Have you ever wanted to bring home something more than photographs from vacation? Something more lasting and useful than a t-shirt? Consider taking a learning vacation, and be part of a new wave of travel that is growing in popularity.
Sometimes called experiential travel, a learning vacation can give you the opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted to do, while soaking up a new culture and the thrill of travel. One of the most familiar and oldest forms of a learning vacation is language school or immersion – but today, the opportunities are nearly limitless. How about learning professional photography, or how to cook like an Italian chef? What about surfing or yoga? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Costa Rica has been an increasingly popular destination for American travelers and transplants for more than a decade. The landscape from one side of the small country to the other is diverse, with volcanic mountain ranges, rain forests, and the clear waters of both the Pacific and Caribbean. This stunning tropical beauty presents the perfect canvas for photography, a hobby enjoyed by most travelers. The School of the World in Playa Jaco offers a digital photography classroom in the midst of this paradise. The programs are designed to give students a working knowledge of the elements of photography including lighting, composition, apertures, shutter speeds and basic photo editing. Learning how to improve photo shots is a major goal, and students are taken on excursions in search of great locations.
The digital photography revolution has made it easier for people to experiment and learn how to improve their photography skills, without the cost or waiting time of film,” says Brian Phelps, Director of School of the World.
But the learning opportunities don’t stop there. The school combines its photography courses with your choice of surfing, yoga or Spanish lessons. “Surfboards are more common than cell phones in this small town,” says Phelps. “Due to the fact that the Playa Jaco area is well known to have great waves and warm water year-round, it is only natural that so many people come here to learn how to surf.”
Lodging, classes and field trips are included in all packages, and homestays are also available for those that wish to stay with a local family. The 1-to-4 week courses start at $525.
About a thousand miles north of Costa Rica lies Veracruz, a port city living the traditional life of old Mexico, and the perfect spot to learn Spanish. The tourists are Mexicans from around the country, and it’s possible not to see another American during your stay. Here, The Language Immersion School prides itself on an accomplished track record of helping its students become conversational in days – while supporting the local culture and giving students the taste of life in Veracruz. The unique approach combines classroom learning with Out-And-About Labs to give hours of daily practice with locals. Eric Langner, co-owner of the school with his wife, Linda, says that it’s often easy to study a language, but difficult to actually speak it. The magic of acquiring language skills lies in the complete immersion in a culture, and the opportunity for constant practice with native-speakers in real daily settings.
Traditional instruction is fine for learning grammar, structure, and vocabulary, but it almost never succeeds at getting you talking. Good immersion school takes you to the markets and shops, the little restaurants and museums and parks. Good immersion has you visiting with the locals and joining them in the activities of daily life.”
The Language Immersion School believes equally in its second goal of active participation in the local culture. Additional learning available includes cooking, ecotourism, folk or ballet dance lessons, and guitar making. The Mix and Match program allows participants to pick and choose activities such as visiting archeological ruins or scuba diving. College credit is available for the language courses, and the cost is $675 per week, including private lodging, classes, activities and all meals.
Across the Atlantic, there is surely no better place in the world to learn how to cook than Tuscany, Italy. Amidst the rolling green hills and russet rooftops, Villa San Michele in Florence offers a range of cooking classes from internationally renowned chefs. At this former monastery, visitors discover how to prepare the regional cuisine, combined with trips to Chianti, wine tastings, and visits to Florence for boutique shopping and museums.
The classes themselves are varied, from traditional pasta and Tuscan specialties to cooking for one in their “Singles” course, and a compact class tailored for children ages eight to fourteen. Small, restricted classes mean that each student has a hands-on experience alongside the chef; all classes are in English and suitable for every level of expertise. Participants also enjoy guided tours of art museums and evening concerts, rounding out the Italian cultural experience.
Cookery school rates start at 170 Euros, and packages with multi-day cooking school and 2-5 nights’ accommodations start at 1,125 Euros.