AFSA/Road Scholar History

AFSA's Road Scholar program was started in 1996 (under its original name, Elderhostel) by AFSA Retiree Representative Ambassador Bill De Pree and alumna Lillian "Petey" Mullin, in an effort to help AFSA raise public awareness of the Foreign Service and the need for effective American diplomatic resources. Ward Thompson then coordinated the program for many years, and from January 2005 through December 2008, Janice Bay served as the Program Administrator. Bernie Alter served in that role from January 2009 through December 2011. Currently, AFSA's Outreach and Communications Specialist, Allan Saunders, administers the program. Until October 1, 2009, these programs were offered under the old Elderhostel name. 

Participants include mostly retired professionals active in their own communities, who apply for the Foreign Service programs through the written and online catalog of the nonprofit Road Scholar, which reaches nearly a million recipients. They travel to one of our sites to spend 4-6 days learning about foreign policy through the eyes of the Foreign Service. Each week may feature a particular geographic theme or a more general presentation of U.S. diplomacy, with examples of the important issues with which American diplomats deal.

In our 18 years, we have reached close to 10,000 Americans from all parts of the U.S., through nearly 240 programs held in the D.C. area, San Diego, Tucson, Atlanta, Seattle, Colorado Springs, St. Petersburg (FL), Chautauqua (NY), Tiburon (CA), Austin (TX) and Portsmouth (NH). At this time, only Washington, Chautauqua, and St. Petersburg have active programs.

At all sites, participants hear lectures by Foreign Service retirees and enjoy program variations with a local emphasis. For example, in DC, where AFSA presents several programs in February-April and September-November each year, the groups have a session at DACOR Bacon House and visit the Foreign Service Institute and an embassy related to the week's topic. Our Tucson program focused on Mexico and included presentations by Diplomats-in-Residence and American consular officials from Tijuana and Nogales, plus sessions with Immigration and Customs officials. The Atlanta program featured cooperation with the Carter Center and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).​