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

 

Travel

Calling all the music obsessed, Francophile, people-watching lovers out there – you have until July 5th to get to Montreal, Canada for the International Jazz Festival. Trust me, it’s an event you don’t want to miss! A few years ago, I had the opportunity to experience some of what this nine day, nonstop celebration had to offer. I’ve been dreaming of going back ever since. Starting to pique your interest? Let me give you four reasons why you should absolutely make the Montreal International Jazz fest your next adventure.

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  1. Enjoy the perks of Europe without actually going there. Montreal was colonized by the French, so as expected, French is spoken throughout the city by over 50% of its population, with English being the other official language. Traveling to this city is the perfect way to practice your French without having to spend as much money or time traveling to France. Not only will Montreal fulfill your desire for some French culture, but you can also visit its Little Italy and Greektown. Walking through the quaint, cobblestone street, you will hardly believe you didn’t cross any oceans to get there.
  1. Revel in the awesome mix of old and new music. The International Jazz Fest has featured some of the greats such as BB King, Tony Bennett, Miles Davis, and Ella Fitzgerald, and also showcases lesser-known, up-and-coming artists like Gogo Penguin, Illa J, and Florence K. With that said, you can be sure the audience is packed with people of all ages and interests. Additionally, the festival hosts more than just jazz artists. You will also hear world music, reggae, and slightly electronic beats. There is truly something for everyone.
  1. Soak up the eclectic vibes. As its name suggests, the festival is just so, well, international. With Montreal already such a diverse city, the festival brings even more styles, people, and cultures together. I remember sitting on the outdoor steps by the main stage in a massive city square amazed at the many languages I heard passing me. It was so refreshing to feel peaceful (as opposed to the usual slight nervous feeling I get in large crowds) surrounded by people who were genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
  1. Enjoy a variety of food. We know an amazing festival is never complete without it. Don’t you worry – the festival is fully stocked with food from around the globe. The Montreal International Jazz Festivals goes above and beyond the typical hotdog stand with an entire waffle kiosk, mangues en fleur (mangos carved like flowers, anyone?) kiosk, and even a Mexican food kiosk. It’s perfect.

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At this point, you have no reason not to head to Montreal for the festival. Bonne journée!

Images: Flickr and Aysia Woods

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

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

TravelVolunteerism

“Where am I?” is all that crossed my mind when I was volunteering in South Africa the summer before my freshman year of college. In honor of my high school graduation, my family and I decided to break out of our comfort zone and stray from our usual lounging vacations and plan one that exposed us to a different world. With an organization I would recommend to everyone – Global Vision International (GVI) –  I lived in a town outside of Cape Town called Gordon’s Bay to teach basic English and Math to children at a devastatingly poor, but dedicated school called A.C.J. Phakade Primary. It wasn’t until this remarkable experience that I realized how moving and important giving back, especially in a country as dynamic as South Africa, truly is.

Here are three main reasons you should highly consider “The Rainbow Nation” for your next volunteering venture.

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The children need your help.

Many primary schools around Cape Town require its students to take an entrance exam into high school. While this may seem easy enough, trouble arises for native Xhosa-speaking – one of the country’s 11 official languages, spoken primarily by the black population surrounding Cape Town – students when they have to take the English-only exam. English is not part of school curriculums, so the only way a student knows English is if their parents taught them or they picked it up from American movies. For many of the eager students, an English volunteer is the only chance they have to learn the language well enough to get into high school. If they don’t pass, sadly they are stuck in primary school until they get it right.

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Put your own problems into perspective.

In college, getting a D on a midterm, getting into arguments with friends, and not living in your preferred dorm might seem like the end of the world, but once you explore a slum you begin to see life differently. Surrounding Cape Town are “townships,” poor, rag-tag neighborhoods mainly inhabited by black South Africans who were kicked out of the city during Apartheid. After seeing children come to school wearing no shoes and a school with a rat problem and gaping holes in its walls, you’re bound to realize how fortunate you are.

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Meet people from all over the world.

With GVI, I had the opportunity to meet likeminded young people from all over Europe, Africa, and Australia. It turns out that South Africa is a hot destination for the millennial generation because of its stunning landscapes and Cape Town’s stylish appeal. Even about four years later, I keep in touch with the friends I made and now always have a couch to sleep on in case I visit any of their home countries!

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I urge you to consider all of these points if you are seriously thinking about doing a volunteer trip. Remember, as responsible citizens of the world and Carpe Juvenis enthusiasts, it is up to us to make a better tomorrow!

Image: Photos courtesy of Aysia Woods

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

Skills

People tend to not be concerned about issues that don’t ‘hit close to home’ because they feel like it’s something that could never happen to them, but even if most of us never experience war or lose our homes, it is important that we try to be a little more aware of what happens to other people around the world, even if we don’t see the relevancy of it to our lives.

Awareness is the first step, in my opinion, to understanding the kind of world we live in. Some people have the privilege of traveling to other countries to see firsthand how other people live, others can take classes about different cultures or can talk to other people who have gone places and have experienced things that they haven’t experienced. I understand that not everyone can travel to different places, but you shouldn’t have to leave your country or even your hometown to become aware of the different ways that people around you live and the kinds of things they experience.

It is possible to be a tourist in your own home. All you have to do is put on a different set of eyes and see, for the first time, instead of just looking. Many people judge homeless people because they have never had to experience not having a home or because they automatically assume that the person is homeless because of something they did to themselves. Not everyone is like this, but you may have heard a friend or a family member or someone on the subway blame people who are going through hard times for their current situations. But if they haven’t walked a mile in that person’s shoes, do they truly have the right to pass judgement?

People have the right to their own opinions, but don’t you think that the world would be a much better place if we replaced apathy with empathy? When you place the blame on someone else for their own situation, you are giving up the responsibility that you have to your neighbor. This doesn’t have to be anyone who lives in your neighborhood or even the person next door. If we all look at each other as global citizens and even, as one big family, then everyone you pass on the street is your neighbor in the loose sense of the word.

Let’s pretend for a moment that everyone looked at the world that way. From that perspective, it’s easier to see that blaming someone for their inability to get a job or to keep a roof over their heads is a way of being apathetic. When you don’t show concern for anything that is apathy and when you resort to blaming someone for something that happened to them, you are showing that you don’t care to understand this person’s predicament or even how it affects the people who love them.

It is extremely easy to be apathetic, especially if you don’t pay close attention to the news or if you don’t know what’s happening to other people around the world. You can live out your entire life without opening your eyes and still think that you can see. But once you start looking into what it’s like to wear this person’s shoes or that person’s shoes, the world becomes an entirely different place. Not only because you are aware but because that awareness can lead to understanding if you let it.

Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for someone, it’s about sharing their feelings even if you can’t completely understand their situation. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and realizing that at the root of all of your experiences are feelings that can transcend any cultural, racial, or religious barriers that exists in our world today. You don’t have to agree with a person’s feelings or even their current situation but don’t let judgment be your first response to that disagreement. In fact, don’t let it be any of your responses. It’s impossible for us to understand what other people are going through because we don’t often take the time to try to understand.

I know that might be hard for everyone to do but empathy is not a foreign concept. We all have the ability to be empathetic; to understand and share the feelings of others. Though our experiences may differ, our emotions are all the same. There is not one emotion that is unique to any one culture, race, or religious group.

Once we all realize that, the world will slowly but surely become a better a place to live in.

Image: Chris Sardegna

Travel

Many people love to travel. Yet some complain that they don’t have the time or money to do so. The truth is that there’s always a reason not to travel. We need to find some way to make it all work. A weekend trip could be the answer to all these problems. Here are some reasons why a weekend trip might work for you:

1. It’s Less Expensive

When you go on a week long trip for Christmas vacation or spring break, the costs can add up. However, if you are only traveling for a couple of days, you are also spending a lot less on food, hotels, and shopping.

2. It Takes Less Time Away From Your Regular Schedule

It’s hard to take off work or school to travel. You might miss something important or it might take you awhile to save up vacation days. With a weekend trip you can leave right after class. You might not need to take any time off, depending on your schedule. It may seem too short to be a good trip but frequent travelers say we must use every spare day we can. You can get a great experience in very little time.

3. It Forces You To Explore

Instead of saving up for popular destinations like Hawaii, New York, or California, weekend trips are convenient if you stay close. You could book a flight to parts unknown, but you could also take a train or a long drive to a neighboring state. Even if you are not at the most popular destinations, you are seeing a little more of the world.

4. It Takes Virtually No Planning

There are 52 weekends a year. That gives you plenty of opportunities to take off on an adventure. You may want to have a couple of sites in mind so that you can make the most of your time. Either way, the journey can often be the best part of traveling.

Take the time for a weekend trip. There are so many things out there to do. Make the effort to take a trip. You will be rewarded with an adventure and all the great memories that go with it.

What is your dream weekend trip destination? Let us know in the comments below!

Image: Joe Lodge

CultureSkills

Every second, minute, and hour of every day, something is happening in the world. While we might not be there to experience these moments in time firsthand, there are news reporters, journalists, and eye witnesses ready to give us a rundown of what is going on. Some news stations are biased and may or may not report the entire truth, others probably don’t care too much about the truth. Whatever the case may be, it’s up to you to decide who you want to believe and who you don’t want to believe. Not everyone speaking into a camera is going to tell you the truth and not everyone is going to tell you a lie. This is why you have to use your own discretion when consuming media reported news.

No one can tell you which news station or online magazine is the most credible. This is only because credibility is such a broad term, and the same news outlet that is deemed credible to one person may be deemed untrustworthy by another. For example, there are people who like CNN, but there are others who don’t. The same can be said for any other news channel that people watch. Having people who dislike CNN or any other news channel doesn’t devalue that channel in any way. It just means that people have different criterion for credibility. However, even if you do have a good sense of which news sources are credible to you, the important thing to remember is not to be biased. Don’t take what you hear or see at face value just because your favorite reporter or writer said something happened. They might not have all the facts or even the right facts.

Do your own research; try to confirm what is being said. You have a right to know what’s going on in the word around you. So what if you can’t be aware of everything that goes on? That doesn’t mean you can’t be well-informed about the things you are aware of. Question everything you read, see, and hear. Don’t just go along with what is being said because if you do, you are doing a disservice to yourself. Young people have the power to make a difference, but we can’t do that if we are in a state of obliviousness and if we are constantly unaware of what is going on around us.

The less we pay attention, the more disconnected we become from the rest of the world. Quite a few of my peers say that they don’t care about what happens in other countries or even other cities and states because it doesn’t directly affect them. If you are a person who shares those same sentiments, keep in mind that even if something doesn’t directly affect you, it will still indirectly affect you. You might not realize that now but we don’t often see the things that affect us until it hits close to home.

Question everything. See what’s going on yourself instead of only relying on news reporters to provide you with information. You are not just a resident of a city, state, or town. You are not just a citizen of your country, either. You are a citizen of the world, and the more you know, the more connected you will be. People think that borders and large bodies of water separate us from each other, but really it’s the things we don’t know that drives us apart.

Image: Barzan Qtr

CultureEducation

When it comes to voicing opinions these days, our generation has become paramount in articulating difficult issues facing the world. However, due to corrupt and old-fashioned politics, there has been an increase in voter apathy and decline in voter turnout. With fallacious advertisements and discouraging structures like the Electoral College, young people today do not see the importance of voting anymore – oftentimes, they underestimate the power of their votes.

With the midterm elections this week, I hope to inspire a few more people to go out and make their opinions matter. For example, say you prefer ideology that is kinder to those of lower classes but you decide not to vote. Well, for the past few decades, statistics show that those of more affluent households have dominated the voting circuit, and though some of them may vote alongside your ideals, it is most likely that a large majority will not. Go out and stand up for your principles; no one else will.

For those of you who are like my roommate in the fact that you look at a newspaper and immediately shut down: do not be afraid to learn about the tough issues. My roommate justifies her desire to not vote through the fact that politics panics her; she does not understand nor does she wish to comprehend the bureaucratic system our country exhibits. And although I respect her opinion on this matter, this troubles me because people like this live in this country too, and it is vital to care about your country’s politics. What if you do not vote purely because you did not care to look at the platforms, and an abominable law is passed that affects your life negatively? Take the time to educate yourself on the candidates’ platforms and history as politicians so that you can make the best choice for yourself. Just because you do not vote does not mean that the political decisions made post-election do not affect you.

It is astounding how younger generations today are making films, writing songs, and creating art that explore tons of the social and economic concerns dealt with today, and still feel completely apathetic toward voting. For those of you on the fence about voting this week, your voice should not be reserved only to the creative ventures you have. Each candidate specializes in issues that cater to different demographics, so please look into them and discover what you need out of the American political system. Your opinions and beliefs are preeminent in a time struggling to situate itself with rising issues, therefore, take advantage of the chance you are given to express your beliefs.

To get started, check out these useful resources: 

1. Vote Smart: Just the Facts

2. On the Issues: Every Political Leader on Every Issue

Image: Theresa Thompson

CultureTravel

Travel season might be over at the moment, but that isn’t going to stop us from daydreaming about all of the places we have yet to explore. Luckily, we found 14 stunning Instagram accounts with photos that will stir up some serious travel envy. Whether you want to travel to the country, city, or abroad, these accounts will keep you entertained and in awe until the next time you can pack your bags and fly away. Here’s a guide to the best travel Instagram accounts you’ll want to follow ASAP:

1. @bkindler – Björn Kindler takes some of the most beautiful photographs we’ve ever seen, and we just want to jump right into the picture. His photos are highly contrasted, giving it an even more fantasy-like appearance. Spoiler alert (and thankfully for us): these are real places in the world.

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2. @onemileatatime – Ben Schlappig is a full-time travel blogger who flies over 300,000 miles per year. Since he doesn’t like to stay anywhere for more than three days, there is never a shortage of travel photos.

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3. @aladyinlondon – Julie Falconer is a writer, consultant, and travel blogger who documents her travel photos. Originally from California, Julie moved to the UK in 2007. With photos like these, we’re happy she made the move.

4. @legalnomads – A former lawyer who now travels and eats her way around the world, Jodi Ettenberg has been to some pretty neat places.

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5. @zachspassport – Zach Glassman promotes the transformative power of travel through his stunning photos. Having mastered more than five languages and getting quite a few stamps in his passport, we’re not sure if there’s anywhere Zach hasn’t been.

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6. @laurenepbath – This travel photographer is seriously talented. Lauren Bath’s photos are captivating and colorful, to say the least. We can’t stop staring at these mesmerizing photos of her travels.

7. @kevinruss – Kevin Russ’s rustic looking photos are simply incredible. He captures the beauty of nature with ease, reminding us that places like this exist in our world. His photos make us want to disconnect from technology and immerse ourselves in these remote locations.

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8. @kirstenalana – Kirsten Alana is a New York City-based professional photographer who captures the most beautiful moments in life, from boating in Central Park to exploring a lighthouse off the coast of California.

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9. @colincabalka – Colin Cabalka, film director and cinematographer, takes photos and Instavideos to show where he’s been, and his journey has been visually remarkable, that’s for sure.

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10. @fosterhunting – Foster Huntington documents his #vanlife with unparalleled beauty. From his van to a tree house in the sky, Foster snaps photos that look so effortless and free that you’ll want to hop into a van and just drive.

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11. @pascalpics – Martin documents his time exploring the city and doodling in cafes around Scotland, and the results are unreal. Once you see these photos, you’ll be asking for a one-way ticket to Edinburgh.

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12. @doyoutravel – This Instagram account showcases people from all over the world’s travel photos, proving that people are having some seriously cool experiences.

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13. @hirozzzz – Hiroaki knows how to capture places of the world from unique and thrilling angles. Gorgeous pictures.

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14. @iartu_jennifer – When we see Jennifer’s photos, we just want to walk down a foggy pier or road to nowhere. Through her photos, we can tag along on her stunning journeys.

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Which travel Instagram accounts are giving you #travelenvy?

ExploreFinanceSkillsTravel

Most of us want to travel the world, yet so few of us actually do it. We plan to save up, but somehow we just can’t stretch our dollars; we spend them on stuff before we can spend them on trips.

Having traveled through much of Southeast Asia (and a few other countries) on a very limited budget, I have met travel experts with lots of advice, and developed my own money saving tricks. Next week I will share my budget travel tips, but this article is about traveling with almost no money and either cutting out certain expenses (accommodations, food and transportation), or earning money while traveling.

I read a very accurate quote that went something like, “if you want to travel, you either have to spend time or money.” If you’re willing to sacrifice a little time so you can soak in unfamiliar cultures, see the world, meet new people and grow, these options could be for you.

1. Hostel Work Exchange

These jobs often offer free housing (and sometimes meals) in exchange for work, or they will simply pay you hourly. Hostel jobs are fairly competitive, so if possible, it is suggested to arrive in a location a bit before peak seasons for less stress. (i.e. before May or June in New York)

This site offers forums for job seekers and hostel employers to post opportunities. Hostel Management is another good hostel job search site.

2. Teach English Abroad

Teaching is quite a commitment, so this option is not for those who are iffy about that.

Most salaried positions last at least a year. Many schools will pay for housing among other amenities, and some (primarily in Asia) will even cover the flights to and from the host country. Some locations pay better than others. I have friends who have paid off student loans and traveled Asia with the salaries they made in South Korea.

Getting a certification to teach English (TEFL) is not always required but will both prepare you and bump up your salary. The following sites can get you certified and/or placed:

Oxford Seminars: Awesome. Pricey TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification, but it includes classroom instruction, a practicum, a massively extensive database of schools in hundreds of countries and three textbooks to help you along the way. Plus, awesome like-minded classmates that can become travel buddies. As a former Oxford Seminars student, I recommend this wholeheartedly.

CIEE: I haven’t used this, but it’s a very reputable and reliable program that many friends have used to both teach and study abroad. They provide training and an optional TEFL certification.

People Recruit: This sends people directly to South Korea. A friend’s brother used this and had a great experience with it. It does not include a TEFL certification as Korea doesn’t require it.

3. WWOOFing

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It pairs travelers with hosts and allows them to work on a farm, co-op, garden, or related space in exchange for food and accommodation.

WWOOF website for more information.

4. Odd jobs

These include working as a server/bartender, laborer, au pair, tour guide, and more. When you arrive in a location, look for “hiring” signs. Hop into restaurants and offices, bring your resume and be prepared to spend a little time unemployed and searching. Business cards help, too, but be sure they’re simple and universally useable. Additionally, highlight language and professional skills, and ensure you’re easily reachable within your host country (local phone number, provide email, etc.). This option requires more spontaneity, but it’s very doable and will offer some pay to live off of and travel with.

5. Working Holiday Scheme

Several countries offer working holiday visas and the opportunity to take on low-wage, seasonal jobs. The visas are available for people under 35 and typically last up to a year.

6. Skill-based jobs

You can do more than wait tables or answer phones if you want. It may take more digging, but will pay better and utilize your skills and any education you’ve received.

Alliance Abroad offers work placements before departure and provides accommodations. I’ve never used it but have heard it recommended before. They provide placements for business, event planning, food preparation and other skilled positions, as well as internships and general service positions.

7. Couch Surf

Couchsurfing allows you to link up with hosts in any country in the world and stay with them for free. Be sure to check up on the local culture’s etiquette so you know whether to bring a gift, buy meals, etc. Couchsurfers and hosts are generally open-minded travel-lovers who enjoy making new friends and helping others enjoy their cities. The database offers extensive reviews on hosts and ways to connect with other surfers.

8. Home Exchange

Swap apartments or houses for a trip. This allows you to stay, rent-free, in someone else’s home in your travel destination. HomeExchange is a good option for this.

9. Yacht or Cruise Ship Jobs

These are paid positions that include free room and board, meals and other expenses. These opportunities often go overlooked. While not a piece of cake, it is easier than one would think to find a safe, reputable job on a yacht or cruise ship.

Some good sites for finding service jobs on yachts or cruise ships include Crew 4 Crew, Jobs on Yachts and Cruise Ship Jobs.

Traveling with little money requires the traveler to let go of hard plans and remain open to sudden changes. It means time spent. It also often means no frills: hostels, street food, homestays, and sometimes a lack of western amenities. Challenges are part of it, though, and the memories and growth that travel create are incredible!

Plus, who knows? You may find your passion is teaching, farming, boating, or something you never dreamed of!

(Aside from friends and personal experience, Nomadic Matt had some great tips that helped with this article. He’s a fantastic budget travel blogger.)

What are your tips and resources for traveling paid or without significant expenses?

Image: Garry Knight, Flickr

CultureEducationTravel

Followed by some, distorted by a few, and misconceived by many…what is Hinduism, after all? While explaining what it is would take an encyclopedia’s length, I’m here today to tell you what it is not. Western media and translators have misinterpreted the religion due to many cultural and linguistic barriers, but I’m here to break those stereotypes. You may be shocked but you will definitely learn, even if you are Hindu. Ready? Let’s start.

Misconception #1: Hindus worship cows.

Hindus do not worship cows, but respect them. Before copious amounts of industrialization hit India, the cow was used in a simple system that I like to call a resource triangle, as depicted below:

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Agricultural benefits came from the fact that cows were used for plowing fields efficiently. Essentially, they acted as tractors before modern technology. This allowed a farmer’s harvest to be plentiful. Also, the manure produced by these bovine beauties was quite useful. We all are cognizant that homes must have this: food. You need to feed a family, and cows take care of that need too. Cheese (or paneer as many Indians prefer), milk, and butter could easily be provided to run a household. For this reason, many Hindus are vegetarians and abstain from eating beef as cattle provide them with what is basically an unlimited supply of food. Energy is produced by cow dung. It can be used to light fires and insulate homes in rural areas because it is easily flammable and can retain heat. Cows are respected because they act as a sustainability system for early Indian society. For fostering society, the cow is even seen as a maternal figure. As far as worship goes, Hindus regard all forms of life as sacred and venerate them, as they believe that no harm should be done upon to others—be it a human, a cow, or even an insect.

Misconception #2: Hinduism is a polytheistic religion.

This is perhaps the most common misconception. Hinduism is actually not a polytheistic religion. It’s rumored that Hindus worship 330 million gods or so, but that’s simply not true. Western interpreters of the religion misinterpreted this part, as one Hindu text states there are 330-million devas, or spiritual beings. Therefore, there are not millions of gods in Hinduism, making it not polytheistic. Rather, Hinduism is pluralistic. This means that there are multiple ways to connect, think, and relate to God. It’s believed that God can come in many different manifestations, and that God exists in all forms of life and in the universe.

Misconception #3: India is a poor country…of course generations of proletariat, uneducated beings would believe in such a silly religion.

Actually, India was a rich country until it was plundered and pillaged by centuries of Mughal rule followed by decades of British colonization. Indians discovered the Hindu number system (an early ancestor of the Arabic number system we use today), the concept of zero, various trigonometric functions, ayurvedic medicine, cataract surgery, plastic surgery (this happened as early as 2000 BCE, actually), shampoo (derived from the Hindustani word champo), and even the game of snakes and ladders (now also played as chutes and ladders). Hinduism has also been called a scientific religion in its teachings by several religious observers and analysts. So, while uneducated and illiterate people may be bountiful in India (just like anywhere else), that does not equate to stupidity or silliness.

Misconception #4: Hinduism endorses the caste system.

Way back when, a group of rich, upper-class priests decided to make a social hierarchy system: the caste system. What must be noted here is that the caste system was a cultural brainchild, not a religious rule. Tragically, the advent has been associated with the religion, when in reality it is a mishap of people, not divine rule

Misconception #5: Hindus use the swastika. They totally endorse Nazism.

The swastika existed in South Asian culture long before World War II, roughly about 4,000 years ago. However, the meaning of the symbol was not meant to be a social stigma towards a certain group of people. Unfortunately, during the 1930s and 1940s, a man decided to rise to power and propagandize, pervert, and misuse the swastika to accomplish a mission so murderous and heinous. The swastika actually represents the beginning of life and its swirling out into all the ends of the universe. It is meant to promote life, not destroy it.

Misconception #6: Hinduism isn’t relevant. No one really practices it and it has no influence in the world.

Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion, just behind Christianity and Islam. There are one billion believers and counting. It is also the world’s oldest religion, believed to have been founded nearly 8,000 years ago. With being the world’s oldest religion, Hinduism has had some effects on other beliefs. Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, was of Indian origin and a Hindu himself. Many of Buddhism’s principles are rooted in Hinduism’s teachings. Christianity’s story of the birth and childhood of Jesus Christ is analogous to that of Lord Krishna’s. Though Christians believe that Hindus “stole” that idea, the story of Lord Krishna came before that of Christ’s. Concepts of eternal truth and accounts of divinity were first recorded by Hindus. All in all, Hinduism has had an impact on the world as it has shaped policies of various mediums of spirituality.

Misconception #7: Hinduism is only practiced in India.

To be frank, with one billion followers, one country cannot contain all of Hinduism and its adherents. While most of the followers of this faith reside in India, large communities have been established in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, the United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States of America. Hinduism has truly proven to be a global religion, spreading its ideas to a myriad of people.

I hope you had the opportunity to learn a few things from this article. Hinduism isn’t the only misconceived religion, as all faiths have had their fair share of misinterpretation, stereotypes, and misunderstandings. I want you to depart with one idea in mind: educate yourself. Educate yourself about other beliefs and cultures. I say this a lot nowadays, but only because it’s true. Twenty-first century illiteracy does not come from those who cannot read, but rather from those who remain ignorant and refuse to learn. So go ahead, learn something new during your youth. Seize the chances you have and don’t miss a single one!

Image: Nicolas Raymond, Flickr

Professional SpotlightSpotlightTravel

A guy who travels the world interning at cool companies in exchange for a place to sleep and something to eat? His name is Mark van der Heijden and he’s The Backpacker Intern. After spending years as a creative copywriter, Mark had an urge to do something different with his life and see the world. He had worked since graduation from school, and he felt that there was something missing.  Instead of just quitting his job to travel the world simply as a tourist, he came up with a creative solution. He would intern at companies for a couple of days in exchange for food and shelter.

The result? Companies such as Red Bull, the Adventure Film School, and Nile Rodgers Productions, just to name a few on a long list, have exchanged survival basics for Mark’s skills. Mark blogs, tweets, and posts on Facebook about all of his cool experiences, and it’s as if we were traveling right alongside him. It takes courage and an acceptance of the unknown to travel the world and leave the comforts of home.

During some stops along his journey, Mark didn’t know where he would be the following week, where he would be working, or if he would have a place to sleep. By utilizing friends, contacts, and social media, Mark has been able to accomplish something unique and inspiring. Mark paid attention to the voice in his head craving something more out of life, came up with a solution and plan, and has been creating his own path every single day. If that isn’t seizing your youth, we don’t know what is.

Name: Mark van der Heijden
Age: 28
Education: Bachelor, Creative Communication (Copy, Concept & Strategy) at Fontys Hogeschool Communicatie
Follow: TwitterThe Backpacker Intern

How do you define ‘seizing your youth’?

Never put yourself in a situation where you are following the common track. Create your own path. Don’t listen to what people think you should do. Do what’s best for you.

What did you study at Fontys Hogeschool Communicatie and how did you determine what to study?

I studied Communications. I specialized in copy concept and strategy. After two years you could choose a direction, and I chose that because you could make a TV commercial. I wasn’t thinking too much about the future, but that major felt good. During my studies I did an internship and sold my first creative idea. It gave me goosebumps, and it was cool to be able to use my talents.

How did your journey as The Backpacker Intern begin?

I used to work in advertising in Amsterdam for six years as a creative copywriter. I had a good job, great friends, lived in a great apartment, and Amsterdam was amazing. I couldn’t complain, but still I had the urge of some kind of feeling. I wanted to see more of the world and do more. Right after school I had a job, so I never had a big break to see the world like other people sometimes do. I had a feeling that I was missing that, and thought that I needed to do it. I wanted to do it all the way and see where I would end up, so I quit my job and started The Backpacker Intern.

I booked seven tickets for six months. That was the original plan. I realized I didn’t have enough money to do all the things I wanted to do. I thought I could come up with an idea or two to make some money along the way. Then I discovered that it wasn’t about the money, but it was about the experience instead. The only things I actually need on a trip are food and a bed. I came up with the idea to exchange my skills for those things. Not money, but the things I need to survive.

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How long was the process from when you had the idea to actually leaving?

I had the idea six months before and worked towards the departure date. In that time I crafted my idea and made it better. I procrastinated along the way, but the idea was too cool to pass up. I came up with a lot of names, but The Backpacker Intern stuck. I talked to a lot of people in creative industries and they helped me through my ideas and look at them with a different perspective. I bought the URL, and that made it official. The best feeling was when I had the logo. It was something. It wasn’t there yet, but it was alive.

As the departure date got closer, it became more real. One of my best friends and I brainstormed about making a video, and then we came up with the idea to use my cardboard sign in a film. We told the message in one take. I spread the video through my social media channels. I didn’t expect the project to get this big.

How did you determine your route?

I wanted to go to Asia, so I booked a ticket from Amsterdam to Bangkok. Then I wanted to go to San Francisco and Hawaii because I have friends there. From Asia I could go to Hawaii and San Francisco. I saw that I could go to Iceland from New York, and then from Iceland I’d go back to Amsterdam. The route is based on things I haven’t seen yet, the rates for the travel season, and where my friends live. It’s like an endless summer. I only have one sweater with me.

What have been the greatest challenges in your journey so far?

Planning everything is a challenge. I can now imagine why people who do a lot of things have an assistant. Usually in the daytime I’m working somewhere, but I also get a lot of emails throughout the day. I also want to stay in touch with my friends and family. I need to keep people updated with blog posts. If I don’t have a new internship, I have to decide what to do. I don’t sleep a lot, maybe three hours a day. I enjoy every minute, but it’s also work.

What would you do differently if you could start the journey over?

Nothing because then it would be a totally different journey. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that you learn from your mistakes.

A lot of companies have reached out to you. How do you choose which companies to work with?

I try to do a mix of work. I work at agencies, brands, and charities. Big companies and small companies. If I’m almost to a new city, I’ll coordinate with companies that have emailed me and arrange the internship. I Googled charity organizations in San Francisco because I wanted to work with dogs. I worked with Mutville Senior Dog Rescue, which was so cool. I emailed them and the owner replied. I worked there for two days and stayed at the owner’s house. It was so different.

What kinds of things do you do at your internships?

It’s like I’m a human pocketknife. I can do a lot of things. My profession is creative and advertising. I’m best at making concepts, ideas, and solutions for brands, companies, and people. I can originate concepts, write copy, and create strategies. I make films, but I also clean dog poop.

I worked at a soup kitchen in Malaysia and I was making food for homeless people and drug addicts. That was the internship and nothing else. I’ve enjoyed many different experiences. The whole goal is to help people and to learn from them at the same time. I’ve enjoyed working with people from different professions and cultures.

Leaving your comfort zone in Holland must not have been easy. What did you do to prepare yourself for this adventure?

I am not scared about stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m used to eating crazy foods and jumping out of airplanes. I’m not a rebel but I enjoy trying new things. I enjoy traveling so much that I don’t get homesick. My longest trip was four weeks, but I still wanted to do more. Of course I miss my friends and family, but with Skype I can still stay in contact. The best friends will always stay with you even if you don’t talk for a while. You can pick back up where you left off.

Have you experienced any major culture shocks after traveling the world?

I was pretty shocked by the amount of homeless people in the U.S. Especially in Oakland, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. I wasn’t aware of how big of a problem it is.

Mark photo backpacker intern

What advice do you have for youth who are interested in advertising?

Just start and make a lot of ideas. It’s all about your portfolio, so show how creative you are. There are a lot of creative competitions you can attend. It’ll help to win a competition and have people notice you.

It’s good if you try to find a mentor, someone you find inspiring. Just reach out to him or her and ask for 30 minutes of time to talk. If he or she says no, then move on to the next one. Sometimes you need advice from people who are way more up the ladder. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.

Don’t be scared that your ideas are not good enough. I failed a lot and made a lot of campaigns that weren’t approved. I’ve worked for six months on a project and then the week before have it pulled. Just keep on going and keep on trying.

What are the top three traits that make a great intern?

Be open-minded. Don’t judge. Be crazy.

What motivates you?

I read a lot of books about creativity, watch great films and check out new and interesting products. It inspires me to make great things like that. It’s a really great feeling to make something.

The best feeling is if you create something that didn’t exist before and you can improve people’s lives. It’s so cool to make a change in people’s lives just by a thought you came up with.

What advice would you give your 15-year-old self?

Do as many internships as possible without getting paid. Besides school and a part-time job, learn as much as you can from inspiring and successful people. Offer your help for free. Work at places for free to learn new skills. Knock on the doors of Apple, Nike, Red Bull and ask to work for free because you want to learn. Learn how to help people without doing it for money.

Mark van der Qs

Professional SpotlightSkillsSpotlight

When it comes to creating awesome books for kids, Kate Olesin, Editor at National Geographic Kids Books, knows exactly what she’s doing. Incredibly talented and creative, Kate started her career with National Geographic as an intern in college. When Kate graduated from University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009, she secured a position as an Editorial Assistant. Over the years, Kate has quickly worked her way up to Editor (and she’s only 27!). Kate’s passion for her work is obvious when she talks about the various types of books she works on, her day-to-day duties, and her love for reading and inspiring kids.

Outside of the NG office, Kate loves to stay active by running, hiking, and gardening. Work life balance is important to Kate, and seeing how she juggles managing a team and 10 projects at a time, having some downtime is very necessary. For all you writers and editors, Kate has invaluable advice to share about how she time manages, seeks mentors, how to set yourself up for success, and what traits make a rockstar intern.

Name: Kate Olesin
Age: 27
Education: B.A. in English and History from University of Massachusetts Amherst
Follow: Twitter / LinkedIn

Carpe Juvenis: How do you define ‘Seizing Your Youth’?

Kate Olesin: Young people are in a really good spot, especially right now, where many companies and professionals are looking for young, cheap, and really smart people. Our youth today are the whole package. They are really taking the time to go after their dream jobs and doing more than they’ve ever done before. Seizing your youth means taking advantage of the skills you already have. You are young, you are smart, and you have a larger breadth of knowledge of this changing world than a lot of other people who are already established in their careers. Young people today are so ambitious and smart and so many of them are just good go-getters.

CJ: You majored in English and History at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. How did you determine what to study?

KO: I was the first one of my siblings to go to college, and it was funny because when I applied to school, I went to my high school guidance counselor’s office because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So, I picked up the biggest book in the office and it was the UMass Amherst book. Then when I got to Amherst, I ended up being placed in an English talent advancement program, and I really loved my classes and all of the people and students I was living with — all English majors. I decided to pursue book publishing pretty early on because of my lifelong love of reading. English really prepared me with the critical thinking skills that I use every day in my job.

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CJ: What was your first job out of college?

KO: Getting my first job was a mix of good timing and luck. I actually interned in the children’s books division of National Geographic right after my freshman year of college. I graduated in 2009 in the worst economy ever and I was terrified. Hiring in the book industry was stagnant and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had applied to publishing companies all over the country as well as some think tanks with zero response. But after completing my NG internship, I knew Washington D.C. was really the city I wanted to be in. So, I looked on National Geographic’s website and knew that they had a hiring freeze going on, but an entry-level position was open in my old division. It was perfect, and everybody I worked with as an intern was still there!

So, I started as an Editorial Assistant at National Geographic after college. I worked on book projects, did the administrative filing and copying, and really threw myself into it. After two years, I became an Assistant Editor. After about 10 months, I was then promoted to Associate Editor, and as of this past February, I am now an Editor. What’s nice about my group is that there is a clear career path and lots of extremely helpful mentorship along the way.

CJ: What sparked your interest in publishing?

KO: I’ve always loved books and I’ve always been a big reader. Ever since I was a kid I tore through children’s books. I grew up within walking distance of my local library, so I was constantly checking out books. But, children’s books are still what I love to read today. I love reading young adult novels. I do like reading adult books, as well.

For a time, I focused on journalism and reporting at my college newspaper and through internships. I did really like being a reporter. It’s demanding and rigorous, but I found that I really wanted to work with books and with children somehow. The nice thing about working at National Geographic, which is such a mission-driven organization, is that the books are non-fiction. We are telling true stories to kids who want to hear them and just maybe they’ll learn something from it. It’s really inspiring.

I wanted to work for a company that would uphold strong educational values, and I think I found one.

CJ: You are currently an Editor at National Geographic Kids. What are your roles as Editor?

KO: A lot of people assume that editors just focus on nitpicky copy editing things. Though I do a little of that, it’s not so much like my time is spent identifying what a past participle is. I do a lot more project management work. My job involves top of the line thinking and wrangling the entire team to make sure all of the pieces come together to form a complete product.

Each editor also acquires titles, and to do that we really look broadly at what the rest of the market is doing. We see what’s doing well, what’s not doing well, and what might fit into our publishing plan. Then we come up with ideas. For instance, I’ve done a couple of books relating to online games, another about George Washington, and another about dog communication. We take popular or core curriculum topics and their characters and tie in real-world information. So, something like taking an exciting game and pairing it with non-fiction information is a way to get kids hooked and inspire a love of reading and the real world.

There’s a lot of development that we do. We have three types of books: gift books, kid-driven books, and library review driven books. Our core age range is 8-12 years old. We also do preschool books and tween books for kids who are 10-years-old and up. So we try and come up with titles that fit into those molds or on topics that they care about.

When it all comes together, I hire authors, we work with our designers and our team of photo editors. Then it just goes from there. I do the text editing and reading through to make sure the narrative and big picture makes sense.

National Geographic Society

CJ: What is the process for creating a children’s book?

KO: It’s a long process. It usually takes about a year. Printing and shipping the books takes a long time. In the publishing industry your books have to be ready months before they go on sale so all of the major reviewers can review your book. That’s at least six months of time right there.

In our division we’re pretty unique in that we do a lot of in-house development. At National Geographic Kids, we have honed in on what kids want to read and what nonfiction content they are interested in. We take our market research and talk to our panel of about 4,000 kids about what they want to see. We call them our “kid bosses” and they’re very honest with us. When we find a topic that clicks, we get to work.

CJ: What are the greatest lessons you have learned from being an editor?

KO: The importance of relationship building and how to maintain those relationships is one of the big lessons I’ve learned. Having connections and positive relationships with everyone I encounter at my job is really important, whether it’s a big-time author or someone I work with only once.

It’s also been interesting looking at the bigger picture instead of just having tunnel vision and focusing on your own work. Seeing how your book might fit into the broader picture of a marketing plan or a digital plan or anything else is helpful. I’ve learned to see how I can contribute in other ways with great ideas.

CJ: What is the best part about being an editor? The most challenging part?

KO: The best part is physically holding that book you worked so hard on in your hand when it comes off press. All of the photos are high-resolution and the paper is beautiful. Most of our books have a masthead in the back, and seeing your name printed is really nice.

I’m the head of my team for every book I work on. Being in charge of creating a product for children and making sure that it’s wonderful and inspiring is so thrilling. It’s something I never would have imagined that I’d get to do at 27.

The most challenging part is the deadlines. We have a lot of work to do here. Making sure the project keeps moving forward is sometimes a puzzle. It’s sometimes easy to leave projects on the back-burner. I am working on approximately 10 different books right now that are all in different stages. Juggling all of the different pieces can be challenging.

CJ: How do you time manage?

KO: I do a lot of things electronically and I use a lot of to-do lists. We have a couple of project management programs here. And over the past five years, I’ve learned to plan ahead as much as I possibly can and I’ve become a little more firm. It’s easy for a young person to be a little more lenient, but sometimes you have to crack the whip. Not all of the time, and certainly people get busy, but that’s just the nature of working in a time sensitive environment.

CJ: What does a day in your life look like?

KO: When I’m at the office, I read, read, read. Our CEO has a saying that “every day matters” which I think I’ve taken to heart at work and outside of the office. I’ve been trying to focus on a lot of work life balance, which I think is very important. It’s hard to do when you’re a young person just starting out in your career. So, I really try to get my work done for the day, go home, go for a run, make my dinner, and relax. If I have to finish things up at home, I will.

CJ: What should a teenager or young adult who wants to be an editor do to set themselves up for success?

KO: Do as many writing projects as you can. I’ve hired interns and young people to work for me, and the first thing I look for is a well-written cover letter and involvement in writing somehow. It can be for your school newspaper or your own blog or a review site. Good writing skills are a valuable asset. I also like to see young people who are willing to do anything and just throw themselves into any task with a positive attitude.

When I first started working at National Geographic, I did a bunch of filing and copying. Even though that sounds boring, I made it a fun learning experience by reading through every piece of paperwork I had to file and copy so I understood what was happening. If I had questions, I’d ask. I learned our entire filing system and reorganized it for efficiency in two weeks. All of this, which sounds like grunt work, gave me a serious advantage in the end and I was able to understand our administrative process very quickly. Anything that you do can be a learning experience, no matter how menial you feel the task is.

nat geo books

CJ: When you were an Editorial Assistant and as an Assistant Editor, you hired, supervised, and evaluated editorial interns. What traits make a rockstar intern?

KO: An outgoing personality. A lot of times our interns will have to make calls or talk to experts to verify information. They need to not be afraid to pick up the phone to make a call or ask questions to find the answer.

It’s so hard when people don’t know what they’re doing but won’t ask questions. When someone sits there and doesn’t know what to do, the work doesn’t get done. Questions are never dumb. I think a lot of students feel silly when they ask questions, but they really shouldn’t. Questions are a really important part of the learning experience.

CJ: When you aren’t editing children’s books, how do you like to spend your time?

KO: I’ve started running. I’ve been doing that for about six months. It’s important for people to know that when you start working at a demanding job, it is hard to get active. I think it’s important to stay active because it gives me extra energy. I like to hike, garden and generally be outside. I love to go to the Shenandoah Mountains, which are only a couple of hours away. In D.C. there are free museums so there are always awesome things to do.

CJ: What motivates you in your everyday life?

KO: I’ve always enjoyed being a mentor and helping people see the best parts of themselves. I like to inspire ambition in people. Especially working at this organization where our mission is to “inspire people to care about the planet,” that’s something that really drives me. I like knowing that every day when I come into work, I’m helping make a product that can inspire a kid to get outside, or to save lions, or to just love reading.

CJ: How do you go about finding a mentor?

KO: In college I was a peer mentor and resident assistant. Here I try to develop relationships with the people I work with. To be able to go up to them and ask for their opinion about a sentence’s structure, how I might respond to a delicate situation, or for help with a project, is so helpful.

I am a person who loves having people as sounding boards for ideas and questions. Part of it is to feel validated in my own decision-making, but the other part is just to work out the problem. Developing those relationships has been really important. Whether it’s with people here or with authors I work with, it’s a learning experience and I do love to learn. You learn from teaching and you learn from the people you teach.

CJ: What advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

KO: When I was 20, I had about four jobs in school. Part of it was to make money, and part of it was to inspire my love of learning. I worked at my university press, babysat, in an office, and worked on the weekends at a hotel. I would have told myself to take a slight step back once in a while. Take a hike in the woods or go to the beach. Unplug for an afternoon. Everything doesn’t have to be go-go-go all the time. Today when I take a breath, I appreciate where I am and what I have going for me.

Kate Olesin Qs