Friday Photo: Capri

It’s only my most favoritest place ever.


What does the Tipping Point have to do with Study Abroad?

(Apologizing in advance for this stream of consciousness post – thanks for sticking with me anyway :-).)

I’m not really sure where this idea came from (thanks God!), but one day something told me to check to see if our library had Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. Now, I have started reading this book before – but it was one of those popular books that every one was reading and I’m like yeah, I get it but I never felt compelled to finish it. Until now.

Title of this post doesn’t tell the full story. The real title should be “What does The Tipping Pointhave to do with underrepresentation in study abroad?” And the answer to that – is everything. As I was sitting with a blank Microsoft Word document in front of me last week (some people call this brainstorming? Planning? The calm before the storm?), I couldn’t decide where I should start when it comes to developing the strategic plan to diversify Education Abroad at the University of Maryland. I know we can put on all of these programs, we can do recruitment, develop partnerships – there are tons of activities that we can do but that doesn’t really get to the root of why students of color aren’t studying abroad.

There has to be a shift.

There has to be a shift in the mindset of our students. And that shift isn’t going to come from me talking to a room full of students at the cultural center. It has to be organic. It has to be widespread. It has to be phenomenal. It’s a social change. Right now our students don’t look at study abroad as something that’s for them. But that can change.

My ultimate goal is to normalize study abroad for students of color. And I believe The Tipping Point can shed some light as to why it occurs, how I can initiate that change, and where our tipping point resides here on campus. I do feel like there’s a shift that’s already started, but I don’t think we’re going about it in the most effective way.

As Malcolm Gladwell says in the introduction, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

Who’s ready for study abroad to go viral? *raises both hands. then puts them down to get to work.*

Friday Photo: Ilhabela

I would say that this is the start of a weekly series, but y’all know how I am with consistency here on vaivia. It is an attempt though. 🙂

Ilhabela, Brasil. September 2011.

I personally just love the exposure of the image. And the memories it conjures up. It was a tiny island  (Ilhabela means “beautiful island”) I only intended to spend two days on – but it trapped me. I was there for a whole week. And I found family. I really loved this place and the joy of everybody I met who lived there. Oh and the fresh pineapple juice. Definitely can’t leave that out.


I know you all know this, but… I love my job. Like it makes me smile just thinking about how blessed I am. And sometimes it makes me cry to think about some of the amazing stories that come across my desk. We are not kidding when we say studying abroad changes lives – and sometimes it’s not just the lives of the students, but the ones that are blessed by their stories (me!).

Meet Reid. A student at George Washington University who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. A student who was flat out told that he could not study abroad because of his disability. A student who not only didn’t take no for an answer, but also kickstarted his way toward documentary about his time in Rome. A student who is literally showing all those people who told him no (and the rest of the world too) that even though he may be the one with the physical disability, we may be the ones who are truly limited. A student who had me at my desk trying not to shed tears at just how awesome he is (they weren’t tears of sadness). A student whose story left me speechless.

Check out the trailer for his documentary, Wheelchair Diaries. I can’t wait to see the full-length film after he’s traveled to Europe:

Forum Recap + The Irony of Solo Travel

Last week was UMD’s spring break. But instead of chilling on the beaches of Miami (my usual March/April getaway), I found myself in Heaven. Or what heaven would be for those who work in study abroad – the Annual Conference of the Forum on Education Abroad. The networking, learning, friendship-forming (friending? befriending??), reconnecting, and karaoke (don’t ask) that took place last week was an awesome reenergizing experience for international education. Not that I need reenergizing or anything – I obviously still love my job! But being surrounded by likeminded individuals who are so passionate about study abroad and especially about diversifying and access really made my heart smile. I can’t even tell you how many sessions I was sitting in and had to really think about something ridiculous to keep from tearing up. Whether it was a group of students on a panel sharing how study abroad has really changed their life (how original right?) or the simple recognition that two years ago I had my first experience walking away from a well-paying corporate position on the corporate ladder – a phone call I’ll never forget because it took me days to even craft what to say. And while most of the time when you step off of a ladder you fall to the ground, the weight that was lifted made me feel like I could fly. And now I can, both literally and figuratively. But I digress…

One of the full-day workshops taught us the art of Digital Storytelling. It was an amazing experience that tricks students into personal reflection and processing their experience. Ok, so maybe tricked isn’t the right word but creating a digital story is so much fun that you forget that you are actually learning and processing information while you are creating it. I hope that we’ll be able to incorporate the Digital Storytelling into our returnee programming one day… but we already have so many ideas in our office! During the one-day workshop I created this piece reflecting on my time in Brazil and really re-living my experience while I was there: ’twas amazing. Please enjoy my debut digital story – the Irony of Solo Travel:

Major s/o to Doug and team who put this all together! No way I could have learned all this in a day on my own while producing something I’m not afraid to share with everyone else (the perfectionist in me apparently was on spring break or something).

What a Difference 5 Years Makes…

…or not. Because based on these pictures (both taken at the Pantheon in Rome Italy – but 5 years apart) I haven’t aged not one bit. If I keep this up I’ll be the flyest 50 year old you’ll have ever known! No, but really, why do I not look at least one month older in that second picture?! I mean, it’s been half a decade!

The photo to the left – October 2006, HU student, two months into my study abroad experience in Italy (which was my first time out of the US), one of the few people who are actually using Skype already, my only cares in the world were a) I hope we don’t miss our train back to Milano and b)I hope it rains during Homecoming so I don’t feel like I missed anything (I’m sure it did), memories of hostels and overnight trains.

The photo on the right – January 2012, 5 years, 5 moves, three jobs, an engagement (and subsequent disengagement) and half a master’s degree later, my job is paying for me to visit these places (i.e. no more hostels!)

What a difference 5 years makes! You NEVER know where this life or your travels will take you. Who knew that this one journey during the Fall of 2006 would actually end up changing the trajectory of my life COMPLETELY! People always say studying abroad is a “life changing experience” but in my case it literally was. Studying abroad planted the seed for me to first start encouraging others to study abroad, and then to travel in general, led me to volunteer for a nonprofit called the National Center for Global Engagement, and ultimately led me to quit my well-paying corporate job to go back and start that Master’s Degree in International Education. And all of that somehow has gotten me to the point where I am today, as a coordinator for diversity in a study abroad office for a campus of 35,000+ students. Crazy! But perfect…

Most people like to say, “Think outside the box” but like the motto of our office, I’d like to say “Think outside your borders.” Your life’s passion and calling may be waiting for you just on the other side of a passport stamp. I’m not saying you may begin to work in the travel industry, but seeing different ways of life really opens your eyes and your heart to all that is possible out there. You don’t have to be limited to 40+ hours of misery or even mediocrity. The world is yours forreal – it’s just up to you to go out there and see it!

Let’s see where 5 more years gets me. So far it’s looking pretty good!


CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS: Travel Anthology Project

Here’s an open letter I’ve shared with friends who I know have studied abroad. Based on the initial interest and some feedback I’ve received, I can already tell this could be a multi-volume project. So I’m opening up submissions. The letter pretty much speaks for itself. If it speaks to you, add your e-mail to the contributor list. If it doesn’t, just promise to cop the book when it’s published at the end of this year.

Hey friends,

If you’re getting this, that means I’m aware that you have either worked, studied, lived, or traveled internationally. Also, you probably know that I am all about encouraging others to broaden their world view and have some international experiences of their own. That said, I’m interested in writing a book. Moreso an anthology. I’d like to collect stories about experiences that we have had internationally and publish them as a way to not only preserve them, but to show others that we do travel and to spark their interest in this world of ours. Those stories about getting lost and stumbling upon that dope nightspot, the moment you and hour host family just clicked, how you and your new foreign boo argued daily but didn’t even speak the same language (oh – that was just me? ok), the first time you realized you were no longer a “tourist”… etc. etc. etc….  
So, what do you think? I know not all of us are writers, but I know that we all have a story to tell. I would be more than honored to have you as a part of this experience! I envision this book in the hands of college freshman at Howard, in the AUC, at big state colleges; being read in Book Clubs all over the nation; being shared among young professional circles; being required reading for local high schools; and most importantly as plane reading for a group of black young adults’ next big trip. Remember how everyone use to pass around The Coldest Winter Ever in high school? Yeah, that viral. 
If you are at all interested in being a part of this experience by contributing either a short story, drawing, photo, poem, recipe, whatever, please enter your e-mail in the contact field below. Also, I only know so many people so if you were abroad with others or know of others who could also be a part of this please feel free to share this message with them.
Looking forward to hearing back from all of you!
Add yourself to the Contributor list here. Then be sure to check out the submission details on the Call for Submissions page.

How I Ended Up At Church on a Wednesday Night… in Rio

This post could very well be titled “Musings on Living Like a Local” but I think going to church while visiting Rio adds some WTF value, no?

I’d been in Rio for over a week. And thanks to Couchsurfing, I felt like I lived there! For most of my trip I stayed with a new friend, Aline, at her apartment in Botafogo and thanks to her I’d been doing things in Rio I absolutely never thought I would do while on vacation. Not extremely crazy things though. Quite the contrary – very regular things. Add in some sight-seeing here or there and I really got the hang of Rio. Like I could give someone directions or tell when my taxi driver was taking the “long” way. Here are some of those “regular” things that really made my trip memorable:

I caught at least one bus every single day. And I’m telling you, catching the bus in Rio is no easy feat. I swear to Jesus catching the bus is like hailing a cab as a black man in Manhattan. Just because it is a “bus stop” does not mean the bus stops. No, when you see your bus coming you have to practically stand in the street and flag it down – and then hope the driver stops. And you’re lucky if he stops all the way. The minute you put your foot on the first step you better hold on for deal life – because he is taking off! And the same thing for getting off the bus. I saw one too many people jump off of a slow-moving bus. Anyway, catching the bus without any Portuguese skills was a real achievement, especially when you add the fact that I actually reached my desired destinations. No need to clap for me, I rewarded myself with some churrasco’d carne pretty frequently.

The juice guy knew my order. It only took a couple days, but I acquired a favorite juice bar in Ipanema. First of all, there are approximately 79,453 juice stands – in Ipanema alone. So to find a favorite, again, was no easy feat. I’m addicted to the abacaxi (pineapple) juice in Rio. Actually, I’m addicted to all juices when they aren’t processed and I can watch you make them straight from the fruit. But nonetheless, every day on my way to Portuguese class I’d get abacaxi juice. And then during the break I’d get another abacaxi juice and some pao de queijo (“best cheesy bread things you’ve ever tasted” is an understated desription). Every single day. By the 4th or 5th day he was either happy to see me come again or was just tired of hearing my busted Portuguese. I’m gonna go with the former – but either way he was picking out a pineapple before I even had to say a word!

I went to church. I’d just gotten back to Aline’s crib. One of her friends was there to meet me. So we’re sitting there chillin out and escaping the quick rain shower when Aline calls and tells us to meet her at church. Ummm what? I’m on vacation. (Lord, please forgive me and my ignorance – ha!) After I tried to tell Aline that wouldn’t make sense because 1)again, I’m on vacation and 2)the service is in Portuguese!, I realized that it actually might be an enlightening experience. It’s yet another way to immerse myself in the culture of Rio and really see how they live. Really shake off that tourist aura, you know. But I’m gonna tell you one thing – besides the Portuguese and the songs with the Latin beat (yes, they were slick samba-ing at church) – there were moments when I felt just like I was at a Pentecostal church in Alabama. Alleluia! Even though I couldn’t understand all of the words, I could really feel God’s presence and understand the Brazilians’ praise. Eye-opening experience about the world of believers. It helped that I already knew what some of those verses were in English. I kinda knew what the message was about. Oh and another thing that I loved about Brazilian churches, a lot of them had a garage door opening so that the service could be heard on the street and people could just walk right on in – or not and still get the Word. It really makes me want to go to the worship services of other areas where I’m visiting. So next up, London. I’ll be praising the Lord all proper and such (stereotypes are bad). Get excited!

Couchsurfing is really helping me experience life as a local in new cities. It’s probably the best part of the organization (even better than getting a free couch I’d say).

How do you know you’re living la vida local when you’re far from home?

I wasn’t at this service. But peep this little girl. You don’t know what she’s saying but you know she’s on FIYA for Christ.