Poetry for the eyes.
“66% of fourth grade girls say they like science and math. But only 18% of all college engineering majors are female.”
Verizon’s 2014 commercial raises some very good points. Women in America are victims of extreme gender stereotyping and it largely affects the choices we make later in life – including whether or not to travel.
Culturally, women are treated as precious snowflakes; sweet, delicate, and disastrously ill equipped to contend with the meatier struggles of life.
Whether a woman is walking on to a used car lot, pursuing an engineering degree, or planning a trek across southeastern Columbia, the reaction is always the same:
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
An article on Forbes.com tracked the public outcry prompted by the death of a 33-year-old woman traveling in Turkey:
- “A single woman traveling alone is risky. In a foreign country, it is downright foolish.”
- “A woman has no business traveling alone.”
- “No WAY I would even let my beautiful wife out the door to travel to any country alone.”
It’s a sad fact that things like this happen, but bottling women up is not the answer. Terrible things are likely to happen anywhere, even at home. According to the FBI, 80% of violent crime victims know their attackers personally.
When I was a child, one of my classmates bragged about an amazing weekend in NYC. Inspired, I went home and asked my mother if she could take me the following weekend.
She let out a small sigh and said, “Your father is busy, but maybe some other weekend.”
“But why can’t we go just the two of us?” I asked.
“It’s much too dangerous for us to travel to a big city like New York on our own,” she said.
This is the viewpoint that many of my friends and I grew up with; an opinion still institutionalized within my home community.
Every day, concerned friends furrow their brows and ask my mother how on earth she can cope with me living in rural Guatemala.
I am lucky to have so many amazing people in my life who care. But in a more perfect world, people would have confidence in my pursuits and not see every travel excursion as an opportunity for the real-life enactment of Little Red Riding Hood.
Recently, Ohio State’s Women in Engineering (WIE) has taken amazing strides in combating these restrictive stereotypes.
After hearing of the extremely low ranking Guatemala received on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index, the group is preparing to launch an annual woman-centered engineering expedition in conjunction with NGO Mayan Families.
For three months each summer, students will travel to Guatemala to utilize special engineering strategies to empower women and deliver long-term industrial solutions.
The project will give female students the opportunity to travel, experience a new culture, and contend with gender inequality issues both at home and abroad.
At just 18 years old, electrical and computer engineering major Mary Scherer is the pilot representative for the initiative, gathering all the information to approve funding for the trip while pioneering the educational practices that future students will employ.
She’s optimistic that the program will not only benefit the indigenous communities, but will also stand as a champion initiative for equal rights and the empowerment of women everywhere:
“Experiencing volcanic hikes, flooding rains, and an earthquake after only three weeks in Guatemala, I have realized that the world is constantly changing. But while teaching here in Panajachel, I have also realized that as a woman in engineering, I too am changing the world.”
Explaining a developing country to someone who has never seen one is like teaching a blind man to paint. He can hold the brush and imagine the colors, but the abstraction can never be actualized to intent.
It takes a certain level of visionary consciousness to confront the honesty that oozes from every cobble and crack. Quantifying impoverished localities means awareness—open eyes, open ears, and open heart. Awareness is not pity, sorrow, or sympathy. It’s an agreement to see and appreciate the world around you from outside the comparative lens. It’s quiet observation, nurtured by a respectful curiosity. It’s sharing in the enthusiasm, friendliness, and sociability expressed by those struggling under the poorest circumstances. Most of all, it’s feeling awed by a cultural community where poverty, trust, and goodwill thrive in tandem.
Unfortunately, this state of mind is not fundamental or inherent. It takes commitment and reflection, as well as a passionate respect for what lays beyond one’s understanding. It’s been my experience that most travelers remain disengaged, despite total immersion in a developing culture. They flit from one visceral encounter to the next with hasty unaccountability. Their days are scaffolded to fulfill one self-gratifying agenda or another; they do not hear, think, or see beyond the tragedy of foregoing first-world conveniences. Every exposure and observation, for them,is colored by their own perception of what’s right and normal.
Embracing twilight from a terrace in rural Guatemala, I witnessed one of the worst examples of the disenfranchised perspective. It was close to 9pm and most shopkeepers were rolling down their gates after a hard day of work. One booth remained open, manned by a girl about 12 or 13. Her frock, sandals, and emotive gaze were as downcast as they were colorful. As I studied her, a group of American tourists surged up the lane—three teenage boys ducked inside her booth and peevishly rummaged through her goods. They snickered, playing with their smartphones and shoving each other into her carefully arranged wares. None of the boys offered a glance her way, as her mouth sank into an expression of gritty fatigue.
Laughing, one of the boys stepped backward and tripped over a vase. The group turned to stare as hand-painted shards splintered across the pavement. For a moment, the boys just gaped in silence at the wasted terracotta. They looked at each other, then the girl. She didn’t make a movement. Her jaw quivered. Suddenly, one of the boys shrieked and took off down the street. The other two followed—they broke into peals of giggles, their voices echoing through the night air as they caught up with their group.
I dropped money on the table, grabbed the basket of rolls, and ran out of the restaurant. She was in the street, sweeping up the shards with tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Let me pay,”I said, shoving a wad of bills into her tiny hands.
She tried not to accept it, but after a few moments she gave in and took the bills from me. I offered her the rolls from the restaurant and she gingerly accepted those as well. We sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the moonlit tranquility. Her native language was Kaqchikel, a spoken language indigenous to the Mayan people, but eventually we were able to exchange a few ephemeral pleasantries in Spanish. I learned that she works every day from sunrise to sunset, earning money to care for seven younger siblings. Her one wish was to go to school, but for the time being her family needed her income to subsist. Despite it all, she was optimistic. Happiness isn’t conditional, it just is. In just a few minutes, she demonstrated more courage and heart than anyone I’ve ever met.
In this moment, all the tyrannical urgencies of life were extinguished and I could see things exactly as they were. For every act of blind disrespect, I hope that as we evolve as a people and a species, there is always someone watching. Someone who cares.
5000 times a year, the average 20 something wonders – am I making it, or faking it?
We all have our tag-line fronts, giving petulant aunts and over enthusiastic strangers a vague but impressive representation of ourselves.
“Im fronting a project as a Dynamic Applications Developer. It’s a multilateral stratagem, designed to provide analysis and facilitate industry-wide solutions.”
It’s not that we haven’t achieved a lot or aren’t telling the truth. The problem is, none of us has any confidence in ourselves professionally. And that’s because of years of rejection and unpaid intern abuse; a symptom of an unstable world economy.
Expats who leap from nation to nation changing jobs have it the worst of all, because the number one detriment to potential hires is too little time working at one company.
Employers want to see that you have stuck it out exploring one path, at one company for X amount of time, evolving and growing as a valuable commodity. This is how to earn their trust. After all, they don’t want to hire you and then lose you to a stunningly uncompromising need to go frolic the Serengeti.
And worst of all, as an expat, former, or current traveler, it’s really hard to come to terms with the stable, progressive lifestyle everyone else is living. But what I have come slowly to realize, is that there is no right way to do things – and more importantly, nobody really has it all together.
No matter how convincing our tag-line descriptions, hiding behind all of us is a little voice that wonders if we are doing well enough. Doing it right.
Everyone wishes they could change some aspect of their life, past present or future. Maybe they wish they had pursued acting in their youth, or gone out for baseball.
Maybe they saw their lives completely differently 5 years ago and can’t quite put a finger on why.
What I’ve learned, is that when you find those things you believe in, be brave, because it’s better to look back and know you tried your hardest than to never try at all.
Most importantly, don’t compare yourself to others. It only leads to confusion and false impressions. Have faith in what you can do, because people will only take you as seriously as you take yourself.
My amber eyed abettor, lounge-champion 2014. She naps to save lives. Napping in earnest for her masters return. From somewhere. The grocery store, the Eiffel Tower, Tibet.
According to the Dream Dictionary, travel plays a significant role in our dreams. Places we’ve been, places we’d love to go, and places we’ll never go. But what if we are already out there traveling?
Three weeks before leaving Sydney, my dreams took a sharp turn. Waking drenched in sweat, I would feel the passionate, mind-bending visions coiling around me.
Radioactive monkey-spiders. A talking dog, that also plays the harmonica. Jimmy Fallon trapped inside the body of a mongoose.
After 2 years living abroad, I was preparing to quit my job, pack up my life, say goodbye to a continent of friends, and take off on a grand Trans-Siberian journey. Outwardly, I was tranquil, collected, primed. Inside, my soul was screaming out like a canary snatched from a windowsill and sling-shot into Narnia.
Traveling brings thrill, passion, adventure, romance, and inspiration into our lives – but it also brings risk and uncertainty. Fortunately, we have dreams that allow us to process the complex emotions and disabling fears that we’re unable or unwilling to contend with in our waking lives.
For me, interpreting my dreams in those precarious weeks before and during my travels enabled me to process the colossal changes and uncertainty. I found that ‘angry monkey spiders’ turned out to mean-I don’t like packing. But should stop avoiding it.
Then mongoose Jimmy Fallon actually had a lot of useful information on how to make friends in Russia.
Some scientists believe that dreaming is the same state of mind that schizophrenics experience. It’s an environment where all our wildest passions can explode to extremes we would never conceive of in reality; and it feels great.
By this logic, our “nightly madness” clears the cobwebs of doubt that inhibit us from expressing ourselves fully and listening to our souls guidance. Tally ho!
I always loved how Van Gogh painted sky as if every single piece of matter radiated a warm, electric iridescence into the atmosphere. This is my attempt to do the same . To the traveler’s eye, a scene is not simply a scene; it’s a living, breathing personality.
My friends often make fun of me because I have a habit of making friends in very strange places.
I’ll go to the bathroom for 5 minutes and come out arm and arm with a girl I never saw before in my life. Usually that’s because I’ve embarrassed myself somehow, and we both shared a laugh at my expense. It’s an interesting way to go through life. When I travel, it seems that both the likelihood of fail and the likelihood of spontaneous friendship increase exponentially. I should make a bar graph.
There were a few points during my Trans-Siberian journey when I found trouble, and suddenly, a friend was there. My night train from Saint Petersburg to Moscow turned out to be one of these occasions.
It’s a good thing that I don’t speak Russian – I would have probably been very offended to hear the sneers of disgruntled passengers who put up with me staggering from one wrong seat to the next. And the next. It was pitch dark, I was the last to board, and all of the seat numbers, (and my ticket) were in Russian. OH fail.
It wasn’t the volume or their tone that made me uncomfortable….maybe it was the laughter. Yeah, that was it. And the way they pierced me with their pitiless gazes, as though I was naked on the first day of primary school.
Sliding into the correct seat at last, I shmooshed my awkward tote under the table, smoothed my fluffed up curls, and let my heart beat settle into it’s natural rhythm. At least I had the seat across from me to myself.
But then, just as the train whistle blew, a wiry old man stumbled up the isle and slid into the seat I had been planning for a leg-rest.
It was a tiny one-person booth. He and I sat opposite, with a metal table between us. I was just settling into the awkward language-barrier silence, when he piped up; “Hi! How are you? My name is Zuzuka and I’d love to practice my English.” We chatted for a good while and I settled into a velvety relaxation.
When the conversation ended, I pulled out a sweater and settled in to sleep face-first on the table, like a cat. He called out to me, pointing to the bunk above us, and I said “That’s ok, you can have it!” After all, I had paid for a ‘seat’ only, not a bed. It was fair.
He started to make his bed and I clocked out again, only to wake to him saying “Hey! Let me help you!” I did not understand what he meant, so I told him that I was all set.
False!! At this point, he pulls my sweater-pillow away and says “Get up you poop!” So I did. Life-changing was the moment when I watched him macgyver this very fixed looking table upside-down, and then lower it snuggly into the space between the seats. Bed number two. My eyebrows actually launched off my face in surprise.
I went to lay down, when he said “No no no. Wrong again.”
This time, he made me move over while he whisked bedding out of thin air and made my entire bed for me. This is the point it dawned on me that I was about to make a poor old man scuttle up to a top bunk, while I sleep like a fat lazy beagle in my pre-made bed. I begged to switch, but he would not hear of it. The dear.
Snug as pie, I settled in to sleep. My last memory before drifting off to the narcotizing sway of the train car was of Zuzuka peering over the edge of his bunk and whispering “Goodnight Jessica!!!” with a massive grin, waving like a kindergartener fresh off the school bus.
I will never forget the super fun trajectory of fail that led me to such a good person. It seems that kindred spirits can be found anywhere.
Travel while you’re young”, they always tell you growing up.
“See it all now, because before you know it, you’ll be tied down with a career, family and responsibilities. It will never be the same.”For billions of people, this is exactly how it works. And how it has always worked.
Do an exchange program, cross a few hot-ticket destinations off the bucket list, then settle into a stable, nuclear lifestyle. Maybe honeymoon abroad and spring for a few vacations when you can find time. And pet care. And house-sitters.
But for most of us, growing up means settling down, and staying put.
Raised under such pretenses, I was determined to seize every opportunity for adventure. Each journey was veiled in a choking sense of culmination. “This may be the one chance you’ll have to do this”, I told myself every day.
The problem is, I got addicted.
Chasing the strange and sensational across the globe, I find that with every new excursion it gets harder and harder to accept that it may be my last. Nonetheless, as an ambitious, career-minded woman in my late twenties, it’s time to face facts.
What is more important, career or travel? Experience, history, and social paradigms tell me that I must choose.
As it turns out, I am not alone. Exploring Asia, I met a number of like-minded expats who are struggling with the very same issue and feel societal pressure to lock life down. Many of them, like myself, have been attempting to prolong the settling ‘grace period’ allotted to people in their twenties; either by studying, working abroad, or teaching English.
But what happens after you have exhausted these channels? I’ve been pleased to learn that career evolution has evolved.
In a globalized world economy, there are now boundless opportunities available for people to incorporate travel within their existing role, work independently, or work remotely.
Likewise, it is now universally common for individuals to change roles, companies, and industries a number of times throughout their career development.
Just because settling down and staying put is what we are socially groomed to appreciate as ‘the right way’ to do things doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with letting wanderlust intermediate the quest for career success.
Theres something surreal about slinking through the cobbled streets of a major metropolis at dawn. It’s like you’re standing at the edge of the world, frozen in time. Abandoned newspaper stands shudder in the icy breeze like a couple of matchbooks taped together. Delicate traces of last night’s mistakes still cling to curbsides and alleyways. I watch the golden fingers of morning creep their way through an icy metropolis. It’s fresh, tangerine perfection.