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What stands out to you about San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala?

San Juan is a unique place both natural and cultural reasons. It’s located on the southern shore of Lake Atitlan, in between the San Pedro volcano and the so-called indigenous “Rostro Maya” (Indian Nose), a mountain which has a face-like shape.

The luxurious subtropical forest covering the surrounding mountains gives way to majestic coffee and avocado orchards and a variety of farm crops, most of which are cornfields. This is the setting of the everyday-life activities and economy of the local indigenous people, who are largely farmers on the mountainside. The people who live here hike for hours from the village up to the very top of the “Sierro” (mountain) to work their land, pick corn or coffee.

From a cultural point of view, as soon as I arrived to San Juan to work with Alma de Colores, I was astonished by the pulsating life of the small village. It stands out as an uncontaminated village, a cradle of Mayan cultural tradition and heritage in the area.

The colorful traditional clothes and the local language, Tzutujil, a surviving Mayan language, are the most apparent signs of the indigenous culture. I was amazed by the wall paintings scattered in several places of the village, which offer a modern representation of the traditional Mayan cosmology.

However, managing to stay in San Juan for a little more than the typical tourist’s plan of 1-2 days, it’s possible to scratch below the surface and get to the vibrant soul of the community, thanks to the welcoming attitude of the locals.

As an anthropologist, I have noticed that this approach towards foreigners is not simply a matter of good manners or goodwill, but rather a practice that stems from the locals’ cultural identity. Not that the neighboring villages are unwelcoming, but the “Juaneros” (people from San Juan) actually construct their identity and represent themselves through this practice. In other words, it is a place where, people will disclose authentic, intimate aspects of their life and culture to visitors with the traveler’s mindset: openness, curiosity and a sense of adventure!

Handcrafted goods lie at heart of the cultural and social life of the community as much as the coffee production and refining. The cooperative of coffee makers and textile artisans, opened to visitors, is definitely a must-see of San Juan.

This is my perspective, as a foreigner, but what would a Juanero answer to the same question? Well, what stands out about San Juan La Laguna is the Rostro Maya! Not just from a geographical and panoramic sense, either. To the indigenous people of San Juan, it is a sacred and ritual place, a highly evocative and symbolic of their culture and identity as Maya.

(I’d like to thank our friend and colleague, photographer Colin Field of Photographers Without Borders, who has thoroughly documented both our work and various Guatemalan lifestyles).

Tell us about Alma de Colores as a program. Who does it serve, and why does it matter?

Alma de Colores is a social and labor inclusion program for people with disabilities. The project is based in San Juan La Laguna and serves people ages 16 and older in the whole Lake Atitlan region.

The project is strongly rooted in the cultural and social ground of San Juan, and is part of Centro Maya Servicio Integral, a local organization that provides therapy, special education and other services to people with disabilities in the Lake area.

Its occupational therapy and inclusion project is developed through five different areas of work: handicraft production, sewing, baking, organic agriculture and a small restaurant. The quality of the handcrafted goods is astonishing, and visitors can find both traditional and original pieces from macramé to traditional clothes and jewelry. The organization’s fair approach, rooted in values of social and environmental sustainability, also extends to its products, which are carefully crafted employing local materials and knowledge, placing recycling at the heart of the creations, and practicing and promoting organic agriculture.

The restaurant, Alma de Colores Cafè y Comedor, is a beautiful, chill locale where organic and healthy food is served in a floral veranda overlooking the lake. Alma de Colores’ users receive fair compensation as employers of the different areas of occupational therapy. They also receive benefits like food, therapy, transportation and interest-free loans for education, along with access to a health fund to cover their short and long-term medical needs.

The impact of the project is huge – it’s the only program in the area that employs and provides regular income to people with disabilities. Alma de Colores even develops the professional skills of its users in a genuinely positive environment pursuing a communal approach which leads users and workers to share many existential and professional experiences. Also Alma de Colores is a great resource for the broader community as it fosters a new and sustainable model of production and development.

What are you as an organization most excited about right now?

The project is growing, not just in size, but also in terms of the results we’re creating! Our impact on the people is what we care most about. Alma the Colores, after expanding its project last year with the comedor, is enhancing its reach giving therapies and occupation to more and more people.

The social and economic independence of our users is at the core of our mission and through developing their work skills that allow them to practice in different job sectors, from handicrafts and agriculture to the culinary work, we are building inclusion and supporting our constituents’ wellbeing. Our greatest satisfaction is contributing to the fulfillment of our peoples’ goals and dreams, giving them the chance to pursue careers and create independent lives.

We are even in transition as a developmental project, moving away from being supported by a foreign organization to being independently run and funded. This is highly motivating as it is a challenging process and it opens up new horizons as a social enterprise, and we are deeply excited by this new phase!

What are the best ways future travelers can support Alma de Colores?

Alma de Colores is a place for sharing, sharing experiences and knowledge. We love inviting travelers who are visiting San Juan to learn about our project by involving them in our activities, introducing them to all our staff and users, and to their stories.

We then welcome them to the Cafe Y Comedor Alma de Colores to try the fresh, vegetarian food that we cook everyday using vegetables from our own organic garden. We also arrange day trips for travelers to San Juan, which begin with a rich, traditional breakfast at the Comedor, where our guest can sample the best local organic beans, fruits and free-range organic eggs.

We then show travelers a tour of San Juan where they visit our partner organization Centro Maya Servico Integral, to get a feel for their longstanding experience in the lake region working with communities with disabilities.

Travelers can partake in a workshop of handicraft and weaving and get a glimpse into the traditional manufacturing process of clothes and accessories. To support, travelers have the opportunity to purchase goods as take-home gifts!

Then it’s back to the Cafe y Comedor for lunch, which changes based on our organic garden produce. Travelers can sample traditional local dishes and gourmet samples of our chef’s specialties like empanadas, calzones, burritos, pizza and fried dough as a side dish.

What are the must-do’s for travelers visiting Guatemala for the very first time?

Guatemala is an enchanting country! It is one of the richest Central American regions for discovering the Mayan culture, indigenous tradition and heritage. It also offers an incredible variety of microclimates, from the tropical sea level to the highest volcano top, rising to over 4000 meters above sea level. The shorter Atlantic coast offers a beautiful stretch, while the Pacific coast is a long, low-lying tropical land characterized by volcanic sand seashore.

From the old colonial city of Antigua to the market of Chichicastenango, or the many volcanic hiking routes to Tikal, the Mayan archeological site, Guatemala has both rich cultural history and natural beauty to offer the hungry traveler’s eyes.

The area “Indigenous Altiplano” includes several provinces with an indigenous population as the majority, the provinces San Marcos and Huehuetenango along with Sololà (Lake Atitlan) are of particular interest for the indigenous culture; the lively and pulsating one with its traditional and contemporary practices, their cults and syncretic religious practices expressing Christianity in constant dialogue (not without contradictions) with the traditional Mayan religion.

Lake Atitlan itself, where Alma de Colores is based, is one of the main areas of interest for travelers. Here the spectacular natural scene piques all the senses. With its three volcanoes surrounding the lake that Aldous Huxley once described as “too much of a good thing”, indigenous traditional culture is preserved.

It also coexists with a more recent phenomenon, that of groups of expatriates, travelers and other locals who have created certain sites around the Lake as countercultural places of prayer and worship, where yoga, meditation, natural medicine, communal living and even some Dionysian parties are an integral part of the everyday life. And when you travel to Lake Atitlan, don’t forget to swim in the lake! It is powerful – at least, that’s what the locals say!

About Alma de Colores

Alma de Colores (Soul of Colors) is a labor and social inclusion program for people with disabilities in the Lake Atitlan region, Guatemala. Located in San Juan la Laguna, the workshop has over 24 participants between 16 and 44 years old who work in five main areas: handicraft production, sewing, baking, organic gardening as well as cooking and running a small restaurant. The garden and the restaurant are part of the Café Correcto project which took place in the frame of the “Nutrire il Pianeta 2014” program. Visit www.almadecolores.org to learn more and support the program.

March 19, 2017
The Surprising Thing Travel Gives You (That No One Can Ever Take Away)
Cam Adair is a writer, speaker, and a thought leader on video game addiction. He is the founder of Game Quitters, a community for gamers who want to quit and get their lives back on track. Cam’s mission is empowering others to live life with intention. He has traveled to 21 countries and lived as a nomad for the past 3 years, and is known for his popular TEDx talks, Escaping Video Game Addiction & The Surprising Truth About Rejection.

 

Canada’s travel-friendly culture had Cam thinking of exploring far-off destinations early on in life. Growing up in Calgary, he knew he wanted to travel “someday”, but it took him years to take the next step: book his first plane ticket and make travel happen.

 

In October 2012, Cam started off his solo international travels by running away from his problems (a failed relationship and freezing Canadian winters) and he quickly realized that that strategy didn’t actually solve anything. He lasted 12 days out of the country before he was overwhelmed, aching to leave Costa Rica and get back home. He hated the fact that he had given up on his very first solo trip.

 

After reflecting on the experience, Cam decided he didn’t want to live his life from a place of fear anymore. He knew he couldn’t allow that travel experience to be his last. So he ended up focusing on his own personal development, building up the courage to travel abroad again.
It took a while, but he was committed to making it happen. He booked a trip to Europe…and he found that he started to feel proud of himself again. Confident. Happy. He started having real-life adventures, and loving the thrill of it despite whatever challenges came his way.

 

“Travel is just one of those things where you have to have faith that once you’re there, and you have the right mindset (the traveler’s mindset), you’ll be good.”
Find out how Cam conquered his 16-hour-a-day video game addiction, started traveling solo and living his life from a place of courage…

 

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d77646_5f1ae0db393f4a999eb5bfd83a1569e2 Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

November 10, 2015
If Your Parents Don’t Want You To Travel, Watch This Video
Jen Morilla, The Social Girl Traveler, is a 26 year old travel blogger from New Jersey. She is a travel blogger with a purpose: Jen believes in giving back to the countries she travels to. She speaks three languages, has lived, studied, and worked in three countries, traveled to 27 countries and five continents, and is now off to Southeast Asia for her next adventure with an impact.

Why don’t you go travel with friends? Why do you have to do this alone?

How do you plan on paying for this?! Why are you leaving us? What are you going to do out there?

Overcoming objections to travel that your parents or family members bring up can be hard. Jen Morilla knew this, and she laid out a plan to deal with it and make her travel dreams happen anyway — setting real goals, taking care of the financials, solidifying why she was going, and how she was going to make a positive impact along the way.

She did this when she wanted to study abroad, when she wanted to do her masters in social entrepreneurship in London, and each time she steps back out into the world to explore.

Now Jen is off traveling in Southeast Asia for the first time, discovering an area of the world her mother called “crazy”. She fundraised in advance to provide water filters through Waves for Water — each filter provides clean drinking water for 100 people for 5 years.

Check out this interview with Jen and find out how you can start traveling with a purpose, too!

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

 

October 27, 2015
How to Have Authentic Travel Experiences

“I live on the road. My home is the world.” Living between the United States and Morocco, Yasmine began her international career at the young age of 17 when she moved to Kansas as a young ambassador for the Arab world.

In this interview, Yasmine shares how to have authentic travel experiences around the world. Her startup, Voyaj, provides a unique way of social networking (literally!) by matching up potential travelers with local hosts around the world that best fit their travel interests.

An advocate for women empowerment and modern Arab identity in the West, Yasmine believes that person-to-person connection is the best way to break down cultural barriers and comfort zones.

 

About Yasmine

Yasmine El Baggari is the Moroccan Founder and CEO of Voyaj, an online platform that matches people, worldwide, to provide them with genuine experiences – sharing cultures and beliefs and opening hearts and minds. She is also an undergraduate student at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. Yasmine’s research focuses on women’s empowerment and the concept of identity, morality, and cultural evolution for Arab Muslim students in the West.

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

April 7, 2015
Creative Ways to Travel Abroad for Free

Julie got her first passport in college. Postgraduate, she now lives between London and Boulder, Colorado and has an undergraduate curriculum of over 40 countries, most of which she visited by the generosity of grants and scholarships. By the time she graduated, she had accumulated 150,000 frequent flyer miles to propel her around the globe and give her a sampling of different countries all on her own.

Julie is truly a pioneer when it comes to how to travel abroad for free. Now, her travels have inspired her to speak out about safety as a solo traveler – particularly as a female solo traveler – and design her app, pingWHEN, which uses your phone’s GPS to check in with a friend or loved one back home each time you leave for or arrive home from a trip, a night time run, or even a party downtown. If you don’t arrive when you said you would, pingWHEN alerts your contact know that you haven’t so they can check to see if you’re safe.

Click here to listen to the interview with Julie (mp3)

Links

pingWHEN app
juliemarkham.com

The Traveler’s Mindset Guide to Over $50,000 in Programs, Grants, Fellowships and More to Fund Your Time Abroad

About Julie

Julie Markham is passionate about using technology for social impact and is on a hell bent mission to empower women. From her travels to more than 40 countries, she was concerned about her safety which led her to create pingWHEN – a personal safety app. In between travels, she has worked with a tech company on environmental responsibility and a microcredit program in Rwanda. She has served as the Director of Special Ops with Unreasonable Group which has led to projects including sailing across 13 countries Unreasonable@Sea, and helping to push entrepreneurs impacting millions of girls in poverty through the Girl Effect Accelerator. Julie believes in continually learning and has a strong intellectual curiosity as demonstrated by the fact that she was a Fulbright Scholar and holds three master’s degrees. Contact: julie@pingwhenapp.com

 

d77646_5f1ae0db393f4a999eb5bfd83a1569e2

Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

March 24, 2015
A New Way to Explore Colombia

Marcela is the co-founder of On Board, a mobile outdoor classroom where mindful, continuously moving students learn, travel and make an impact in the communities they visit. She is best described as a life-long education-hacking journeyer. At age 24 she has already visited 45 countries, lived in 7 countries, and learned 6 languages. She has created her own career path as a Flow Consultant and she is currently working with EduAction on a documentary about alternative education projects like gap years as replacements for the formal university path.

Where are you from originally, and why did you choose to leave your home to travel?

I am from Medellin, Colombia and the first time I chose to leave home for more than two months was right after high school. I went to France to study French and the travel bug bit me, hard. After that, I spent a year volunteering in Palermo, Sicily.

Think back to before you ever took your first trip abroad. What was the biggest thing holding you back, and how did you overcome it?

There was never a strong reason that was holding me back, personally. However, my mother was very attached to me and she had been sick for quite a few years so the hardest part was to leave her, knowing that it was difficult for her to let me go even though she supported me.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned from traveling?

I think the biggest lesson has been to deeply understand the world we live in and put into perspective the challenges we all face by living in one country or another, including how that “simple” factor really makes us who we are as individuals.

Also, I believe that learning the language, the culture and the history of the foreign countries I lived in were the best “subjects” I could have ever studied!

What is your dream trip?

My dream trip is one in which traveling is the engine for having great learning experiences… A journey in which I would be surrounded by a community of travelers, exploring the depths of a country and leaving a positive impact on the communities we visit!

Ideally, that dream trip will happen very often now that I’ve created my startup, On Board, that is getting travelers around Colombia on a bus that doubles as a mobile classroom.

How have you designed your life to include travel as a core part of your lifestyle?

Traveling for me has always been the most authentic way of learning and I have always looked for opportunities to travel without escaping from reality, but instead using travel to shape reality and understand it better.

This is the reason why Camilo Russi, my cofounder, and I created On Board, a mobile outdoor classroom. We expect to expand our vision of On Board to other countries that would like their visitors to discover their country in a unique way. We also want to build a community, a network of ‘on boarders’ around the globe.

What would you be doing if you hadn’t started traveling?

Honestly, I don’t really know! When I was at university in my city, before going abroad to two different universities and deciding to walk the path of alternative education, I created a program called “Paisajiando”. I offered walking tours around my city showing people the non-touristy, true sides of Medellin and people paid me according to how much they liked the tour. It was a way to travel without leaving my country, and if I hadn’t started traveling I would probably still be doing that.

How do you stay adventurous in your everyday life?

I really try to avoid being in front of screens (whether that’s TV, my computer, or my phone) and I make sure I’m outside more, meeting good people and exploring new places. I join new networks and communities and I intentionally do something new every week. Reading great books also pumps up my adventurous spirit. I also love welcoming foreigners to Colombia and hanging out with them!

Oh, and my weekends are sacred: I have to discover a new town or get back in touch with nature!

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

February 27, 2015
Transforming Bangladeshi Students

Where are you from originally, and why did you choose to leave your home to travel?

I was born and raised in a very small, peaceful town in Bangladesh, a country just east of India. I chose to leave my home to travel because I was thirsty to explore new cultures and learn new things. For me, traveling opened up new perspectives on life.

How have you designed your life to include travel as a core part of your lifestyle?

Four years ago, I started a school for children living in the slums near me in Bangladesh. These children are between 7-15 years old, and before going to the school I started, they lived a life of begging on the street or drug dealing, often battling addiction.

I was disturbed by seeing young children kicked and mistreated on the streets and I wanted to help however I could, so I started an awareness club and donation drives at my school.

In my first year, my friends and I taught five students basic academic skills, literacy, and how to make a living. Since then, over 200 students have gone through my program.

Now I am a social worker who educates orphaned street children in different communities, and traveling has become a major part of my lifestyle. I spend one third of each month traveling in remote areas of Bangladesh.

Currently, I’m researching ways to create work opportunities for my students in exchange for education. My vision is to create a sustainable education program that can be used globally.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned from living in another country?

I lived in India and in the USA for a long time. While staying in these places I got the opportunity to meet people of different classes, castes and cultures. From these diverse experiences the key lesson I learned is that a place becomes more beautiful when you realize that most people are warm and helpful.

What is your dream trip?

My dream trip would be a solo trip traveling around all the nicest remote places of India. I am not a fancy trip-taking person. I love facing tough, adventurous, real-life related challenges while traveling.

On my dream trip I want to live in the most remote villages of India. I want to live in small cottages made of straw without any technology and electricity. That way, I can enjoy both the enchanting local culture and the raw, beautiful nature at the same time.

What would you be doing if you hadn’t started traveling?

If I had not started traveling, my life would be totally different. I could have ended up as a timid housewife at the age of 23!

Can you share one thing you do to be more adventurous in your everyday life?

I am an adventure-loving person. In my everyday life, I explore a different route on the way to my destination or I talk to at least one stranger on my way to work. These small actions help me keep my adventurous nature alive every single day.

Think back to before you took your first trip abroad. What was the biggest thing holding you back, and how did you overcome it?

The first trip I took was when I was only twenty years old. I went to India to attend a camp. I was the only girl in the group and the other people were total strangers at the time. I felt very uncomfortable and scared at first, but I truly wanted to experience a different culture.

In Bangladesh where I grew up, girls are not allowed to travel alone or with strangers, so it was a big challenge for me to start. I was concerned for my safety, and I lacked confidence in whether or not I could actually reach my destination.

While I was traveling I felt the huge contrast in cultural practices between the different countries I visited. I’ll admit, I was scared. However when I started to talk to people I realized that we all are same inside, which helped me to overcome my fear of the superficial differences.

How did you explain to your parents and friends that you wanted to leave them to travel?

My parents were both very worried for me, of course, and my friends were anxious about my safety. I sat and talked with them about how traveling helps us to open up and connect with our soul. Convincing them was not easy, but I used a very open, honest approach. It worked, and I left to start my quest!

You say you were scared to travel. How did you build self-confidence?

I was very scared, true, but when I started to do small things independently (like finding the gate number at the airport or booking my own accommodations) I started to trust myself. I would even give myself compliments when I successfully did something new. This helped me overcome my fear and boost my confidence little by little until I was just fine on my own.

 

About Eve

Esrat (aka Eve) was born & raised in Bangladesh and completed her degree in finance at the University of Dhaka. She is a Watson Scholar who dreams of a world where everyone has free access to education as well as to a better life. She is working to empower street children out of poverty by leveraging education. Today, she has reached over 200 slum students with her literacy and basic skills training, and hopes to build out a work/study-exchange model to give her students work experience. To get involved, email eve.karim[at]watsonuniversity.org

 

d77646_5f1ae0db393f4a999eb5bfd83a1569e2 Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

February 12, 2015
Top 4 Ways to Grow Your Network Abroad

Tidus Coleman wants to better humanity through sustainability, identity building, and travel. He’s an entrepreneur, globetrotter, and military intelligence based in Washington, D.C. whose focus in life is to find ways to help spread empathy around the world by inspiring and enabling people to build meaningful global communities.

Tidus shared his experience building community around the world, along with the Top 4 Ways to Grow Your Network Abroad (Right Now, Right Where You Are) in this interview with The Traveler’s Mindset.

1. Be proactive: use Google Hangout, Skype and Zoom to chat with friends abroad and maintain friendships with people in other countries. You’ll probably stay up to date on international news too!

2. If you don’t have friends in other countries, make them! The world is literally at your fingertips. Join an international group on Facebook, or reach out to someone in your industry via LinkedIn. No matter where you live, you can always meet international people online.

3. Live an adventure through the books you read (or listen to…)! There’s so much out there, from every country in the world. Why not dive in?

4. Check out events at your city’s local university or Internations group. You can usually see talks by international speakers or participate in ‘global’ events for free — even if you’re not a student anymore.

Listen to the end to hear Tidus’s #1 way to get over the fear of meeting new people and working your way into more international communities!

Click here to listen to the full interview with Tidus

 

Links

Kairos Society
StartingBloc
World Business Dialogue
NEA Labs, LLC
Network EverAfter
ProInspire
Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan (free audio book download here)
Success 3.0 Summit

About Tidus

Tidus’ ultimate aim is to help produce a world of coexistence, not exclusion. From experiences at international conferences, he’s noticed that a new sense of global identity (openness) is developing within our generation, and he is doing everything he can to speed this transformation. Learn more at tiduscoleman.com.

 

d77646_5f1ae0db393f4a999eb5bfd83a1569e2

Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

February 10, 2015
Developing Community in the Middle East

Melissa Diamond is a social entrepreneur and human rights activist who strives to create change in the world by following her heart. In 2012 she founded A Global Voice for Autism, an international non-profit organization that helps children with autism communicate independently, after meeting a family in Jerusalem who was unable to access autism services for their daughter due to the location of their residence in the West Bank. Today, A Global Voice for Autism is expanding around the world and is launching sites in Ramallah, Jordan and the Minneapolis Somali refugee community in addition to its pilot site in Jenin, Palestine.

 

What do you love most about traveling, and what is the most adventurous trip you’ve ever taken?

My favorite thing about traveling is meeting new people and forming relationships with people from diverse cultures and with diverse ways of life. While I love going to a new place, knowing no one, and starting from scratch, much of my travel is inspired by relationships. My most adventurous trip was probably in December 2012 when I traveled to the West Bank (Palestine) with the goal of setting up an autism program there.

During the past summer, I met a family in Jerusalem who had traveled over from the West Bank in search of autism services for their daughter. They told me that due to the stigma surrounding autism in their community, they planned to lock their daughter in their home upon their return. I have a close friend with autism back home, and could not stop thinking about how different her life would have been if she had been born somewhere else.

I stayed in touch with this family and strategized about how to bring services to their community. In December, after having met them for only 5 minutes in person, I traveled to their community to gain a first-hand understanding of the situation for individuals with autism and their families.

How have you designed your life to include travel as a core part of your lifestyle?

I make an effort to travel whenever possible, both in the United States and abroad. As the founder and director of A Global Voice for Autism, an international non-profit whose mission is to help children with autism communicate independently, I have many travel opportunities including to our program sites and to conferences around the world.

We launched our first program in Jenin, Palestine in January 2014, where I lived for three months during the initial program implementation. We are now preparing to launch in Ramallah in April and have sites pending in Jordan and the Minneapolis Somali refugee community. As new communities express a need for our program, I am able to travel to the sites to evaluate a potential fit.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned from traveling or living in another country?

1) You can be a partner in someone’s struggle but you can’t live that struggle for them. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned in life. I have always had the desire to help people who I see suffering and to do everything in my power to alleviate their pain. At times I would see solutions and think that if someone only took a certain action she could improve her life immeasurably.

Through meeting so many different people with unique stories and backgrounds, it has become clear to me that everyone’s individual journey happens in its own time. What might be right for me in a certain situation is not what is best for everyone and the best thing that we can do is to be a friend and to listen to others in their times of need.

2) Forget about the pictures and focus on the experiences. Often when people travel, they live behind the camera lens and spend much of their time and energy on trying to get the perfect picture. When I first started traveling extensively, I invested in a professional digital camera. I took it on one trip and then never brought it again.

By taking the focus away from collecting memories for later, I am able to form relationships that are much deeper and to create memories so vivid that no photograph is needed to bring them to life.

What is your dream trip?

My dream is to spend a year traveling the world with no plan, contributing to the communities I visit in any way that I am able and just seeing what life brings. In recent years I have made friends from around the world and I would love to spend a year traveling to their communities and seeing what their lives are like!

What would you be doing if you hadn’t started traveling?

If I hadn’t started traveling, I probably would have spent the past few years at university and would now be applying for jobs. Fortunately, traveling has opened my eyes to the opportunities I can create for myself by following my passions and convictions and I am now creating a life for myself that aligns with these passions.

Can you share one thing you do to be more adventurous in your everyday life?

I have a list of life lessons on my wall that I have learned from some of the most important people in my life. I read through this every morning when I wake up. These life lessons remind me to stay flexible and to embrace things as they come.

A big lesson I have learned from traveling is to keep the challenges I face in perspective and that grades and degrees and job titles matter little in comparison to the relationships I have in my life.

I remember these things as I make life decisions in order to make sure that I follow my heart rather than the persuasions of society.

Think back to before you ever took your first trip abroad. What was the biggest thing holding you back, and how did you overcome it?

I was very young when I took my first trip abroad, so it’s hard to think of anything that was holding me back, but when I started traveling internationally alone, especially in the Middle East, I had to overcome beliefs about how my identity as an American Jewish woman would affect my ability to travel safely in the region.

I had some hesitation about this at first, but by forming relationships with local community members and by being honest about my identity, it quickly became clear that bonds and friendships mattered far more than any identity labels ever could.

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

February 5, 2015
Shaping the Unconventional Path

Marina Zayats is a young woman from Belarus who’s bent on ‘shaping the unconventional path‘. She is a Global Shaper in her current home base, Frankfurt, Germany. Marina is a hustler who broke into the San Francisco start-up world before the age of 24. She believes that if you want to travel, you can always find ways. In her opinion, you just have to think in a bold way…and ask yourself, “how could I do this?”.

Marina knows from experience that if you really have the desire to do something, you’ll focus on your vision and start to see the possibilities of how to make it happen. If you’ve never traveled before, listen to discover how you can start having international adventures sooner than you might think!

Click here to listen to Marina’s interview

Journal Exercise: Questions for New Travelers

1. Why do you want to travel?

2. What do you want to do abroad?

3. How much time do you want to spend working vs. discovering?

4. What contacts and skills do you already have that can help you get abroad, and how can you really leverage those resources?

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

November 17, 2014