Hey, kids! It's time to hit the
by Randy Mink, Chicago Sun-Times, 05/10/98
For students lucky enough to find themselves in Europe when school lets out, it will be a summer to remember, one sure to claim a special place in their hearts for years to come. Because the opportunity for an extended trip may not come again soon, now is their time to see the world. Europe, with its layers of history, modern conveniences and buoyant youth subculture, is the place to go.
From misty Scotland to sun-baked Greece, budget-conscious young people will find adventure and camaraderie as they sleep in spartan hostels, tour grand palaces and try out their fractured French. Being far from home, they'll also take stock of the American way of life and themselves as individuals. Some will hop from place to place by bus or train, traipsing through many lands. Others may immerse themselves in one culture, perhaps studying in Paris or waiting tables in London.
Here are some tempting options for those with wanderlust running through their veins:
From the hallowed halls of Oxford University to the shores of the French Riviera, vacation study programs lure American students looking for fun and academic credit. Language programs proliferate in Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Austria. England offers a smorgasbord of liberal arts courses, from history and literature to economics and political science.
At the College International de Cannes, students can study French in the morning and bask on Riviera beaches after lunch. Within walking distance of the city core, the campus is arranged around a courtyard where students gather under pines and palms. A four-week session ($4,499 from New York) is sponsored by the American Institute for Foreign Study (AIFS), a leader in educational travel for more than 30 years.
The institute's French program in Paris takes place at the prestigious Sorbonne, part of the University of Paris. Other summer sessions are held in Spain, Russia, Prague and London. For a summer catalog, contact the American Institute for Foreign Study, 102 Greenwich Ave., Greenwich, Conn. 06830; (800) 727-2437.
Intensive French language programs at the Sorbonne, University of Grenoble and University of Burgundy in Dijon are sponsored by Cultural Experiences Abroad, 5319 W. Patterson Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60641; (773) 725-8151 or (800) 266-4441.
Summer programs in London, Madrid, Salamanca and Paris are offered by the Institute for the International Education of Students (IES), 223 W. Ohio St., Chicago, Ill. 60610; (312) 944-1750 or (800) 995-2300. (This organization, founded in 1950, was formerly known as the Institute of European Studies.)
A variety of language and other programs is offered by the National Registration Center for Study Abroad, Box 1393, Milwaukee, Wis. 53201; (414) 278-0631.
Dozens of study abroad programs sponsored by U.S. universities are listed in the free Student Travels magazine published by the nonprofit, New York-based Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE). The planning guide is available from the two local offices of Council Travel (the for-profit travel agency of the exchange) at 1153 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, Ill. 60610, (312) 951-0585, and 1634 Orrington Ave., Evanston, Ill. 60201, (847) 475-5070.
Working abroad pays off in many ways. Besides earning wages as a store clerk or secretary, the American student worker bridges the invisible barrier between visitor and native. When you rent a room, commute to work, share meals with your colleagues and get paid in pounds or francs, you see things that tourists don't.
The temporary jobs available to young foreigners are rarely glamorous. Typical job categories include work at restaurants, offices and summer camps. The Council on International Educational Exchange sponsors "Work Abroad," a program that helps American students (age 18 and up) find jobs in Ireland, Spain, France and Germany.
For a fee ranging from $225 for Ireland to $785 for Spain, participants receive a work permit issued by the foreign government, orientation upon arrival, a detailed program handbook and leads on jobs and housing, plus the first night's accommodation abroad. Most job-seekers find work within a week to 10 days but are required to bring at least $750 to cover daily expenses before their first paycheck. Weekly wages ($200 to $400) normally cover room and board, with money left over for travel and entertainment.
Young people interested in an escorted sightseeing tour of Europe usually turn to one of several operators that target the 18-to-35-year-old crowd. These freewheeling, multicountry romps attract English-speaking travelers from Australia, New Zealand, England and North America. Some tours mix cabin camping with hotel nights. In addition to organized sightseeing, there's plenty of free time to explore.
Contiki Holidays, now in its 37th year, offers four-to 48-day tours, some of which feature stays at the company's own chateau in France and campsite in Rome. Contiki's 31-day "European Contrasts" winds through 12 countries, visiting cities like London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Venice, Munich and Vienna. A highlight is the four-day stay at Contiki's beach club on the Greek island of Corfu. In the Beaujolais wine region near Lyon, two nights are spent at Contiki's own 1873 French chateau, complete with a swimming pool. Cost of $2,760 from New York includes most breakfasts and dinners. For details, contact Contiki Holidays, 300 Plaza Alicante, Garden Grove, Calif. 92840; (800) 466-0610. Similar trips are offered by AESU, 3922 Hickory Ave., Baltimore, Md. 21211; (800) 638-7640.
Council Travel (the for-profit travel agency arm of the Council on International Educational Exchange) and STA Travel, both with offices worldwide, offer reduced-rate student and youth fares on major scheduled airlines like British Airways, Air France and Continental. These specially negotiated rates are for travelers under 26 years old.
Student and youth fares carry fewer restrictions than regular fares available to the general public. Penalties for making changes and cancellations are minimal, and it's easy to fly into one European city and out of another. Only a handful of student travel agencies are authorized to book these tickets.
London is the most popular gateway to Europe because airfares are up to $100 less than to cities on the Continent. Mid-week flights are less expensive than weekend departures.
The International Student Identity Card (ISIC), issued by Council Travel and STA in this country and by student travel offices in more than 80 other lands, is the only document accepted around the world as proof of student status. The bearer receives all kinds of discounts -- from museum admissions to low-cost student airfares.
The $20 card, for full-time students only, also provides basic sickness and accident insurance coverage for travel outside the U.S. Cardholders have access to a toll-free help line in case of medical, financial or legal emergencies abroad.
Non-students under 26 years qualify for the Go 25 International Youth Travel Card, which offers many of the same privileges, including insurance. It also costs $20.
Youth Hostel Card
For vagabonds who plan to stay often at facilities affiliated with Hostelling International, this card is more than worth the $25 fee. (It's only $10 for those under 18.)
Thousands of hostels are scattered throughout Europe, most of them in the countryside and at the outskirts of major cities. They charge from $8 to $30 for a bed in a single-sex dormitory. Continental breakfast sometimes is included.
Youth hostels, which range from rundown barracks to beautifully restored castles, are a great deal for solo travelers because the price is right, and single rooms in budget hotels are hard to find. And it's easy for lone vagabonds to make friends and team up to explore. Night curfews and daytime lockouts at many hostels are drawbacks.
The card is available from Council Travel, STA and American Youth Hostels (AYH), 2232 W. Roscoe St., Chicago, Ill. 60618; (773) 327-8114. American Youth Hostels also issues the International Student Identity Card and Go 25 cards.
The Eurail Youthpass has been a friend of travelers under age 26 for more than a generation. It allows unlimited second-class travel in 17 countries - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
The pass is $376 for 15 consecutive days, $489 for 21 days, $605 for one month, $857 for two months and $1,059 for three months. For those who plan to space out their train travel, the Eurail Youth Flexipass makes sense. It costs $444 for travel on any 10 days in two months, $585 for 15 travel days.
The BritRail Classic Pass for travelers under 26 makes rail passage economical in England, Scotland and Wales. It's priced at $205 for eight days, $318 for 15 days, $410 for 22 days and $475 for one month. The BritRail Flexipass is $175 for any four days in a month, $253 for any eight days, or $385 for any 15 days in two months.
Also available from BritRail is the London Visitor Travelcard, which provides unlimited trips on London buses and subways for $29 for three days, $39 for four days or $59 for seven days.
Details on rail plans are available from travel agents or student travel specialists like STA and Council Travel.
By the Book
Let's Go: Europe (St. Martin's Press, $19.99) is the budget traveler's bible. Aimed primarily at young vagabonds, it's updated yearly by a team of 200 Harvard University students who travel on a shoestring and report back their detailed findings.
Lighthearted, witty and opinionated, the 937-page guide is packed with prices and practical tips on everything from low-cost eateries in Amsterdam to cheap hotels in Athens.
Randy Mink is a local free-lance writer. (Copyright 1998)