My friend Jessica did! She took two classes while she traveled throughout Italy on her own. Read on for her inspiring travel story, along with some amazing tips she shared with us all.
Name: Jessica Nordskog
Occupation: Product Designer
Location: Madison, WI
Why did you decide to turn a vacation into a learning experience?
I was about to quit my job (about 10 years ago) and wanted to go to Europe for a somewhat extended time — more than a week! I thought it would be easier to stay longer if I had a purpose while I was there. I also knew I wanted to stay a few places for more than just a day or two. Taking a course allowed me to stay longer without running out of things to do (these were small towns I was planning on visiting). It’s also a great way to connect with the people who live there — and the people who are traveling like you.
Did you pick a location first or the class first? How did you learn about the classes?
I knew I wanted to do something with mosaics. I had fallen in love with mosaics the first time I traveled to Italy. I knew Ravenna was the hot spot for mosaics so I searched on the internet and found this place. It was exactly what I was looking for.
For my second course, I decided I wanted to take a language immersion class. This was particularly interesting. I had been taking Italian classes with a small group on campus and thought it would be fun to test my skills and go for the real deal. The Italian instructors I had were all from Tuscany so I knew I wanted to continue to learn Italian in that region — plus, it’s Tuscany! So, I did research online and found this place. It’s an old monastery and also the location for the filming of the English Patient. 🙂 The setting was amazing. Imagine your ideal Italy and that was it!
What kind of people were in the classes? Did you do this by yourself or with a friend?
In the mosaic class, there were about 12 people — 10 were women. They were from all over the world: England, Brazil, Germany, and the United States. We ranged in age from 22 to 60. I took this class by myself which I enjoyed since there were so many people to get to know!
Again, I did the Italian class solo. What I didn’t know is that I would be the only person in the world that signed up for the class that week in October! Needless to say I found a new friend in my instructor Claudio. His English was minimal at best. He and I chose a location every morning and afternoon to sit and have lessons. It was very casual and I learned a lot!
What was the best part?
I think the best part was being immersed in something while on vacation. I enjoyed having a little structure to my days but alse exploring in the evenings. Meeting people from all over the world was also a highlight. Where else do you find yourself having dinner with a Brazilian, a German, a Brit, and an Italian? Not at home, that’s for sure. 🙂
What was the worst part?
The monastery was true to its roots meaning the bed I slept in was hard, there were bats in the hallway, and there was no TV. When you’re speaking Italian all day and are exhausted, you need a little alone time with a TV –- even if it is old episodes of Baywatch.
Do you have any plans to take another class during a future vacation?
Since international travel isn’t in the near future, I am intrigued by a few things a little closer to home:
- A fiber arts school in gorgeous Door County Wisconsin.
- This is a bit of a pipe dream but still very enticing.
Do you have any tips for someone who would like to take a class while on vacation?
Most dance studios, yoga studios, and gyms allow drop-ins. Do it! This is an easy way to learn something new on a vacation. I have dropped in on dance and fitness classes in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Broadway Dance Center in NYC has a ton of class offerings and you don’t have to be advanced to take them. Here are the places I’ve dropped in:
If you love to knit, cook, dance, etc., there’s probably a class in the next city you are visiting. Google before you go. If you are hankering for solo international travel but don’t want to feel totally alone, arrange to take a class. Again, Google is my BFF.
I love Alice Steinbach. If you love to travel and have never read one of her books, go get one now. She’s written two books about her travels, but Educating Alice is absolutely inspiring for if you want to take a learning vacation.
This book has a ton of great resources for great getaways: Traveling Solo, 6th: Advice and Ideas for More than 250 Great Vacations.
Here are some links from the book:
- The Culinary Institute of America has options for “enthusiasts”: http://www.ciachef.edu/enthusiasts/default.asp
- Art Workshops abroad: http://www.artworkshopintl.com/
- School of Crafts (in a gorgeous setting). This is “crafts” on a higher level than pom-poms and pipe cleaners 🙂 http://penland.org/index.html
- Photography Focused Expeditions: http://www.cuephoto.com/
- This one is just for humor’s sake — look at the illustrations: http://www.walkingwomen.com/
Thank you so much for sharing these tips and links, Jessica! I’d love to drop in on an exercise class or take a language or cooking class abroad. Such a great idea!