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).

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Day 11 – Milestones or “Firsts” While Traveling or Living Abroad?

Welcome back! I hope everyone enjoyed their annual overdose of forced patriotism over the last few days. I did. Anyway, back to the #travelchallenge.  I didn’t post yesterday – I spent most of the morning asleep and most of the afternoon figuring out who was still having happy hour and which one started earliest (shout out to El Centro on 14th street!). Regular holiday duties of course. And then we caught the fireworks while chilling on the National Mall.

Ok, now really… back to the #travelchallenge.

I can think of a few “firsts” while traveling internationally.  Some more meaningful than others, but here goes:

  • First solo travel experience – I saw Paris by myself.  Only for a day or two before my friends arrived.  But still, looking back sometimes I still can’t believe I did that!  I just remember that I had no intentions of leaving Europe without seeing Paris.  With flights from Italy being less than $20, there was no way that someone else’s indecisiveness was going to stop me from eating some crepes and croissants, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and getting cultured Parisian-style (even though seeing the Mona Lisa was completely underwhelming). Everyone else finally realized how awesome my trip was going to be and booked flights for the next day or something like that. I’m glad I did it though – I’m not afraid to go anywhere by myself now.
  • First intercultural relationship – I wasn’t sure whether to use the term interracial, international, intercultural? He was black, but he was was Senegalese, French, and Italian. Whatever, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian (or French) and we carried on a 3-month something.  Sounds like fun, no? Eventually, I did learn Italian pretty well but that first month or so – whew! It was tons of fun – he would show me around parts of Milan I never would’ve discovered on my own and we had some really great times.  But when we “argued” it was probably the most hilarious thing anyone has ever experienced. “Arguing” usually consisted of me muttering stuff in English and him not responding because he had no clue what I was talking about – then he would say his piece in Italian. Needless to say our “arguments” didn’t last long. And that’s a good thing right?! 🙂 Anyway, his name was Romeo and how can you spend any time in Italy without finding an authentic Romeo.  It just wouldn’t have been the same if he spoke English!
  • First rude awakening to the global perspective of Americans – Growing up in the U.S., all you hear is how great this country is and how we are saving the world and helping other countries do this, that, and the third. But why would your American history teacher, who’s never even stepped outside of Tennessee, let alone America know anything about whether or not these other countries want America’s help? Being outside of this country gives all Americans a big dose of humble pie – but most tourists have their noses so high in the air they can’t even see the humble pie sitting right in front of them.  Don’t get me wrong, out of all of the global discussions I’ve had most people have nothing against the single American traveler or the person who is really coming to learn about their country – but they definitely had choice words for the U.S. government and that American tourist who complains about how different and inconvenient everything is in other countries.  Nothing was more eye-opening than this piece of graffiti I witnessed while visiting Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.

    Wow. (@ Parc Guell in Barcelona)

    The message speaks for itself right? It’s in Barcelona, but it’s not in Spanish. Who do you think it’s meant for? That was definitely a wow moment – and it solidified for me that I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler :).