Culture

Practical Advice For Students Who Dream Of Doing Good As They Travel

The new generation of adventure-minded travelers is no longer drifting through unique destinations just for having fun.

The Inside Story of Refugee Resettlement with US Together & Nadia Kasvin

“We’re not here to help people to survive – they survived without us. We’re here to give them tools that will help empower them to succeed.” — Nadia Kasvin

Serial Volunteering with Raj Thangavelu

I have known Raj Thangavelu since high school – we ran cross-country together, and he taught me an important life lesson.

GRIT, Building a Career with a Criminal Record & Harley Blakeman

I met Harley when he interned at our office. I knew he was a relative of my parents’ friends for college but had no idea of his story, or his social mission to help ex-offenders get back on their feet.

Transracial Adoptees with Donna Blume

Donna Blume has spent her life exploring issues and identity around transracial adoptees, and uncovered insights into what it means to grow up with two cultures, and how to overcome challenges being stuck in the middle.

An Unexpected Chill in Brussels

I have heard wonderful things about Brussels: it’s a nice modern city, easy to get around in and beautiful in the summer.

All you need to know about Londoners

London is the premier international city. You can walk down Oxford Street and easily hear 10 languages in 10 steps, because people come from everywhere and anywhere. (I used to think New York was the most diverse city in the world, but it really pales in comparison to London.)

Even after 9 years living in London, I only scratched the surface of the diversity in this city. But I did learn some things about the lovely ladies and lucky lads living in London as Londoners:

Londoners are accepting

While the UK might have voted in favor the Brexit, London was overwhelmingly against it. Diversity drives their economy. Sure, some jobs are still typically older white British men. But in finance and the creative industries, talent comes from everywhere. And people get along. It is a beautiful testament that a people with different cultural background get along just fine. In fact, it makes life much richer.

Londoners are adaptable

The tube goes down, the traffic jam is backed up, something isn’t working the way it’s supposed to, and people adapt. They find another way.

But they’ll complain about it. Complaining about the weather is not just a favorite pastime, but also a staple conversation starter. In a city where the weather can be gloomy, rainy or moldy, there are hundreds of ways to discuss the drizzly pitter-patter that drops down.

Londoners love their pint

At lunch, after work, the pub is the social scene. Any day of the week, the pubs have a crowd of people popping by for a pint before going home.

Workplaces are much more collaborative for it: when you drink together, you share stories, and you work more effectively together.  I volunteered with the Samaritans… and after every shift we’d stop by the pub. It wasn’t mandatory, but we did it anyways.  Even people like me, who don’t really drink.

Londoners love the sun

Maybe because it is so unpredictable and you live in semi-darkness half the year, when you have a sunny day, it is an unofficial national holiday.

Any warmth, and just a splash of sun, and people are out, covering any piece of grass you can find. You actually have to worry about stepping on people’s toes. (Don’t do that. They don’t appreciate it.)

Londoners live life

They walk fast. Although, not New York fast. When they’re not walking, they’re standing in queues. Even on escalators… but only the right.

Tip: never stand on the left, and you will annoying a true Londoner, who will ridicule you silently for your lack of utter ineptitude of the lowest form of travel etiquette. Of course, you won’t know, because they’re too polite to say it to your face. But everyone else standing on the right will know exactly what they’re thinking.

 


Also published on Medium.

Are you on Pinterest?  Pin these and let’s connect!

Culture, Diversity & Mikela Thomas

For this first episode, I had the pleasure of speaking with Mikela Thomas, the diversity liaison at Cheshire Elementary School, about culture and diversity.

Belize & Communal Eating

The Thatch Caye resort in Belize was my first experience with communal eating.

Belize & The Anatomy Of An Awkward Traveler

I’ve earned my badge for traveling – spending a year abroad in high school as an exchange student; followed by 9 years as an expat in London, where I discovered my now wife from India; and now with her, traveled extensively throughout Europe and India.

Oddly though, I’m not a social traveler. Slightly introverted by nature, I don’t go up and start conversations naturally with strangers. My wife dreads small talk as much as I do, so we make a great company… for each other.

ao_2017-02-9

Landing on a short runway in Dangriga, Belize.

Last December, we flew into Belize City, and took a short 15 minute hopper flight down to Dangriga, followed by a boat ride into a small island resort. Small and cozy. We could tell on the boat ride in that we were different from the other passengers, as everyone else raised their hand at the prospect of a beer, whereas we, humbly declined.

Not drinking alcohol makes social interactions more challenging for us, especially that we are living in a world that heralds drinking as a cornerstone of social events.

ao_2017-02-3

My preferred resort drink.

Just imagine living in London — a city where people generally go to the pub after work for a quick pint with colleagues before heading home.  The pub is synonymous for hanging out. I’ve seen my share of pubs, but was always slightly out of place because I rarely felt like drinking.

I’m convinced that I’m one of those weird cases, where I just don’t enjoy drinking, except for an occasional glass of wine (like a Pinot Noir, nothing too sweet or too strong), especially with a gourmet Italian meal. Occasional in this context means 2-4 times per year.

So, going to the pub generally meant drinking Diet Coke (back before I decided I had enough of that too). And since I never spent much time in pubs, I never mastered the art of small talk. Oddly, my years of volunteering with the Samaritans helped me become a fantastic listener, which usually carries me most of the way, but there is often an awkward pause or two.

ao_2017-02-2

We’re not always alone — this little friend liked our refreshing lemonade drink too.

I’m good with awkward, it doesn’t bother me. But I can tell when it makes others slightly agitated.  I used to describe myself as introverted but not shy. I’m not incapable, but I get more energy being alone than I do being around others.

So, when my wife and I journeyed to Belize to visit our first ever resort — we thought we were lucky selecting a cozy location with just a dozen or so bungalows. It didn’t occur to us that small and cozy meant spending time with the other guests, talking and socializing.

Oops.

ao_2017-02-5

The communal dining area.  No shoes required!

Especially when you have communal dining — a long picnic table where everyone eats together.

I thought this would be a small talk nightmare, but it turned out quite the opposite… swapping stories of excursions, hearing people’s diverse backgrounds.  Most were on their honeymoon, and had interesting stories to tell — especially the man irritated by fake pleasantries who had to survive working at Disney.  The socializing added a nice touch of camaraderie.

This was a stark different from the surgical attack travels around Europe — flying into Barcelona on Friday night, exploring 2 cathedrals, 1 castle, 2 museums, 7 ancient ruins, 3 restaurants, 1 Olympic park and having coffee at as many local joints as possible before flying home Sunday evening.  (A trip where you were so busy, you had no time to talk to ANYONE.)  After awhile though, these trips began to feel the same.  The trips I remember the most were those where I was able to connect with locals or other travelers, and share stories.  It’s in the sharing that we develop new understanding and inspire new ideas.

ao_2017-02-7

The stunning Caribbean ocean is also inspiring. Conversation can only add so much!

In this case, I think fondly of our fellow guests on the island.  We enjoyed their company, and we had the space to ourselves that we hoped for — even those working at the resort were friendly and helpful, but never intrusive.  Sharing stories enriches us almost as deeply as experiencing them for ourselves.  I believe the small size of the resort also made a huge difference — had it been a larger crowed, I believe I would have felt alienated.  A dozen fellow travelers was just right.

ao_2017-02-6

For the record, staying in an overwater bungalow doesn’t dampen the island spirit, either.


Also published on Medium.