CultureEducation

“I honestly believe if people traveled more often, there would be less conflict because there would be more understanding.” I said this in my Youth Spotlight last week, and I meant it with all my heart. Traveling is a powerful educational tool for everyone and, I believe, is especially eye opening for minority youth like myself. Let me tell you why.

With cultural tensions spewed across the news and social media platforms as of late, people seem quick to grab onto fear before attempting to peacefully resolve a misunderstanding. We are all guilty of being fearful sometimes, but let’s remember, fear is only a result of unfamiliarity. For example, you may be terrified of insects until you watch the Discovery Channel and learn the many ways they help protect us from even scarier things like low crop yields and a massive buildup of animal waste (no, thank you!). Suddenly, you’ll think twice before stepping on the little creatures that are more helpful than we think, and this is all thanks to a bit of new knowledge.

The same concept goes for people. In my personal experiences as a young minority woman traveling, I have often found myself in places where no one looks like me. For some of you, whether Black, Asian, Hispanic, a lovely mix and so on, this might sound familiar. It can be awkward at times, but always eye-opening and beneficial for all parties involved. Travel is absolutely transformative for minority youth in three major ways.

First, it allows those unfamiliar with your culture to become more familiar. When I traveled to New Zealand a few years ago, I never saw another black person during the trip, aside from the few traveling with me in the tour group. This doesn’t mean black people don’t exist in New Zealand; I just never crossed paths with any. During my home stay with a Kiwi family (the native minority population in the country), they told me they’d never had any black friends before and I said I’d never had any Kiwi friends before. At first they were timid to ask pressing questions about my culture, but eventually conversation began flowing as I told them about ridiculous stereotypes that exist in America, the daily struggles faced, and about my personal family history. They reciprocated by telling me about theirs. As native New Zealanders, many of their experiences were similar to mine, as a black American. Who would have known? By the end of the conversation, we could all say we were friends. Pretty good ones, at that. Just think about it – if discussions like this would happen more frequently, there would be much more respect than conflict.

Not only does traveling teach others about you, but it can also teach you about your own culture. Every time you go to a new location, you unlock a part of yourself you didn’t know existed. For example, when I went to Paris for the first time in high school, I learned about how many black Americans in the 1920’s hopped the Atlantic and settled in the City of Lights. Many did this because they felt race was not as much of a hindrance to living a happy life in Paris as it was in America. There were more job opportunities, a booming arts industry, and less violent racism. I found it so interesting to learn about how people like me lived in other countries in the past, and are still living there today. Traveling to Paris expanded my mindset and, in a sense, gave me a newfound sense of my own identity within the world and its history.

Last but surely not least, travel has the power to make the variety of race seem minuscule compared to the unity of humanness. What I mean by this is that through exploring new areas, speaking to new people, immersing yourself in a different society, and catching a glimpse into how others live, similarities across cultures are more evident than any differences could ever be. We all struggle to find ourselves. We all get lazy, grumpy, giggly, frustrated, happy, and jealous at times. We all laugh at our own jokes, have secret crushes on people who don’t know who we are, and have blood flowing through our veins. You get the point. But mostly, we all want to just be happy.

So, whether you are thinking about traveling to another country, a new town, or a new school, I want to encourage you to go for it… for yourself, and for all of us.

Image: Jay Mantri

Travel

Airports: we love them for their usefulness, but hate them for the stress they cause. Growing up as an airport frequenter, I want to share a few useful tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way that make navigating even the maddest airports a breeze. Follow theses tips and, who knows, you may begin looking forward to – and even enjoying! – the airport rather than dreading it:

  1. Check-in before the flight.

Most airlines now allow you to check-in online, 24 hours before your flight. This means you can completely avoid ridiculously long lines at the check-in counters. Not only does this option allow you to (sometimes) pick your own seats (window, please!), but it also gives you wiggle room to show up a few minutes behind schedule and still make the flight in perfect time.

  1. Keep accessories minimal and shoes open.

Taking off loads of rings, bracelets, a watch, a belt, and your favorite sports hat can seriously slow going through airport security. No one wants to be that person who is continuous beeping and holding up the already annoying process. To avoid this, be sure to keep accessories, especially metal one, to a minimum. Also, try and wear open-toes shoes like sandals or flip-flops. Most times, TSA will not request these types of shoes be taken off through security. This saves both time and your feet from walking on the cold dirty airport floor.

  1. Ask if there are any first class seats available.

This might sound silly, but you truly never know until you ask! When there are those luxurious, first class seats available, airlines do not always announce it. Make sure to speak kindly and smile wide to the worker at your gate because sometimes airlines will update you for a reasonable price or even for free. Along with this, occasionally airlines overbook and need volunteers to switch flights in exchange for a stipend, free flight, or other perk. Be sure to take advantage of these opportunities if your travel plans are flexible.

  1. Don’t skimp on snacks and water.

I always have three things with me while traveling – granola or Chex mix, a fruit, and water. Because you cannot bring any outside food through security, pick up a few healthy, filling snacks from your gate that will last you for at least 12 hours. Usually I will leave these items in my carry-on and make them last until I reach my final destination. It is important to travel with some sustenance in case you do not have time later to pick snacks up or you’re like me and need to eat every few hours to function properly!

  1. Make the most out of a long layover.

Like I said in another article, “why not turn an inconvenient few hours into an opportunity to explore?” Layovers can be pleasant if you plan them wisely. Quickly explore the city if you have a long layover, get a massage, browse the bookstore, or eat a good meal in the gate during a short one. Regardless of how long your hiatus is, if you start to look at your layover as an opportunity you’re bound to enjoy it.

  1. Strategize your carry-on essentials.

It is important to pack your carry-on lightly and cleverly while traveling. Make sure everything you need is there, and necessities are all you have. Along with typical necessities like boarding passes and passports, I always pack a thick pair of socks and over-the-ear headphones. Both of these items keep me feeling calm and comfortable in the airport and on the plane. Pick a few items that keep you level headed, whatever they may be, and remember to pack them on your carry-on. You’d be surprised how much a few familiar objects can lower stress and anxiety levels.

I hope these airport hacks serve you as well as they’ve served me throughout the years. Happy traveling!

Image: Flickr

CultureTravel

While it is true most travelers prefer non-stop flights to those with any layovers, I say, why not turn an inconvenient few hours into an opportunity to explore? The Greek capital city, Athens, is not only a common European layover stop, but also a beautiful fusion of ancient history with a youthful flair. Having been lucky enough to experience the spirited city a few times now, I’ve created the ultimate layover guide that will help you make the most of your quick pit stop in Athens. Let’s get into it; or as the Greeks would say, Opa!

Greece 2

8 hours (7 am – 3pm)

As most flights from the States land in Europe bright and early in the morning, there is plenty of time to do all the necessary bits. By “necessary bits,” of course this means none other than the Acropolis. This massive ancient citadel hovers over the entire city, as you can see it from nearly anywhere in the city. Wind back and forth across the rocky outcrop for about 15 minutes until you reach the summit, and you are in for an unforgettable experience. While on top of the Acropolis, not only can you see a panoramic view of Athens, but you can also see the Parthenon and other architectural masterpieces that have been restored to look as proud as they did in 5th century BC. Take it all in and think about how much world history you are standing on top of…literally.

When you’re ready to move on from the beauty of the Acropolis, I recommend hiking down and walking just a few blocks to the Acropolis Museum, where hundreds of rescued, restored, and collected artifacts are housed from the ruins. Getting up close to each piece and examining its every intricate detail is a remarkable thing.

greece

12 Hours (7 am – 7 pm)

Spend time perusing and people watching in the animated, and ever loving Monastiraki Square, located near the historical Plaka neighborhood. To this day, I have never seen so much affection in one place. In the square, Greeks are often tightly hugging dear friends, passionately kissing their lovers, or jesting about with adorably dressed young children. Shop the windy side streets and browse all the flea markets, souvenirs, and trinkets. It’s a wonderful place to relax, enjoy your company, and of course grab a quick bite!

Thanasis is a restaurant well known for their mouth-watering souvlakis, a popular Greek dish with your choice of grilled meat, tzatziki sauce, veggies, and sometime fries, tightly wrapped in a fluffy pita. It’s conveniently located right on Monastiraki Sqaure, so you can involve your taste buds in the love fest, as well.

In case you want a more formal meal, only a block or so away from the square is an ultramodern, luxurious hotel called A for Athens. Take their terrifying small elevator (it’s worth it, I promise!) to the very top floor and get ready for more great views, food, and drinks. The magnificently lit Acropolis and Greek techno music serve as a backdrop while you sip on your beverage of choice and enjoy modern takes on traditional Greek cuisine. Keep an ear out for all of the languages you’re bound to hear surrounding you – it is remarkable how many international people flock to this great spot!

18 Hours (7 am – 1 am)

Make your way to the main square in Athens, Syntagma Square. This is often referred to as the “heart” of the city as Greek Parliament is located here, not to mention a common site for political demonstrations. In the square are various food vendors and a lovely park area, while the side streets contain some of Greece’s best shopping. For all the serious shoppers, this is a top priority before your layover comes to an end. There are international chain stores, but also boutiques unique to Greece, so you really get a taste of everything fashion-wise!

Finally wrap up your super quick layover in Athens by taking the metro to Soho Bar Athens in the Gazi neighborhood. This club and bar has a neat atmosphere, and is usually full of young professionals and or the “starving artist” type. Prepare for your next flight with a cold glass of ouzo and call it a day!

Image: Aysia Woods (Acropolis and Monastiraki Square); Carpe Juvenis (Greek Flag)

CultureEducationSkillsTravel

The past couple of days have been a whirlwind in our nation’s capital. As I shared last week, I was honored to receive the Congressional Award Gold Medal yesterday. From the dinner to the actual Medal Ceremony, it has been awesome getting to see more of D.C., as well as meeting the other amazing medal recipients. If you’ve been following along on Instagram, you’ve seen a behind-the-scenes look at what I experienced. I thought I’d share some more details about the pictures here in a diary format. Let’s begin!

Tuesday, June 17

Penn Station

 7:00am – Rise and shine! The train for D.C. left bright and early, and the journey officially kicks off with a delicious breakfast sandwich, apple juice, and a full itinerary for the next couple of days.

Train view

8:00am – The view from the train is perfect for zoning out and seeing America zip by. Love views like this when I want to focus on absolutely nothing.

Working on the Train

 9:00am – Enough zoning out. It’s time to get some work done! With a full to-do list and more posts to write, the train is the best time to concentrate on the task at hand. It’s like being at the airport – there are many ways to stay productive.

National Geographic Society

 2:00pm – No time to waste now that I’m here in D.C.! Made a super cool stop at National Geographic HQ for an awesome upcoming Professional Spotlight. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 18

Constituent Coffee Russell Senate Office Bldg

8:00am – Another early D.C. morning! I trek to the Capitol to meet for a Constituent Coffee with Washington’s Senator Patty Murray. It was a pleasure meeting her and other Washingtonians.

Gold Dinner 2014

 8:00pm – The first official Congressional Award event: the Gold Medal Dinner. I took Catherine, who has earned her Silver Medal, and we met really inspiring youth from around the country. We also heard from some pretty incredible speakers, including Kevin Liles, the Honorable Ron Kind, and Chris Jordan.

Lauren holding CA medalist book

 9:00pm – Here I am holding The Congressional Award Medalist book with other medalists’ stories and speaker information. The energy of the room was contagious!

Thursday, June 19

Carpet from Ceremony at Capitol Cannon Caucus House

 9:00am – The time has come for the Congressional Award Gold Medal Ceremony! This carpet design caught my eye, and I couldn’t not snap a quick picture before going through security. I felt so official just standing on this carpet.

Offices in Cannon House

 11:45am – Walking through the halls of the Cannon Caucus House. Everything is so…impressive.

Catherine and Lauren by reflection pool

 12:05pm – Catherine and I standing in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Can you spot the Washington Monument? Can’t wait to be here again next year when she earns her Gold Medal!

Lincoln

 3:30pm – I have the afternoon off! I walk to the Lincoln Memorial, and as usual, am in awe of its impressive size and beauty.

This week has been amazing, to say the least. Thanks for coming along on the journey with me, and I hope you enjoyed the sneak peeks!

SkillsTravel

Short line at security? Flight delay? Layover? Don’t let extra time you have at the airport or on the plane go to waste. Whether you want to sleep to regain energy, make new friends and contacts, catch up with your sister on the phone, or complete your work tasks, there are various things you can do to stay productive and still have an enjoyable flight. View traveling as a blessing in disguise to do things you wouldn’t normally have time for or to cross tasks off of your to-do list. Have safe and productive travels!

1. Read Magazines or Books

Catch up on magazines you have been wanting to read all month. Finally finish that last chapter. Reading on the plane or during a layover is a great way to escape the stress of traveling.

2. Journal

Always bring a notebook with you so you can jot down your thoughts, travel experiences, or the things you are grateful for.

3. Network

If you sense that the person sitting next to you at your gate or on the plane is willing to having a conversation, ask him or her how they are. You never know who you’ll meet on the plane, and it can be a fun way to get to know people from around the world.

4. Organize Files and Photos

If you brought your computer, organize files and photos on your computer. No WiFi necessary to complete this task!

5. Write Your To-Do List

Now that you have a lot of time to think, write your to-do list for the week or month. When you are out of your normal work element, you might have a better sense of what needs to be done. Better yet, use this time to get some of those tasks completed and crossed off!

6. Watch a Documentary

Pre-download a documentary on your laptop or see what movies the flight has to offer. Now is a good time to watch a movie you didn’t have the chance to see in theaters, or to learn about a cool new topic.

7. Call a Friend or Family Member

If you’re feeling chatty, call up a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. Your mom might also enjoy hearing from you.

8. Take a Walk

Depending on the airport, there can be some pretty great stores or cafes and restaurants that you can browse. Walk around and see what you can find. It can even be entertaining to circle the newsstand kiosks to people watch or see what’s out there. If you really have a lot of time, you can walk the lengths of the terminal to get some cardio in before you have to sit for a long time.

9. Get Your Meal at the Airport 

If you have enough time, sit down for a meal or snack. Even if you need to grab your meal to go, it’s better than airplane food. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle of H2O!

10. Write Letters

The art of the handwritten letter is making a comeback. Take 15 minutes to write a friend a letter.

11. Complete Your Work

Now’s a great time to focus on homework or work that you need to complete. Finish up a blog post, draft an email, or finalize that strategy you’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. These are all work items that don’t need WiFi.

12. Sleep

Sleep deprived? There’s no better time to catch up on your zzz’s. Tip: sleep on the plane and not in the waiting lounge. That way you don’t have to watch your stuff or worry about anyone snatching your backpack. Also, don’t forget your eye mask – it’s a life saver when people are walking past you or reading with the overhead light on!