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It’s never too late in life to learn

Posted: July 10, 2014 9:53 a.m.
Updated: July 11, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Sometimes you run across a program so impressive that it just leaves you shaking your head in admiration. So it is with Road Scholar.

I’ve written about this terrific program before, but after leading another Road Scholar -- formerly known as Elderhostel -- trip recently and watching the spunky get-up-and-go of people as old as 90, I’m still marveling.

Getting old isn’t for wimps, the saying goes. But things are changing, and for many people, aging isn’t the sit-in-your-easy-chair-and-wait-for-the-Grim Reaper time that it used to be.

Senior citizens -- hey, that includes me -- are more active than ever, and with a generation of Baby Boomers now in their 60s, “old age” promises a different outlook altogether.

Think back a couple of generations, to the days when you visited your grandparents. What images come to mind? Your grandmother baking cookies in the kitchen? Your grampa smoking a pipe and reading the newspaper in his easy chair? Both of them sitting in a front-porch swing watching life pass by?

Not anymore. Grandma’s no longer in the kitchen standing over a stove; she’s on a university campus taking a weeklong course in Victorian literature. Grandpa? Forget the rocking chair; he’s too busy learning how to sea kayak on the coast of Alaska.

And when they’re done with that, they’ll be off to the wine country of France to sample new vintages and learn the subtleties of the grape.

Woo-hoo!

Road Scholar’s one of the ways that older Americans are showing off their vitality and verve. Founded 40 years ago, the program began on a New England college campus; senior citizens could stay in college dorms and take week-long courses from professors on campus. The program’s founders believed it was never too late in life to learn.

From that simple-yet-innovative beginning, the program has blossomed into a not-for-profit worldwide organization that offers thousands of different courses around the globe. And classrooms aren’t the only venues of study; “active outdoor” programs offer exuberant seniors the opportunity to ski, bike, play golf, hike, canoe and kayak.

Along the way, there’s been a name change. The organization began suffering enrollment declines several years ago, and marketing studies indicated boomers didn’t like the term “elder,” nor did they care for “hostel,” which conjured up images of cramped bunk beds and community bathrooms.

So it became Road Scholar, and its current catalog – a mammoth newspaper-type compendium -- lists thousands of options for seniors  and explains, “Whether you wish to study in a classroom or a laboratory, aboard ship or in the mountains, in urban settings or in small towns, we have a program for you.” Most classes last about six days, though many international trips are significantly longer.

And of course, as time has passed, more and more courses are being booked on the Internet.

My experience leading outdoors Road Scholar trips has taught me that the program attracts people who negate every stereotype of old age. On a trip I led recently, I watched a guy make his way up the side of a mountain, negotiating a difficult hiking trail in the process. He paused on the summit for a breath of fresh air and then headed down the far side.

“Not bad for a 91-year-old,” his wife laughed. And she wasn’t kidding. Nine more years and he’ll break the century mark, and there he was hiking mountains and paddling kayaks.

Proof of the program’s success can be found in the fact that once people start participating, they often become regulars. Many attend dozens of courses ranging from Civil War history to Native American culture to trekking in Nepal. Throw a new idea at them, and they’ll bite.

Perusing the web site is like taking a wish trip through the world. Participants can study gardening in California, watercolor painting in Colorado, military history in Georgia or classical music in New York. They can journey to Paris to ponder impressionist art, track elephants in Africa or trace Japanese history in Osaka.

Road Scholar mails its quarterly catalog – each with thousands of course offerings – to about a million people. And competition for slots is often spirited, as the “word of mouth” network among participants keys them in to especially rewarding programs.  Pricewise, the trips can’t be beat, offering world-class value for stimulating programs and events.

So the next time someone tells you that old age means sitting by the fire under a lap robe, just point them in the direction of Road Scholar. That’ll get ‘em out of their rocking chair.

If you’re interested in receiving a Road Scholar catalog – and opening new doors of education and adventure in your life -- call toll-free 1-800-454-5768.)

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