo, salsa, and a wide assortment of fast stepping, hip swinging dances that are sure to add some bounce to your step and flare to your skirt.  Sign up for a few weeks worth of lessons that you can squeeze in among sightseeing adventures.  Or maybe you have always wanted to travel somewhere in Asia like Thailand but you are nervous because you don’t know the language and being one of those lost tourist sounds like a horrifying experience.  You’ll go after you’ve checked out a few audio books from the local library and taught yourself.  Guess what, there are people in Thailand that speak Thai and English and who are willing to teach you. Forget the audio books.  It is easier to pick up a language when you are immersed and forced to practice and use in everyday conversations anyways.

As for the educational travel opportunities that will make your friend’s eyes pop, consider learning how to train an elephant like a professional mahout over in Thailand or craft fine Kimonos like the skilled silk makers in Japan.  Bring back souvenirs of glass blown figurines that you personally made and prepare authentic sushi just like the master chefs so that everyone will begin drooling in unison.

The Government of Ontario even has resources set up to help people retire abroad completely if that interests them but I love Canada so I encourage you to come back every now and again from your travels.

What it comes down to is there is absolutely no reason why your retirement can’t be as rich and stimulating as your professional career full of challenges, learning and boundless opportunities for self improvement.  Broaden your horizons and become an international jet setting student.

For more education and travel opportunities, check out the websites below.  Also, please leave a comment regarding any “edutourism” opportunities you have experienced or would like to try.  Because chances are if you want to try it, so does someone else.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Gaps Years for Everyone - Part 2

My last blog post hopefully quelled some of your assumptions regarding who can take a gap year and what are some of the common motivators for mature professionals to make an adventure out of some extended time away from the office.  This second part will address the logistics of taking a gap year, how to go about it and the affects it may or may not have on your career, finances and professional development.  Because let’s face it, as much as we may all want to take a few months off and get out of this “rut” of a career we are in, there are certain obstacles, (your boss and those pesky bills that show up in the mail every month) that we are going to have to face first.

How It Will Affect My Career?
Many people worry that a gap year will affect their professional career advancement and goals.  Employers might not understand an employee disappearing for 6 to 12 months.  After all, if they didn’t want you around in the foreseeable future, they’ll just fire you and hire a replacement, right?  Younger generations tend not to be as worried about this as many assume they will have plenty of time to make up for the loss of momentum.  Plus, chances are they are not as committed to their entry level, minimum salary jobs at this point either.

If you are truly worried about marginalizing your career prospects by taking the time off, keep in mind that fast tracking your career should not be the main goal or focus of the program.  Taking a gap year is comparable to taking the scenic route through the countryside even though all the main roads for the first time in recorded history are not under construction.  The purpose of a gap year is to take a step back and examine the path currently being taken.  Time away should be self-fulfilling. 

However that is not to say that a gap year cannot have professional benefits.  Depending on the itinerary and your resilience to succumbing to the idea of spending an entire year laying on a beach somewhere in Australia (the 3 feet of snow outside my window makes that idea difficult to resist), time away can be used to equip one’s self with new experiences and skills that complement a formal education and workplace experience.  Internships are a popular gap year activity and if you land the right internship position, it can definitely add some “wow” factor to your resume and provide you with a host of international networking opportunities that you never would have encountered.

Before you decide to take a break, here are the things you may need to negotiate with your employer because chances are your employer is reluctant to give you your vacation days let alone a few months off.  You need to be prepared to make some sacrifices and not all employers are going to react the same way to the idea of you taking an extended leave.
·         What will my employment rights be while on the break?
·         Will my job be guaranteed upon my return?
·         How much responsibility will I have in putting replacement mechanisms in place?
·         Can I do some work experience while on break?
·         Can I take part in training courses or undertake assignments?
·         What contact can I have with my employer in order to keep in touch with changes at work?
·         When do I need to return to work?
·         What other benefits can I keep (e.g. health, club memberships)?

Before approaching your employer, however, you need to think about a few things in order to establish your value.  If you are relatively new at your workplace, it is going to be more difficult to sway opinion in your favour than if you have been at the same company for over a decade and have proven yourself a valuable asset to the team.  Basically, you need to figure out what your employer thinks you are worth and how much they are willing to concede in order to keep you happy, productive and with the firm.  Here are a few points that you should consider:
·         Your real value to your employer, i.e., how much has your employer invested in your recruitment, training and development?
·         The skills shortages in your profession or area of work
·         Your employer’s future developments and planned growth
·         What costs will your employer incur in replacing your skills, experience and knowledge?
·         The value of your requested employment break to improving employee relations, recruitment, and retention and public image

Financial Implications
People don’t like to talk about the dirty “m-word” but “money” is the single most difficult obstacle that people face when deciding to take a gap year and I am talking corn maze in the middle of a Saskatchewan corn field difficult obstacle kind of thing.  You are going to need a plan before heading in and it have better be a good one or else you it’s going to be over before you even get started.

Usually taking a gap year implies that one will not be drawing their typical salary.  Chances are there will still be bills to pay during this year off such as a mortgage, rent, insurance, utilities, etc.  Combine with the cost of actually travelling abroad and looking for accommodations in your destination, it can be daunting. 

Consider the following options that can be used to save money prior to departure and while completing your gap year:
·         Cancel all unnecessary services such as gym memberships and magazine subscriptions in order to save and suspend cable, phone and internet while travelling
·         Consider selling a valuable asset such as an antique or painting that has little sentimental value
·         If travelling abroad, rent your house out or sublet your apartment to perhaps another international gap year traveller for the extent of your travels
·         Ask friends, family and associated organizations for sponsorship funds or host a raffle
·         Find a program that will allow you to work while travelling abroad in exchange for a monthly stipend of spending money or perhaps an internship opportunity that will provide you with accommodations and a meal plan over the course of your stay
·         Homestays are a good way to reduce the cost of living abroad; it involves living with a family in your desired destination often in exchange for rent or perhaps childcare assistance

Housing is perhaps the biggest expense you will encounter while travelling.  It usually accounts for the largest portion of your income and without your typical salary, continuing to pay your mortgage or rent is often difficult.  Add to that the fact that you will also need to pay for housing wherever in the world you end up.  There are cost saving measures available however because you are not the first person to attempt a gap year and there are thousands of others out there offering to help circumvent the accommodation issue so you can still participate and not be stressed financially.

Renting Your Property Out – Assuming that you own a house, you could rent it out either independently or through a rental agency as it will provide you with a way to continue to pay your mortgage and bills while travelling.

House Swapping – Swapping houses and even your car with an individual or couple in the city you wish to visit has the benefit of paying your mortgage, not having to leave your property empty, and sets you in a neighbourhood versus in the middle of tourist country.  Many people who are uncomfortable with straight up renting their house out are more comfortable with this option because they know that just as they must trust their swap partner to care for their house, so must the swap partner trust them to care for their home.

Leaving Your Property Empty – If renting or swapping are not options you are thrilled about, you could leave your property empty.  This will be expensive but you can cut the cost by cancelling or suspending all unnecessary services and get a friend to check in every so often, collect mail and tend to the exterior (mow lawn, shovel snow, etc) to give the impression that the house is not vacant.

Staying in Private Homes – A homestay situation is possible if you do not apply for a swap situation but are willing to consider living with another family abroad which is often cheaper than other rental options.  Staying with a family also has the benefits of allowing you to better connect with the local culture and learn the language if applicable as you will be faced with daily family interactions.

Combining Travel & Work
If finances are still an issue for you at this point, another option would be to combine your gap year with a working abroad program.  This type of situation would definitely add to your resume though if you make arrangements with your current employer to remain with their company, you might have to check in to see what rights you have to work for someone else at the same time. 

Working abroad while you travel is a popular choice among mature professionals.  And why not?  If you are a journalist in Canada, why can’t you travel and continue working as a journalist in Cuba?  By setting up a temporary home and work situation abroad, you will be able to make new friends, learn another language, and experience the true culture and how other people live much more thoroughly than any average tourist.  And as mentioned above, working abroad while travelling also allows one to supplement the cost of travelling and bridge the financial leap that is often taken with a gap year.  And finally, it can look great on a resume as it shows initiative and international awareness which is much easier to justify to employers than a six month vacation.  Working provides the added benefit of being able to pick up the local language with greater ease.  I know after six years of French class I am still hopeless when it comes to carrying on a basic conversation but after three weeks working at a summer camp in Quebec, my friend was just about fluent.

Be prepared to overcome certain hurdles when working abroad as it will undoubtedly require gaining specific visas and permissions from foreign ministries specifically in the United States and Australia.  Teaching English is always a popular choice and in many countries it requires no additional education or certification to become an ESL instructor.  In fact, Thailand is offering paid teaching positions to English speaking travellers; covering travel expenses, providing housing, meals and other necessities. Cuba allows you to teach English with unpaid internships as well, while still benefitting from all the other perks of working abroad.

Tourism jobs are also a good idea as the travel and tourism industry employs over 78 million people and English is often a sought after skill.

When it comes right down to it, yes, it is going to be a challenge to sort out all the details and make arrangements for your gap year and it is going to potentially affect your career and pocket book.  But those cons don’t outweigh the pros of what you will receive through taking some time to get perspective on your life or even rejuvenate your routine.  And when the alternative might be suffering from burnout, going crazy, pulling out your hair and dreading your cubical (which is essentially the same thing as a padded cell but with fewer pillows), it might be worth it.  The other option is quitting your current job but I personally think that travelling the world sounds more fun than revamping my resume.