Senior class


Elderhostel: The worldwide network of noncredit courses for people 55 and older is amply represented in the Baltimore area. The Peabody Institute is one of the network's busiest.

January 06, 2000|By Gerri Kobren | Gerri Kobren,Special to the Sun

Last spring, for her 74th birthday, Lore Cohn received a gift certificate from her brother, Werner Cohen. It was for a one-week Elderhostel program offered by Baltimore Hebrew University.

Cohn, a former schoolteacher who lives in Baltimore County, was delighted. Without traveling, as most Elderhostelers have to do, she would be able to take part in the kind of educational opportunity that is the heart of Elderhostel -- a worldwide network of learning institutions that provide short, noncredit courses to people age 55 and older.

The subject matter covers a wide range of human interest: arts and humanities, science and technology, writing and recreation, crafts and cooking, performance and personal growth. In the United States, programs generally run Sunday evening to Friday or Saturday afternoon and offer three different subjects.

The brainchild of two University of New Hampshire administrators, Marty Knowlton and David Bianco, Elderhostel was born in the summer of 1975. The first campuses were those of the university and four smaller colleges in the state system.

Today, Elderhostel is a 2,000-member association of colleges, universities, museums, parks and other learning centers located in every state and Canadian province and 80 foreign countries. Peabody Institute in Baltimore is one of the busiest, with two programs running simultaneously 48 weeks a year.

Last year, nearly 175,000 people traveled to an Elderhostel program somewhere. They stayed on the campus of the "host institution," or they had housing and classes off-site, in hotels or motels, in tents or cabins in the wilderness, in RV parks, even on ships at sea. They sat in traditional classrooms, participated in hands-on activities, challenged themselves physically or involved themselves in volunteer projects. Some of them even brought their grandchildren along for intergenerational programs.

Whatever the option, Elderhostel mandates that they receive 22 hours of solid educational content in each one-week program.

Information about the sites, programs and prices is in three catalogs issued by Elderhostel's Boston headquarters several times a year. The catalogs are labeled U.S. and Canada, international and "Adventures Afloat." For a five- or six-night program in the United States, the current catalog shows, the average cost is $430 to $450, higher in Hawaii and Alaska.

Arranged alphabetically by state, the catalog shows about a dozen host institutions in Maryland, including four in the Baltimore area: Baltimore Hebrew University, Baltimore International College (formerly Baltimore Culinary College), the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University and Towson University (which also operates Elderhostels in Annapolis).

Like younger students who may choose a college as much for its locale as its academic offerings, Elderhostelers may pick a place -- a state or nation they'd like to visit -- and then choose a program. But Cohn and her husband, Ulrich, are already well-traveled. "To fly to a faraway place, I don't need an Elderhostel," she says.

When she's in a faraway place, she'd rather explore it than spend several hours a day in a classroom. As a day student in Baltimore, where she's already seen the sights, she could go to classes without feeling she was missing the local color.

She chose a week in June to use her gift certificate, when Baltimore Hebrew University's Elderhostel, then off-site at a motel on Reisterstown Road, was offering courses about Jewish violinists, the history of the Jews of Germany and Czechoslovakia, and the operas of Verdi.

Then she shared her gift with her husband.

"I took the morning classes [violinists and history], and he took the afternoon classes [opera]," she says.

Her brother, a retired organic chemist who lives in Northwest Baltimore, took a different program in a different week.

The number of people who commute to hometown Elderhostels is unknown. Because Elderhostel caters first to people who travel away from their homes, records aren't kept on hometown participants. Local registration is an option offered at the discretion of the host institutions on a space-available basis -- that is, when the out-of-town registrants, who apply through Elderhostel headquarters, do not fill all the classroom slots.

Peabody, which enrolls 4,000 to 4,200 Elderhostelers a year and turns away another 1,600, always has space for a few local students, sometimes as many as three or four to a program, says Randall Woodfield, a coordinator. With 48 weeks of programs, that can add up to a good number of local participants in a year. It happens because Peabody's classrooms have more seats than there are beds at the inn, the Peabody Inn, on-campus Elderhostel housing that opened in 1993.

There's no guarantee, of course. "It's first come, first served," says Woodfield.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.