One evening on the banks of the Nile River, a group of Carolina alumni was awaiting a sound-and-light show among the ancient temple ruins in Luxor. It occurred to them that, just at that moment, the men’s basketball team was playing Villanova in the NCAA Tournament. In celebration, an impromptu chorus of the fight song broke out. As the song ended, a young man approached to ask: Was anyone in the group from Chapel Hill?
Indeed. The entire group of 30 travelers had ties to Carolina, and the young man offered that he also was a UNC graduate, working in Cairo. Later in their trip, in Israel, they met a young woman who had gone to grad school at UNC.
The GAA’s travel program has been making global connections for alumni for 40 years, and just as the world has changed in remarkable ways since 1971, so, too, has this program dedicated to taking alumni to every continent on the globe.
In the beginning, students ventured out before alumni: Carolina’s first study abroad program was in Lyon, France, in 1965. Six years later, then-Alumni Secretary Clarence Whitefield ’44 hosted the GAA’s first group travel program, going to London, Rome, Madrid and Paris.
Today, UNC offers 300 study abroad programs in 70 countries, and whenever possible, GAA trips connect with Carolina students studying abroad as well as alumni living overseas. The program always has had an educational focus, but in 1982 history Professor Richard Solloway became the first faculty member to serve as an enrichment lecturer on a GAA trip, touring Scotland and Ireland.
Since then, scores of Carolina’s most engaging faculty have accompanied GAA tours. Just a few examples:
Many of our UNC faculty enrichment lecturers also provide “Passport Lectures” in Chapel Hill before trips depart. And in collaboration with Duke’s alumni association and Oxford University, each September since 1996 we’ve provided a two-week residential study opportunity for Carolina and Duke alumni in Oxford.
Our 650-plus tours have included walking tours through Europe; family trips in the Caribbean and Europe; young alumni tours throughout Europe; a chartered around-the-world plane trip; tours to China, Antarctica, India, Australia, New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands; river and ocean cruises; ski trips; national parks tours; safaris; and land and cruise trips to Alaska.There have been many more, with Carolina travelers entertained in embassies and hosted by Carolina chancellors — Chris ’47 and Barbara Fordham; Paul and Barbara Hardin; Michael Hooker ’69 and his wife, Carmen; and James and Susan Moeser — and other notable hosts, including Dean and Linnea Smith ’76 (MD); Bill and Leesie Guthridge; Dick ’66 and Lynda Baddour ’70; and Woody ’63 and Jean Durham. (As an aside, the cost of our tours is not affected by providing UNC hosts or faculty lecturers, although a minimum number of travelers may be needed for their participation. A bit more fine print: All tour participants must be Carolina Alumni members; Carolina Alumni membership is open to friends of Carolina as well as alumni; and alumni travel is not a profit center for the GAA.)
Evaluations are solicited after each tour, and the comments we hear are gratifying: “Everything was so well-planned.” “The best part was getting to know my fellow Carolina travelers.” “It was the trip of a lifetime.” “I didn’t have to worry about one thing from the time we left the airport until we returned.” “I wasn’t certain I’d enjoy group travel, and now I won’t travel any other way — particularly with Carolina.” “I learned so much.”
Their comments reinforce a sentiment noted on many of our travel brochures: “When we travel, we return to a more childlike state of wonder and curiosity, and it feels good. Knowing the world at large is a responsibility.Travel is a great way of fulfilling that responsibility.” It is reassuring that more than a third of our travelers have participated in two or more of our tours. (And we know of at least three couples who first met while traveling with the GAA.)
To the thousands of UNC alumni and friends who have traveled with the GAA over the past 40 years, thank you. And to readers who have not yet traveled with us, please consider it. The evidence suggests that you’ll enjoy the experience so much that you’ll return again and again.
Yours at Carolina,
Douglas S. Dibbert ’70