INTERVIEW: Ruth Schick, Lifelong Learning with Road Scholar (Part 1)
Last December I wrote about Road Scholar, a travel program that has “Lifelong Learning” as its motto and offers education-based programs for seniors in locations throughout the world. Formerly known as Elderhostel, the organization changed its name briefly to Exploritas in 2009 before settling on Road Scholar.
Although I’d heard about Road Scholar, until recently I hadn’t actually met anyone who’d participated in one of its programs. A friend connected me with Ruth Schick, a Pennsylvania resident who is quite knowledgeable about Road Scholar. A 74-year-old global traveler, she’s participated in a whopping 19 programs run by that organization! She definitely exemplifies the “You can do it!” attitude I try to encourage in anyone who’s thinking about traveling.
I recently chatted with her about her background, her Road Scholar experiences, and her general love of travel.
Valerie Grubb (VG): Would you mind sharing your professional background?
Ruth Schick (RS): One of my main jobs was as a research assistant to biographical novelist Irving Stone during 1963–1970, when I lived in the Los Angeles area. After marrying and moving to Pennsylvania, I went back to school for a counseling degree and worked as a counselor at a Philadelphia-area community college from 1977 to 2009.
(VG): Have you always had the travel bug? When and where was your first trip?
(RS): Yes! I’ve wanted to travel since my teen years. I grew up in New York, and my first big trip was in 1952, when I was 12. Two uncles and an aunt took me on a car trip around the country. A few years later, my mother took my brother and me to see some sights in upstate New York.
My first solo trip was in 1963, when I moved to California from New York. First I drove to Florida to see relatives, and then I went out to California. My mother raised me to be independent, so I didn’t mind traveling alone.
My husband also loved to travel, so we traveled someplace every year. Because of limited finances (we were both in education) we occasionally just visited relatives or friends. Sometimes we took sightseeing trips, and some of our trips were a combination of sightseeing and social visits.
Every December we went to Florida to visit our parents. We would also drive to Nashville to visit one of my cousins who lived there.
(VG): When was your first trip with Road Scholar, and where did you go?
(RS): Road Scholar calls its offerings “programs”—not trips—because of the learning aspect.
That said, my first experience with Road Scholar (which was then called Elderhostel) was in 1994, when my husband and I went to Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. We did some traveling on our own before and after that program.
(VG): What made you go on that first program?
(RS): My husband wanted to go on it. He had gone (without me) on an Elderhostel program to Costa Rica two years before and enjoyed it. I had stayed home with the kids, who were on the verge of starting college.
After his first bout of cancer, he wanted to go to Alaska, and we decided to go together. It was a wonderful trip, and it sold me on Elderhostel. He died in 1997, and a few years after that I started doing programs on my own.
(VG): What do you find most appealing about Road Scholar programs?
(RS): My main reason to go is for the learning aspect. Road Scholar programs average one lecture (by an expert or specialist on the topic) per day, though some days might have two lectures and others might have none. Some lectures are more interesting than others, but I’m always glad to learn new things.
During the program in Iceland in 2001, for example, I became interested in geology. I was amazed to learn that the North American plate and the European plate are slowly pulling Iceland apart into two separate islands. I didn’t know I was interested in geology until I heard about it during this program! And when I went to New Zealand five years later, I learned that the South Island’s east side and west side are pushing themselves together. This is so interesting to me!
(VG): Are Road Scholar programs all-inclusive?
(RS): For the most part, yes. I’ve done more foreign programs than domestic ones, and I’ve found that the foreign ones tend to keep you busier—they often include activities during the evening as well as during the day. Most of the foreign programs are operated through local companies. In Australia, for example, a company called Odyssey handles arrangements there. But even though Odyssey has the contract to provide lodging, transportation, guides, etc., it also has to make sure that a portion of the program includes lectures and similar learning opportunities.
Participants can opt to do all of the activities or skip any—or all—of them. I’ve been on programs with people who just traveled with the group but didn’t participate in the activities. They wanted the benefit of a planned trip but weren’t interested in doing anything.
On the last few programs I’ve done, participants have had some dinners on their own (i.e., not planned or covered by the program). This is to give us a bit of free time so we aren’t tied down for all our meals.
(VG): How many programs have you done with Road Scholar? Where have you been?
(RS): Not counting one half-day program in my area, I’ve been on nineteen programs—eight in the US and eleven abroad. On three occasions I did two programs back to back. Here’s the full list:
1994: Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)
2000: Niagara Falls (Canada side)
2002: Lyme, New Hampshire
2003: Montpelier, Vermont
2005: Alaska via train from Fairbanks to Seward (leaving the train at locations along the way and staying at them for a while)
2006: New Zealand
2006: New Mexico
2009: South Africa (with my brother, my sister-in-law, and a friend)
2010: Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon, Arizona
2011: Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow
2011: St. Petersburg
2012: New Orleans
(VG): Where is your next trip?
(RS): My next Road Scholar program will be in September. It’s On the Road: Following In the Footsteps of Lewis and Clark from Missouri to Oregon. I was a history major in college, so this program is perfect for me!
Wow! I don’t know about you, but after talking with Ruth Schick I am more convinced than ever that there’s no upper age limit for traveling—or learning. Tune in tomorrow to learn more about her travels and about the Road Scholar organization!