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“Queen of Field Trips”
Reigns Long After Retirement

By Ava Wallace

When retired English teacher Judy Karp says she’s seen it all, she’s not talking about incidents in the classroom, although she saw her fair share during her 25 years at Brockton High School in Massachusetts.

Karp is talking about her world travels—she’s been to all seven continents and lists trips to Antarctica, China, France, Cambodia, and New Zealand as a few of her favorites.

She began travelling in the 1980s. For her first overseas trip, she took her sophomore English classes to see Macbeth in London. “They raised their own money,” Karp says. “And what you saw was kids who made you proud—they didn’t dare step out of line.”

At Brockton, she became known as the “Queen of Field Trips.” But when Brockton families hit economic hard times in the early 1990s, Karp says, she started exploring foreign countries with fellow teachers during school vacations.

The first time Karp took on the role of trip organizer, her expectations were low.

But 40 adults signed up to travel with Karp, and the waiting list swelled to 45. She now runs a service called the Judy Group, planning trips for adults, most of them retirees like herself.

Karp says her experience in the classroom makes traveling nowadays easy.

“If you can manage a class of 40 or 45, taking a group of 30 somewhere is nothing,” she says.

Karp says she plans trips keeping in mind what her students would want, which is not a lot of downtime. She makes sure trips are educational and do not leave much time for rest.

For those traveling with the Judy Group, Karp has only one rule: “You can’t be a diva, because you wont be invited back.”

While the Judy Group claims a big chunk of her life, Karp, a self-described multi-tasker, makes time for other pursuits, among them her own continuing education.

After 25 years of teaching at Brockton—during which she received two Fulbright scholarships—Karp decided in 2000 to try something new. She applied and was accepted to the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement (HILR).

“I’m taking subjects I never had time time for—physics and astronomy. I love it!” she says.

Although Karp considers herself both a student and a teacher, she came relatively late to the profession. She was a stay-at-home mom until her two daughters reached adolescence. “I was in my thirties. I knew what I wanted to do, I loved the classroom and I loved teaching,” she says.

Karp now also plans Judy Group trips for her HILR classmates, and is taking a group to Cuba this winter. 

The retiree says one of her best trips with HILR students was to New Zealand, where the group visited with a local retirement group and experienced Karp’s favorite part of traveling.

“What makes traveling irresistible to me is seeing what that country offers, the different cultures, and the similarities,” she says. “You learn people are people the world over.”

As much as she enjoys student life, Karp says she still feels like a teacher, especially when leading Judy Group trips.

“I miss the classroom. I often think about putting my name back on that substitute list.”


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