1. Meet Teresa Wilkin, Road Scholar Volunteer Ambassador!

    Greetings from Road Scholar, Teresa. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

    Teresa: I’m a lifelong single, born and raised on a pig farm in southern Ohio, who from a very early age wanted nothing so much as to see the wide, wide world.  My mother gave up buying me baby dolls when I started school, realizing that they held no interest for me, and bought me the object of my fondest desire — a world globe!  Even after a 32-year career wandering the earth as a diplomat, specializing in educational and cultural exchange, having lived and worked on four continents, I still pore over world maps and travel catalogs in retirement.  But now I use Google Earth to get my geography fix instead of my childhood globe and atlas.  And I keep a Road Scholar catalog close to hand so that I can check for programs in spots I’ve determined to visit!  

                                         

    RS: How did you get involved with Road Scholar?

    Teresa: During the 1980s, I lived and worked in Hawaii at the U.S. Department of State’s Honolulu Reception Center.  Various relatives, including my parents and siblings, got introduced to Hawaii by visiting me there.  But one of my favorite aunts, my mother’s older sister, came to Hawaii while I was there, not for the purpose of visiting me, though she did do that, but as a participant in an Road Scholar program.  Even though I was only in my 30s at the time, I was intrigued by the idea of there being an entire course catalog for seniors of educational travel programs around the world, and I determined then and there that when I became an “elder” myself, I would subscribe to what sounded to me like the ideal way to keep mentally fit and engaged with the world once one reached an age where independent travel seemed no longer so desirable, or even wise.  Unfortunately, by the time I reached 55 (then the age for Road Scholar program enrollment), my aunt had passed on, but my own mother was very much alive and well, so I used her as my “cover” to enroll in my very first Road Scholar experience at the premature age of 53.  For Mom’s 80th birthday in 2002, I signed her and me up for a program on Texas history in San Antonio, and I’ve been doing an average of two programs a year ever since!

    RS: How many programs have you been on? Out of all the programs, which one is your favorite and why?

    Teresa: My Connection profile lists 19 past programs, but does not include the two I did before that record was started, so my total is 21 in nine years at this point in time.  I am already signed up for two more, so by the time of the 10th anniversary of my first program in 2002, I will have 23 to my credit.  My all time favorite was the Adventures Afloat program I did three years ago in Russia.  As a child of the Cold War era, I had no interest in visiting the Soviet Union since much of my working life in public diplomacy was devoted to countering the propaganda inroads that Soviet programs had made in Africa and Asia.  But in retirement, I made a dear friend who was born in Russia and emigrated with her mother to Dallas, Texas at the age of nine, just at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Even though she is much younger than me, we share a keen interest in world cultures and international relations. She was adamant that I must see the new Russia where she still spends every summer in an apartment willed to her by her grandparents in St. Petersburg.  So again, with my trusty Road Scholar catalog by my side, I searched for a program that would take me to St. Petersburg during her period of residence there, and found one!  It changed my entire perception of U.S.-Russia relations and gave me insight into the then current conflict between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia.  Information shared by the Russian academics we heard from during the program pulled things into an entirely different perspective from what I had gained through U.S. coverage of the conflict.

    RS: Can you share one of your fondest memories, from any program?

    Teresa: That would be hearing from a former grantee of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership program in charge of the Bermuda Department of Culture in 2008 when she gave a presentation to our Road Scholar group at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences.  After her talk, a stirring one about the importance of preserving traditional cultures in this rapiding modernizing, homogenizing world, I went up to her and confirmed that we had met some 20 years earlier when the Department of State invited her on the IVLP program as an emerging leader and included Hawaii in her itinerary so that she could observe the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival on the Big Island.  As her program officer for her Hawaii visit, I secured her a ticket to the always-sold out performances of the world’s premier hula competition.  It was a great joy to see her in her leadership role as chief custodian of traditional Bermudian folkways, and at the juncture of two of my lifelong passions:  1) the USG’s International Visitor Leadership Program and 2) the Road Scholar program!

    RS: Describe the role that education plays in your travel experiences.

    Teresa: Travel is education, and vice versa.  Neither is complete without the other.  I find it hard to make the distinction since any travel for me is educational, hence my passion for it.  That is why Road Scholar is always the first source for travel that I consult when trip planning because it makes lifelong learning a pivotal element of all its programs.  In fact, I have done several Day of Discovery programs that do not even involve any travel, simply because I know that I am going to learn something that I had not encountered before from the speakers that Road Scholar recruits.  I am a lifelong advocate of international educational and cultural exchange.  After 32 years promoting study in the U.S. to foreign audiences, I retired in the realization that the real deficit in our educational and cultural exchange progams is the lack of study abroad participation among U.S. students.  Given the authority, I would make it a requirement for every U.S. college student to have a study abroad experience in order to earn a baccalaureate degree from a U.S. university.  Denied that opportunity in their youth, however, every U.S. baby boomer should be stimulated to explore opportunities for education through travel available at Road Scholar to keep current with the world, and to pass on the love of lifelong learning to their progeny.

    RS: How has becoming an Ambassador changed your Road Scholar experience? 

    Teresa: I always assumed I would have a second career once retired from the Foreign Service, but early on in retirement, I realized I was unwilling to give up my freedom to travel by getting back into a job requiring regular hours and permission to take leave.  So I’ve strung together a series of volunteer jobs, including working for the International Visitor Council in Texas, and training as a docent at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii.  And while those institutions are happy to have my help when I offer it, working as a volunteer for Road Scholar is even more rewarding to me because they sought me out and requested my help.  After I had signed up for 6 different programs in 2008, Road Scholar contacted me to see if I had any interest in becoming an Ambassador.  Having never made that lofty title in the Foreign Service, I jumped at the opportunity.  And while I have not been able to do as many presentations as I would like because of my own fully charged travel schedule and living in two different states simultaneously, I regularly promote Road Scholar programs among my acquaintances and contacts.  Last year I was invited to join the National Advisory Board for Road Scholar, which again, I was pleased to do.  Since the board meets by conference call, I’ve been able to contribute more frequently through that group.  Another avenue through which I’ve increased my promotion efforts is the Road Scholar website.  I have been actively monitoring the Connection pages, offering tips and answering questions wherever I’ve been able to contribute in that forum.  And soon, I plan to have a travel blog through which to contribute on a regular basis to the Road Scholar website in order to share my adventures and photos with an even wider audience.  

    RS: Where are you looking forward to going in the future and why?

    Teresa: In September, I am going to Chincoteague Island for a three-day program.  Even though I lived in Virginia for many years during my working life, I never made it to Chincoteague but was always intrigued by stories of the wild ponies living there.  So this year, in addition to visiting long-time friends in the Washington, D.C. area, I will head out to the Eastern Shore of Virginia to visit its islands.  Then in October when I get back to Hawaii, I’m looking very hard at signing up for a visit to Molokai in order to see the Kalaupapa National Historical Park.  Again, this is a nearby destination which I had always meant to visit during the ten years I lived and worked in Hawaii in the 1980s, but somehow just never made it.  So now the attraction of these destinations is all the stronger in the knowledge that I can join a group of like-minded road scholars to make visiting them all the more memorable rather than just dropping in on my own.  My next international destination is Patagonia, again because I’ve never made it to that area even though I have visited the northern parts of both Chile and Argentina.  I look forward to learning more about the history of European immigration to the area, and to seeing some of the magnificent scenery I have so often admired in photographs.  Look for my photos online next spring!

    RS: If you could give one piece of advice to a first-time participant, what would it be?

    Teresa: It would be to focus on the activity level of the programs you are considering.  So often I hear from baby boomers that they are fearful of being held back by frail or less fit participants needing to keep a slower pace.  I always emphasize that just because all the programs carry the Road Scholar imprimatur, there are many different activity levels, and those needing a slower pace stick to the lower levels because they, too, do not want to feel uncomfortable.  And many of them are longtime veterans of travel with Road Scholar, so they know their capabilities and how the rating system works.  They will not sign up for a level 6 or 7, so if activity is your main interest, be sure to look for a program at one of those higher levels.  Personally, I like taking programs at all levels, and I always learn something from my older travel companions.  

    RS: Thank you for your time, Teresa!

    To learn more about Road Scholar’s Ambassador Program or to volunteer to be part of the team, please visit Road Scholar: Join Our Ambassador Team.

    As always, if you have any comments or questions for Teresa, please leave them in the comments below!


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