Academic Travel Abroad’s Highlights List of 2012!

Boy, what a year it has been for travel! We close 2012 with our Highlights List of events and trends to remember!

So, here goes!

2Cuba! In 2012 we were proud to work with 54 people-to-people and professional research groups in our role as a licensed Travel Service Provider to Cuba. The 900+ travelers and delegates represented a diverse group of Institutions, including The National Geographic Society, The Smithsonian Institution, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The American Museum of Natural History, The Colorado State Bar Association, The American Psychological Association, The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and others.

mercedesOne-of-a-kind moments for travelers: Smithsonian’s German Cars travelers were treated to “the most tantalizing array of 300SLs, pre-war racing cars and other examples of the greatest Mercedes-Benz cars ever built.” We pride ourselves on these moments of behind-the-scene treats and special access —and they happened this year in places as diverse as Central Asia, southern Italy, the Swiss Alps, and Bentonville, Arkansas.

New FrontiersExploring New Frontiers!  Our team covered the globe in 2012! Senior Program Manager Chris Roper traveled to Namibia in March to ride the The Desert Express, a private train that links some of the world’s grandest national parks. In October, he joined a very short list of Americans who have “gone behind the iron curtain” to North Korea, the most isolated place on earth.  (Yes, he has developed a cultural program there!) In addition, Senior Program Manager Janet Varn “saw the future” on her spring visit to Spaceport America, the New Mexico home of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space travel company. Along the way, she discovered New Mexico’s Space Trail, a route of 52 sites across the state related to space research and exploration.

Downton AbbeyLong Live Britannia! In this celebratory year of the Queen’s Jubilee and the London Olympics, British literary themes were ever popular! Fans of noted author Elizabeth Chadwick traced  William Marshal, Eleanor of Aquitaine’s greatest knight. Mystery lovers joined discussions and readings with authors Colin Dexter and Simon Brett, and Jane Austen fans depart this week for their Christmas in Winchester and Bath. We will continue all things Britain in 2013 (when we follow in the steps of the Edwardians) in our Downton Abbey tour with the Smithsonian Journeys!  Visit and learn more here:

Milestones, ChinaMilestones: ATA’s Study Abroad Division, CET Academic Programs, celebrated its 30th anniversary in Beijing in June. In 1982, China was a very different place for these intrepid students, but their courage and foresight set in motion what has become CET’s flagship—with eight centers across China. CET truly is the “serious alternative” in study abroad.

New StaffNew Faces: A great group of professionals joined us this year: MaryBeth Mullen as Director of Client Services, Francesca Baruffi as Asia Program Coordinator for CET, Meg Hannan as Tour Communication Specialist, Meredith Akery in her new role as Accountant, Wade Jennings as Graphic Designer, and Cherie Mason as HR Administrative Specialist (not pictured).

None of our successes would be possible without the partners and travelers we serve, and the dedicated tour managers and colleagues we consider part of our ATA family. We are grateful for all of you this holiday season!

ATA Holiday Party

Happy Holidays!
Chase Poffenberger
Executive Vice President


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

Bookmark and Share

CET Director Mark Lenhart’s Interview with the Global Times

logo cet_logo_white

Education abroad lets you see home in new light

• Source: Global Times

• [22:26 August 25 2009]

Bookmark and Share

Link to article online at:

• Comments

Editor’s Note:

Along with the emerging economy of China, Chinese language and culture are becoming more popular subjects of study in the US, and more students are coming to China to study. The following is an interview by the Global Times (GT) reporter Chen Chenchen with Mark Lenhart (Lenhart), director of CET Academic Programs, a Washington-based study abroad organization founded in 1982.

GT: How did CET start its business in China? Why do you bring students to China, rather than simply teaching them Chinese in the US?

Lenhart: The roots of CET are really in China. Our first Chinese language program was in Beijing in the summer of 1982. We expanded in China in the 1980s and 1990s, but CET did not begin to operate programs outside of China until 1997.

We now operate in Vietnam, Spain, Italy, and the Czech Republic, and we’re developing new programs in Japan and the Middle East. But more than 50 percent of CET’s students choose to study in China.

We currently send around 600 students to China, and the majority of them are American. This number is still growing.

It is estimated that about 60 percent of our students stay in China after they graduate. It is wonderful to see them build lives in China, find professional success, and contribute to China’s development.

Many students arrive in our programs with simplistic ideas about what China is like, and as time goes on and as they learn both inside and outside the classroom, their old views are challenged.

Some are critical of what they see, but by the end of their semester or academic year in China, they develop a more nuanced view. They come to understand how complicated China is and how much China has achieved in the last 30 years.

Quite often, they also develop a clearer picture of the US, and they arrive home more critical of American media, our foreign policy, and our economic system.

This is the true benefit of education abroad. Because students experience firsthand life in a very different country, they begin to think critically about the US and its role in the world. They are then in a much better position to solve problems and to create positive change.

GT: How does CET promote China overseas?

Lenhart: While CET makes an effort to distinguish its China programs from the competitors’ programs, we really don’t have to do much to promote China as a destination. Students know from the news, classes and friends that China is a fascinating place of contradictions and change. This is very exciting for me.

When I was a student in the mid- 1980s, it was difficult to find China in the US media or even as a subject in my college classes. Now there is something about China on the front page of the Wall Street Journal every day.

It is not CET’s job to represent China as traditional or modern. Instead, we try to expose students to as much as we can about China, and we try to give them the tools they need to make their own connections and to learn from their Chinese teachers and peers.

We have programs that offer students courses taught in English about China. These courses focus on a variety of topics, including Chinese history, China’s economy, and Chinese society.

Some of our faculty members are Chinese, and some are from other parts of the world, so they offer a variety of perspectives. No matter what their own views are, they try to present information about China objectively so that students can draw their own conclusions.

I personally find it fascinating to see how “traditional China” is presented to foreigners, just as I’m interested in how Americans represent the US to outsiders.

I’ve watched Peking Opera performances dozens of times, but the audience for these performances is nearly entirely foreign.

If foreigners did not visit China, would Peking Opera become a thing of the past?

Similarly, ethnic minorities in Yunnan Province have made a concerted effort to preserve and present their traditional culture to tourists from both abroad and China’s urban areas. If tourism did not exist, would these traditions survive?

I think it’s interesting to consider how everyday people represent their own culture. I hope our students think critically about these questions, and that they discuss them with their Chinese friends.

GT: According to the students’ feedback, have their China experiences changed their original perspectives and how?

Lenhart: Students often write to me that China “changed their lives.” They don’t always elaborate, but I think the changes I’ve described above are at the heart of what changes. They come home with a deeper understanding of China and the US.

In addition, many experience tremendous personal growth – they develop new levels of independence and confidence, and they start to think more broadly about “how to learn.”

Happily, most of our students also return home with lasting friendships with Chinese students. They all make an effort to maintain and renew these friendships when they stay in China after they graduate.

China also changed my life. Of course it was a completely different place when I first studied here in 1987. But my experience was not unlike what our students experience today. I made incredible friendships with Chinese students, I traveled more in China than I had ever in the US, and I had the privilege of meeting and learning from Chinese people from all walks of life.

I knew when I finally left China in 1992 that I would commit myself to promoting US-China educational exchange, and I’ve been very fortunate to be able to make a career out of this commitment.

GT: What suggestions do you have for those who deeply want to know about China, but don’t have a way to get here?

Lenhart: I think that most Americans can find ways to get to China, even if they face difficult economic constraints. There are more and more scholarships and loans available to students who wish to study overseas.

Since I believe that there really is nothing quite like studying in China, even for a very short time, my advice to those who face these barriers is to find ways around them.”

Link to article online at:

CET Teams Up with Smithsonian Journeys

Student group in Beijing

Student group in Beijing

CET is excited to announce a new avenue for high school students looking for unique study abroad opportunities for 2010. CET has now teamed up with Smithsonian Journeys and will offer study programs in Spain, Italy, and China for 2010.

CET Academic Programs is a private study abroad organization based in Washington, DC that has been designing and administering innovative educational programs abroad since 1982. CET is known for their high academic standards, innovative approaches to teaching and careful student management. Their programs integrate students into their overseas communities and lead them to create lasting relationships with their local hosts. Staffed by over 40 full-time employees in the US and abroad, CET currently sends around 1000 US students abroad annually.

Smithsonian Journeys will be offering Smithsonian Studies Abroad programs in Italy, Spain, and China summer programs geared specifically to high school students looking to take advantage of the benefits of studying abroad programs.

Students in Avila, Spain

Students in Avila, Spain

These programs will include;

Rigorous courses of study led by highly qualified teaching staff.

All programs feature a language component, cultural explorations, sightseeing, and weekend excursions.

Student accommodations feature modern facilities, internet service, most meals, and a dedicated full-time residential staff.

More about the programs;

• Florence, Italy –Renaissance Treasures

Florence offers an ideal location for students to study Italy’s rich artistic and cultural legacy. Surrounded by brilliant art and architecture, students will be uniquely immersed in contemporary Tuscan life with many opportunities to practice their language skills.

• Avila, Spain – Life in a Medievil Walled City

Located halfway between Madrid and Salamanca, medieval Avila is recognized as one of Spain’s most distinguished centers of learning. Students will strengthen existing Spanish skills during a comprehensive cultural course at the University of Salamanca.

• Beijing, China – The Heart of Imperial and Modern China

The Beijing program focuses on China’s extraordinary past and present. Students will reside at China’s top-rated Capital Normal University, located just outside of Beijing. Students will study Chinese politics, economics, history, and environmental policies, and gain a foundation in Chinese language.

To learn more, visit

Also visit CET’s website to learn more here:


Paths we’ve travelled

With the turning of another new year, the Auld Lang Syne asks us,

“Should old acquaintances be forgotten?”  

With the passing of time and the predictions of what the future may bring, we all tend to reflect on past memories and long-standing friendships as foundations for how we define ourselves and the paths we’ve travelled.  We look to our family, friends and peers to grasp a measure of who we are and how to preceed.

Academic Travel Abroad has been very fortunate to have had developed such a solid path since beginning in 1950 and understands the value of building further on the future of strong relationships within the staff and among it’s valued partners.  We now operate tours for many industry leaders in the world of educational travel such as; National Geographic, the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Brookings Institute, Yale and so many more and can’t help feel a certain level of privilege in this.

2009 is a new year and we look forward to working with our partners and sharing in all of our travelers unique experiences abroad.  With a strong focus on our three primary goals of providing unique destinations, luxury travel accommodations and most importantly – quality service – we look forward to the new year and what lasting memories it will bring to all of our travelers.

Even in an unpredictable economy, we are still seeing that people understand travel opportunities as real investments in their personal “stock” and are still choosing to commit to discovering new places and unique destinations across the globe.  

One of our recent travelers mentioned that the added benefit of having a “tour expert” on the trip was something they truly underestimated and concluded that the added insights rendered tangible value that they would not have experienced by touring on their own.  Another traveler recently mentioned that they not only met new people on one of our tours, but made life long friends with people that shared a mutual passion and expressed that this also would have been difficult to find on their own.

So venture into this new year with solid foundations of past memories, but seek to create new ones while traveling to hidden corners of the world and developing new life-long friendships.

Best wishes, and safe travels in the New Year!

Academic Travel Abroad

Follow us on Twitter here

Dispatches from the East: Episode #3

The sun has finally made an appearance on our second full day in Beijing.  Our local guide Debra, led us on a exciting morning excursion to investigate and explore contemporary Beijing.  We began with a visit to the city’s Urban Planning Exhibition Center where we were able to see a great series of architectural models of all the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic venues. 

Olympics fever has overtaken Beijing and our Study Leader, Dr. Elvira Hammond tells us that it has been this way for quite some time.  There is a huge countdown clock in Tiananmen Square, as well as in several other places.  There are “official Olympics stores” throughout Beijing, where you can buy just about anything with the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics logo printed on it.

 The Urban Planning Exhibition Center provided great context for understanding the meticulous planning that has gone into the Olympics, as well as providing an incredible overview of the master plan for the city of Beijing. 

It is tremendously interactive and the architectural models of the city include many parts of greater Beijing, not only the iconic places like the Forbidden City, but also for significant buildings throughout the city, as well as those Olympic venues which will certainly have reached the iconic stage in the weeks building up to 08-08-08, when the Summer Olympic Games begin.

 From the Urban Planning Exhibition Center, we walked just a few short blocks over to Tiananmen Square.  The space, which we were told is the largest public square in the world, was teeming with people on this bright sunny winter day.  Many people were in a swiftly-moving long queue to get into Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, where they were able to see the Chairman’s remains in a crystal casket. Other groups, including ours, stood around the square taking pictures of the building, their companions, children, and colleagues. 

A festive energy seemed to flow all about.  After hearing Debra describe the various buildings surrounding the square, we all wandered off to make the best of our 15 minutes of independent exploration.  A few of us headed to the “front” of the square where we could get the best views of the Forbidden City building across the street, where the Chairman’s photo hangs in it’s place of honor.  We encountered a barricade, which someone explained was there to allow for preparations for the ceremony to be held the next day to welcome the Olympic Flame to China for it’s five month journey throughout the country prior to being placed in the Olympic caldron at the Opening Ceremonies.

 Following our visit to Tiananmen Square we headed off to lunch, and on the way to the restaurant, we were able to get very close to many of the new Olympic venues.  All in the final stages of completion before the games, there appears to be no worry about anything being completed in time, as there was in Athens in 2004.  “The Nest,” which is the nickname that has been given to the new Olympic Stadium is even more awe-inspiring when you’re up close than it is in any of the photos that you might have scene in the press. 

We passed the “Water Cube,” which will be the home of the majority of the swimming and diving events, as well as the Olympic Village where the athletes will live, the hotel being devoted entirely to visiting press, the media center, and the venue which will host one of the favorite sports of any summer games — gymnastics.

 The afternoon found us joining “The Sistas,” for a lively tour of Factory 798 in the Dashanzi neighborhood, which is the home of Beijing’s ever-growing contemporary arts district.  The Sistas, are Megan and K.C. Connolly, two American young women who have lived in Beijing for sometime and who have developed quite a business of helping visitors navigate this amazing part of Beijing and they took us on a great tour of the most important hot beds of avant garde art, which included a wonderful visit to several artist’s studios and galleries.

Larry Guillemette

Director of Business Development