Meet Olivia Balsinger

Olivia in the NetherlandsOlivia Balsinger started working at Academic Arrangements Abroad in the Tour Coordination department in the early summer of 2014, the same week she graduated from the University of Connecticut. Olivia has degrees in Journalism, Economics, and International Studies. Previously, she studied abroad in London, Guatemala, and Cameroon and was a tour guide at her university.

What is your hometown?

The distant and far-off lands of Connecticut. Fairfield, to be precise. Although I recently moved to lower Manhattan, Fairfield will always keep a piece of my heart—from the inviting jazz concerts on the lawn in summer to nights spent aimlessly wandering the beaches and gazing at mysterious Long Island in the distance. Fairfield has a small-town community feeling, with the energy of a New York City suburb. (If you ever visit Fairfield and like Tex-Mex food, La Salsa has one of the best nacho platters I’ve ever tried.)

Who would play you in a movie?

Assuming I ever accomplish anything in life worthy to make a film about, I’ve been compared to Hilary Duff many a time (even by strangers on the subway.)

City you most recommend to friends

Though I appreciate the energy cities offer, when traveling I tend to prefer the tranquility of nature and the charm of the undiscovered. I recently returned from an AdventureWeek program where a group of about 20 journalists and adventure seekers explored Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo.

Olivia in MacedoniaI would recommend that any traveler seeking a different experience get lost in “Europe’s last remaining forest.” The city of Ohrid, Macedonia is known as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans” and truly lives up to this title. There were once 365 churches in the city, one for every day of the year.

For fellow travelers who like naps on the beach and historical immersion, I recommend the island of Rhodes in Greece. You are truly transported back in time to 300 B.C. when meandering through the narrow streets of the Old City.

City you would drop everything to see:

If you’d asked me this about two months ago, I would have answered “Istanbul” without a second thought. Who wouldn’t be allured by a city that represents a global mosaic of culture and religion, of bazaars where you can buy everything, and of the aroma of spices?

Well, I did drop everything and visited Istanbul about a month ago. Now that I’ve experienced more of the mystery and splendor of Asia (I made it a point to cross the Bosphorus to officially step onto the Asian continent while in Turkey!), I have a burning desire to see more of this continent. Next on the list would likely be a trip to Thailand. I love Thai food. Also, Buddhism fascinates me, and I would like to spend time learning in a Buddhist monastery or working on an elephant reserve.

What do you enjoy working on the most at AAA?

Olivia in LondonI love being surrounded each day by like-minded individuals who prioritize travel and the adventure in the unknown. There’s always a story to be told, an exotic food to be sampled, a country to further learn about. Perhaps my favorite part about working at AAA is familiarizing myself with our travel destinations in order to be an informed resource for passengers. I also very much enjoy working with the Communications department in promoting our trips and company through social media outlets.

Special skills

My parents taught me to enjoy and appreciate every second of my life. I believe one of my special skills is seeing the beauty in the mundane and the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Your most visited websites

I’m still in my honeymoon stage with New York, so has been helpful in giving me information about happenings around the city. has always been a favorite website of mine. gives me life advice I never realized I needed, and has getaways that temporarily fulfill my constant wanderlust. My social media go-to’s are Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Something about you that surprises people

I spent a summer working at an all-male Boy Scout sleep away camp as a lifeguard. As with many opportunities in my life, I found this job quite unexpectedly. However, I learned how to (adequately) tie a sailor’s knot, and I discovered that a diet of cookies and camp pasta for an entire summer is not as appealing as one may think. I also earned my first (and only) merit badge in Physics!

What are three things you can’t travel without?

1) Baby powder: Sprinkle some into hair and the world will never know that you missed a shower (or two.)

2) My stuffed tiger cub, Sylas, which I received before my trip to Cameroon as a token of good luck. To be truthful, I could not spend a night even in my apartment without this adorable ball of fur next to me. But Sylas is a great travel buddy—he never complains about airport delays and even lets me take the window seat on planes!

3) A camera. [Note: this may be substituted with the 2014 version: the iPhone]. There is nothing wrong with reminiscing about your past travels, and sometimes that photo will bring you back to a pinpointed moment in time.

Number of trips traveled on:

I’m very fortunate to have lost count on the number of trips I’ve been on, especially for the ripe young age of 22. So far, I’ve been to about 20 countries including Canada, Guatemala, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Monaco. My goal is to visit every country in the world in my lifetime.

Anything else you’d like to add?

My favorite quote of all time is “Not all who wander are lost” by J. R. R. Tolkien.  I intend to wander for my entire life, and I encourage you to do so with me!


Olivia in CameroonAbout Us:

Academic Arrangements Abroad, a leader in cultural travel since 1977, designs and operates travel programs for sponsoring institutions that include the nation’s top museums and alumni associations.

For more information, please contact us, (212) 514-8921.


Returning to 82nd & Fifth

Bhutan photo from Jim FriedlanderThis past winter, we blogged about The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new web series, 82nd & Fifth. In that post, we promised to keep you updated on other curators who would be Traveling with the Met, so we were excited to see more familiar faces on 82nd & 5th. Morrison Heckscher was the lecturer for our September “Houses of the Irish Aristocracy” program, and Kurt Behrendt traveled to Nepal & Bhutan with us in October.

Photo of Danielle Kisluk-GrosheideThe web series also showcases talented lecturers who will be leading some of the upcoming “Travel with the Met” programs. In early May, Daniëlle Kisluk-Grosheide will be the Met’s lecturer on “Enchanting Douro River,” a cruise aboard the luxury riverboat M.S. AmaVida. A curator in the Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, she discusses an elegant table in her web episode, “Identity.”  You can also listen to Daniëlle muse on her relationship with trees in her Connections episode, “Trees.”

Assistant curator in the Department of Drawings and Prints Freya Spira will join us in Berlin and Leipzig from May 30 to June 7. Her episode, “Exposure,” examines the details of German artist Albrecht Dürer’s 1504 print “Adam and Eve.”

Image of Denise LeidyDuring the summer, Denise Leidy, curator in the Department of Asian Art, will join Met travelers to explore fascinating Mongolia in summer 2014. Her 82nd & Fifth episode, “Divinity,” examines a Liao dynasty arhat (luohan) statue.

Deniz Beyazit, assistant curator in the Department of Islamic Art, will explore Turkey with Met travelers in September 2014.  Deniz’s episode, “Getting Lost,” is about the tughra (official signature) of Sultan Süleiman the Magnificent.

Barbara Drake Boehm, who will sail with Met travelers on our Catania to Valletta cruise in October 2014, is curator in the Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. She has also been on past trips with Academic Arrangements Abroad and the Met to destinations including Sicily. Her web episode, “Predestined,”  looks at an intricate copper plaque with angels.

Image of Mike HearnLater in the fall, Maxwell K. (Mike) Hearn, Douglas Dillon Chairman of the Department of Asian Art, travels with us to Vietnam and Cambodia in fall 2014.  His episode, “Eternity,” focuses on a Chinese scroll that depicts a cloudy mountain. An expert in Asian art, Mike’s reflections are certain to enhance our Southeast Asian adventure.

At the end of 2014, Alice Cooney Frelinhuysen, Anthony W. and Lulu Wang Curator of American Decorative Arts, will join us for a New Year’s trip to Russia. Her web episode looks at a hair ornament created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Troika rideWe hope you’ll join other Met travelers for one of these exciting journeys in 2014. You can get a behind-the-scenes look at past trips through the Travel with the Met blog   or find out more about upcoming trips on the museum’s website.

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.


Unusual Accommodations

One of the more unusual lodging options for the 2012 Olympics in London are suspended tents in the Wick Common Woodland, not too far from the Olympic Park. Called Holiday Out, the tents—which sleep three to nine people—hang several meters above the ground and are named after trees native to the United Kingdom.

During a trip with Academic Arrangements Abroad, accommodations are far more comfortable but can be just as unique. For example, you might stay in French châteaux, watch the sun set over the vast Kara Kum Desert from the legendary Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express or be rocked to sleep in a wooden gulet on the Turkish coast.

Gulets in TurkeyWe asked staff members to tell us about their unusual lodging experiences and offer suggestions for one-of-a-kind places to stay around the world. Here are their comments:

“One time I spent a night in a tented camp in Wadi Rum in southern Jordan,” says Director of Tour Operations Erin Sorensen. “It was really cold, but the sky was amazing and it was so quiet.”

Erin isn’t the only staff member who likes getting away from it all.

“While there are many beautiful remote hotels, one very simple hotel stands out in my mind,” says the company’s president, Jim Friedlander. “Reached by Zodiac north of the Peruvian/Bolivian border on the east side of Lake Titicaca is the Island of Suasi. The island has only one hotel on it and nothing else other than a few wild vicuñas to chase after (a hopeless pursuit as they are hard to see, much less approach). After a typically hectic schedule of sightseeing in Peru, it is an ideal place to decompress for a few days before resuming your trek, and the lodge attracts interesting visitors who like the idea of no electricity, no internet, no phones, etc…but wonderful food and a sense of peace.”

Kruger, South AfricaBrady Hiatt, Sales Associate, lived in a safari camp in Welgevonden, South Africa for several months. “I was living in the warden’s quarters, and would spend hours catching small lizards and geckos from outside and bring them into my bedroom to enlist them in my nightly battle against mosquitoes,” he adds. “I remember having the most vivid dreams, fueled both by my malaria medicine and the dozens of lizards skittering across the walls.”

Receptionist Elizabeth Kester bunked down at a camp in another part of the world. “Of the places I’ve stayed, my favorite was a Bedouin tent in the Negev in Israel,” she says. “We ate a traditional Bedouin meal, rode camels around the Negev at sunset, and sat around a fire at night. I woke up at about 5 a.m. and looked out of the folds of the tent; I just remember feeling really miniscule and really alive with this quiet, expansive space in front of me. Also: there was a scorpion in our tent and everyone freaked out — not really a high point.”

Have you stayed in a unique spot? Please share your own experiences and any suggestions for unusual lodging around the globe.

Two of Antalya’s Classical Sites

By Anastasia Mills Healy

Situated in one of the many picturesque inlets of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is Antalya, gateway to the important cities from antiquity, Aspendos and Perge.

Antalya harbor

The main draw of Aspendos, approximately 30 miles east of Antalya, is its impressive 20,000-seat theater, which has presented everything from gladiator battles to recent opera and ballet performances. Built in the latter half of the first century C.E., it is exceptionally well preserved, beautifully proportioned and boasts excellent acoustics.  In the 13th century, the theater was converted into a palace by the Seljuk Turks, an act that in some ways preserved the structure by covering it with bricks.  In addition to the theater, seek out the remains of structures including a 50-foot-tall aqueduct and the nymphaeum (sanctuary to water nymphs).

Sarcophagus in Perge

Closer to Antalya is Perge, which was founded in 1,000 B.C.E. and is name-checked in none other than the Bible. According to the book of Acts, St. Paul visited Perge twice in 46 A.D., once giving a sermon there. After the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity, Perge became an important ecclesiastical city. But the vestiges of buildings here are mostly not related to religion. Instead, visitors can see a theater with wonderful marble reliefs detailing the life of Dionysus and a stadium with shops identifying their proprietors and wares with inscriptions. The Pergeans enjoyed their shopping: In addition to an agora (marketplace), Perge also had the precursor to an outdoor mall. A covered walkway once housed shops on both sides of a long reflecting pool that acted as air-conditioning.

Back in the city, don’t miss the Antalya Museum, which has a sizeable and excellent collection of statuary from Perge in addition to ancient coins, icons, mosaics and much more.

Ditch the Tour Bus

When you’re traveling with a group you can sometimes feel like a bull in a herd of cattle. Everyone on the bus! Everyone off the bus! Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle.

Of course there are terrains that call for small bus travel. But since you’re not going to be regaling your friends and family with tales of riding a bus, we’re offering a few more creative means of transportation.  We think a hot air balloon ride over the spectacular landscape of Cappadocia might just be worth a postcard home. And a trek over the dunes of the Gobi Desert astride a Bactrian camel in Dunhuang or a zig-zagging ride through the narrow alleyways of Delhi in a cycle-rickshaw past colorful bazaars, temples and India’s ever-vibrant street life would lead to plenty of fodder for many cocktail parties to come!

Trainophiles will want to follow the Silk Road on the opulent Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express, travel through southern India on the elegant Golden Chariot or head to the Highlands on the Edwardian-style Royal Scotsman.

How about making a grand entrance into the Venetian Lagoon aboard the three-masted sailing yacht Sea Cloud II? Or circumventing the crowds by sailing right into Venlo for Floriade, the renowned exhibition of flowers and plants that takes place only once every 10 years in the Netherlands?

Land-based programs also often offer a chance to get out on the water for a different perspective. Admire the fabled skyline of Istanbul, dotted with graceful minarets and splendid palaces, on a private Bosphorus cruise. Or get great shots of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge on a private yacht traveling past the iconic sights of Sydney’s spectacular harbor.

You will never be tempted to “moo” again.

An Unexpected Museum

Bodrum is much more than a lively seaside resort. It is the birthplace of Herodotus and site of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. After the mausoleum fell into ruins following an earthquake, the Knights of Rhodes used its stone to fortify the 15th-century Castle of St. Peter, a showpiece of medieval military architecture.

Formerly used as a military base and prison, the Castle of St. Peter now houses a vast and fascinating collection of treasures from ancient shipwrecks discovered along Turkey’s shores. In the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, one can find Mycenean pottery, Egyptian seals, Cypriot ingots, Bronze Age artifacts, jewelry, amphorae and one of the world’s largest collections of ancient glass.

Have you been here? What were your impressions?