By tradition, University of Virginia students are referred to by their year of study and never as seniors because founder Thomas Jefferson believed you could never be “senior” in education. There is always more to discover.
U.Va. alumni of all ages continue to prove Jefferson right by embarking on new educational journeys all around the world. By joining the University’s nonprofit Cavalier Travels program, they continue to broaden their horizons long after graduation.
“We plan and organize every aspect of the trip for our participants,” said the program’s director, Kevin Conley. “I only work with the best local companies and people we have longstanding relationships with.”
In addition to a high-quality travel experience, a University faculty member accompanies each trip and provides important context for the surroundings.
Past excursions have included a Tanzanian safari with biology professor emeritus Fred Diehl, a tour of Italy with art history professor Larry Goedde and a trip through Ireland with English professor Stephen Arata.
The largest portion of attendees are alumni and their spouses, though parents and friends of the University are also invited to join the trips.
“We usually have about 50 percent alumni and spouses, with 25 percent U.Va. parents and 25 percent friends,” Conley said.
On one of their most recent trips, Cavalier Travels teamed up with multiple educational institutions to explore the wonders of Alaska by cruise ship. U.Va. environmental sciences professor Howie Epstein joined them on board to discuss climate change and the unique Alaskan environment.
“The lecture component is so important because people want it. They want to learn,” Epstein said. “The average age of this trip was probably between 60 and 70, but many of them were in there taking notes even though there wasn’t going to be an exam or anything.”
For many participants, having the added layer of education made the beautiful surroundings all the more meaningful.
“I do think having the aspect of academic approach was appealing because there are a lot of trips to Alaska, but we wanted to avoid a huge cruise ship and I was very intrigued by the focus on the environment,” said Rebecca Maguire, a 1976 alumna of the College of Arts & Sciences. This was the first Cavalier Travels trip for her and her husband, Davis.
Epstein, who specializes in the Arctic tundra in North America and Russia, explained the various interactions of the plant and animal life around them and the environmental significance of the glaciers they visited.
“I asked if I could speak early in the trip because I wanted to give a general climate-change talk and I thought it would be good for people to have that information early on,” he said, adding that this was an important place to discuss and show the impacts of climate change. After his lectures, Epstein said he believes more of the participants are prepared to act on climate change and to share facts about it with others.
The smaller size of these U.Va. expeditions offer travelers the rare opportunity for in-person, up-close learning.
“One day, we went out on a little raft and saw a whole colony of sea lions, which are really large animals in person. It was thrilling to see them in their natural habitat with no infringement by humans,” Maguire said. “It’s a very different experience than seeing animals in a zoo.”
Nor were sea lions the only animals to pay the Wahoos on board a visit. The group saw numerous blue whales pass by and even had the rare experience of seeing four of them leap fully out of water and dive back in.
One afternoon, traveler and family medicine professor emeritus Sim Galazka and his wife, Donna, witnessed a special treat while whale watching on board. A distinctive formation of little dark animals passed by in the water just beneath them.
“Do you know that sea otters hold hands?” Sim Galazka asked. “A large group of them floated past us while we were on our deck and they were all laying on their backs and every one of them was holding hands with the one next to it.”
The Galazkas went to the Galapagos Islands with Cavalier Travels last year, so Alaska was their second trip. They said it won’t be their last.
“Both trips were so well-organized,” Donna Galazka said. “Sim was a little nervous before our cruise in the Galapagos because we didn’t know what to expect. Once we got there, we felt completely at ease and trusting because Kevin and the U.Va. team have everything so well-prepared.”
Anyone interested in future trips can find out more through the Cavalier Travels website. Highlights from the fall schedule include journeys to Costa Rica, Australia and New Zealand, and Northern Italy.