Transition of Ownership at ATA


David and Susan Parry sell final shares to Kate Simpson and Chase Poffenberger on January 1, 2012

Washington, DC, December, 2011—Academic Travel Abroad, a 61-year old international travel company that has served the country’s elite non-profit organizations, museums, and universities in operating specialized educational and immersive study abroad programs, will transition to new owners on January, 1, 2012. Long time employees and co-owners Kate M. Simpson and Chase V. Poffenberger will acquire the company’s remaining shares from David and Susan Parry in January 1, 2012.

On staff since the late 1980’s, Simpson and Poffenberger worked with David Parry to ensure the long term stability of the company through diversification of its portfolio. In 1994, ATA acquired CET Academic Programs, a premier study abroad organization. In 2008, the American Museum of Natural History in New York outsourced the management of their travel program (Expeditions) to ATA.  In 2009, the company launched Professionals Abroad to develop and market high quality international professional programs to associations for their members’ career development and continuing education. In addition, the company manages the reservation and customer service centers for National Geographic Expeditions and The American Museum of Natural History’s Expeditions.

Kate Simpson became ATA’s President in 2005. She is involved in all aspects of Academic Travel Abroad’s business, including its study abroad division, CET Academic Programs ( In 2008, she completed a three-year executive education program for owners and presidents at Harvard Business School and holds a degree in East Asian Studies from Yale University. She serves on the Board of Directors of NTA (the nation’s premier tour operator association) and is Vice President of the Board for the Fund for Education Abroad. (

Chase Poffenberger has served as Executive Vice President for the past five years. She oversees ATA’s tour business partnerships with non-profit institutions, as well as its professional delegation division, Professionals Abroad ( Chase also leads ATA’s Sales & Creative team, developing new product and brainstorming new marketing approaches.  Chase completed her MBA at the University of Maryland in 1998 and holds a BA in Chinese Studies from Wellesley College.

David Parry acquired Academic Travel Abroad in 1972 from Fritz Kaufman, an Austrian Jewish refugee who committed to educating Americans about the world after WW2.

During my forty years in travel, I found myself in four or five different businesses as the industry changed. Exciting times! Since Kate and Chase became owners in 2005, they have charted a wise course balancing risk management with innovative new business approaches, and have achieved amazing results, even during an economic downturn. Now I look forward to passing the torch to Kate and Chase to shape the future of ATA,” said Parry. “For my part, I’ll serve happily as a consultant; continue to hike in the Alps and spend more time with my grandchildren!

Academic Travel Abroad, Inc.




Berlin 40 Years On…

Photo of the Brandenburg Gate by Thomas Wolfe

Two weeks ago I was in Berlin just a week before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I couldn’t help but remember my very first trip to Berlin in 1970 when I led a group of American experts, professors and students on a study tour of Urban European Development.

We had traveled from Amsterdam to West Berlin on the overnight train and after two days studying the revival of West Berlin, we crossed into East Berlin.  The Wall had been quickly erected in 1961 and East Berliners could not longer cross into West Berlin while we, as international travelers, could cross only on the S-Bahn (elevated City Railroad) or by car at Checkpoint Charlie.

After touring a revitalized West Berlin we boarded the S-Bahn at the Zoologischer Garten Station and crossed the border into East Berlin.  From the train one could easily see the Wall and the “dead zone” with the East German guard towers.  At Friedrichstrasse Station we got off and passed through East German customs where we were required to exchange 25 West German Deutsche Marks for 25 East German Marks.  Of course the real value was nowhere near one to one but it didn’t matter for there was little one could buy.

We walked from the Friedrichstrasse Station down side streets towards the Brandenburg Gate.  The contrast with West Berlin was striking for the shops were few and their windows had little to offer.  Unter den Linden, once the great ceremonial boulevard of Imperial Berlin, had been rebuilt in a uniform sterile Soviet architectural style.  We did have a look at the famous Museum Island which had housed the impressive Prussian Museums but was bombed out in World War II.  Little did we know that it would be almost another 40 years until the last of the museums would be rebuilt.  So, after walking around a bit longer we scurried back to the S-Bahn and the bright lights of West Berlin.

Over the next 40 years I must have visited Berlin a least a dozen times often for the ITB tourism exhibition.  After the fall of the wall in 1989 it took a while for the momentum of change to grow.  Susan and I recall emerging from the U-Bahn Station at Potsdamer Platz in 1993 to find that the cleared open area “dead zone” by the wall was still there.  But all of this changed quickly and today Potsdamer Platz’s with its dynamic modern skyscrapers is the symbol of the New Berlin.

The newly reopened Neues Museum in Berlin

This recent visit just prior to the 20th anniversary was a striking contrast.  The Neues Museum, the last museum on Museum Island to be rebuilt, had just re-opened after years of reconstruction and we quickly obtained tickets to view its great Egyptian and Roman collections.  Stunningly displayed within the ruins of the old 19th century building was the bust of Nefertiti and other amazing items from the collections.

But the even more amazing was that East Berlin has once again become the true heart of the united Berlin.  While the former West Berlin is still lovely and full of life, the surge of development in the Mitte District in just 20 years has created scores of offices, hotels, restaurant and shops and the once sterile Unter den Linden is again thronged with scores of people night and day.  And the artistic and cultural revival is equally dynamic.  Perhaps Berlin is today Europe’s most exciting capital city.

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An Eye for China

I’ve been traveling to China for, I’m shocked to admit, nearly 20 years. One of the first pictures I have of me in China was taken from the Bund in Shanghai, with my back to the Huangpu and, across the river, an expanse of rice paddies and run-down one-story buildings. I vaguely remember my friend telling me that the Shanghai government had just announced plans to develop a new economic zone in the area called Pudong. I was barely listening. In the aftermath of Tiananmen, a year and a half earlier, I more interested in politics than economics, and at any rate, on that dreary grey day, in that run-down city, I lacked the imagination to see what Shanghai would become.

I am further shocked to admit that I have been planning tours to China for nearly 16 years. This has enabled me to visit far-flung corners of the country, from Harbin in the far north to the border with Vietnam; from Qingdao on the Yellow Sea to Kashgar and the border with the Kyrgyz Republic. And yet, when people ask me where they should go when they visit China for the first (and quite possibly only) time, I always recommend Beijing, Xi’an, Shanghai, and, if time and money permit, one other place. That’s perhaps a little out of character, because I love to travel off the beaten path myself. However, some of my own most indelible impressions of China come from some of the “must-sees,” but doing them a little differently from most.

I never tire of going to the Great Wall. Even though I’ve seen it probably a dozen times, I still am blown away every time I trace its twisting path over and between the mountains north of Beijing. I of course avoid the Badaling section, preferring Mutianyu or, better yet, Jinshanling or Simatai, and I leave very early in the morning so I have the place mostly to myself.

These days it’s almost impossible to visit the Forbidden City and not share it with thousands of others, many of whom are wearing identical hats and are following a bullhorn. Fortunately, most of those thousands are only interested in the admittedly extremely impressive halls in the center of the City. I love to wander through the sections off to the sides, exploring the smaller rooms and hidden alleys. I’ve even been fortunate enough, through the amazing connections of my friends and partners at Hubei Overseas Travel Corporation, to visit, on occasion, sections not open to the public, where some of the most exquisite gems are hidden.

In Xi’an, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale of the terra cotta army of the emperor Qin Shi Huang. These days, anyone can take pictures of the soldiers and horses, and for a fee, anyone can go down to the VIP level for a slightly closer look and slightly better angle. What trumps both, though, is actually getting down into the pits and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a 2200-year-old clay warrior. Again through the my friends at HOTC, I’ve had the opportunity to do that twice, and it remains one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in China.

In Shanghai, I love to visit the Shanghai Museum. In a city that is all about the future, the museum is a beautiful reminder of the thousands of years of exquisite artisanship that are otherwise obscured by the glass and steel and traffic and Maglev. And in the basement, closed off to the public, is a beautiful replica of a tea garden, with mood lighting that can be adjusted to simulate different times of day. It’s a peaceful place, in stark contrast to the hubbub above ground.

What I REALLY like about Shanghai, though, is the change. Shanghai is about growth, the future, transformation, possibility. Whenever I can, I go to the Bund and stand where I stood nearly 20 years ago and gaze over at the unimagined reality of what China has become.

Chris Roper
Program Manager

Academic Travel Abroad

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Group Travel Still Makes the Most Sense

Even in tough economic times, people are turning to group tours as a reliable way to travel that provides value and peace of mind. Tour operators negotiate group discounts, plan activities with smooth logistics in mind, access unique venues and draw on well-connected contacts in destinations around the globe. With years of experience under their belt, tour operators offer travelers the most value and security for their dollars.

Here are ten pointers from the National Tour Association’s latest newsletter that reinforces why Academic Travel Abroad is proud to be part of this organization of tourism professionals who share our common goals.


Excerpt from the NTA's "Trip Planner" for August 2009

India: Discovering The Living Arts

A visit to the studio of R.B. Bhaskeran for talks on Modern Art Movements in India

A visit to the studio of R.B. Bhaskeran for talks on Modern Art Movements in India

India ranks very high on the “life lists” of many travelers, including the group of museum professionals and ATA staff who set out in early June to learn about India’s booming contemporary art scene, which has its roots in a 5,000 year artistic tradition.

India is “exotic” in a way quite unlike any other place on earth. It was a sensory overload, a spiritual experience, and a mystical, bedazzling riot of colors and activity—all at the same time. Braving India’s summer heat, we were rewarded with virtually tourist-free sights and monuments.

Our exhilarating journey to Chennai, Agra and Delhi provided us with an exciting curriculum in the living arts, as well as an introduction to the India’s most important art movements, archeological treasures, and architectural monuments. For eight days, we had the distinct pleasure of discussing art and culture with painters, dancers, musicians and an extraordinary archeologist. We left India hungry for more, knowing we had just scratched the surface of a rich, multi-layered artistic tradition.

There were so many highlights to cherish on this trip!

First, the artists. Kuntal Desai and R B Bhaskeran in Chennai generously opened their homes to us, giving us a very personal look at their work and inspiration. We also visited several artists’ villages, and a state-sponsored artist studio in Delhi.

Then there were the musicians and dancers, who demonstrated the power of oral tradition in India culture, and sang and played beautiful music on traditional instruments.

And of course, we were awe-struck at the Taj Mahal, where we spent two hours examining this most famous example of Mughal architecture. We also spent time at the temples of Mahabalipuram, built between the 7th and 9th century.

To see a slideshow of our tour, click here

To see a few of our trip videos, click here

Academic Travel Abroad’s website

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Ethiopia; A Pacific Science Center Experience.

070_70I had wanted to travel to Ethiopia ever since my earliest childhood.  A friend of our family was one of the financial advisors of Emperor Haile Selassie and, every time he came back from Ethiopia, he would tell all these wonderful stories which only increased my curiosity about this exotic country. I vowed I would one day travel there myself. This proved to be a difficult proposition. Decades passed and despite my husband’s and my travels all over the world, visiting Ethiopia continued to be as elusive as ever. It seemed that I might never get to see the country that has held such fascination for me for so many years — until last month!

The Pacific Science Center in Seattle had for some time featured an exhibit entitled  “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia”. As a grand finale to the exhibit, PSC offered a trip to Ethiopia in order to explore Lucy’s ancestral home and cultural heritage firsthand.  A small intrepid group of travelers thus embarked on a two-week tour of the country. I had the pleasure of traveling with them as tour manager.

046_46Ethiopia was everything I expected and more. It is an extraordinary, mysterious and beautiful country with lovely hospitable people. We were able to see its diverse landscape, fauna and flora many of which are endemic. For example, one thing that surprised us all was the abundance and richness of bird life. Ethiopia boasts 862 species of birds (of which 17 are endemic to the country and another 13 semi endemic) and we were lucky enough to see 38 of them during the course of this trip and without really trying! Bird watchers take note!

One of our first excursions was to Melka Kunture, an important Stone Age archeological site in Ethiopia. Here we saw many examples of beautiful two-edged hand axes, obsidian scrapers (obsidian is still laying around everywhere) and sets of round stones used in nets to throw at animals in order to catch them.  We also visited the rock-hewn church of Adadi Mariam. Dating back to the 12th century, it has beautiful murals.  But what made this day even more special and unusual was the lunch prepared for us at the site of Melka Kunture.  Our Ethiopian partner had arranged for a cook – the best in Ethiopia we were told – to bring his staff  and prepare lunch for us. When we arrived, a festive table was set up under acacia trees and a blue awning.  On another table, a buffet with injera and a delicious looking array of dishes was beckoning to us. To add to the festive atmosphere a traditionally dressed lady was seated on one side ready to host the traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony for us. The Coffee Ceremony — central to the Ethiopian lifestyle — is accompanied by an elaborate ritual. The hostess was seated on a low wooden stool before a tiny charcoal stove. First, she spread fresh grass and flowers on the ground around the brazier where the beans were going to be roasted. After lighting some incense in order to perfume the air, she first washed the beans, then roasted them in a pan. The beans were then ground manually with a pestle and mortar; then brewed with water in a pot until it started to bubble. The aroma of the roasting beans and warming coffee filled the air and we all anxiously waited for the coffee to be ready.  When it was, we were served in tiny ceramic handle-less cups.  It was so good that we lingered for a long while and many of us went for second and third cups!

133_133The next day we left Addis Ababa and set forth on the northern historical and cultural route. During our journey we saw five out of eight UNESCO Heritage Sites. Our program was varied and full and yet flexible enough to fit in an extra stop at a village for a demonstration of how injera was made or see a weaver at work or take in a colorful local market.

Our first stop was at Bahir Dar on Lake Tana which is dotted with island monasteries and churches. Upon arrival we were whisked off by boat to visit two of them featuring beautiful murals and 12th century manuscripts. In the afternoon we explored the Blue Nile Falls. They are perhaps not as spectacular as they once were — water has been diverted upstream for a dam – but many of our members enjoyed the excursion anyway.

We flew to Gondar and visited the royal enclosure with its six castles. One of the group’s favorite stops was the village of AwraAmba where the founder has a philosophy that men and women are equal and therefore everyone has to perform the daily tasks. There are no set tasks that are just for women or just for men. Here the residents support each other from birth to death.  We met with the founder who has dedicated his whole life to this philosophy of moving people beyond society’s accepted roles and thus making life better for everyone. It was an inspirational experience.

The next day we drove through dramatic mountain scenery to the Simien National Park. The park is known for its distinct ecology, animals and vegetation. We were lucky to get a glimpse of the bleeding heart baboon – endemic to this region.

Our next stop was in Axum where, the Ethiopians believe, the original Ark of the Covenant was brought from Jerusalem by Emperor Menelik 1, the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel. Axum is also known for its huge monolithic stelae made of granite with identical decorations.  The biggest of them, now fallen, was 33 meters high and weighs 500 tons, making it the largest monolith in the world.

160_160No trip would be complete without a visit to the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. There we spent two nights and visited all 13 churches in the two complexes. The churches are attributed to King Lalibela – around 1200 AD. Built underground, with a network of interconnected subterranean passageways, lighting systems and water works, they are generally considered to be very sophisticated architectural and engineering feats. These churches have remained of outmost importance to the Orthodox Christian religion to this day.

All this combined with frequent interactions with local population at markets and in villages made this a trip of a lifetime.  And, to seal the experience for me personally, our daughter is adopting an Ethiopian a baby girl whom I was able to visit at the orphanage.  It just does not get any better than that.

Izabella Van Raalte
Tour Manager

Academic Travel Abroad website

Pacific Science Center website 


ATA heads to Morocco

Moroccan musician

Moroccan musician

I was standing on the Djemaa el Fna in Marrakech in March when I “got” something about Morocco that had been eluding me.  The Djemaa is the sprawling square in the Medina where the sounds, the smells and the soul of Marrakech jump and dance and waft all day every day and far into the night. I was standing there as evening began to fall, watching a group of gnaoua musicians perform for an appreciative crowd of Moroccans. The audience surrounded them in a thick circle on the square, clapping, laughing, swaying their shoulders to the infectious beat. I didn’t understand the words of the song, but I could feel how completely involved the audience was with the performance. I could see it in their eyes, feel it in the movement of their bodies.

That’s when I understood this simple truth: despite the impossibly rich spectacle of Moroccan markets and the awe-provoking tableaux of deserts, mountains and farm villages that greet you as you travel through, the real richness of Morocco is in the people. This is a truly warm, friendly country where a sincere smile will melt a scowl like the spring sun on the Atlas snow. They are as complex and diverse as their long turbulent history, but their hospitality is sincere. Even when Moroccans are trying to sell you something (often), they will be happy just to talk, learn about you, offer you sweet tea and opinions. Yes, it helps if you speak Arabic or Berber or French, but they will find a way to communicate with you.

Street olive market

Street olive market

On the Djemaa that night, when the musicians had finished, a story teller came into the circle, dramatically took off several layers of clothing, then began to move around the group, making jokes about people and extracting a 5 dirham coin from each of them.  Again, I didn’t understand the words, but couldn’t help myself from joining in the infectious laughter of the crowd. I was enfolded into Morocco that evening, entranced, enticed. I am very glad indeed to be going back.

Andrew Simon
Tour Manager


National Geographic Expeditions: Moroccan Odyssey

American Museum of Natural History: Morocco

Academic Travel Abroad

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