Several interviews with friends and colleagues who have studied abroad for an extended amount of time. Follow me here or on Facebook or Twitter for more news, events, and stories on tourism, travel, studying abroad, economic development, sustainable tourism, and international business!
Originally published on Voy Study Abroad on September 23, 2015
As I turned the corner, there he sat. His dead stare rendered me unable to move, unable to breathe. I froze as I tried to remember what the guide instructed us to do in this situation. I remembered nothing — my mind was as empty as the space between us. I noticed another set of eyes, and another, and another. The main figure was completely visible from where I stood, able to thrust forward at any moment. The others were hidden in trees. Feeling my heartbeat from every part of my body, I slowly stepped back. He remained a statue.
Time regained its rhythm as I slid silently through the threshold of the visitor center at the entrance to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. I gasped for air. Oxygen filled my lungs and brain, and I finally realized what had happened. The animal I locked eyes with was a male baboon. When they said we would see “wildlife” on safari, I did not truly comprehend that the animals were wild, untamed, and free to roam where they please until this heart-stopping moment. There was no barrier between us.
My first trip to Africa was spent in Tanzania. You hear stories about what is within the continent, but all the articles and journals in the world cannot really prepare you for the experience of actually being there. The trip was the focus of a class through Boston University, studying the tourism industry and development strategies of the country. Even after the 300-page preparation of studies, articles, and other academic works, none of us thirty-five students were ready for the journey we had in store.
The San Diego Wild Animal Park, National Geographic, and even Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” music video can all set the scene, but the surprising scope of physical beauty and wildlife hits you like a ton of bricks. On our first day of safari, many of us were silent, trying desperately to take it all in. By the second and third day, however, it was very much like the Lion King song “I Just Can’t Wait to be King”– “Everybody look left”… a herd of zebra and wildebeest migrating along with our 4WD vehicle; “Everybody look right”… lions, hippos, elephants lounging casually, merely a few feet away. After the initial shock and awe, we were able to truly appreciate and enjoy the harmonious nature of the wildlife.
The ecosystem of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where a large part of our safari took place, is the definition of the circle of life. Not only is there an incredibly high degree of biodiversity of flora and fauna, but the pastoralists called Maasai also live amongst the wildlife. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit one of the Maasai villages during our trip and their way of life was a huge eye-opener to all of us. These semi-nomadic peoples reside in small communes with their livestock under cow dung-covered huts. Since witnessing their village, I will no longer worry about my phone dying, the train breaking down, or waiting five minutes for the waiter to take my drink order. Although we view these things as essential to our daily lives, I’d venture to say that having to walk an entire day to find water or hoping that an elephant doesn’t decide that today is the day it will charge over the village are much more important concerns.
If you ever have the opportunity to travel or study in Tanzania, I suggest you take it! There was something new, something exhilarating, and something amazing each and every day. From the breath-taking view on the top of the Ngorongoro Crater to the close proximity of the wildlife, you are able to feel and see such a different life than your own.
Without completely knowing what will happen next, sometimes you just have to close your eyes, cross your fingers, and jump.
Fear and uncertainty are essential parts of traveling and studying abroad. I find that fear and excitement are similar feelings–it’s just a matter of how you allow yourself to experience your heart racing from the rush of adrenalin. You will not fully appreciate or enjoy a new continent, country, or city unless you are at least a little afraid or anxious to travel there. Harness the fear and transform it into thrill. We all have the ability to decide how to channel the emotion. Which will you choose to embrace?
Originally published on Voy Study Abroad on July 23, 2015
The Pomada is the signature drink of Menorca. On the surface, it’s just gin and lemon soda splashed on ice. But, if you dig a little deeper, it’s a perfect symbol for the island itself. The gin used in the cocktail is from an 18th Century recipe and concocted with a curious addition: wine alcohol. After the beautifully balanced liquor is poured over rocks, the bubbly, tart tang of lemon Fanta is splashed on top. Because this glass-bottled version of the brand is not offered in the US, it makes for a new and exotic experience for the taste buds. This drink has been incorporated into the island’s traditions for more than two hundred years. A sea of yellow bottles can be seen during the Sant Joan festival in Ciutadella where the horses run in the city streets, galloping through the excited, terrified, and electric crowds. A drink can be just a drink, but if you look a little closer and ask questions, it can be a representation of the past and the present–intoxicating, refreshing, alluring, alive.
My first study abroad experience unfolded off the coast of Spain on the island of Menorca. The purpose of the program was to learn about the archaeology, cultural heritage management, and aspects of tourism on the island. For those of you thinking, “Wait, I thought it was Mayorca?!”, you are close: Menorca is one of four major Balearic Islands. Mallorca (pronounced “Mah-york-a”) is the largest island with the capital of Palma, Menorca is the medium-sized island where I studied, Ibiza is the small party island, and the smallest island is Formentera. Menorca is unique amongst the islands because of its Biosphere Reserve designation from the United Nations. This title provides unique challenges and opportunities for tourism, preservation, and economic development.
Taking a step back, biosphere reserves are large demonstration areas where development and sustainability are studied through human/nature interaction. The Serengeti-Ngorongoro in Tanzania, Mount Olympus in Greece, the Maya areas of Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize, and Yellowstone National Park in the US are some better-known reserves. Menorca is set apart by its stunning example of the ideal Mediterranean island ecosystem with gullies, caves, wetland, dunes, coast, and thousands of species endemic to the island. Areas such as the Specially Protected Bird Area, Marine Reserve, Natural Park, and the archaeological sites of the Talayotic Culture accent the reserve. The vast majority of the Mediterranean islands do not have all these preserved areas and ruins. This makes Menorca an exponentially more enjoyable destination than the alternatives as it affords the chance to journey through the past.
Throughout the island, businesses and organizations work together to improve the quality of travel, insure the professionalism of this sector, and optimize the image of Menorca so that it stands out as a desired destination from the competition. Everyone I met on the island was friendly and hospitable to our entire group. And now, whenever I speak about Menorca, it’s always positive simply due to its wonderful inhabitants.
Promoting tourism to the island is a win-win situation. As the main industry on the island, tourism also serves as a multiplier to support other industries including farming, handicrafts, and dairy farming. Hotels, hostels, public transportation, restaurants, bars, and small business owners are examples of just a few entities that coordinate with these overarching goals. Many of these businesses are able to thrive only because of tourism. From exploring the port cities and shops to traversing through Tayalotic sites, tourists are able to participate in numerous activities, especially exploring and enjoying the natural environment around the island.
The entire island is regularly cleaned and maintained in accordance with the local government, the Consell Insular. You can immerse yourself in the natural environment by cycling, sailing, scuba diving, horseback riding, and even taking a ride in one of several glass-bottom boats (I highly recommend this one!) From the glass-bottom boat, you can see not only the myriad of sea life that live only on or around Menorca, but also the geologic fault line that plunges into the water and splits the island in two. The fault makes for a perfect, natural harbor so you’ll always see huge cruise liners come right up to the sidewalk as they pass through to other exotic locations throughout the Mediterranean. It’s incredible! And in the same way as the harbor is important today, it also held a great deal of significance in the cultural exchange, communication, and development throughout Menorca’s history.
The first settlements on the islands were from the Neolithic Talayotic culture. Several millennia ago, these people inhabited the islands and built everything out of the plentiful limestone found on the island. Many of the impressive stone structures were found at our excavation site of Torre d’en Galmés. The most interesting part about our site was that these stone structures, which were built thousands of years ago, were re-occupied by Muslim settlers beginning in the 10th century. In one of the houses, there are artifacts from both cultures, one layered right on top of the other. The history of cultures overlapping and co-existing continues today on the island as many ethnicities live together with a constant injection of tourists.
Farmers markets, city tours, handicrafts, and festivals are all actively promoted to draw visitors to the island. Because the tourism product as a whole is becoming increasingly enticing, the local government has approved many new regulations so that the island doesn’t become over-run. For example, one of the restrictions is a two-story limit for hotels. This effectively freezes the cityscape on the island in its current form so that all people can enjoy the traditional aesthetics for years to come.
Although this sounds like the island would become stagnant due to the ever-expanding regulations, there is always a new breath of culture arriving in the harbor. Like me, an American undergrad coming to study the ancient culture—I was part of the melting pot of ideas in my own little way. I observed and experienced the nature, people, and sites so that I could tell others how wonderful it is—like I’m telling you right now. Everyone travelling abroad to a new place can share stories and experience cultural events with others, but it makes it so much more meaningful when these things are in the context of the destination. I believe that true appreciation of another culture comes from understanding its history. So, when you go abroad, try to dig a little deeper and find out more about why things are the way they are at your destination. I promise it’ll make for a much deeper experience. And who knows, maybe it’ll start with a Pomada?
Originally published on Voy Study Abroad on July 7, 2015.
Growing up in San Diego, my family and I would travel to Mexico fairly regularly. Albeit Americanized, Baja California had so many sounds, tastes, and people that were different from our own. My sister and I both grew up with an appreciation of the Mexican culture, especially because of my mother’s fondness of Cesar Chavez and his arduous, selfless fight toward unionization in the Californian grape fields. I suppose you could say this was the beginning of my wanderlust and desire to learn about other cultures.
I’ve always had a particularly deep-seated appreciation for ancient culture as well. Before I began elementary school, my uncle, an art history instructor, would take out his dusty old slide projector, click through the world’s greatest masterpieces of art and architecture, and explain the importance and historical relevance of each slide. Much of these pieces were centered on the Mediterranean region which led me to yearn for distant lands and cultures. In high school, I finally got the chance.
My ninth grade English teacher had been trying to plan a European tour for years, but it wasn’t until our class that she felt comfortable enough to lead twenty of us over there—London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Assisi. I could hardly wait to finish the school year and get on that plane! My dad accompanied as one of the chaperones, which added a certain degree of comfort in this excitingly new experience. Before I knew it, classes were done, my bags were packed, and the plane was taking off. I had never felt more at home, though I was 5500 miles away. I left my heart in Italy on that trip because I finally experienced firsthand what I had previously only seen in slides: the Colosseum, Il Duomo, “The Creation of Adam”, and Michelangelo’s David to name but a few.
I joined choir my junior year of high school because I love music and I knew that each spring the advanced choirs had the opportunity to sing in Europe. Junior year was Spain and Portugal. Senior year was Poland and the Czech Republic. For me, these trips were a time of introspection. You could often find me at the front of the bus with my iPod Classic, taking in all the important sights and landscapes. It was on these trips that I began to notice the striking differences in appearance and culture from country to country, city to city, site to site. And I knew I wanted to learn and experience more.
Later, when deciding on universities, one of my four main criteria was the quality and variety of study abroad programs offered by the institution. After all of the short trips abroad, I craved a longer stay to immerse myself in another culture. Fortunately, for my Bachelor’s degree in Archaeology I had to obtain real world experience and travel abroad to excavate. The summer program that year was to Menorca, one of the Balearic islands off the coast of Spain.
Ten days before the dig began, I decided to spend a few days in Athens, Santorini, and Barcelona, three places I had never been. This short detour was also rooted in self-reflection, as I hiked the Parthenon and gallivanted around Barcelona alone. But I did meet some interesting people along the way. Together, we climbed mountains, explored ruins, and ate the delicious olives, tapas, and feta. After a few extraordinary days, it was off to Menorca.
The entire island of Menorca is a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, where there are several regulations for construction, preservation, and development. One of the professors leading the dig vacationed on the island every summer with her family growing up and is currently a professor in Madrid. She provided an enormous amount of information regarding the local culture, government, and relations with Spain. For six weeks, we overturned centuries of stone and sediment at a Neolithic Talayotic village. By the end, I had learned new skills and befriended wonderful people.
After Menorca, besides a short trip off the mainland to Puerto Rico, I wasn’t able to travel internationally again until the spring of 2015. As a graduate student focusing on tourism management and economic development, I jumped at the opportunity to take a class focused on Tanzanian tourism. We spent two weekends studying articles and learning about the nuanced tourism industry in Tanzania before traveling to the country itself. We researched and witnessed the delicate balance of tourism, wildlife conservation, and the needs of the local population, all the while being in the presence of an astounding array of animals, sometimes even close enough to touch! Traveling to Tanzania solidified my aspirations to work and strive for sustainability in the tourism industry.
Language, culture, mannerisms, and food can separate us from one another. For millennia, through ocean and earth, we’ve drawn lines in the sand and claimed, “We are different, so this is mine and that is yours.” Sometimes diversities cause us to have preconceived notions of each other without ever meeting. Travel helps us break down these barriers and inspire empathy. It is easier to comprehend something when it’s right in front of you—when you actually taste it, feel it, experience it. So think, what could travel mean for you?