Christa LeeVan has one of the most interesting jobs at Notre Dame, as it takes her to all four corners of the world, and allows her to meet alumni from a wide variety of industries and backgrounds. Christa is the Travel Program Director for the Notre Dame Alumni Association! The Mendoza Graduate Alumni Relations Department recently asked her to share a little bit about some of the highlights of this program, and what to expect when travelling internationally with other alumni!
Tell us about the history of the ND alumni travel program?
Christa LeeVan: The Notre Dame Alumni Association has been offering group travel opportunities for alumni, parents and friends of the university for 35 years. It started with just a couple of trips and the program has grown to it's current state of offering around 40 trips to destinations all over the world each year. Travelin' Irish is the official name of the program and we have approximately 700 people travel with us each year.
Who do you work with to make one of these trips a reality?
CL: We work with travel operators whose expertise is affinity travel, meaning that they create their offerings for travelers who want to engage in a higher level of learning and a deeper meaningful experience with their peers. The travel operators match us with like-minded universities and associations. Our travelers become a sub-group of a larger group of engaged university travelers. Many of these itineraries are also not available in the retail travel market, and they allow us to tailor some of the activities to our specific needs. We have met with study abroad students, International Notre Dame Club members and visited sites unique to Our Lady's University during recent trips.
What is the experience like, travelling with other alumni?
CL: Our travelers tend to be very inclusive, outgoing people, so the Notre Dame group seems to gel and people appreciate the chance to get to spend quality time learning with others who also have a love for the university. Our travelers tell me, and I have personally experienced this as well, that engaging in immersive opportunities with people who love to learn and grow is one of those life-changing moments. You are in an amazing part of the world listening, tasting and experiencing life with a group of strangers at the beginning. You come away with many new friends that quite often grow into long-term friendships.
What trips have you been on, and what has been the most memorable?
CL: I have had the opportunity to host seven Notre Dame trips over the past four years, including the Italian Lakes District, Greece and Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, a Rhine River cruise, Ireland, Alaska and Rome. Each trip had it's highlights, but I think New Zealand is my favorite. We were mainly on the South Island, in Queenstown, and it was just a beautiful, magical place. The people were so friendly and happy to have us there. We ate dinner in the home of a local family and they served lamb, beetroot (beets to us), and some of the best wine I've ever tasted. If you have the chance to visit Australia (which was quite spectacular in it's own right) make sure to take some time to see New Zealand.
What are some of the new trips taking place in 2017?
CL: Each year, we offer sea cruises, river cruises and land trips on every continent. This is the case for 2017 and in addition, I'm excited to offer some unique trips that we haven't offered before or in quite awhile. Discovering Eastern Europe (June) is a land trip that includes stops in Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. For anyone with ancestry in these areas, this is bound to be an interesting journey. Irish Family Legacy Cruise (June) is a short Miami to Miami cruise in the Caribbean that could appeal to first-time travelers and include the whole family. We chose to offer it due to its short duration and affordability. Toronto to Vancouver by Rail (October) will allow travelers to see quite a bit of our northern neighbor's beautiful landscape by train. Finally, I'd like to point out our trip to the Languedoc region of southern France (September). This is an area of traditional, medieval French villages and something special to see, especially if you've already visited the traditional sites in France.
What tips do you recommend to alumni when travelling abroad?
CL: I would say, just go. I was almost 40 before I took my first trip abroad and was bitten by the travel bug. Now, I want to see the whole world and learn and share experiences with people across the globe. Group trips provide a sense of comfort for many people, even those who like their independence. The trips we offer always build in time to explore on your own. So, they strike a nice balance between being with the group and time for yourself.
More tangible recommendations include keeping your passport up to date with at least a 6-month expiration beyond your trip return date. Use ATM machines when you travel internationally, and use cash for smaller purchases and your credit card for larger purchases. Find a local grocery store and go inside. I really enjoy shopping where the locals shop and trying some of the local food and beverage selections. My last tip would be to keep a journal (or at least a list) of what you saw and did each day. Once you get home and start looking through your photos, a day-by-day list is very helpful.
Please visit our website for up-to-date trip information and feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the Travelin' Irish!