Meet Gwenyth Lloyd, Our Designer “Across the Pond”

Gwen_Lloyd_brecon_beaconsGwenyth Lloyd started working at the Academic Arrangements Abroad New York office in 2003, and is now a remote graphic designer after moving to the UK. “I’ve worked for the company for 11 years now, 7 of them remotely,” says Gwen. “My current responsibilities include creating both print and web marketing.”

Before joining Arrangements Abroad, Gwen worked at the Center for Book Arts and Condé Nast in New York City (interning in the photography department at the New Yorker and working freelance at Vanity Fair). Before moving to New York to pursue a Design degree at Parsons, she achieved the position of Headbrewer at a microbrewery in Cambridge, MA.

What is your hometown?

I grew up in Townsend, MA, a typical New England town with a town common and gazebo. Band concerts on Thursday nights in the summer with the local military band. I loved growing up there, but had a British father who traveled to far-flung places through his work in geophysics, so I was always aware the planet was a very big place and that I’d like to see as much of it as possible.

Gwen in LatviaWhat are your favorite travel books?

Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of the City, was a treat to read as I visited Istanbul. Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak, Memory, is a wonderful account of his childhood in St. Petersburg. And who wouldn’t want to explore Paris after reading Georges Perec’s Life, A User’s Manual?

City you most recommend to friends

I usually find something to love about any foreign city, but my favorite destinations so far are: Mumbai, for the energy, amazing sights, and sounds; Dubai for the diversity of the people and the architecture; and London (always London!) for people watching and wandering the South Bank, Hampstead Heath, and Shoreditch. It thrills me to live in the dynamic city of Bristol, just a train ride away.

City you would drop everything to see

Florence, Italy, in the summertime. There’s something magical about the light in Tuscany, and I enjoyed an unforgettable cone of profiterole ice cream there.

Gwen and MegganWhat do you enjoy working on the most for Arrangements Abroad?

The assignments are always changing, and the design work is very interesting and challenging. Working as a designer for a travel company allows me to armchair travel through researching destinations and map-making. Have loved meeting our travelers while accompanying trips to the Baltic and the Caribbean. And, last but not least, my outstanding colleagues, who make me feel like a valuable member of the team despite the distance!

Special skills

Am a mother to a spirited, adorable four-year-old son, also am a painter, seamstress, and keen cook (when I have the time)!

Most visited websites

The Guardian, Pinterest, and BBC Radio 4

What is something about you that surprises people?

Am able to count time to music pretty well for a non musician. After my first attempt at playing the drums with a band, my friend commented my timing was “like a clock!” Hope to take up learning to play the drums again someday.

Gwen and son skatingWhat are some things you can’t travel without?

My son, my iPad, pencil bag and my sketchbook

Number of trips traveled on

I have been to 26 countries and am now living abroad in the UK. Dual nationality has some perks.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Believe travel is a necessity and a force for good in the world. The more  the idea of the “other” is broken down… believing people who are from foreign places are somehow fundamentally different than ourselves…the more our compassion for humanity as a whole grows. Gaining the knowledge that the majority of people on earth, no matter where they are from, want the same things from life as us, is invaluable.

Gwen in Nicaragua

Meet Senior Editor Sara Welch

Sara Welch outside DuomoSara Welch started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in October of 2012. Although her title is Senior Editor, Sara also considers herself a copywriter since she creates the text for the firm’s brochures and other publications. Through poetic, evocative language, she tries to convey what is truly extraordinary about destinations and programs. We sat down with Sara to find out more about her background, favorite places (from Bangkok to Staten Island), special skills and more.

What is your hometown?

Princeton, New Jersey – but I was born in New York City in the heart of Greenwich Village, at St. Vincent’s Hospital (which, sadly, no longer exists). We didn’t move to Princeton until I was six and a half, and my family was part of the bohemian rather than the preppy crowd. We used to see John Nash (of A Beautiful Mind fame) hanging out at the local pancake house.

Who would play you in a movie?

Nathan Lane. Or maybe Parker Posey.

City you most recommend to friends

The list is too long! Buenos Aires, Mérida (Mexico), Bangkok, Montreal… It would be easier to say the cities I would *not* recommend, but what would be the point? And I know you didn’t ask, but my favorite New York City borough is Staten Island. It has great parks, gardens, beaches, and killer Sri Lankan food. My favorite places to visit are the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art, which is like an actual Tibetan monastery perched high in the mountains.

Sara Welch at Mt. PichinchaCity you would drop everything to see

Any place in India or sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve never been to either and would love to go!

Special skills

Portuguese fluency. Also, my sense of humor (although not everyone gets it).

Most visited websites

  • I listen to “Ambient Bass” or “Ambient Music for Reading” to drown out distractions while I’m writing.

Something about you that surprises people

Back in the ’90s, I helped with research for a book called The Drag Queens of New York. While traveling in Romania on a press trip, I got roped into judging the Miss Transylvania beauty contest. And I once attended an exorcism in Borneo. Believe it or not, it was the most boring eight hours I ever spent.

Sara Welch in Perge, TurkeyThree things you can’t travel without

An eye mask, inflatable neck pillow and earplugs.

Number of trips traveled on

I haven’t been on any Arrangements Abroad trips. I have traveled to more than 30 countries, though.

Meet Erin Sorensen

Erin Sorensen at Great WallErin Sorensen started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in September 2003.  She’s held a number of different positions at the firm throughout the years and is currently a Vice President in the Operations Department, developing and booking programs and managing trip logistics.

Erin at AAA holiday partyWhat is your hometown?  I moved every two to four years growing up, around the country as well as some time in England, but I now call New York home.  I’ve lived here much longer than anywhere else!

What is your favorite travel book?  Hmm, I could never have just one.  I love to read!  I organize our office book club, for which we read books set in or about different parts of the world.  Some of my favorites of the books we’ve read are:

Agent Zig Zag – Ben MacIntyre

The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

Country Driving – Peter Hessler

A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler – Jason Roberts

A couple of years ago I decided to read some Scottish books in preparation for a trip there and discovered I love Ian Rankin’s detective novels.

Erin Sorensen Easter IslandCity you most recommend to friends Vienna. I’ve only been there once, but it seems to have something for everyone – art, music, architecture, design, food, shopping. The countries I often recommend are Chile and Jordan, because they are amazing but underrated.

City you would drop everything to see I currently have two: Barcelona and Istanbul.  I can’t believe I still haven’t been to either, but it’s only a matter of time…

Erin in ArlesWhich AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most? Land programs with specialty themes (like the Mozart and Jane Austen programs planned for 2014). I can learn a lot about a specific subject or person as I work on the itinerary and organize the visits, and we get to take people somewhere they may have been before but with a different spin that keeps it new.

Special skills I love to cook and bake and have a good memory for useless pop culture facts.  I also speak French and hope to someday learn another language or two.

Your most visited websites  Probably Google Maps, Expedia and The New York Times for work purposes.  And NYPL, NPR and Amazon for other needs!

Something about you that surprises people I’ve lived in Madagascar and Mauritius. And I am left-handed.

Three things you can’t travel without A book, my camera and some kind of plan for my trip.

Number of trips traveled on  I’ve traveled for AAA about 25 to 30 times – either with groups as a tour director, or for inspection trips and travel conferences.  It’s a great learning experience every time. I also try to take an international trip as vacation about once a year if I can.  Travel is good for the soul!

Erin in Goa

Meet Sara Kosyk

Aspendos Roman Amphitheater near AntalyaSara Kosyk started working for Academic Arrangements Abroad in February 2010. She began in reception before being promoted into the Tour Coordinator Department and is now a Manager. We sat down with Sara to find out more about her background, passions (ice cream!) and favorite travel destinations.

What is your hometown?  The Bronx, New York.

What is your favorite travel book? One of my favorite books (about one of my favorite cities) is The Secrets of Rome: Love & Death in the Eternal City by Corrado Augias. Fifteen chapters lead you through the history of the city by focusing on lesser-known sites, from gates in the ancient and medieval walls (a Fascist leader once took up residence in one of the towers) to the 20th-century satellite city, EUR. I recommend this book for anyone visiting Rome, but especially for those who are returning to the city and want a deeper experience.

Sara K in Petra JordanWhich city do you most recommend to friends?  This is a difficult question to answer. It depends on the person and the type of experience they’re looking for.

Which city would you drop everything to see?  I’ve never been to Istanbul and would jump at the opportunity to visit. I know I’d love the combination of Roman history, Islamic art and architecture, and covered bazaars. Oh, and Turkish food!

Which AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most? I especially enjoy handling reservations for Cuba programs. Many of our clients are very well-traveled, and Cuba is one of the few places they’ve never visited! It is fun to help them prepare for this “new” destination.  I also like Tour Directing on our cruise programs. It is so exciting to wake up in a different port every day and navigate a new town or city.

Sara's yummy ice cream coneWhat are your special skills? Hunting down exceptional gelato or ice cream in every city I visit. Memorable favorites include ricotta and fig gelato at La Sorbetteria Castiglione in Bologna, Italy, and chestnut and pistachio ice creams in Anamur, Turkey.

What are your most visited websites? The New York Times, Facebook, which I heavily rely on to follow blogger and news posts, and New York Magazine.

What are three things you can’t travel without? An eye mask and ear plugs for long flights; a guide book – I prefer Lonely Planet in paper (no Kindle!) so I can take notes; and a local map (I always like to know where I am!)

Sara K in front of Catherine's Palace in RussiaHow many trips have you been on? At Academic Arrangements Abroad, I’ve been on six programs as a Tour Director, including: Venice & the Croatian Coast; Cuba(s); Belgium & The Netherlands; Crete, Cyprus & Turkey; and Russia.


Memorable Museum Restaurants

Museum restaurants used to conjure up thoughts of lukewarm cafeteria food. Recently, however, eateries at museums have won positive reviews from the press. For example, a May 2013 Departures Magazine blog post says, “With more establishments utilizing fresh local ingredients and offering housemade and innovative menu items, it should come as no surprise that foodies are flocking to savor something other than art or history.”

And a 2012 New York Magazine story describes a museum-restaurant boom in New York City. “Unlike many other culinary trends, this one shows no signs of abating,” The article’s author explains. “Cash-strapped cultural institutions need the income, and restaurateurs love the exposure.”

Staff members and tour directors at Academic Arrangements Abroad agree that a growing number of museum restaurants in New York City and beyond are worth a visit. Here’s a roundup of some of their favorites around the globe.


Salad at Bistro Guggenheim Bilbao“I’d have to say that the lunch that I had on tour at the Bistro Guggenheim Bilbao 13 years ago is one of the ten best meals of my life,” says Richard Barcham, Vice President of Development and Sales. “I described the dessert as being “like eating clouds.” Visitors to the Guggenheim Museum can still enjoy amazing meals at the bistro. The regular menu includes a starter (such as seafood soup), main course (such as roasted lamb or grilled tuna), homemade bread, desert (pineapple ravioli, anyone?) and drink for about 26 euros plus tax.Desert at Bistro Guggenheim Bilbao

In Spain, tour director Clive Porter says he had “good coffee and pastries in the Picasso Museum in Málaga.” He mentions that there was a pleasant little garden. Café MPM also serves breakfast, fresh juices, milkshakes, sandwiches, salads and hot entrees.

Clive also recommends a museum restaurant in London. “There is a good view over the roof tops from the National Portrait Gallery in London – where the food is served and quite good.” The Portrait Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre-theater dinner. There’s also a “champagne afternoon tea” available during the afternoon (for £10 more than regular tea).

Elizabeth Maricic loved eating at L’Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institut) in Paris. “The museum has a rooftop café and restaurant overlooking the city,” she says. “My friends and I grabbed falafels and mint tea at a cafeteria-style cafe, but restaurant Le Zyriab offers an elegant sit-down dining experience at modern white-clothed tables that match the museum’s minimalist design. The menu for both restaurants is Middle Eastern and North African cuisine. Everything looked so delicious, it was hard not to try everything on the menu!”

Middle East:

Food at IDAMPresident Jim Friedlander recommends Alain Ducasse’s new restaurant on the top of the I.M. Pei-designed Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.  The restaurant, IDAM, is Ducasse’s first restaurant in the Middle East and serves delicacies such as foie gras with truffles, tender octopus, potatoes infused with saffron, marinated bonito and roasted blue lobster.

United States:

Grilled Vegetable Panini at Nasher in Dallas“Having a glass of wine on the terrace at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas was exceptionally pleasant,” says Richard. Overlooking the garden, the Nasher Café by Wolfgang Puck also offers seasonal soups, salads and sandwiches.

“On the second floor balcony overlooking the Great Hall of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, is also a beautiful spot to meet for a glass of wine before or after seeing a new exhibition,” says Vice President of Communications Gloria De Luca. “The bar is open on Thursday and Friday evenings and features live classical music.”

Editor Sara Welch recently dined at the café at the Morgan Library. “It’s a beautiful modern space in the new building designed by Renzo Piano: high ceilings, drenched in sunlight, etc. The food was decent and not horribly overpriced, either!”

Ingrid Ahlgren, a writer for the firm, recommends Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.  “The restaurant serves indigenous foods found throughout the Western Hemisphere,” she explains. “There are five stations: Mesoamerica, Northern Woodlands, South America, Northwest Coast and Great Plains.” Selections include traditional Native American dishes such as fry bread as well as more contemporary items like buffalo burgers.

Do you have a favorite museum restaurant?

Meet Erin Rauch-Sasseen

Erin Rauch-Sasseen started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in July 2011. Currently, she is a Tour Coordinator for the firm.

What is your hometown?

This is a tough question!  I was born in New York City, but have lived in Holland, California and Missouri. My family currently lives in New Jersey on the shore.

Erin in StockholmCity you most recommend to friends:

When I was in Stockholm last summer everyone was so happy and the long days were just incredible.  I would definitely recommend it to friends.  I’d like to go back again sometime soon!

City you would drop everything to see:

Istanbul continues to have a mystical pull for me.  If given the opportunity, I would be on the first flight out!

Which AAA programs do you enjoy working on the most?

As a Tour Coordinator, I work mostly with our passengers, so I can’t say I really distinguish between the different programs I am coordinating. I do, however, love working on trips to destinations that are completely new to me, like Nepal & Bhutan.  I especially enjoy working with passengers when I know I’m also going to be a Tour Director on the program.  Knowing we will be traveling together makes the interactions even more special.

Special skills:

I’m in a band!  I sing and play guitar and keyboard in a band called Hey Anna.  You can listen to our music here:

Your most visited websites:

New York Magazine, Soundcloud, and Tumblr

Erin in CubaSomething about you that surprises people:

How terrible I am at Karaoke.  I always pick the worst songs!

Three things you can’t travel without:

My camera (film!), my iPhone and headphones.

Who would play you in a movie?

I wouldn’t mind if Emma Stone played me in a movie! My sisters think Judy Dench would play the older version of me.  I would love that.

Erin in HelsinkiNumber of trips you’ve been on:

I have traveled on two AAA trips:

“The Baltic’s Amber Coast: St. Petersburg to Copenhagen” in July 2012 and a trip to Cuba last fall.  I am scheduled to travel on our round-trip Sicily cruise aboard Sea Cloud II in September.  I am really looking forward to it!

Best Bastille Day Celebrations

Bonjour, readers!

This week, New York City is getting some French flavor for Bastille Day. Throughout the week, dozens of French restaurants throughout the Big Apple will be participating in French Restaurant Week. These eating establishments will be offering special meals for $17.89, a price that reflects the year the French Revolution began. On Friday, the big event will be the Bastille Day Ball. Additional New York Bastille Week happenings can be found online.

ParisNew York isn’t the only city to celebrate French cuisine and culture this week. Of course there are festivities in Paris and throughout France, but also in other locales, both expected and unexpected. Here’s a roundup of some of our favorites.

In New Orleans, Bastille Day events include French Quarter walking tours, cooking demonstrations, and more.

South Africa‘s Franschhoek Bastille Festival has been around for 20 years. Festival activities include boules, The Waiters’ Race, the minstrel parade, and a popular barrel-rolling contest, not to mention lots of vin from Franschhoek’s award-winning wine estates.

Boston‘s Bastille Day events include a popular party on Marlborough Street.

CountiesIn London, the 2013 Bastille Festival in Bankside features educational workshops, cultural presentations, bilingual storytelling, an artisan craft market, French food, and the Bal Populaire, a traditional open air party.

The Heiva festival in Tahiti was traditionally the French Polynesian observance of France’s Bastille Day. Events include the Polynesian Cultural Center’s Tahitian fête.

Washington, D.C.‘s Bastille Day French Festival “celebrates France both past and present, with festivities for visitors of all ages, including dance performances by The New York Baroque Dance Company, live music, French games, and hands-on art projects.”

Wat Pho BangkokIn Bangkok, the Alliance Francaise is hosting a free party on Saturday to celebrate French National Day.

Milwaukee‘s Bastille Days attracts more than 250,000 visitors. The festival includes live music, an international marketplace, chef and wine demos, French and Cajun cuisine, and a 43-foot Eiffel Tower replica offering hourly light shows.

Are there other Bastille Day celebrations that you love? Let us know!

Financial Education Gets Fashionable

Sarah MaineFormer Academic Arrangements Abroad staffer Sarah Maine describes herself as a “lover of ideas.”   Sarah’s diverse professional experience includes event coordination, film production and sustainable food distribution. Currently, she is a program coordinator for California-based Independent Means, which offers multiple programs to help families engage the next generation in financial fluency.

Fashion District in New YorkOn June 20th, 2013, Independent Means will launch its 6th Fashion & Finance event in New York City. This unique financial education program, which is open to the public, offers an introduction to business and finance through the lens of the fashion industry.

The three-day, two-generation program includes studio visits with fashion luminaries, case studies that explain the difference between a $15 Target purse and $15,000 Chanel handbag, and meetings with movers and shakers in fashion’s design, social media and retail industries. The cost for the program is $3,500 for an inter-generational duo (mother/daughter, grandfather/grandson, aunt/niece, etc.), and participants can bring a friend for an additional $1,500.

To register for Fashion & Finance 2013 or to find out more, visit

Meet Ute Keyes

Ute KeyesUte Keyes started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in April of 2012. As Manager, Tour Operations & Development, Ute helps to operate and develop exciting new travel programs for the firm. She has an M.A. in art history and previously worked as an administrator at a small but prominent New York museum.

Hometown: Duisburg, Germany

City I would recommend to friends: New York (!), Quebec, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin and Heidelberg (have a sweet spot for the latter…my alma mater)

Quito_cathedralCity I would drop everything to see: Quito, Ecuador

Who would play you in a movie?: No idea! I guess I wish it would be Meryl Streep…

Special skills: Arts and crafts. I’m also a specialist in turning the smallest places into pretty and usable spaces

Most visited websites: The New York Times, Sueddeutsche Zeitung and Suedwestrundfunk.

Ute at RodeoWhich Academic Arrangements Abroad programs have you enjoyed working on the most?: Currently, I’m enjoying working on “In the Footsteps of St. James: El Camino de Santiago.” It’s a totally new program I have developed and which was suggested by my dear colleague Elizabeth Kester; it brings back a lot of good memories of my medieval art history studies. Also, “Berlin; Tear Down this Wall.” I was in Berlin during the actual fall of the Wall (1989), so it is a program dear and near to my heart!

Something that surprises people: I love to ride my red bike in New York City (and I am not scared).

Marisa Ute on camel in front of treasury_email-2Three things I can’t travel without: Black dress/skirt, my multi-color pearl necklace, good old-fashioned Moleskine notebook

Number of trips: I guess around 50 (if my extensive travel within the United States counts). Around 35 within Europe, Africa and Asia.

Art Underground

By Ingrid Ahlgren

While commuting on the New York City subway the other day, I admired a poster by artist Sophie Blackall. The poster, part of the MTA’s Arts for Transit program, is just one of the creations straphangers can enjoy in New York. The city’s subway system is home to oodles of art, ranging from the gorgeous mosaics in many stations to talented musicians who perform on trains and platforms to poetry inside the cars.

New York isn’t the only city where travelers can enjoy art on their way from one place to another. Boston’s Green Street Gallery, a non-profit, artist-run space, is located in a subway station.  In Chicago, a program called Art on Track transforms a train into a moving gallery once a year.

Stockholm subway art Paris MetroOutside of the United States, there’s also great art to discover while using public transit. Many of Montreal’s subway stations boast sculptures and other works of art. Stockholm’s tunnelbana, which has artwork in 90 of its 100 stations, has been called the “world’s longest art exhibit.” In Lisbon, contemporary art is featured in all metro stations.

Sometimes, the subway stations themselves are works of art. Paris’ Metro is known for its elegant art-nouveau entryways. In Bilbao, Spain, many new stations have been designed by Sir Norman Foster. The unique curved glass structures at street level are known as “Fosteritos.” Some of Moscow’s legendary undergrounds have chandeliers and marble-clad walls. And in Dubai, metro stations have modern designs but incorporate some of the region’s traditional architectural elements such as alleyways and arches.

Which of the world’s subway systems do you think are worth a detour?