Friday Photo: Red, White and Blue

Another one from Ilhabela with São Sebastião, Brasil in the background as the sun begins to set. Hope you had a wonderfully relaxing 4th of July celebration!

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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).

Island Lessons (Dominican Edition)

We hiked to the breathtaking Trafalgar Falls (photo courtesy of Amirh)

 It’s taken me quite some time to write this post.  I’m partly in denial that I’m back in the States. Dominica is such a small island but there is SO much to see and do.  Dozens of waterfalls, the 2nd largest boiling lake in the world, the Indian River (where parts of Pirates of the Caribbean was set), the Carib Territory where the indigenous Caribbean people still live, the beautiful and refreshing Emerald Pool, the Old and New Markets, Purple Turtle Beach, tons of sulphur spas and sulphur springs, village festivals…. Should I keep going? Needless to say I’ll have to return to the “Nature Isle” very soon to cover all of the activities I didn’t get to do in the 5 days I was there – I didn’t even mention anything about the beautiful life-loving French Creole (or Patwa) speaking Dominican people and how could I could forget the rum??

Here are just a few of the lessons I learned and experiences I enjoyed while in Dominica: 

Amirh at Ti Kwen Glo Cho Sulphur Spa (photo courtesy of Alex)

Don’t Wear a White Swimsuit to the Sulphur Spas:

There’s an awesome little village called Wotten Waven just south of Roseau that has these amazing wonders of nature called sulphur spas.  I’ll allow you to simply wikipedia all of the benefits of sulphur, but as a hint it’s called “nature’s beauty mineral.” Yes, the smell is horrid – but I only noticed it in certain areas on the way to the spa and not at the spa itself.  I highly recommend the spa called Ti Kwen Glo Cho because not only does it have the big hot sulphur pool, but it also has relaxing individual cast-iron tubs with bamboo pipes bringing more hot water straight from the surrounding rivers and waterfalls. Note to self (and you guys) for future visits though: since the sulphur turns the water a yellowish -brown color, leave the white bathing suit at home.  I would probably be mad if that swimsuit weren’t almost 6 years old – but even if it was new, the sulphur spas were SO worth it!

Read on to hear about the other experiences. Continue reading

That’s What He Said…

“For every traveler who has any taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written.”

-Aldous Huxley (writer, author of Brave New World)

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I came across this quote while looking through Moleskine travel notebooks (my favorite!) at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.  Usually, when I see a quote I like I just remember some key words and the author and then look it up online when I get home.  But this one rang so true that I just had to write it down right then and there.  The line for the Van Gogh Museum was about an hour and a half long (yes I measured the length of the line in hours) and on top of that it was raining – no bueno! Fortunately, I was being my usual observant self and while walking to the museum spotted a sign for “Museum Tickets” at the Diamant Museum (less than a block away!).  Now, I almost walked by it because I assumed it was only for the Diamant Museum, but I thought “What the heck” the worst they could do is say no right? So long story short – I was able to purchase tickets for both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum there and bypass that loooong line and walk straight to the door.  Talk about a triumphant feeling! It was the kind of feeling where you want to let everyone at the end of the line in on your little secret.  This quote made me think of this because no other guidebooks would have told you that – they probably wouldn’t have even known about it.

Writing your own guidebook, both figuratively and literally, is about more than just keeping track of little secrets like skipping the lines at the Van Gogh Museum.  It’s about experiencing a country through your own eyes and not through the eyes of Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain. You don’t have the same interests, personality, or hobbies as the people who write those guidebooks so why would you prioritize your trip according to what they deem as “must-sees.” Writing your own guidebook means recording the smells that intoxicate you, keeping track of the special hints that people give you, and looking at your destination through a set of fresh new eyes, as if you were the first person to ever visit. Your opinions, views, and experiences are just as important and valid (if not moreso, especially to your close friends and relatives) as any other guidebook author’s – you’re just not getting paid for them.  Well, not yet anyway. 😉

Move Ash cloud! Get out the way!

One of Amsterdam's Many Canals

Besides the fact that some previously unknown (to me) volcano has erupted and brought European air traffic to a halt, I am beyond words excited about next week’s visit to Amsterdam.  Air traffic has resumed (I think) and as long as that giant ash cloud moves out of the way, I’m Holland-bound! It’s hard to believe that this will be my first return to Europe since studying abroad (but it’s also hard to believe that it’s been almost 4 years since I was there – old much?). Amsterdam was one of the only places that I didn’t get to visit while I was living in Italy.  I went to Paris, London, Barcelona, Switzerland, and all of Italy – but I didn’t make it to Amsterdam. One of my friends is in grad school there and I have had supreme travel envy at all of the pics that she puts up, but now I get to take some pics of my own.

I know what all of you are already thinking, but there are way more than “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam! The awesome canals, the quirky museums (and Anne Frank’s house!), the (in)famous Red Light District, the bicycling culture, and so much more that I’ll be able to talk about like a pro when I come back. And while I’m there, the country will be celebrating Queen’s Day – which is apparently a 24 hour party to celebrate the Queen Mother’s birthday in the streets – and the canals! Remember that first picture of the peaceful canal above, check out how it transforms into a Dutch Bourbon Street a la Mardi Gras on Queen’s Day! Looks like I need to pack some orange :).

Queen's Day in the Canals of Amsterdam

Fun Sites to Check out about Amsterdam:

  • Amsterdam Bicycles 82 pictures of people riding bicycles in 73 minutes – chronicling Amsterdam’s bike culture.  He’s even got pictures of women in tight dresses and heels, people talking on cell phones, men in suits with briefcases, and some even texting on their bikes – very funny!
  • Queen’s Day Just a little information about Queen’s Day – April 30 – in Amsterdam.
  • I Amsterdam The Official Amsterdam Tourist Board’s visitors site – I have been on this site all day trying to prioritize the “must-sees” next week.