Tag Archives: local

An Adventure to Nepal – Guest Post!

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It is not everyday that we meet someone who traveled to Nepal. And even more interesting, is talking to someone who took a National Geographic trip to Nepal! I want to introduce Dalton George, who is dating one of my favorite new friends in Greenville, Alissa. Ironically Alissa is also from Michigan and we bound over our love for Michigan (despite our Spartan and Wolverine rivalry :)). To show how small our world is, Dalton is also from my hometown, but we never met each other there! When I first met Dalton in Greenville, he mentioned that he was traveling to Nepal and I couldn’t wait to hear about his trip! He was kind enough to share details about his experience, answering my questions below.

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Pokhara (PC: Dalton George)


What inspired you to go on the trip to Nepal?

I am not so sure I was inspired to go to Nepal specifically, I was more inspired to just travel in general. If anything, the decision to go specifically to Nepal was more out of coincidence than anything else. I will explain.

So last June I finished up my Master’s Degree program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, and had a few months in between that and my next professional endeavor. Knowing this, and knowing how busy life can get, I made traveling somewhere new an imperative in my life during my “down time.” The logic here was simple: you never know when you will have the opportunity to do something amazing with the people you love most, so seize the day! My mother had already told me she was going “stir crazy” and needed to travel somewhere new, and had asked me if I was interested in taking a trip with her and my sister. So the decision to travel somewhere was easy: I had motivation to do so and people to go with. Time to make it happen.

Coincidence selected Nepal. My mother and I were unsure of where we wanted to go, but we were certain that we wanted to go on a National Geographic tour. To decide on our destination, we flipped open a NatGeo adventure catalogue, and we each picked out our 3 favorite trips that were advertised. Our selections overlapped at Nepal, and therefore we decided Nepal was our destination.

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Trishuli River (PC: Dalton George)

I cannot speak to why my mother selected Nepal out of that catalogue, but I can tell you why I did: lack of knowledge. Seriously, that is why. Ok ok, and I really wanted to see some cool mountains (and my God, were those some cool mountains!). I remember looking at that NatGeo catalogue, reading over the Nepal description, and thinking, “oh my gosh, I literally know NOTHING about Nepal, or Tibet for that matter.” The trip description advertised some exciting opportunities, including a Rhino wildlife safari, Paragliding, and mountain hiking. But the main reason I selected Nepal out of that catalogue was ignorance, and a desire to reverse it. And again, yes, to see some awesome mountains.

Describe National Geographic trips to those who may not know about them.

National Geographic offers curated tours of popular “and some not so popular” destinations across the whole world. The trip usually functions as a two week tour of a region, or in our case, most of a country. You travel with a small tour group, usually 12-20 people, and together you all have an adventure! This was my first trip that functioned this way, and I can honestly say I really enjoyed it. It made Nepal accessible to someone like me, someone who does not speak the language, or as I have previously mentioned, have any clue about any aspect of what the country is all about. The tour group is led by a guide a local from that region or country. Ours was a Nepalese man who was currently living in the country’s capital city (Kathmandu) and had been leading NatGeo tours for 12+ years. His English was excellent, and he was an endless encyclopedia of knowledge about his home country, its religions, and the Tibetan region as a whole. Seriously, we did our best to stump him with questions, almost to no avail. I sort of cheated, half-sarcastically asking him to name all of the gods in the Hindu religion. He could not, seeing as there are over 33 million total…

I would recommend NatGeo trips to anyone. Your group follows a general itinerary, but there is ample time to pick and choose activities that appeal to your preferences. For us in Nepal, we jumped at every chance to do any hiking, as my sister and I enjoy that activity immensely, and decided not to participate in others like the much heralded “Everest Plane Flight” (it was too expensive). This ability to pick and choose gives the NatGeo trips a great balance between structure and freedom, and you are never pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do.

Another reason why I would recommend NatGeo is in the way they set up their tours so that almost all money spent by you and your tour group during the trip is going in the hands of local people. And I don’t simply mean the well off business owners of city hotels. I mean small villages, and in our case, Tibetan refugees. At least on this trip this was the case, I suppose I cannot speak to other trips in other areas of the world. Places that your tour group eats, sleeps, and spends your time (and money) are almost exclusively places run by local people. In this way, NatGeo places a premium on supporting local, sometimes even vulnerable, communities in the places that they send their tour groups. Don’t confuse this with any sort of charity activity, these are businesses like any other, the difference is your money is not going to some rich development company who set up shop on the coast of Jamaica, but into the hands of local business owners who have a much more personal stake in the future of their country. As a tourist, this gave me the feel-goods, and is a business practice in the tourism industry I had not given much thought to until I saw it in action.

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Kathmandu (PC: Dalton George)

What were your favorite landmarks and excursions?

The Himalayas – these need no explanation I’m sure. One of the few times in my life that I can honestly say I had no words to describe the shear awesomeness of a thing I saw…I imagine the majesty of looking up at these mountains is only matched by the view from atop one of them.

The Himalayan Foothills – Like a way, way cooler version of Appalachia. With glacial rivers cutting pathways through the steep, forested foothills of heaven’s cradle, the beautiful scenery provided makes the arduous journey through the bumpy mountain roads of Nepal enjoyable. Well, mostly.

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Farmland in the Himalayan Foothills (PC: Dalton George)

Buddhanath Buddhist Stupa – This 5th century Buddhist religious monument/temple serves as a pilgrimage destination for Tibetan Buddhists around the world. Awe inspiring in its Architecture, one of those moments where you ask yourself “how did people over 1000 years ago build something like this???”

Swayambhunath Buddhist Stupa – Another Buddhist religious monument similar to Buddhanath, but this temple has a very sizable population of Rhesis Macaques roaming the grounds. These “holy monkeys” live at the temple year round, entertaining tourists and stealing from the offering tables all day every day. Additionally, the views from this Stupa of the capital city of Kathmandu are amazing. Absolutely worth your time.

 

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Monkey Temple (PC: Dalton George)

Pashupatinah Temple – A very famous Hindu temple located in Kathmandu. I learned so much about the Hindu religion whilst visiting this ancient temple, both in a cognitive and emotional way. This place hit me harder than most of the places I visited in Nepal. It’s a very spiritual and emotional place. If you are a westerner, be prepared. Oh, and stay out of the way of the roving bands of holy cows that are walking everywhere.

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Chitwan National Park – Rhinos. In the wild. From 100 feet away. And Tigers. TIGERS. We didn’t see one, but the footprints were enough for me to get back into the safari jeep. The farming village of Chitwan is also a lovely place filled with lovelier people. I would go back there in a heartbeat.

How were the people?

From the streets of Kathmandu, to the small farming villages in the Himalayan foothills, the people of Nepal were never shy to share a smile and a “Namaste” with foreign visitors. Never during my twelve days in the country did I feel unwelcome or experience any unfriendliness, and I always felt safe. The Nepali are a very spiritual, peaceful people whose society is heavily influenced by both Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism. This latter influence is especially important in understanding their attitudes towards community and people from all levels of society. Without going into extensive detail (because I will surely not get something right!) I can say that Tibetan Buddhist influence has instilled a fundamental sense of living for the community that defines the culture of the Nepali people. They are not (as of yet) a materialistic people, their sense of self is not tied to ownership of land or things. They seemed much more concerned about building spirituality, and social connectedness than wealth and status. Oh, and they very much like to have a good time when the working day is done 😉.

How was the food?

Delicious, unique, and CHEAP. Nepalese cuisine is kind of mix between Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan (no, not Panda Express Chinese, actual Chinese). Lots of lentils, lots of meat curries, lots of fried breads, lots of fantastic uses of spices on veggies, and fantastic teas (Masala Milk Chai in particular). If you choose to, you can have this Dal Bhat style of meal breakfast lunch and dinner: it’s a Nepalese staple, and its amazing. All of the ingredients for most everything you eat are locally sourced from the fertile foothills of the Himalayas, so everything is very fresh.

What reflections or learnings did you have about yourself, life, and/or the world?

Oh man, I could go on and on for this one. But in the interest of keeping it short and sweet, I guess the one most important thing I learned, or at least got a more concrete sense of, is that different lifestyles and cultures do not necessarily belong on a hierarchy. We label places like Nepal “the 3rd world” and conceptualize it as existing in a lesser state of prosperity (and therefore happiness) than a place like the United States, or some other “developed” Western country. When we look at the GDP of a place like Nepal, or here about how basic its infrastructure is, or shake our heads at its lack of political stability, we are only focusing on the surface and missing the bigger picture, the deeper understanding of what that place is really all about. Only by walking on through the streets and interacting with the people can we gain such an understanding. There are plenty of values and norms of Nepali society I would love to see incorporated into my American one. Love, peace, and community-oriented growth are cornerstones of the Nepali culture, and we as Americans have a lot to gain in understanding how these people see the world and understand their place in it as we journey through our own nation-wide identity crisis. I would highly recommend Nepal to anyone wishing to experience a place unlike any other, with a people unlike any other, before it (potentially) succumbs to the pressures to modernize in the ways dictated by the Western “developed world.”


Thank you, Dalton, for sharing your story! I am inspired to go on a National Geographic trip and to visit Nepal one day too!

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How to Study Abroad Without Studying Abroad

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Craving travel? Want to study abroad but you do not have time or your school program does not offer study abroad options?

Source: thestudyabroadblog.com

Source: thestudyabroadblog.com

I have realized in my international business program that it is possible to study abroad without actually leaving your campus or the comforts of your home. For students, studying abroad goes beyond traveling to a new country. How can you study abroad in your daily life?

  • Get to know your classmates. More often than not, universities are attracting diverse students from throughout the world. Your classmates can give you an insider view of international cultures and customs.
  • Get to know your professors. Similar to my note above, universities often recruit diverse faculty members. If you have a particular country of interest, you can reach out to professors to learn about their experience abroad and their research. Most professors love to share their experiences, particularly related to their research.
  • Listen to international radio stations. TuneIn Radio offers over 100,000 radio stations that give you with an international music experience. Hearing foreign languages in music is also an effective way to improve language comprehension when you are studying foreign languages.
  • Join university clubs that relate to your country of interest. For example, many universities offer salsa clubs, international sports clubs or food tasting events. I am participating in a wine and beer club to learn about wine and beer throughout the world.
  • Attend local concerts and events relating to international cultures. Many cities offer international performances, art exhibits, and more to develop cross-cultural understanding in the community.

All of these ideas help you have an inspirNational experience while living on campus, regardless of whether you are studying at your local university or a foreign university. What other ideas do you have to study abroad without actually studying abroad?

Learning About Culture Through Urban Art

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Through moving and traveling over the past several years, I have noticed a common theme in each new city I have visited or lived: I can learn about local culture through urban art. Urban art, whether funded by the community or not, helps the community express ideas, demonstrate societal trends or challenges, and sometimes enhance the aesthetic appeal of the surroundings. Below I have captured a few personal favorites of many examples of urban art:

Spanish Graffiti: While studying abroad in Salamanca, Spain and traveling throughout the country, I noticed a significant amount of graffiti. I learned in my Spanish political history class that since Francisco Franco’s leadership in 1939, graffiti was and continues to be significant form of political expression in Spain. It often demonstrates political movements over the past several decades, such as fascism, marxism, anarchy, regional independence within Spain, gay rights, and world peace. Since 2008, cities like Madrid have funded graffiti artists to paint unattractive buildings to improve the cities’ appearance and influence the community with their messages.

Graffiti in Madrid

Graffiti in Madrid

Ann Arbor Graffiti Alley: Originally a mural created by artist Katherine Cost in 1999, titled “Infinite Possibilities,” the graffiti alley in Ann Arbor, Michigan has turned into a haven for graffiti artists and musicians. Visitors can get a taste of recent Ann Arbor and University of Michigan history and current hot topics expressed on the walls. At the same time, they will also hear tunes played by local artists, as the alley is known for good acoustics.

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Before I Die: A global public art project created by New Orleans artist Candy Chang, I first saw a Before I Die wall in Asheville, North Carolina. As a simple mural with chalk, anyone and everyone can write their wishes and “bucket list” items on the wall. Chang created this concept after she lost someone she loved. Her intention was to create a daily reminder about what was important to the people around her. Her idea has sparked the building of 550 walls in over 70 countries in 35 languages. While in Asheville, it was inspiring to learn about the priorities and dreams of the community expressed on the wall.

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Here's what I wrote in Asheville!

Here’s what I wrote in Asheville!

Next time you are exploring your local community or are traveling, I recommend that you seek out the urban art to learn more about the destination’s past, present, and future. You may be surprised to learn new insights about the unique heritage and character of the destination!

InspirNationalize Your Business Travel

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Business travel is commonly perceived as glamorous. I’m writing this as I am bumped up to first class on my way home from a business trip, so it seems contradictory for me to argue otherwise. After all, business travelers get to visit new places, stay at elegant hotels, and dine in nice restaurants. In the meantime, they are able to escape the day-to-day office setting, learn about new business cultures, and meet new people.

Seasoned business professionals often express that business travel is anything but glamorous. Travel to them means time away from family, an interrupted routine, crowded airports and delayed flights, and less sleep.

Going into two years of business travel as a consultant, I can see the argument to both sides. First starting to travel for business, I couldn’t wait to go to different cities, with the hopeful anticipation that I would have time to explore the destinations. With more and more trips, though, I have learned that business travel involves busy days full of meetings and evenings spent dining with clients or colleagues and preparing for the next day of meetings. Rather than be pessimistic though, I was determined to make the most of my business travel, and inspirNationalize it, focusing on the fact that business travel involves limited time. Below I have captured some tips that have helped me inspirNationalize my business travel, and I invite others with more business travel experience to add their insights as well.

Quick note: inspirNationalize is my latest term relating to an inspirNational mindset, which inspires me to take action! It means to seek opportunities, be worldly, explore, and make the most of any situation.

How can you inspirNationalize your business travel?

Try local food. In my experience, food has been the main special occasion of business travel and is the most common “break” from meetings. You will likely have three square meals a day, so this is your chance to learn about your destination’s culture through cuisine.

Open the blinds of the windows in your hotel or meeting room and watch the sunrise/sunset or the skyline of the place you are visiting. It is challenging for those of us with wanderlust to not get out and explore where we are traveling, but at least we can admire the scenery from a distance.

If you have time to exercise, go outside (weather permitting, of course). Take a walk around the company premises or near your hotel. Ask your hotel concierge about exercise paths throughout the city, which is a great way to multitask (or call yourself a business traveling tourist athlete ;)?) and get a quick tour of your destination.

Read local newspapers or tourist magazines provided in your hotel room. This will increase your awareness about the current happenings, customs, and traditions of your destination. This will help liven and personalize your business conversations in the local area as you will be “in the know” about the latest news and can relate to your business counterparts. It will also provide you with ideas for leisure activities should you have free time or decide to return to the destination for vacation.

Talk to locals. Learn about what they like to do and their lifestyle. For those with extra free time, ask the locals for best restaurants or activities to do while in town. The locals will help you avoid tourist traps and give you a more genuine taste of the location.

Learn about your client or company’s involvement in the community. Their involvement will tell you more about key issues and unique cultural aspects of your destination. In my line of work, this is a natural conversation with my sustainability and corporate responsibility projects. Regardless of your line of work, these conversations are becoming more and more common (in the U.S., and are already common worldwide) as several companies are releasing sustainability reports and integrating corporate responsibility efforts with their overall corporate strategies. You’ll experience a win-win in this case—you’ll learn more about your destination like a traveler with an inspirNational mindset and you’ll also develop a deeper understanding of your business.

With every business trip I have learned something new and have felt more inspirNational. I know that we all have our own ways of making the most of our work trips, such as visiting friends in the area or purchasing souvenirs only available in the location. I look forward to building this list as I gather more insights and experiences. How else do you inspirNationalize your business travel?

Source: FlyNRate

Source: FlyNRate