July 31, 2009
Dear Scandinavian Alumni and Friends,
We have just embarked on a major reorganization, and I wanted to let you know
the reasons for the changes, as well as our plans for the future – which you can
Let me first provide you with some background:
As you know, for many years we have been successfully running Elderhostel programs
in Scandinavia, Europe and Eastern Europe. This has been both very satisfying
and rewarding, and we are extremely proud of our accomplishments. We have provided
more than 45,000 senior Americans with unique and memorable educational travel
experiences during this period. Recently, because of the severe economic downturn,
Elderhostel enrollments have dropped sharply. We expect this will be a relatively
short-term phenomenon, but it will generate significant financial losses for the
first time in our history of managing these programs.
At the same time, we have continued our efforts to establish equally unique programs
for younger Americans to study in Scandinavia. We have done our very best to
recreate, in a modern - relevant format, the life altering experiences many of
us shared while participating in the Seminar’s early full-immersion folkehojskole
programs. In this regard, we have provided wonderful opportunities for hundreds
and hundreds of young people. However, we have found it very challenging to create
large, sustainable, and financially viable student programs which accomplish our
underlying purpose – namely, from a Nordic perspective, to expand the insights
and knowledge of younger students as they learn about themselves and the world.
As you know, the landscape for international studies has changed dramatically,
with virtually every college now with its own programs and countless other organizations
established for setting up international education opportunities.
University of the Arctic
With the encouragement of some of our key Scandinavian board members, we became
actively engaged in and a founding member of the University of the Arctic (UArctic).
We have played a significant role in creating, building and guiding its development
– as board members and funders. UArctic now consists of 116 educational institutional
members from 8 countries, and there are about 700,000 students in these universities.
UArctic’s Secretariat is located in Rovaneimi, Finland and there is no question
about its Nordic roots and educational approach. (Take a moment and look the University
of the Arctic up on the web.)
Finally, as background to our decisions, because of the success of our Elderhostel
programs and our Danish Foundation, as well as the excellent management of our
financial resources and the generosity of our alumni and board, we now have an
endowment of approximately $2 million. This is down considerably from its high
point prior to the market setback, but still provides us sufficient latitude to
consider additional program options.
Based upon the above factors, the Board decided to take the following actions:
The most significant action was to spin off Scan Sem’s Elderhostel activities,
asking the larger Elderhostel organization to integrate our efforts into their
operating structure. It was our view that Elderhostel could run the programs
more efficiently this way, and it would ensure a secure future for our staff involved
in Elderhostel endeavors. I raised the issue with Jim Moses, the President/CEO
of Elderhostel. He is a remarkable man, has been a very close friend of the Seminar’s
for years, and we shortly reached an agreement.
Consequently, as of July 1st, our Elderhostel program staff and responsibilities
have been transferred to Elderhostel. The transition has been seamless and the
cooperation between the two organizations continues in its traditional generous
Jacqueline Waldman, with her experienced travel and planning team of Adelia Pope
and Megan Montgomery, will move to a new Elderhostel Office in Amherst by September.
In the meantime, she and her team will continue to operate out of the Scandinavian
Seminar offices in Amherst and can be reached as in the past.
We are extremely fortunate that Bruce Buxton, a Scan Sem board member and recognized
leader in America’s independent school movement, has agreed to assume the staff
leadership position, and manage the organizational transition underway.
Strategic Program Development
At the June Board meeting, with the Elderhostel agreement confirmed, the Board
decided to aggressively re-examine the Seminar’s program options. Daphne Davidson
(Vice Chair) will actively explore establishing a special student scholarship
program, possibly in conjunction the American Scandinavian Foundation. Daphne
will work closely with members of our Program Committee, and with Soren Dyssegard,
a board member of our Danish Foundation to come up with a plan over the coming
Secondly, Erling Olsen (Chairman of our Danish Foundation and Scan Sem board
member) and I will work with the leadership of University of the Arctic to determine
whether UArctic should create a US hub, to more actively engage US students, educational
institutions and foundations. And, if that is viable, determine whether the Scandinavian
Seminar should become the USA hub of UArctic.
Thirdly, we will continue to explore ways to be supportive of the folk schools
Finally, we would more than welcome and appreciate your thoughts on the above,
as well as any additional ideas you think we should consider in shaping the Seminar’s
future. Please communicate your advice, questions or concerns to Bruce Buxton
) in the Amherst office.
Of course, I would also be happy to discuss any of these matters with you.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Best personal regards,
William J. Kaufmann
cc: Scandinavian Seminar Group Board of Trustees; Bruce Buxton