Birthright to Israel and beyond: 7 trips to explore your roots

Travelers can apply for funding to visit everywhere from West Africa to Croatia

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post)

Travel restrictions are easing around the world, but the coronavirus pandemic continues to shape decisions on where, when and how to travel. Sarah Kline, the owner of the travel agency Time For Travel, said the emotional weight of the past few years has brought on an uptick in requests for trips that feel more significant than the average getaway.

“[Clients] would like experiences that renew their sense of well-being,” she said. “We all want to engage in personally meaningful things and not just walk the beaten path.”

Traveling to learn more about your roots is one example. Depending on your heritage (and often your age) you may even qualify to travel free — or with a big discount. “Birthright” trips are government- or nonprofit-funded programs that aim to strengthen foreign ties to a country’s culture and history. That means participants will see a place through the lens of the sponsor — which could be a pro or a con depending on personal politics.

Here are seven programs that cover costs for people interested in learning more about their ancestral cultures.

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Israel

For many people, the “birthright” trip is synonymous with Israel. Birthright Israel has been organizing partially and fully subsidized travel to the country since 1999, and it has inspired cultures around the world to launch similar programs. More than 750,000 members of the Jewish diaspora (defined as having one Jewish birth parent or having converted to Judaism) have since traveled with the program. Participants must be between 18 and 32 years old, among other eligibility requirements.

For seven to 10 days, travelers can visit Jerusalem, where they will see the Western Wall, experience nightlife in Tel Aviv and float in the Dead Sea, among other tours and experiences. Beyond the classic trip, which promises a quintessential experience visiting historic sites, there are trips with themes such as LGBTQ and arts and culture.

Africa (Ghana)

Americans of African descent who are between 13 and 30 can apply for a free 10-day educational trip through Birthright AFRICA. The program encourages participants, called Scholars, to explore their cultural roots while fostering confidence and creativity in an effort to build the next generation of world leaders and entrepreneurs.

Each trip is unique, but they usually include 10 to 16 participants — with a 5-to-1 ratio of scholars to staff — on trips to Ghana, with South Africa also being listed on the website. The program also includes a domestic follow-up trip to key destinations in the United States, such as D.C. or New York.

You aren’t be eligible if you have traveled to an African country after the age of 12. You must also follow @birthrightafrica on Instagram.

Croatia

People with at least one Croatian-born grandparent can apply to travel with the Domovina Birthright Program, a 16-day subsidized trip that takes those ages 18 to 30 to Croatia. Organized by the Croatian government, the program takes groups of up to 44 people to explore the domovina, or homeland.

There are different themed trips, such as “Narratives of the Croatian People” and “Contemporary Croatia.” The program invites Croatian peers to the tour so participants can learn more about the culture from locals. The trip is partially funded by the government; it costs $1,250, not including airfare, insurance for travel and medical expenses, and incidentals.

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Armenia

For members of the Armenian diaspora, Birthright Armenia offers the opportunity to combine travel and volunteering. For nine weeks to one year, participants live with a local family, can take biweekly Armenian-language classes, go on weekend excursions, and attend organized gatherings with program peers and locals.

The program offers a travel reimbursement for your “voluntourism” trip. Depending on how long you stay, you may be eligible for a 100 percent refund.

Applicants must be between 21 and 32 years old and have at least one fully Armenian grandparent, among other requirements.

Hungary

ReConnect Hungary organizes two-week birthright trips every summer for Americans and Canadians with Hungarian heritage. Focused on culture, traditions and history, the program includes airfare between New York and Budapest, accommodations and meals, plus experiences such as educational lectures and cultural attractions.

Participants will visit thermal baths, Holocaust memorials and synagogues; meet with local business leaders and politicians; take Hungarian language classes; and go on boat tours. They will also have free days.

Applicants must be between the ages of 18 and 28. For an older crowd, there is ReConnect Hungary 29+. To continue their adventure, participants can add on a week through ReConnect Transylvania, an excursion for connecting with the largest Hungarian minority community outside Hungary.

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Macedonia

Looking for a summer internship? Birthright Macedonia arranges a three-week stay and an internship for people of Macedonian descent. Participants will visit the capital city of Skopje along with Bitola, one of the country’s oldest cities, dating back to the 4th century B.C. They will also take weekend heritage trips to explore areas of the country such as Lake Ohrid, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Participants must be at least 18 years old and pay for their airfare to Macedonia, travel and medical insurance, and a $750 application fee (applicants who are not accepted will receive a refund). Unless you opt to stay with relatives or pay for alternative accommodations, the program includes housing and meals with a local family.

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Greece

Greek American college students are welcome to apply for the Heritage Greece Program (HG), a two-week cultural and educational immersion trip focused on language, history and traditions. Founded by the National Hellenic Society, HG takes place on a 65-acre campus in Agia Paraskevi, a suburb of Athens. Participants will study Greek, visit archaeological sites and museums, travel to an island, and take dancing and cooking classes.

The program covers expenses for tuition, meals and transportation within Greece. Candidates must be American or Canadian citizens of Hellenic descent who are between 18 and 26. According to the application website, that means one or more parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were born in Greece or Cyprus. To be eligible, you must be enrolled as an undergraduate or graduate student with a 3.0 GPA and be fully vaccinated for the coronavirus.

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