Busy Completing Your College Degree? Travel Abroad Can Help

Approaching the finish line on completing a college degree, students often struggle to pick up a class here or an internship there. Between the need to graduate on time and summer jobs, travel abroad for a whole semester is not realistic for many. Now, a new alternative promises to give students that same international experience in a program that fits their timetable.

People to People Ambassador Programs has sent over half a million students in grades 5-12 abroad. Now, with an eye on college level students, the nationally recognized travel provider has created a suite of college level programs that focus on volunteerism and service, cultural immersion and adventure.

The two to three-week programs include a heavy focus in developing the Cultural Intelligence (CQ) of students who earn upper division college credit in what seems to be an increasing need.

“We have seen heightened interest from students and parents in the past couple of years to extend our product line into the university domain to continue that experiential learning track,” Peg Thomas, president of People to People, said in a statement.Accompanied by specially selected leaders from various colleges and universities, the organization promises that students will leave the program with an enhanced global perspective poised to enter the work force with a competitive edge.

“A two- to three-week educational trip with People to People Ambassador Programs increases CQ as much as a full semester of study abroad from an Ivy League school,” boasts People to People on its website.

The inaugural college study abroad program took students to India in December 2012 experiencing diverse cultures and visited iconic monuments such as the Taj Mahal and Jama Masjid Mosque. Upcoming trips will take students to India, Japan, Vietnam and Antarctica.

People to People Ambassador Programs is the exclusive educational travel provider of People to People International (PTPI), a nonprofit organization founded in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to promote peace through understanding worldwide.

[Photo credit – Flickr user Thompson Rivers]

$1 Billion Dollar Taj Mahal Replica Planned For Dubai

Dubai is already known as a hub for glamorous hotels and over-the-top architecture, and it’s not stopping now. With hopes to build the emirate’s reputation as a wedding destination, a replica of India‘s beloved Taj Mahal is now being built.

Called the “Taj Arabia,” the new property will feature a 300-room, five-star hotel, along with apartments, offices, shops and restaurants.

“The Taj is made as a monument of love and we hope to promote this in Dubai as a major wedding destination,” developer Arun Mehra told news.com.au.

Taj Arabia will be part of the massive Dubailand, which the city hopes will be the “world’s greatest theme park.” With the upcoming expansion, it will be double the size of all the Disneyland and Disney World resorts combined.

Developers are estimating the hotel project will cost $1 billion. Completion is estimated for 2014.

[Image via Shutterstock]

15 palace hotels that will make you feel like royalty

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live like a king or queen? While you may not have been born into royalty, you can still live lavishly, if only for a weekend.

While five-star hotels can offer plush bedding, spacious penthouse suites, and high-class amenities, it’s nothing compared to the luxurious living offered at these palace properties. Genuine artifacts from centuries ago adorn the halls, acres of lush gardens, furniture made of gold – no expense is spared at a palace hotel. Not only that, but you’ll be sleeping in the same space as kings, queens, and society’s most elite members once did, long ago.

Sound like fun? Before you start planning your next royal getaway, check out the gallery below.


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How to visit the Taj Mahal

“No, madam. I am sorry. Taj Mahal is closed today.”

“But,” I thought, as I skeptically squinted at the guard delivering this bad news, “this is the Taj Mahal. The TAJ MAHAL! It’s one of the most recognizable structures in the entire world. How could it be closed?”

“It’s Friday, holy day,” offered the gatekeeper. My whole body slumped with disappointment. And just like that I had my Walley World moment.

I had arrived in Agra, India, home of the world’s most famous Muslim shrine, on a Friday. No travel agent would have arranged an itinerary whereby I arrived in Agra on the one day that its main attraction was closed. But, seeing as how I was living in India at the time, I thought I could plan my own Golden Triangle adventure. I like to think that jaundice, the disease I had contracted two months before and that had left me home-bound and mustard-skinned up until a week before my travels, had contributed to my lack of planning. But my sister, who had come all the way from the U.S. for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, was none too pleased.

Nevertheless, we did what any traveler in such a situation should do. We rolled with it, retreating to a nearby cafe to work on Plan B. Turns out, arriving on a Friday was the best thing that could have happened to us. Agra was quiet, save for the Hindu wedding livening up the backstreets, and we got the opportunity to see the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, the city’s other big landmark, from several vantage points.

%Gallery-145552%My very first view of the Taj Mahal was from the roof of a small restaurant a few blocks from the Western Gate, the main entrance to the Taj. Drying laundry and the crumbling brick rooftops of Agra’s city center framed the panorama. The air was sooty and hazy, giving the marble monument an almost mirage-like quality. Was that really the Taj Mahal?

Following lunch, we set out with a tour guide to the Agra Fort, the other landmark in Agra. The Agra Fort was built in the 16th century by the grandfather of Shah Jahan, the Moghul ruler who built the Taj Mahal as a shrine to his late wife Mumtaz Mahal. These sprawling red sandstone fortifications of Agra Fort would be an attraction in their own right were it not for the Taj. In the last years of his life, Shah Jahan was placed under house arrest in the Fort, forced to gaze upon the gleaming monument in the distance without ever setting foot inside its gates. I could relate.

After an hour or so at the Agra Fort, our guide drove us to the back side of the Taj. It was February, still a few months away from monsoon season, so the Yamuna River had all but dried up. Local kids were playing cricket in the dusty riverbed. The late afternoon light was rendering the Taj’s white marble pink.

That’s the thing about the Taj Mahal. It changes with the day’s light. Sunset turns the marble dome and its corresponding minarets a rosy color while sunrise, I learned the next morning after entering the Taj gates, gives the complex a golden tint. During the afternoon, or at times of bright sun or cloud cover, the Taj can take on a rainbow of hues, subtly switching from one to the other like a mood ring. Had I not made that huge travel mistake – arriving at the Taj Mahal on a Friday – I would not have had the chance to see the monument in all its many sublime shades.

Taj Mahal is getting a facial

India’s most beautiful monument is going to look even more beautiful after a team of specialists give it a mud facial. The Taj Mahal in Agra is getting treated with multani-mitti , known in English as fuller’s earth, an absorbent mud that sucks up dirt and grime and is normally found in beauty parlors. The Archaeological Survey of India is conducting the cleaning.

The site’s mosque and some of the outlying buildings have already been treated, and the team hopes to start work on the main building in April. The process involves spreading mud over every surface, covering it with a polythene sheet, and waiting for the mud to dry and flake off. Once this happens, the surface is washed with distilled water.

The Taj Mahal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan in 1648 as a mausoleum to his wife.

[Photo courtesy jrodmanjr via Gadling’s flickr pool. For another of jrodmanjr’s great shots of the Taj Mahal, see one of our previous Photo of the Day entries.]