In the world of learning vacations, such famous names as Oxford, Cambridge, Cornell and St. John's tend to dominate discussion. These are the schools to which a great many American adults go in summer for a vacation week or two of re-immersion into the liberal arts.
But perhaps an equal number go to schools focusing on arts and crafts, folk dancing, yoga, religion, languages.
Penland School, Penland, NC, www.penland.org, is perhaps the largest of the arts-and-crafts schools with summer programs, a sprawling complex of 50 buildings on 450 acres of the Blue Ridge Mountains about an hour's drive from fast-growing Asheville, NC. Throughout the summer, adults arrive for two to eight weeks of instruction and/or supervision in working wood, clay, fibers, glass, iron, metals and papers. A close runner-up is John C. Campbell Folk School, Brasstown, NC (spinning, knitting, quilting, wood-carving, pottery, blacksmithing, and the like; www.folkschool.org), as is Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, Gatlinburg, TN (wood-turning, patination of metal, anodizing of aluminum; www.arrowmont.org). Further west is Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Snowmass Village, CO, about 10 miles west of Aspen at an altitude of 8,200 feet (woodworking and furniture design, ceramics and bookmaking; www.andersonranch.org). There are more.
America's summer capital of folk-dancing instruction is Pinewoods Camp near Plymouth, MA (several one week sessions in summer; www.pinewoods.org), in spacious and airy wood pavilions scattered over 24 acres of pine groves. Here, there's almost total concentration on English, Scottish and American forms of the art. On the west coast, the near-equivalent is the Stockton Folk Dance Camp in Stockton, CA (but operating only in late July and early August; www.folkdancecamp,.org).
Yoga? There are too many to name (use a computer search engine to find one near you), but typical examples are the Kripalu Center in Stockbridge, MA (www.kripalu.org), the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch near Woodbourne, NY (www.sivanandayogaranch.org), the Yoga Farm at Grass Valley, CA (www.sivanandayogafarm.org), the White Lotus Foundation near Santa Barbara, CA (www.whitelotus.org), and the Himalayan Institute near Honesdale, PA (www.himalayaninstitute.org).
Religious retreats? Nearly 2,000,000 Americans go on retreats each year, mainly in the summer, and among the many such locations are the Maryknoll Mission Institute in Maryknoll, NY (all religions; www.maryknollsisters.org); Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Westfield, MA (all religions, even though administered by a Catholic order; www.genesisspiritualcenter.org); Retreats International in Notre Dame, IN (summer retreat on the campus of Notre Dame University; www.ndretreat.org), and Brandeis-Bardin Institute, Brandeis, CA (Reform Judaism, www.confbbc.aju.edu). The North American Retreat Directors Association of Ludlow, PA, will provide you with a mailing list of 150 Protestant retreat centers (www.retreatcenternetwork.org).
Language school on your vacation? A great many of them are offered for one month at a time (including the summer) in France, Italy, Germany. and Spain. And because the courses are heavily subsidized by the governments of those countries, they tend to be cheap. For a representative listing, go to a library and take out a copy of Arthur Frommer's New World of Travel. I post a great many there, in addition to discussing arts and crafts vacations, folk-dancing schools, yoga institutes, and every other vacation learning activity you can name.