Meet the Travel Professionals — with 35 years of experience!

Joan Russell

Joan Russell, Vice President of Travel

Joan has run the Council's travel program for over twenty years and in 2010 was appointed Vice President, Travel.  Prior to joining the Council, she ran the travel program of the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco; held the position of Product Marketing Manager for the British Tourist Authority; and worked for several special interest tour operators based in England, Australia and the U.S. During her career in travel, Joan has visited every continent and led many tours around the globe.

Shoshana Altrichter

Shoshana Altrichter, Associate Director of Travel

Shoshana has been with the travel department at the World Affairs Council for over ten years.  Prior to arriving at the World Affairs Council, Shoshana earned a B.A. from Drexel University in Philadelphia.  Shoshana had led several tours for the Council including a Ukraine Dnieper River and Black Sea Cruise, a Russia River Cruise, a tour to Iran with Ambassador Mark Johnson, Israel, Cuba, Northern Italy, a Mekong River Cruise and a European Coastal cruise.

Meet some of our Lecturers and Leaders

Mimi Gregory

Jim Falk

Jim Falk has been President and CEO of World Affairs Council of Dallas/Fort Worth since August 2001. He began his international career as director of education at the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. and then was a commercial banker for First City National Bank of Houston. Following his banking career, he was regional director in Houston, TX for the Institute of International Education and later worked as vice president of development for the National Center for Policy Analysis.  In April 2013, he was appointed Honorary Consul for the Kingdom of Morocco for the state of Texas. Jim and his parents lived in Tunis, Tunisia throughout Jim’s high school years where he attended a French lycée. He earned his French baccalauréate in philosophy and modern languages. He is a Washington and Lee University graduate, and received his master’s degree in international law and organization and Middle Eastern studies from the University of Virginia. His advisor was Rouhollah K. Ramazani, considered now to be the “dean emeritus” of American scholars on Iran/US foreign policy. Jim has led several Council tours and looks forward to traveling in Iran, a longstanding interest for him since graduate school. 

Mimi Gregory

Mimi Gregory

Mimi Gregory is Vice President and Program Chairman of the Naples, Florida, Council on World Affairs. Mimi has traveled extensively in Europe, has participated in Council Leadership Missions to Germany, Lebanon, Kuwait, Israel, Egypt, Taiwan and Iraq. She has also traveled to Afghanistan and Iran.  She has led a Great Decisions group for sixteen years. Having lived in France for several years, where she worked as an Executive Recruiter for the banking industry, Mimi maintains very strong ties with France through her association with the Alliances Françaises, and the France Florida Foundation For the Arts. She was honored by President Nicolas Sarkozy with the National Order of Merit, Rank of Commander.  Mimi has led two Council trips to France, three to the Danube and a trip to Iran.  She will lead our Rivieras & Islands of France, Spain & Italy in 2016 and Cruise the Face of Europe from Amsterdam to Budapest in 2017.

Ambassador Heather Hodges

Ambassador Heather Hodges became the President and Ambassador-in-Residence of the Cleveland Council on World Affairs in November 2011 after 31 years in the Foreign Service, spent mostly working on issues related to Latin America. She did consular work in Venezuela and Guatemala and was Deputy Chief of Mission in Managua, Lima, and Madrid.  Her Washington assignments included the Peru desk and Cuba. Ms. Hodges was Ambassador to Moldova from 2003-2006 and was Ambassador to Ecuador from 2008 to 2011. She has a B.A. in Spanish from St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and an M.A. from New York University.  Ambassador Hodges was Deputy Director of Cuban Affairs from 1991-1993.  Ambassador Hodges has led Council tours to Central and South America and will lead our Colombia tour in February 2017.

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston

Ambassador Vicki Huddleston was a senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense and led American diplomatic missions in Mali, Madagascar, Cuba, and Ethiopia.  Her opinion pieces on Cuba, Mali, and Ethiopia have appeared in The New York Times, The Miami Herald, and The Washington Post. She was head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba during the custody battle over little Elián Gonzalez in the spring of 2002. She is the only woman to have led our diplomatic mission in Cuba; she was also the lead foreign policy expert on Cuba in the early nineties at the State Department. As a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution she lead a bipartisan Cuba project that resulted in “Learning to Sala: New Steps in U.S. – Cuba Policy,” a blueprint that was largely followed by President Barack Obama when he engineered the opening to Cuba. She was a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and as a Congressional Fellow worked on the staff of former Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM).  Vicki will be leading our October 2017 tour to Cuba.

Ambassador Mark Johnson

Ambassador Mark Johnson (ret.) completed 30 years as a career foreign service officer with the U.S. State Department serving as Ambassador to Senegal, Deputy Inspector General of the State Department, Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait, and as Deputy Chief of Mission in Cairo, Egypt.  He was the first American diplomat to return to the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City after it was liberated during the Desert Storm military campaign. He also was involved with the Middle East peace process in Cairo and helped negotiate the release of the American diplomats during the Iranian hostage crisis from 1979-81.  He has led several World Affairs Council trips and will lead our 2017 cruise Mystique of the Orient:  Hong Kong to Saigon.

Dr. Jerry Leach

Dr. Jerry Leach

Dr. Leach earned a  PhD and an MA from Cambridge University as well as an MA from Berkeley on Turkish affairs.   His fascination with Turkey began as a Peace Corps Volunteer, serving with his wife Marianne there, in the 1960s.  They both have been back to Turkey many times since then and he has led several tour groups there.   In recent years, he served as a professor at the American University in Cairo 2006-2011 and as the National President of the World Affairs Councils of America 1996-2006.   Within the US Government, he was Peace Corps Regional Director for Eastern Europe, Soviet Republics, Middle East, Asia, and the Pacific; NSC Director of International Economic Affairs;  Deputy Director of State's Strategic Technology Affairs Office; and a consular officer at the US Embassy in London.  In addition to AUC in Egypt, Dr. Leach has taught at Cambridge University, the University of Papua New Guinea, and Gazi University in Ankara.  He speaks frequently within the world affairs council system and at universities.  Jerry lectured on a cruise to Turkey in October 2015 and an Egypt tour in 2016.  He will again lecture on our 2017 tour to Morocco.

Kay Maxwell

Kay Maxwell is the Executive Director of the World Affairs Forum in Stamford, CT, and served as the 16th President of the League of Women Voters of the U.S. from 2002-2006. Kay’s leadership in the League and her commitment to strengthening democracy worldwide has earned her several honors.  Internationally, she has led League-sponsored trips and conducted training of women leaders in Bosnia and Azerbaijan. Kay has also conducted workshops for women, political, NGO and business leaders in Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, Mongolia and Rwanda under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State’s International Speakers Program. She received her BA in International Relations from the University of Pennsylvania. Kay led a Council tour to Cuba, to Myanmar, and a cruise to Viet Nam and Cambodia.  She will return to lead our 2016 tour to Viet Nam and our 2017 tour along the Silk Road.


Trina Medarev

Trina Medarev is the Executive Director of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville. Engaged in the First Coast community, she currently serves as a trustee for the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida. Additionally, she has enjoyed serving on the nominating committee as well as the planning committee for the annual World Affairs Councils of America National Conference in Washington, D.C. Trina earned a Bachelor of Science in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin in 1990.  She will lead our Italian Riviera & Chianti tour in 2017.

Derrick Olsen

Derrick Olsen is the current President of the World Affairs Council of Oregon, and a former Foreign Service Officer.  Derrick was the Vice President of Regional Strategy at the regional economic development nonprofit Greater Portland Inc (GPI) where he led the implementation of Greater Portland Global, the region’s Global Trade and Investment Plan developed as part of the Global Cities Initiative, a joint program of the Brookings Institution and JPMorgan Chase.  Previously, Derrick managed international trade and investment issues for over four years with Business Oregon (the Oregon Business Development Department). In 2013, Derrick participated in the U.S.-Spain Council Young Leaders Program.  Derrick also has over 13 years of experience managing political and economic issues as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State in Latin America, Asia, and Washington, DC, with four overseas tours including as Chief of the U.S. Embassy’s Political Section in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Fluent in Spanish, he has a Bachelor of Arts in Government and History from Dartmouth College and a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.  Derrick will lead our Coastal Iberian cruise in 2017.

Norm Olsen

Norm Olsen is a former Senior United States Foreign Service Officer.  He served for 26 years. His professional skills and experience include negotiations, contact work, team-building and management, economic development, USAID project monitoring, peacekeeping, and award-winning political, economic and security analysis, in both benign and hostile environments.  He has served in Europe, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands, and the Middle East, where he served for nine years in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Norm has led our 2015 tour to Croatia and Slovenia and will return in 2017.

Carla Thorson

Dr. Carla Thorson

Dr. Carla Thorson, Vice President of Public Programs, World Affairs Council of Northern California, earned her MA and PhD in Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. Prior to joining the Council, she was on the faculty at UCLA and was Outreach Coordinator for the UCLA International Institute’s Center for European and Eurasian Studies.  While studying for her degrees, she also worked as a consultant at the RAND Corporation and as an analyst at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Inc. Dr. Thorson has led several Council tours and lectured on a Baltics cruise and Antarctica cruise.  She will lead our tour to Tanzania in 2016 and to Iceland in 2017.

Dr. Pamela Zeiser

Dr. Pamela A. Zeiser is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from the University of Nevada, Reno, and both a Masters degree in International Studies and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Zeiser teaches courses on International Relations and Europe, generally, with special interests in foreign policy and the European Union. Dr. Zeiser has lectured for previous World Affairs Council programs in Europe, including two previous programs in Germany and the Czech Republic, and has led student study abroad groups to Central Europe. She is a member of the World Affairs Council of Jacksonville, where she volunteers as liaison between the Council and the University of North Florida.  She led our 2015 cruise along the Elbe River and our 2016 tour to Eastern Europe.  In 2017 she will lead our European Coastal Civilizations cruise.









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