CultureTravel

I visited Iceland in May and I can’t lie— it’s the most fascinating country I’ve ever been to. Iceland is a land of lava and ice where geysers burst, glaciers glimmer, and valleys of all colors stretch into the horizon. Here is a list of some fascinating things about Iceland:

1. American and European Influence 

Iceland lies on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the underwater border where the tectonic plates of America and Eurasia are slowly spreading apart. Iceland is geographically part of Europe (not part of EU), but half of it lies on the American plate, which is gradually moving westward (estimated 1-2cm a year). Due to its geographical location, the country is culturally influenced both by the United States and Europe. Icelanders say that the cars, music, and television are more American, but fashion and architecture more European.

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2. One of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe

Almost four-fifths of the country is uninhabited. The population is only 320,000 and 200,000 of the people live in and around the capital, Reykjavik. The country’s size is disproportionally large given its small population. Iceland is 103,000 square km or 40,000 square mi. It’s approximately 25% larger than Ireland, or about the size of the state of Ohio.

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3. The world’s most eco-friendly country in terms of energy

Because Iceland has a substantial amount of volcanic activity, about 85% of the country’s energy comes from renewable resources. 30% of Iceland’s electricity is geothermal – the highest percentage worldwide. The rest of the nation’s electricity is generated by hydropower, making Iceland the world’s most eco-friendly country in terms of energy. Iceland has over 150 public swimming pools and most of them are heated by all-natural volcanic heat. 

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4. Swimming is a hobby

Icelanders go to the heated outdoor swimming pools, where the water either comes from the hot springs or the geothermal power plant, at least once a week. It’s a place for social interaction, where they discuss weather and politics with strangers. You must always take a shower before going into the pool — they have strict policies about this. Everyone highly recommends visiting the Blue Lagoon, a huge outdoor geothermal spa. 

Harpa- a concert hall and conference centre in Reykjavík

5. It’s not that cold

Despite the name suggesting otherwise, the coastal climate in Iceland is mild. Even though summers in Iceland don’t get hot, the winters don’t get cold either. The average temperature in the summer in Reykjavik is 10 – 13 °C (50–55 °F). The average temperature in the winter is about 0 °C (32 °F).

6. Bright or Dark All Day

During the peak of summer, the sun stays out for 24 hours.  During the middle of winter, there are only a few hours of daylight, but the northern lights fill the sky.  The best season to see the northern lights is from September to mid-April – the nights are darkest during these months.

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7. Icelanders Eat Puffins 

Puffins are small birds with black and white feathers, and they’re absolutely adorable. The puffin population in Iceland is around 8-10 million. Icelanders eat puffins all the time and a raw puffin heart is considered a delicacy. You can find a meal similar to this on a restaurant menu: “smoked puffin with blueberry sauce.”

There couldn’t have been a better advertisement for Iceland’s tourism industry than the volcano eruption in 2010 that resulted in the cancelation of thousands of flights. The number of visitors to Iceland more than doubled between 2010 and 2014. Tourism is currently country’s biggest source of export revenue, surpassing even fishing, which has dominated the nation’s economy since the Vikings first arrived in the ninth century. 

Icelandair has been crucial to this tourism boom because it offers travellers the option of stopping over in Iceland for up to seven days for no extra airfare. So next time you’re flying across the Atlantic, have a layover in Iceland for at least 24 hours— you won’t regret it and will collect memories for a lifetime. Every time I look at the photo I took of the Gullfoss Waterfall, it reminds me what it felt like to stand at the edge of the earth.

Images: Courtesy of Demi Vitkute

 

Book PostsCulture

Today is Mexico’s Independence Day, and we’ve rounded up some of our favorite reads from and about this unique and awesome country. Each year on September 16th Mexico celebrates its independence with parades, parties, delicious food, and family and friends. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of Mexico and its culture, take a look through our book suggestions below.

mexico books

  1. The Years with Laura Diaz
  2. Mexico: Democracy Interrupted
  3. Pedro Páramo
  4. Frida: A Biography of Frida Khalo
  5. History of the Conquest of Mexico

What is your favorite book? Is there one specifically related to Mexico’s history? Let us know @carpejuvenis on Twitter!

Cover Image: Flickr

 

CultureExploreTravel

Dearest Northeast,

Someone wise once told me to always be honest with how you feel about something. So, I just wanted to take a bit of time to thank you for being you. I admit, I have never written a love letter before and I’m a little nervous. Words often pale in comparison to true feelings, but I will give this my best shot.

Since my earliest memories as a shy Kindergartener, you have been there to comfort me. From the way your rain elicits that calming dewy scent to how icy snow mesmerizingly blows across hills with a gust of wind, your temperament has always had this uncanny way of reflecting exactly how I feel on the inside.

I love how optimistic and energetic you are. As us millennials crave a fresh outlook on life, your cities provide us with an overflow of inspiration and likeminded individuals. Between the powerful minds among my beloved D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, there is no groundbreaking idea that couldn’t be born here. Something about you keeps me excited to keep on plugging forward… and quickly, at that.

I love how you have taught me acceptance. Living here has surrounded me with people and situations from all walks of life. From different shades to beliefs to lifestyles, you have taught me first hand that exposure to differences makes me a more well-rounded person. Because your cities are diverse and conveniently only a few hours apart from each other, I’m always fascinated by how easy it is to be in a new environment.

I love how festive you are. Each of your well-defined seasons truly makes every holiday feel special. You have convinced me that warm holiday seasons or cool summers are simply not right. On Easter I can count on a brisk, sunny April day; perfect for my pastel clothing and a little outdoor egg hunt. Come my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving; I know outside the auburn leaves will fall and the chilly air will smell like cinnamon and pumpkin. During holiday time, I am sure quaint stone houses will be delicately covered with twinkly lights and fake Santas. I’ve come to depend on the way you make each holiday feel so nostalgic. For that, I am thankful.

Last but never least, I love how stunning you are. What other area has such variety in so small an area? Tan beaches, rugged mountains, babbling streams, rich forests, bustling cities, cozy suburbs… you are a sight for everyone’s sore eyes. These gorgeous landscapes combined with the Victorian and Colonial architecture — it doesn’t get any prettier than that.

So many people have a love-hate relationship with the place they call home; half glad to see family, half miserable feeling trapped, but I always felt lucky that I grew up in this area. You are home whenever I feel lost.

Northeast, you are wonderful. Please, never change.

Love,
Aysia

Image: Gratisography

CultureEducation

Studying abroad was the absolute best decision I made in college. The idea popped into my head during my third year, and I headed for England just four months later. At 21 years old, I packed my bags and sat alone at the airport, excited and scared of what I (sort of) impulsively got myself into. I went to the University of Worcester in England for the Spring 2011 semester, where I stayed in a dorm with other international students. At the time, I thought the best part of it all was the absolute freedom to travel.

Flash-forward to almost five years later, I look back and realize that my experiences shaped exactly who and where I am today. It wasn’t just about the places I visited or the pictures I took; it was about growing up and learning from my mistakes. Here are three life lessons I learned from studying abroad, and reasons why I will always be grateful to have gone.

Ride the wave. You can try to plan and strategize everything you do, but often times, it won’t work out that way. We hear this all the time but it’s hard to conceptualize it until you’re out of college and living in the real world. When I was traveling abroad, there were flights I missed, things I forgot to pack, and money that I lost – and it all felt like the worst thing ever. I went nuts trying to figure my way out around problems, but ultimately I learned to be more flexible, innovative, and adaptive with my solutions. In your personal and professional life, many unexpected things happen and it makes no difference whether you can control them or not. It’s important to be willing to adapt to a new company, boss, or change the relationships you’re in and the career you are set on having. While it’s good to have a blueprint the next ten years, the truth is that good luck happens just as much as bad luck. Just keep moving forward.

You are a little freckle on the face of the earth. We always get told that everyone’s different and we shouldn’t judge anyone. But exposing yourself to different cultures makes you realize that your judgments and assumptions of others are only based on social standards that you grew up with. Whether they were instilled by your parents or friends, it’s all you know. Traveling and interacting with people that are totally different allows you to understand that the ideals you’ve been taught are not the only ones that exist – and you may not agree with them. What you always thought was “right” perhaps isn’t. Once you truly internalize what all of that means, the more you’ll be able to think for yourself. Opening your mind to the reality that people, many people, exist outside your bubble (your friends/town/country), the better you’ll be at accepting others despite your opinions of them. This characteristic is not only crucial to your personal development, but in your professional growth as well. No matter what industry you’re in, you’ll be exposed to people from all sorts of backgrounds. It’s not a matter of knowing everything about them, but a matter of having a respect for their differences.

Everything has a deadline. When you’re young, it’s easy to feel invincible and think everything lasts forever. This is because the transition between grammar school, high school, and college aren’t really that drastic; they all consist of classrooms, textbooks, summer vacations – the list goes on. You go through the motions with your friends and it seems like your 30th birthday is literally never going to happen. When I headed home from the U.K., I realized how quickly life passes by. One week I was at the Cliffs of Moher, the next I was camping out for Will and Kate’s royal wedding, and then suddenly I was just sitting on my couch watching TV in New Jersey. Now, at 26 years old, I can’t even process the fact that my early twenties are gone. Though it’s common to want to fast-forward to a future event (whether it’s graduating or turning 21), it’s important to stop and appreciate the here and now. One day, you might be wishing you were right where you are at this moment.

As someone who is all about making mistakes and experiencing things on my own, I am the first to say that reading about life lessons isn’t even close to learning them. But if there’s anything I hope people will gain by reading this, it’s to look for something to take a chance on while there’s time (and to obviously study abroad if you can). It’s not just about making new memories, it’s about changing yourself for the better, too.

Image: Flickr

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

SpotlightYouth Spotlight

We’re very excited to introduce you to our Travel and Culture Columnist, Aysia Woods. You’ve likely seen her work all over our website (and if not, check them all out here). Currently a graduate student at The George Washington University, Aysia has a passion for all things travel. She has explored many corners of the globe, and we’re lucky enough to get a peek into her adventures through her articles.

We are inspired by Aysia’s honesty, optimism, and determination. Passionate about helping others and living a balanced life, Aysia is someone who 100% seizes her youth. Get to know Aysia, her top travel tips, and how she overcomes struggles below!

Name: Aysia Woods
Education: Graduate student at The George Washington University studying Anthropology and Journalism 
Follow: Twitter: @AysiaWoods | Instagram: @FloralGumbo
Location: Washington, D.C.

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define “Seizing Your Youth”?

Aysia Woods: I define it as taking advantage of all youthfulness has to offer – energy, creativity, and adaptability. These characteristics are at their peak in our early years, so I think it is extremely important to nurture them now, rather than later.

CJ: As the travel columnist for Carpe Juvenis, you share your insights and explorations with our community. What inspires you to travel?

AW: I think it’s just in my blood. My parents and the majority of my family grew up all over the world because they were in the military, and they’ve definitely taught me the value of travel at young age. I get restless very easily and exploring is the only thing that quenches that sensation. The fascinating people I meet along the way and those moments where you think, “I can’t believe this is my life,” are what inspire me the most. For example (true story), walking at 1 a.m. along a boardwalk near Cape Town, South Africa, with three European friends, and then happily stumbling upon a club full of Australian tourists hosting their “Latin Fiesta night.” Perfectly random, uniting moments like this are so priceless and inexplicable. I honestly believe if people traveled more often, there would be less conflict because there would be more understanding. The world would be a happier place.

CJ: You recently graduated from college. What has been one of the most surprising changes you’ve dealt with so far being in the “real world”?

AW: I can’t say it was surprising, but I’m still learning just how much self-motivation it takes being the “real world.” Going from being told what to do from teachers the past 18 years with rigid daily schedules to complete independence is definitely a learning curve. Because no one is forcing you to do anything, I think the key to curbing complacency is forcing yourself to stick to a strict agenda and maintain those short-term goals.

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CJ: If you could give yourself a piece of advice the day before you started college as a freshman, what would it be?

AW: Start networking long before you graduate. Connections are everything.

CJ: You just started graduate school at the George Washington University – congratulations!  What factors influenced you in your decision to both apply to and attend graduate school directly out of college?

AW: Thank you! I am actually in a combined 5-year B.A./M.A. program for Anthropology, so I started my first graduate classes during my senior undergraduate year and now I have just a year left. Because my major had this option, I decided applying to its 5-year program would be a logical choice because it would allow me to save money and time getting a master’s degree elsewhere. Working on a master’s thesis right after graduation isn’t so easy when all you want is the typical post-college Euro trip, but I know it will be so worth it!

CJ: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received so far?

AW: “Treat everyone like they are special,” which is from my dad. The best advice I get is always from him.

CJ: How do you measure success?

AW: I measure success in positive influence and overcoming challenges. I like to say this rather than something like “100% pure happiness” or “supporting my family” because I think a lot of the time, those are not realistic. It doesn’t matter if someone is a middle school teacher, trash man, CEO, or unemployed. The most successful people, in my eyes, are those who spread joy to others and are resilient.

CJ: You were part of the college club George Washington Women in Business (GWWIB). What was an important lesson you learned through participation in that group?

AW: GWWIB taught me so much about teamwork and the importance of personal branding, which I am forever grateful for. I was mostly involved in their Annual Spring Conferences, which was a great way to learn how to work with a large group, and also an opportunity to learn from and interact with successful professional women. The opportunities that exist in this organization are wonderful and should be taken advantage of. For anyone reading this, I urge you to get involved with GWWIB (men are welcome, too)!

CJ: What is your dream job?

AW: Having a massive family-owned company that publishes a travel magazine and has an accompanying travel agency, opening a few trendy lounges around the world, and eventually opening a retail store. That would be amazing.

CJ: You dedicate a lot of your time to community service. Why is this and would you recommend other young adults get involved in volunteerism as well?

AW: I believe giving back is an integral part of being a good citizen and overall person. If all we do is take from the world, we are leaving behind a void, rather than a legacy. I absolutely recommend other young people get involved in volunteerism. Two organizations I am familiar with are Global Vision International and D.C. Central Kitchen; they both do amazing work in their local communities. There are so many amazing programs – you just have to find one with a cause you are passionate about.

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CJ: Where did your interest in food justice and sustainable living come from? What advice would you give to someone new to developing on a healthier lifestyle?

AW: I always knew I was interested in food, but it was my Introduction to Sustainability class I took as a sophomore that truly opened my eyes. In one of the classes, I learned about food deserts for the first time and remember feeling so upset. I couldn’t image growing up with such limited access to fresh produce and not having the power to change it.

From that point, I quickly declared a sustainability minor and loved learning about the relationship between humans and our environment. I feel like the topics covered in this discourse should be taught to everyone! For someone new to developing a healthier lifestyle, I would say try to live a balanced life. To me, healthy living is equal parts nutritious food, physical activity, and mindfulness of your lifestyle.

CJ: How do you deal with difficult days and move past them? What have you learned about overcoming struggles?

AW: This is an embarrassing question for me, but I’ll answer honestly. My first response to a difficult situation is to get a moment to myself and cry it out. At this point in my life, I have learned to just accept shedding some tears as my natural reaction and not fight it. I think that is what overcoming struggles is all about – letting yourself be momentarily upset, de-stressing however works best for you, then finding a solution. Overcoming struggles is a constant in life, so figuring out how you deal with them early on gives you the upper hand for the difficult days in your future.

CJ: What are a few travel tips you always use?

AW: I like to always bring a fuzzy pair of socks in my carry-on for those freezing flights, keep chew-able Pepto Bismol in my pocket at all times (you just never know), and take notes. It’s so sad when you’re back home and trying to remember that song you heard on the radio or that cool shop you are meaning to go back too, but can’t. So, I always type little notes on my phone or whatever scrap of paper I have lying around.

CJ: What is your favorite book?

AW: The Big Sea: An Autobiography by Langston Hughes.

CJ: What advice would you give your 14 year-old-self?

AW: You are on the right path, so don’t try and follow behind anyone else telling you otherwise!

Aysia Woods Qs

Images by Aysia Woods

Culture

What do you see in a plate of food? You might notice the portion size, the nutritional value, the color scheme. Or maybe you just see the sustenance — but there is much more than that. I like to think of food as a delicious blueprint of a culture that directs you to its history and values. Many people are self-proclaimed “foodies,” and hopefully, today, I will explain why I am too.

Food, like travel, can teach you more about people than any textbook or documentary ever could. It gives you a sneak peek into the lifestyle of the people who originally created the meal. For example, the most well known meal of my family’s Creole culture is gumbo, the heavenly stew native to Louisiana and other African-influenced cultures.

Let’s take a moment to break it down. The flavorful shrimp, crawfish, or crab in gumbo is illustrative of Louisiana’s coastal placement on the Gulf of Mexico. The fresh seafood in the dish is an ode to the way many Creoles have lived as fisherman in harmony with the expansive swampland and rivers throughout the state. It’s not uncommon for rural Creole families to still fish for their own seafood even today. A bite of gumbo’s thick and silky roux is seasoned with filé powder, a spicy seasoning made of ground sassafras leaves. This seasoning is unique to Native American cuisine and specifically points towards Creole people’s Choctaw Indian roots.

Finally, the bed of fluffy white rice the stew sits upon is absolutely a Creole staple. Because of the humid Louisiana climate, rice could be grown anywhere and often grows wild in the area, making it the grain of choice. Gumbo, in essence, is everything the unique Creole culture is, in one place.

There are so many meals across the globe, just like this one, that are beautiful representations of the people who created them. In South Africa, this meal is bobotie, a tasty minced meat and egg dish. In Spain, this meal is paella, the mouthwatering spicy rice and meat plate. And in Fiji, it’s the delicate raw mahi mahi marinated in coconut cream, lime, and tomatoes called kokodo. A bite into each of these beloved meals is a step into the past.

So, yes, I do love food. Not only for the obvious taste factor, but even more so for the way it has the power to connect a person to another life, a people, a culture. Eat on.

Image: FoodiesFeed

Travel

No matter where you live, we’ve all seen them… those people wielding cameras with maps tucked into their fanny packs, possibly wearing destination paraphernalia. Okay, hopefully not the last part few parts, but you never know. Tourists – the near curse word to travelers and locals alike. For some reason, people love to hate tourists’ naivety and childlike excitement, even though they should be applauded for their adventurous spirits. But still, I admittedly never want to appear like one because it’s sometimes embarrassing, it could mark you as an easy target for theft or crime, and is simply not cool. So from my wandering heart to yours, here are my four top tips I use while traveling to minimize being that tourist.

1. “When in Rome” everywhere. I like to think of this as the biggest display of respect to another culture because it shows your willingness to try and understand something new. For example, if you are in Australia and someone proudly offers you their restaurants kangaroo dish, eat it like it’s your favorite food even if it’s not (yes, this really happened to me and turns out, it was actually delicious). If you are somewhere that has many social customs unfamiliar to you, say in an Asian country, don’t be embarrassed to try bowing when it is appropriate. I have noticed people are more receptive to you as a traveler when they can see you are putting forth effort to cross cultural differences.

2. In unfamiliar situations, wear your poker face. It is bound to happen – you make a wrong turn to find yourself lost, get yelled at in a foreign language, or are caught in a weird situation and just don’t know how to react. No matter how frazzled you are, try to remain calm and collected for your safety.

3. Speak the language. Of course you won’t always be able to do this fluently, but it is possible to learn a few useful greetings and phrases in the country’s language. You might have noticed Americans do not have the best traveling reputation. Time and time again my foreign friends have told me that we tend to speak English before even attempting a simple greeting in the local language and this is offensive. Even if you butcher a few words in another language, people will likely just giggle and appreciate your attempt.

4. Finally, pay attention to how people dress. Unless you are actually hiking in the jungle or going on an Archeological dig, your favorite hiking hat might not be necessary for this trip. But, little jokes aside, I have found clothing to be important in some cases. For example, if you want to go to a religious service, make sure you ask a local or research how you are expected to dress. The last thing you want to do is accidentally disrespect anyone or anything.

Hopefully you can try out some of these tips and see how your next journey unfolds. If you have any other tips you use, I would love to hear them. Happy travels!

Image: Gratisography

CultureTravel

I saw the stars in New Zealand. The kind of stars you read about, but have never really seen living in a metropolis your whole life. Swirling white, blues, and purples of the Milky Way looked just like what old middle school science textbooks showed. After gazing up at the stars out of the small car window in silence for nearly 10 minutes, my new house-dad said to me in his soft New Zealand accent, “Are you tired?”

“No,” I said, “I’ve just never seen stars like this in my entire life.”

aysiakiwifamily3

I went on to describe that where I was from in the United States, the lights from the developed area makes it hard to see the sky in such glorious detail. From this, we began to chat about air pollution, environmental issues, and a bunch of other random topics. Moments of bonding between such different cultures, like this one, were characteristic of the unforgettable three days I spent living with a Kiwi family in Te Awamutu, New Zealand.

In high school, I traveled throughout the South Pacific for nearly a month with an organization now called called People to People Student Travel. In New Zealand, each of us were set up to stay with a family for a few days to learn about the country from a new, more authentic perspective. I stayed with the lovely Awhimai family—made up of a teenage daughter, Shaani, her older sister Jo and her two small children, and their parents. They were a Maori family, meaning they are descent of indigenous New Zealanders, and referred to themselves as “Kiwi.” Their quaint, pink house was situated on a small farm with a few cows and chickens.

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The three days I spent with them were challenging at times (it was winter and the house had no heat… cue endless shivering), but also extremely rewarding as I gained insight into New Zealand living, culture, and politics that I would have never learned elsewhere. Surely I could write for pages about everything that happened during my homestay, but I’ll boil down a few takeaway points from my whirlwind experience:

  • I didn’t know the real meaning of “farm to table” until I realized my favorite chicken with the brightest feathers went missing one day. Many New Zealanders raise their own animals and grow their own produce, a process that makes eating feel much more intimate… but also delicious.
  • The Kiwi people value old traditions. One day, I had the opportunity to go with the Awhimais to their family’s wharenui, a meeting house where ceremonies from gatherings to weddings to parties occur. There was signing, dancing, and an obvious passion for keeping old Kiwi practices alive. Shaani told me that “it was all they had that was truly theirs.”
  • New Zealand, like many other nations, is also troubled with tension between native people and the majority. It was interesting for me, as a young black woman, to draw parallels between the struggles of Kiwi people and minorities in the United States. Even across oceans, we are more alike than we are different.

The time I spent and conversations I had during my homestay were simply priceless. I was proud of myself for going into it with an open mind, and more importantly, and open heart ready to absorb all it could. So, thank you again Awhimai family and thank you New Zealand! Hopefully, I’ll see you both soon.

CultureHealthTravel

With its long days, relaxing energy, and laid-back natives, I can only describe the small island nation of Fiji as slow. When I traveled to this beautiful country a few years ago, the friendly Fijian workers at the resort I stayed at taught me so much. Not only did they teach me about some of the local flora & fauna of the ocean and how to properly drink kava (more on this later!), but they also taught me about a concept they call “Fjii time.” According to the natives, Fiji time is a sensation felt by everyone who visits and lives on the island – Fiji time makes minutes feel like hours and hours feel like days. It forces people to stop rushing and enjoy where they are at the moment.

aysiafiji5

Coming from a fast-paced lifestyle, getting used to Fiji time was an adjustment. If I am being honest, I found it a bit annoying at first. The same way some American east-coasters say that the west coast is too “laid back” for them, I thought Fiji was just a sleepy island that essentially was a giant resort for retirees and ex-pats. Soon enough, I was proven wrong.

One spontaneous night, the resort staff invited me and few friends to join them up at the main building. We joined them and saw about 6 or 7 Fijians sitting Indian-style on the floor and laying shamelessly across the cold tile floor (maybe in attempt to cool off from the heavy Fijian heat). We spent what seemed like hours chatting about Fijian culture and talking about the adventures many tourists – including myself – had been on so far. From values to fears to funny stories, we talked about it all. At some point in this conversation, I remember thinking, “so this is what they mean by Fiji time.” No one was worried about going to bed at a certain time or counting the hours until we had to wake up the next morning. We were all simply enjoying each passing second in the present moment.

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Quick side note: throughout the conversation, the staff was sipping on a drink called kava, a traditional beverage with some serious sedative properties. Naïve to what exactly kava was, I tried some and quickly noticed my tongue was tingling and I felt very calm. I briefly wondered if “Fiji time” was a result of drinking kava, as it is a popular pastime for Fijians, but then dismissed it because I surely experienced Fiji time beforehand… we will never know for sure.

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At this point we have probably all read enough self-help articles helpfully urging us to slow down our hectic lives, but I want to add to this. So much can be learned when you spend time with those of another culture, background, or ideology. While the idea of Fiji time originated in that island country, it is a mindset that can be taken with you anywhere across the globe you might find yourself.

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Fijians value spending their time together laughing, storytelling, and giving advice – something that does not seem to happen as often in person as it should. What I took away from Fiji was more than lovely photos and a few souvenirs, but a reminder of how important it is to pass time – in the moment – with the people around you.

Image: Aysia Woods

Travel

Whilst strolling along the warm streets of Philadelphia with a dear friend last summer, a curious conversation developed. He mentioned that in his opinion, cities are more alike than different because they each have downtowns, trendy neighborhoods, grocery stores, and so on. While certainly a valid point, I couldn’t help but to humbly disagree.

Cities, to me, are like people; organic and distinct. Each one has its own unique vibration that affects its dwellers and visitors differently. Perhaps I am a complete travel romantic, but every time I explore a new city I feel a different vibe and perspective.

For example, the powerful city I currently call “home” – Washington, D.C. – is unlike any other I have experienced. Coming from Philadelphia suburbia, the District has been an invigorating breath of fresh air. It seems as though everyone is the city is an innovator, activist, entrepreneur, or artist, and it’s impossible not to be motivated by my impressive peers. I like to call D.C. the “suburban city,” in that it has both the perks of city living (public transportation and never-ending attractions) but also the luxury of green space. Washington D.C. is that friend who is forever humble and calm, while behind closed doors is a remarkable go-getter.

Moving across the globe for a bit, Cape Town is another city that is unmatched in my eyes. With a rich yet tumultuous history on its side, the city overflows with South African pride and passion. Faces of so many colors, and mouths of so many languages, mix to create a city that revels in its diversity. Along with the glamour of the beautiful city, there is also serious grit. Perhaps it was the unfortunate contrast between the sleek buildings of Cape Town’s downtown and the meager homes just on the outskirts; or maybe, the people’s awareness that there is room for growth in social issues. Whatever it was made Cape Town feel unapologetically candid.

Then, there is Auckland. The city, I’ve deemed, that must be one of the happiest places on earth. Not only does New Zealand’s largest metropolis look immaculate, but it also has the ability to make the grumpiest people optimistic. The people are smiling, sun seems to always be shining, and grass is so curiously green. The city brings out an altruistic nature — making you care about other people, the environment, the animals, and the quality of life. It inadvertently motivates its citizens to upkeep the city in the name of sustainability and contentment. In my opinion, Auckland really gives Disney World a run for its money in the happiness competition.

So to me, cities are just as varied as people and their attitudes. The world is a big place, but little did I know about the equally big personalities that exist within it until I started to explore. With that said… get out there, tell me what you feel when you visit a new city (@aysiawoods), and happy travels!

Image: Aysia Woods

HealthWellness

People are operating like machines, placing value on their daily production and going haywire when missing a step. Even more unsettling is the fact that busy is the new black. If you’re not perceived as having too much on your plate, running from one meeting to the next, or working on multiple projects, society seems to question your drive and ability to keep up. Even complaining about being busy has become the auto-response to “how are you?” Technology is at the forefront of this fast-paced revolution. With the speed of information-collection comes the fragmentation of thought. With the power of being multiple places at once comes the fragmentation of feeling. Having technology at our fingertips has forced the fast-forward button down and turned the volume of clutter up.

“When you fail to live at the speed of life, you live at the speed of light.” For anyone wondering, that’s not a healthy pace at all. When we constantly speed through our days, we lose sight of what is around us, what is ahead, and sometimes even forget what has been pushing us forward all along.

Poet Mark Nepo sums it up best when he says, “It’s not about never speeding up again, but rather, being able to come back to a place of return. It’s about developing your own practice of return.” The good news is that developing your practice of return is free, beneficial to your well-being, and easy to find. Yoga and meditation have tried and true benefits, creating practices that center on breathing and making the mind less full – a luxury in today’s world. For the average busy bee, however, having to spend more time on a daily practice of rest and rejuvenation is the last thing on their mind. There are other easy options of rest that can boost energy and save time in the long run. It’s all about re-prioritizing the list of to-dos and making number one a chance to collect yourself.

Try spending 1-2 minutes sitting at your desk at work or in your dorm room before starting anything, to simply settle down. Step outside for some fresh air and in the stillness remind yourself that your mind and body deserve a break. Let yourself pause. Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times that “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.” It is as important as ever in this time and age to not only understand the need to slow down, but understand how helpful it can be. Just as memory is consolidated by sleep, our actions are affected by rest.

Time spent resting, gathering your thoughts, or even clearing your thoughts should be part of the modern day routine. When something unexpected happens, rest. When something hurtful happens, rest. When you are overwhelmed, rest. Even for a moment. Taking a break is not a sign of giving in to pressure, it’s a natural and restorative reaction to life.

Image: Life of Pix

CultureLearn

Generation Y is the most digitally connected demographic to date, yet we often struggle to keep up with current affairs happening globally. It often surprises me how many people I meet on a daily basis who have no idea of what’s going on outside their bubble of personal existence. With more ways than ever of keeping up-to-date and informed, it amazes me how so many from my generation fail to take note, or have an interest in foreign current affairs.

I’ve always had a genuine interest in current affairs; not only the news coverage that make the global headlines, but also more niche stories that many often fail to pick up on. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris earlier this year, it sparked my revival of wanting to utilize my background in international affairs and politics, to start to purse my passion of journalism more seriously as a profession.

Currently, I am struggling to comprehend why more young people don’t make it a point to stay connected to world affairs that affect their lives in ways they may not even realize. I don’t find it relevant enough of an excuse saying ‘not enough time’ is the issue, as I see Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn on far too many mobile phones, tablets, and desktops at offices on a daily occurrence. We pre-select what we wish to indulge our brains with when going on a media binge, and sites such as BBC, CNN, and Reuters News get avoided.

I find Londoners read print newspapers far more frequently than Americans, as it often makes the notion of personal space on the morning and evening tube commute home a bit difficult. Either way, print media is dying, and the way we consume news is becoming exclusively digital. Previously in times past, it was assumed that individuals in society keep themselves informed with politics and current affairs, as it generally affect their futures and well-being. Today, its appears to me too often that we have lost this approach of preserving the importance of keeping the culture of current affairs relevant in young people’s lives.

With so many news outlets in various languages, diverse viewpoints and political leanings, I don’t understand why more people don’t make it a point as part of the day to tune and learn what’s developing around the world. Social media does a good job of reaching out to audiences that would not necessarily have exposure to certain current affairs, but it often makes me laugh when I overhear discussions of young people asking what ‘ISIS’ is and wonder why it is trending on Twitter.

There’s a plethora of important events happening daily, and it’s a shame we don’t make it a point to tune in and analyze how they affect our direct lives. Believe it or not, in some indirect aspect, the conflict in Ukraine, continued rise of ISIS (The Islamic State in Iraq and Ash-Sham) and Boko Haram’s continued havoc causing trouble in Africa pave the future landscape of Generation Y a great deal.

It’s easier than ever to start paying attention to current affairs. Whether it be on a local or global level, there are vast news outlets and mobile apps that make receiving and sharing news accessible. Checking the news shouldn’t be a chore, but rather, a part of our daily routines.

We as human beings should feel in sync with how events unfold, and how others’ actions affect our daily routines. Incorporating your social media existence into current affairs is a fantastic outlet to get started if you struggle to make it to the BBC’s or CNN’s homepage. Simply connecting with several of your favorite print or media news entities on sites like Facebook and Twitter can significantly add the most important and breaking stories into your world.

The means to get involved and have further immersion is easier and more convenient than ever before. The younger and earlier you start reading about current events and following what goes on around you, the more informed your life will become.

Image: Jon Ottosson

Culture

For those who have been living under a rock, or out of the sphere of anything related to media, chances are you have heard of Bollywood. No, I didn’t spell Hollywood wrong. Bollywood is an actual word, and it’s now officially defined in the Oxford English dictionary.

After years of attempting to compete against its western counterpart Hollywood, India’s Mumbai housed film industry can stand firm on the morals of its own achieved global success.

Deriving from its former British colonial city name of Bombay, Bollywood has amassed an international following, catapulting its reach of producing almost three times as many movies a year than Hollywood, and allowing to call itself the largest film industry in the world.

The Status

India has its own breed of mega stars who now have the global clout, fame, and a buzz to rival those from America. With its presence at almost all International Film Festivals, Bollywood celebrities are now in a league of their own.

They have massive social media followings, make lucrative endorsement deals with top global brands, and have cash earnings that set them in similar brackets as top Hollywood celebrities. Their reach is not only in India, but their reach abroad is growing as many are choosing to branch outside traditional roles within the Hindi film industry and gain further exposure in the west.

Priyanka Chopra, a former Miss World, is India’s latest global export who launched her foreign fame from Bollywood to crossover and become a recording artist to produce hit singles with Pitbull and Will. i. am. for NFL’s Thursday Night Football theme song. In addition, she has also become the first ethnic face of Guess, and landed a new ABC talent television show deal in Los Angeles where she is currently based. With a heavy media push, her team is attempting to introduce a stronger South Asian presence into the American media market. Among other global Bollywood stars with massive fame include Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Aamir Khan, Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Katarina Kaif, Akshay Kumar, and Kareena Kapoor.

The Reach

From Cape Town to Canberra, Rio De Janerio to Riyadh, the sheer appeal to audiences and demographics showcase how India’s Hindi film industry position now rivals Hollywood’s reach. The past 20 years have progressed the popularity of Hindi film, in turn allowing for Bollywood to become more of household name in several parts of the emerging world. In addition, the massively clean cut and conservative family approach of no nudity have allowed for its films to amass loyal fans not just in its diaspora communities, but throughout Africa, Latin America, Australia, Europe, and the Middle East.

The Appeal

With its grand sets, exotic destinations, love stories, and iconic song and dance routines, many have dubbed the unique and drastically different format to western media part of its international success. Bollywood films have stayed close to traditional Indian values, but in recent times have become a creative playground to showcase a rising and rapidly westernizing population, home to 1.2+ billion people.

The Influence

With Bollywood paving the way for the western world to gain further exposure into Indian cultural values, art, and dialogues, the influence of it reach is massive. With its heavy hitting presence at every major international film festival – including Cannes – established Indian Industry award shows, and the trickling in of more Indian music, fashion, and media personalities into the daily lives of more westerners, it no longer remains a thriving industry.

Dubai Parks and Resorts is even developing the Emirate’s and world’s first Bollywood mega theme park project aimed at capturing the essence of Hindi cinema, covering a total of three million square feet. With a massive three phase development plan for construction in Dubai, the park will recreate for tourists and residents the extravagance and fantasy that is the world of Bollywood.

Have you seen any Bollywood films?

Image: Wikipedia

Culture

Innovation today has become an ever-expanding idea and concept that continues to garner and create new and interesting ways of contributing to our evolving societies.

The fact of the matter is, if you are not innovating in whichever field or arena you find yourself dealing with, chances are the spectrum of your work will simply get left behind.

The millennial generation continues to move to places that inspire cultivation; as they remain a leading force of change with more forward-thinking means of living. They are hungry for new, cutting edge technology, infrastructure, design, and overall quality of life.

As they evolve and find the world adapting to the changes of the future, a select group of world cities have emerged to foster the next generation of young leadership. Consistently millennials are on a mission to seek out spaces that they can call our own, which allow for individuality and ability to have dynamic social lives with good work and life balance.

In no particular order, these 14 cities are among the best for innovation for the millennial generation.

Johannesburg, South Africa  

The only African city on the list, Joburg is seen as one of Africa’s most vibrant cities of the future. Bustling with creativity, energy and reinvention, many view the success of this city as the benchmark for the rest of the continent. Home to one of Africa’s largest stock exchanges, the city has a young, dynamic population that adds to its developing attraction for bars, restaurants, and nightlife.

Singapore, Singapore

Having one of Asia’s most innovative economies and diverse multinational populations, this Southeast Asian city often tops many lists globally for livability and innovative practices. The small city-state continues to set the benchmark for innovation and forward thinking in sectors of technology, investment, infrastructure and livability standards.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Known as one of the most progressive cities in the world for ages, Amsterdam is seen as a highly efficient, cutting edge city for its go-green efforts, livability, social policies, and cultural attractions. Amsterdam has a bustling social scene and nightlife, and is also known as the most bike-friendly city on the planet.

Bangalore, India

Though not as widely known as Mumbai, the nation’s cosmopolitan and business capital, Bangalore has emerged as South Asia’s IT hub. Thousands of new startups spring up around the city each year, with clean and modern infrastructure positioning the city to experience rapid foreign direct investment. Today, the city is now known by the west as the Silicon Valley of India, attracting top talent from around the world.

London, United Kingdom

With more foreign tourists visiting London than any city in the world, as well as being named the best city in the world for economic opportunity, it has now unofficially become the economic and cultural capital of Europe. Boosting an array of opportunities in various sectors, as well as a high number of expats from overseas, the city attracts top young talent from around the world. There is a growing and emerging array of global entrepreneurs choosing to make the city their ground to launch new ventures.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Known as an Asian mega-city for several decades, Hong Kong’s vertical ascent into the future began far before several of its emerging Asian counterparts. It has been a massively important port for domestic and international trade, serving as a meeting point for top multinational dialogue. The city continues to reinvent itself with its distinctly Asian heritage and passion for cutting edge design and space-saving efforts. A large group of expats comprises the city’s young professional scene with vibrant social opportunities for all.

Vienna, Austria

Austria’s capital, Vienna, is seen as a massively clean and controlled city. Home to culturally important museums, governmental agencies and boasting amazing public transportation, the city fares well with both locals, expats, and tourists as a popular destination to live and work.

San Francisco, USA

This American coastal city on the Pacific Ocean serves as one of the nation’s most desirable places to live and work. The energy, social scene, diversity, and environment of the bay area make the city a desirable destination for young professionals. In addition, its access to Silicon Valley and vast tech and entrepreneurial startups makes the city flourish as a hot destination for innovation.

São Paulo, Brazil

Considered one of South America’s largest megacities, São Paulo is leading this region of the world, acting as Brazil’s knowledge, innovation and finance market capital. Roughly 20 million people make up the landscape of the city, which has the most innovative universities and industries in Latin America. A growing number of multinational firms and businesses are choosing to make the city their base for further integration into the region. São Paulo also has excellent social and living conditions for young professionals.

Vancouver, Canada

This Canadian city has embarked on a mission to become the greenest city on the planet by the year 2020. It is currently working towards this goal by a water consumption decrease of 20 percent. With access to green spaces and public transportation, the city is also home to a vibrant young professional scene.

Santiago, Chile

Retaining one of South America’s lowest corruption rates, Santiago’s economic capital has launched itself as one the region’s most innovative places for starting new ventures and business opportunity. The city boasts a healthy and stable economy with a strong, expanding network of infrastructure projects.

Boston, USA

Seen as one of America’s most historic and oldest cities, Boston is also known as the nation’s education capital, boosting an array of world-class universities and institutions which are hubs for innovation in themselves. The city is young, dynamic and creative, and it fosters a unique blend of culture, charm, and history.

Dubai, UAE

Now seen as the hub of the Middle East, this oil-rich kingdom has launched its success from natural resources into a tax-free safe haven for expats and multinational investment. Close to 80% of the city is now comprised of overseas expats coming to live, work, and experience the city’s growing clout internationally. It is also home to many Guinness World Record titles, with the 160-story Burj Khalifa, its most iconic structure, as the world’s tallest building.

Stockholm, Sweden

While Sweden’s three largest cities all top international lists as truly innovate destinations of the future, its economic capital of Stockholm has been a groundbreaking destination for innovation and development. A strong culture of innovation has propelled this Nordic nation to the forefront of ambitious research, cutting edge infrastructure and passion for efficiency. Swedes are often described as being the world’s fastest population at adapting to new trends and ideas, and are not only economically and socially liberal, but also among the Europe’s most educated. With a strong reputation for being a high economic performer within Europe, the circuit of young and innovative companies, design, social venues, and people make Stockholm a highly efficient hub for growth for the future.

Image: Pasu Au Yeung

CultureTravel

With the perfect blend of Southern charm and eclectic flavor, the fine city of Savannah should absolutely be on your list of cities to visit. Since I was a child, my grandparents hauled my brother and I all across their historic city, exposing us to every neat nook and cranny it has to offer. Sprawling with hundreds of acres of lush, Spanish moss-draped parks and stunning 18th century architecture, Savannah is surely worth a trip — a day trip, at the very least! If you ever find you have a day in “The Hostess City of the South,” I have the perfect itinerary for you.

Morning

Rise and shine – it’s time to get the day started! In my opinion, there is no better way to start off a lovely Savannah day than with a visit to Forsythe Park. At 30 pristine acres, this park is the largest in the city. Feel free to wake up your mind and body with a jog or yoga under the cool, mossy trees. If it’s Saturday, take time perusing the massive farmers market hosted there. This is also a great time to practice your “southern charm,” as Savannah locals love to smile and chat.

After your morning exercise, get ready to chow down at one of the best breakfast spots in the city, J. Christopher’s. This is a regional chain that actually began in Atlanta, but lucky for us, they converted a garage right in the heart of Savannah’s Historic District into one of their laid-back establishments. Go for their Blueberry Crunchcakes (pancakes made with crunchy granola) or one of their many breakfast skillets, with a coffee served in their mismatched coffee mugs. They even have a pet menu for your trusty sidekick. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Afternoon

Now it is time for a history lesson. Old Savannah Tours has been providing tourists with fun, comprehensive trolley tours of the Historic District since 1979. I recommend the unlimited Historic On/Off Tour because you can pick and choose what Savannah sites to explore on your own time. Be sure to hop-off at The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to see its exquisite murals, the Sorrel-Weed House to experience true antebellum architecture, and the City Market for a bit of shopping.

In case you haven’t already grabbed a quick bite during the tour, try to make it to Joe’s Homemade Café in midtown Savannah. I admit, I have not made it there yet, but I hear this place is all-around remarkable. Joe’s is not a sit-down restaurant; they specialize in “picnic” and “to-go” foods, such as their infamous Forsyth sandwich and lemon cheesecake. Sounds like a winner to me.

Evening

Properly reflect on your day over a delicious meal on the rooftop of Local 11 Ten, a restored 1950’s bank-turned-contemporary-restaurant. This trendy spot changes its menu with the seasons, featuring innovative winter dishes like confit pork belly with pan roasted quail, warm caselvetrano olives with bacon, smoked bone marrow, and Sapelo Island clams. Relish in the soft house music and enjoy this truly unique dining experience.

For those wanting something a bit more soulful, try Huey’s on the River, a restaurant that actually serves authentic New Orleans’s cuisine. Their menu has the works. I’m talking shrimp & grits, fried green tomatoes, filé gumbo, Po’boys, and beignets. In proper Louisiana fashion, the place is friendly and just the right amount of noisy.

Last and surely not least, take a night stroll along Savannah’s lively River Street. Along the wide Savannah River, this cobblestoned street is always bustling with crowds enjoying nightlife, street performers, antique shops, and quaint boutiques. Stop by River Street Sweets to pick up the necessary Southern candies – pralines and fudge, of course – and then continue down toward the river to sit and enjoy the cooling breeze.

Time-Permitting

If you have a bit more time during the day, check out some contemporary art at the SCAD Museum of Art or be brave and go on a walking ghost tour of the most haunted city in America.

There we have it – a day of fun in the ever-charming city of Savannah. Enjoy!

*Going to Philadelphia? Check out these places!

Image: Aysia Woods