From gelato making to herb farming, Matador Intern Mary Richardson lists 7 offbeat learning programs around the world for students and travelers.

When I travel abroad, I look for study programs that help me engage with local culture. In researching my next trip, I came across these offbeat programs.

1. Elephant Camp in Thailand

Thailand has various short term “elephant camps” where participants learn basic mahout (elephant handler) care. This includes feeding, bathing, and communicating through touch. Students receive an official mahout certificate upon successful handling of the elephant through bamboo forest and riverbanks. Prices generally include room and board at local rest houses. Popular programs include Maesa Elephant Camp, Anantara Elephant Camp, and Volunteering Solutions

2. Gelato University in Italy

Carpiginiani Gelato University in Bologna, Italy teaches gelato making. Beginner courses run 3 days and certificate programs last 3 weeks. Classes are offered in Italian, English, French, and German. Students learn the basics of creating the sweet confection as well as the business of running a gelato café. Special courses include low sugar gelato and gelato for people with celiac and other food intolerances. Students stay at nearby hotels for discounted rates.

3. African Drumming in Senegal

Pape Mbaye teaches Senegalese drumming and dance traditions practiced for 800 years during a month long workshop in Yoff, Senegal. Students learn to play 3 different drums (tama, djembe, and sabar), African harp, and xylophone. In addition, the curriculum includes 2 hours of traditional dance instruction each day and nightly visits to musical venues in Dakar. Students reside together in a guesthouse where they eat homemade Senegalese meals and have opportunities to participate in local village events.

4. Sport Driving School in England

The London Rally School offers courses in handling sport racing cars in different terrain and stages. Half and full day courses are available including a range of championship rally cars, buggies, and quad bikes. Participants also have an opportunity to race and win a trophy. The school is located about an hour outside of London or Birmingham.

5. Herb farming in Tasmania

The Pindari Herb Farm hosts 5-day learning retreats centered on growing medicinal herbs. Qualified pharmaceutical chemists teach participants how to identify up to 130 herbs by color, feel, and form and provide basic information for producing them for consumption. Topics include oil infusions, flower essences, aromatherapy techniques, herbal ointments and creams. Situated in the Tasmasian bush, the farm is environmentally friendly, relying on sun and wind power and local water sources. Price includes meals and accomodation.

Photo: Alaskan Dude

6. Belly Dance School in Turkey

The Gokpinar Music and Dance Center offers weeklong immersion programs in the cultural tradition of belly dance. Students receive 10 hours of beginner through advanced dance instruction in basic rhythms and zil practice in an authentic non-tourist setting. There are also lessons in drumming, cooking, and carpet weaving. Participants stay in a rest house in the Turkish countryside, where they can explore local markets, attend village events, and help with gardening in their free time. Male dancers are also welcome to attend.

7. Microbrewing in New Zealand

The AustraLearn Organization offers internships in microbrewery production. Interns learn the basics of maintaining and using equipment including filling kegs, washing tanks, and controlling the stock. There are also chances to learn processes for producing beer in the form of blending grains, boiling, and fermenting. Finally, participants also help market and sell the beer to local buyers. Depending on eligibility, some interns may also be able to write about their experience in a local newspaper and receive course credit.

Community Connection

Have you ever participated in a fun learning program abroad? Tell us about it in the comments!

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