Retired educator organizes expeditions around the world
By Edward Graham
As a young high school English teacher and drama director, retired Pennsylvania educator Joe Michalczyk took students to visit The American Shakespeare Festival Theater in Stratford, Conn. After repeated student requests to visit “the real Stratford”—the one in England—Michalczyk organized a trip in 1981 , and continued to organize U.K.-bound trips for students every summer. Soon, Michalczyk was taking students to Ireland, Italy, France, and Germany to focus on history and literature.
“My students had the chance to stand on Juliet’s balcony in Verona, or to be in the Coliseum in Rome, so those kinds of experiences were fantastic for the kids,” Michalczyk says.
Eventually, teachers and parents lined up to attend. That’s when Michalczyk realized that he could continue organizing these trips even after he retired in 2004.
“Toward the end of my teaching career, a lot of teachers decided they’d like to come on these trips, too,” he says. “They had heard about all the great experiences and they didn’t have to do any planning, so there were more and more adults traveling. Now that I’m retired, we’re still traveling.”
Today Michalczyk organizes the same kinds of trips for retired teachers, nurses, social workers, and others who are interested in traveling three to four times per year.
“We always stressed educational travel,” says Michalczyk. “So of course we ended up doing it, and we’re still doing it. And this is 30-something years later, so we really enjoyed it.”
He has led groups atop Machu Picchu in Peru, and visited Anne Frank’s house in the Netherlands. Each group returns with a story to tell. Michalczyk says a memorable experience was visiting the D-Day beaches in Normandy with several veterans who were returning for the first time since World War II.
“Our guide worked it out so that we were there at 9 o’clock at the American cemetery when they raised the flag,” says Michalczyk. “That gave the veterans a chance to participate in raising the flag over the cemetery. Talk about a very moving moment for all of us.”
Michalczyk has also led groups to Australia, China, England and most of Europe, Fiji, New Zealand, Panama, and Russia. Recently, through an organization that had received clearance from the State Department, Michalczyk organized an education-based trip to Cuba. The group visited several schools, a retirement home, Hemingway’s house, a medical clinic, and an artist’s studio.
The group even received some homework. “We had to jot down everything we did every day, and it was our government—the United States—that insisted on this, so that if they wanted to for seven years, they could contact us and ask us for our notes about our trip to Cuba,” Michalczyk says.
For retirees who are unable to visit other locales, Michalczyk visits a nearby university to give presentations he calls “arm chair travels.”
Says Joe’s wife Dolly, who has explored the globe with her husband for as long as he’s been organizing trips, “Joe’s theory is do it while you can, and do it while your body is cooperating.”