Tag Archives: #professionaldevelopment

SA Speaks: Getting a Tshirt that Fits References

If all goes according to plan, this will post just as I’m taking the stage for my NASPA SA Speaks talk about the intersections of shame and overweight members of the student affairs community. It’s possible I forgot every single word, but it’s also possible I killed it. Either way, several publications and resources helped inform my talk and are listed below.


Bennett Shinall, J. (2015, January 15). Why Obese Workers Earn Less: Occupational Sorting and Its Implications for the Legal System. Retrieved February 21, 2015, from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2379575

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Cable, D., and Judge, T. (2011). When it Comes to Pay, Do the Thin Win? The Effect of Weight on Pay for Men and Women. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 96(1), Jan 2011, 95-112.

Kinzel, L. (2014, November 28). New Study Finds That Weight Discrimination in the Workplace is Just as Horrible and Depressing as Ever. Retrieved February 10, 2015, from http://time.com/3606031/weight-discrimination-workplace/

Ross, J. (2014, November 11). 9 Facts That Disprove The Most Common Stereotypes About Fat People. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/11/9-facts-stereotypes-fat-people/

Strange, C. C., & Banning, J. H. (2001). Educating by design: Creating campus learning environments that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

All photographs used in my presentation were accessed at Flickr.com and are licensed for public use under Creative Commons licensing. Or were taken by my mother before a dance recital when I was five. 

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Need Not be Present to Learn: Distance Learning from #ACPA15

I had a great ACPA experience. I learned a ton, I was challenged, I connected with other student affairs professionals, I debated the merits of ideas in the field, and I widened my professional circle. I supported my friends, asked questions to presenters, connected an awesome SA grad with an equally awesome SA pro, and I already have ideas of how to take my conference experience back to my campus.

The catch is that I accomplished all of this from the comfort of my apartment. I cooked dinner, took my dog for a walk, worked on a blog, called a friend, and in between, grew as a professional. This is all because of the vibrant Twitter backchannel, generous pros who documented their “a-ha” moments, as well as their struggles with the conference experience through blog posts and copious tweets. While I wasn’t able to feel the energy in the room of the annual Cabaret, I caught snippets of Instagram videos and more pictures than I knew what to do with. And you had better believe I will watch every single Pecha Kucha once they are posted online.

The days of in person conference attendance being a requirement for learning are over. There’s no excuse. Can’t afford to go to both national conferences or any conferences at all? So what. Get online. Engage. Ask questions. Critically reflect. I didn’t spend a single dime and still feel like I had one of the most fruitful conference experiences of my career.

Does my online experience take the place of sitting in a session and dialoguing in person? Of course not. The feeling of seeing an old friend, being challenged by a mentor, or running into a faculty member in the hallway will never be recreated online, but learning? Learning is always on the table. It’s up to you whether or not you take a seat. 

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What the Hell was I Thinking?

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

We are on the side of a gorgeous mountain. Lush greenery around us, a river rushing several hundred feet below us, and a warm tropical breeze blows through our hair. All is well with the world. Breathing in inspiration, breathing out gratitude. Then the sound kicks in “vooRRRR, vooRRR, vooRRR” and we lurch back and forth, simultaneously thrown forward while being incredibly thankful for the invention of the seat belt. For a moment, I totally understood how people get whiplash. I have visions of being stranded at the top of a Mexican mountain, the last known vestiges of civilization several miles below us and I begin to wonder, “What the HELL was I thinking?”

Let’s go back about three hours. Our second to last port was in our sights. Puerto Vallarta is the first port in Mexico, and the only port where Galina and I didn’t have excursions planned through Semester at Sea. After my experience in Guatemala, the port prior to Mexico, I was ready to be a true traveler and not a tourist, so I was excited at the thought of wondering through a new city and for going on our own excursion. About two months prior to this moment, Galina and I received a staggering booklet of colorful pictures and expressive descriptions of between 10-15 excursions per country. My goal when choosing excursions was to experience things that would never be possible in the U.S., which led me to learn about the process of chocolate making, emerald jewelery making, and hike an active volcano. However, when we looked over the excursions for Puerto Vallarta, they all seemed a little generic. Things like swimming with dolphins in an aquarium, horseback riding on the beach, or whale-watching were all fabulous options for many people, but since we live in California, none of them inspired much excitement for either of us. Therefore, we struck out on our own.

My goal for Puerto Vallarta was originally to go snorkeling, as they have some of the best snorkeling in the world. However, these conditions did not exist in the middle of winter. During my research, I found an eco-tourism company that specialized in “off the beaten path” tours and adventures. Some people may equate this to death, but I was up for it, and Galina signed on without even seeing the website or pouring over the Yelp and TripAdvisor recommendations like I had. When we stepped off the ship, we had the name of the company, the address in Spanish, and instructions to show the ticket “to any taxi driver, they’ll know where we are.”

With nothing more than this address and trust in Jose, our incredibly helpful taxi driver, we set out to get past the cruise ship terminal and main area of town which was teeming with tourists to get to the “true” Mexico, to be able to christen ourselves travelers. A $40 cab ride later, we find ourselves in old town Puerto Vallarta and suddenly I felt much less like a traveler and much more like someone who wished she had paid more attention in high school Spanish. Due to my insane over-preparedness, we were almost an hour early, so Galina and I enjoyed using WiFi for the first time in weeks. She texted with her family about Christmas and I sent my mom a vague text that said, “I’m about to go ATVing in Mexico. If I die, make sure to spoil my dog.” I subsequently lost cell service, leaving a panicked Midwestern mother on the other side of the text message. We sat around a little longer while teenagers worked on dune buggies, ATVs, and other vehicles in varying states of usability. We finally met our guide who tried to make up for spotty English with a huge smile, put on helmets that smelled a little funky and had me thinking about the bottle of Purel that was sitting neatly on the desk in my cabin. This was our view:

ImageThere were worse ways we could spend our time in Mexico.

We got a quick (and I mean quick) overview of how to operate our vehicle which was known as a “Rhino.” I chose it because it looked like the safest option when two women decide to go gallivanting through the Mexican countryside. There were seat belts and a roll-cage, plus we both had to wear helmets, so all-in-all, I felt fairly safe. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a stick-shift because I was all geared up to show off my automatic car skills picked up on a variety of farm equipment and a menagerie of second-hand cars during my years growing up in Ohio.

ImageRhonda, the Rhino after the first leg of the trip

I decided to drive first, so with Galina riding shotgun next to me, we set out. Our guide was up front, then a teenage couple on an ATV, then another employee who wove in and out of traffic in order to get “in action” photos which I was convinced he would try to sell back to us at the end of the day (foreshadowing: he totally did). We drove through the cobblestone street of old Puerto Vallarta and gradually transitioned to smaller stone roads, then dirt roads, then straight up dirt paths. We crossed rivers and streams, swollen from recent rain waters and enjoyed lush vegetation that had me humming the Jurassic Park theme song in my head the entire day. After about an hour, we stopped at a roadside stand that offered us a much-needed bathroom break and moment of gratitude for views like these.


I insisted that Galina drive the rest of the way. In my head, we were simply going to backtrack the path we had already driven, but our guide had another idea. He thought we should really get the full experience, which included hugging the sides of mountains as our Rhino started to have what I can only describe as seizures. I’m convinced that it wasn’t really in gear as the engine continued to rev up and down, jerking us around in our seats while we were several hundred feet above the ground and miles from anything. At first it was funny, all part of the adventure. Then, it became a little concerning, then very concerning. I was already going into Res Life duty mode, thinking of contingency plans. Would it make sense for both of us to stay with the Rhino while our guide went for help? No, then we were alone in the Mexican countryside. Would it make more sense for one of us to stay with the Rhino while the other one went back with Jose, to make sure that he actually came back? No, because that meant one person would be all alone. Would it make sense for both of us to go back to the shop on the guide’s ATV and then send them back? Well, that was a laughable plan since there were absolutely no road signs and I had no clear idea where we turned and where we kept going. The plan then became to just drive slow, coast on the declines, brace our necks, and pray we made it back without any incident.

ImageScene of our ridiculous adventure

By some small miracle, we made it back okay. Right before we were about to leave, our guide insisted on taking us to a local restaurant. Apparently, the tour also included a tequila tasting! Who knew!? Galina and I (wisely) decided that we needed lunch first and subsequently had perhaps the best Mexican food of our lives. Seriously, I will have dreams about this guacamole. After lunch, we had a quick tequila tasting, which was surprisingly delicious! Like many people, I have only had tequila after making poor choices throughout an evening and then really want to push myself over the edge, so I was participating more to be kind to our hosts then to actually enjoy myself. However, having good tequila is actually a delightful experience! We tried chocolate-flavored, hazelnut-flavored, and my favorite kind, an amazing version that was mixed with cold milk and crushed walnuts which resulted in a Kahlua-like flavor. We then had the tequila version of moonshine (ugh, never again) and the “Grey Goose” version of Mexican tequila which is next-to-impossible to get in America. Overall, it was a really great day! We got a cab to the tourist part of town, walked around a little bit, and then headed back to the ship for perhaps the most amazing sunset of my life. Mexico taught me to dare a little more, trust my instincts a little more, and that an adventuring heart can take you far!

ImageThere is no one else I would rather adventure with than this woman!

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Travel vs. Tourism and Social Justice vs. Souvenirs

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

This post has been a long time coming. On the second day of the voyage, I watched an amazing workshop about the death of travel and the birth of tourism. The Dr. Tracy Ehlers asserted that travel as we once knew it is dead. It has been replaced with tourism. Tourism in the sense that you do indeed SEE the country in question, but it is through a protected pane of glass from your air-conditioned bus, or filtered through a savvy and well-trained bilingual tour guide. Since travel became more economical for middle- to upperclass families, the need for safety, security, and the sense of “getting the most for your money” has relegated us to sightseeing tours. To being shuffled from one monument or museum to the next so when you get home, you can boast to friends and family about the quantity of what you saw, but never the quality of the experience. As a result, members of the community in question need to cater to the tourist experience, sometimes out of convenience, but often more often about survival.

I really felt this come home for me while being a tourist in Guatemala. I am specifically using the term “tourist” versus being a “traveler” in Guatemala, because my experience started on an air-conditioned bus through the Guatemalan countryside. The views were spectacular. We saw coffee fields, sugar cane fields that were in the process of being burned (this is to get the poisonous snakes out so the workers can safely cut down the cane for harvest), plus a view of the Pacaya Volcano. This volcano is very active, and there was a plume of smoke and debris being shot out of the top when we passed by!


Just an active volcano spitting out ash as we drove by. Pretty typical day.

Our trip really began when we arrived at Lake Atitlan. If you EVER have the opportunity to visit Guatemala in general, or specifically Lake Atitlan, DO IT. It was one of the most amazing, gorgeous, pristine, inspiring views I have ever seen. The Lake was created after a series of volcanic eruptions blew the top off of one volcano, and the Lake was created after centuries of being filled with rain water. The indigenous Mayans have lived around the lake and surrounding mountains for centuries and much of their culture is tied to access to fishing, fresh water, and other opportunities that living next to a bio diverse lake creates.


ImageImageOne of the best days of the entire trip

We took an hour boat ride to the other side of the lake to a small town called San Tomas. The moment we stepped off the boat, we were inundated with local men and women pushing their wares on us. Most had enough English to ask you to buy, ask your name, tell you their name, and some went so far as to place wraps, shawls, jewelry, or other items on members of our group, as a sales tactic. It felt very aggressive, and continued throughout our half-mile walk throughout town to get to the restaurant where we were stopping for lunch. The entire path was crammed with vendors, children selling bracelets, men selling hand-carved masks or flutes, the list goes on. It became clear that marching tourists from the boat dock through these stalls was a common occurrence, and most likely resulted in much of the income the people of the town came to depend upon.

We had a lovely lunch, were marched back the way we came, and continued to be barraged by men, women, and children and their variety of products. We got back to the boat and then waited almost 45 minutes for one couple who thought the 1pm deadline didn’t apply to them. This was the moment that the tourism vs. travel and social justice vs. souvenirs became painfully clear to me. Since we were tied up to the dock and on the boat, the women of the town essentially had a captive audience. Several of them were even bold enough to climb on board and try to sell their items.


Note: I asked this woman’s permission to take her picture and also paid her.

Going back a day to our pre-port briefing, a professor who has worked with the indigenous culture of Guatemala for over 30 years, talked about the culture of bargaining. There is something about rich people that makes them prone to barter with people who are not rich as a form of entertainment. A sense of pride happens when you get the handmade scarf down from $15 to $10, when the average Guatemalan makes less than $5,000 a year. The professor said it was okay to bargain, but then leveled with us. She said, “All of you can afford this trip. Therefore, if someone asks you to pay $15 for a scarf, if you have $15, GIVE IT TO THEM. Those five dollars mean much more to them then it does to you!”

Back on the boat, a Guatemalan girl of about 14 was trying to get $12 for a scarf and a Australian woman from our group told her she only had $10. She even opened up her wallet so the girl could see she only had a $10 bill. The girl ended up conceding and when she left the boat, the Australian woman opened up a second zipper of her wallet and $20 and $50 bills were literally spilled out of it. She was absolutely delighted that she was able to get away with such a “deal.”

The frantic selling continued until the oblivious couple returned and we headed back across the lake, to the safety of our buses. While on the way, I noticed a HUGE, American-style home on the side of the lake. I asked our guide, and he said much of the land is being purchased by American, Canadians, and Europeans for vacation homes since building materials, labor costs, and property taxes are next to nothing in Guatemala. As a result, the indigenous people of the lake are being forced to turn to tourism as a way to supplement their income, since they didn’t have the same lake access or land for farming.

When we got back to the buses, a minor altercation between passengers broke out because people didn’t sit in the same seats they came in. Meanwhile, 20 feet from us, a family of six was bathing, fully clothed in the lake we just traversed. The pettiness of those on board, especially in contrast to what was happening, quite literally, outside our window make me sick to my stomach.

There is a term we like to us in alternative spring break service trips called “poverty tourism.” This is the idea of rich (often White) people who go to impoverished nations, take pictures of Brown and Black children, buy some local items to feel like they’ve contributed to the local economy and therefore “done their part,” and returned unchanged, unmoved, and unmotivated to dismantle the systems they enjoy in order to impact the communities they just visited. By participating in tourism of developing nations versus traveling through them, having conversations and interactions with local people, asking and reflecting on how places could have such disparity, only a few thousand miles away from their home, tourists at best miss the point, and at worse, perpetuate the established system of inequality, privilege, and oppression.

The main lesson from Guatemala? Be a traveler. Experience the world, don’t just see it. And run, kicking and screaming, from any experience that caterers to tourists.

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Pura Vida! The Pure Life in Costa Rica

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

I have been looking forward to Costa Rica more than any other country on the trip. I’ve heard it is beautiful, inspiring, and I can now say that those words don’t do this country justice. As the most politically and economically stable country in Central America, Costa Rica enjoys a democratic government, amazing tourism industry, and almost 25% of the country has been categorized as national parks. The country realized decades ago that there was power in maintaining the natural wonder of the country, so it has been on the forefront of becoming a green, eco-friendly environment. Additionally, the have completely done away with their military (yep, you read that right, NO military) and taken all of that money and invested in their educational system instead. They realized that if anyone tried to start something, the US would come to defend them, due to their coffee, banana, and chocolate exports, in addition to sharing a border with the important trade country of Panama. Pretty genius, right?
ImageCosta Rican countryside and coffee fields
In terms of exploration, I decided to sign up to see the Poas volcano. This volcano is part of the “cloud forest” section of the country. There are dry forests, which is what the majority of the US could be described as, then rain forests, and then, which I did not know, are cloud forests. These are ecosystems that thrive above the elevation where clouds appear. Therefore, we climbed from sea level to over 10,000 feet in about two hours! 
ImageOn the hike to the volcano. The Dementors were near!
We arrived at the volcano and the difference in climate was immediately clear. First, it was about 30 degrees colder! The weather report called for 95 degrees and sunny, but the middle of the cloud forest was about 60 degrees and a weird cloud haze hung about 10 feet off the ground. It was hard not to think that Dementors were around! We had to walk about half a mile to get to the volcano summit, but it was well worth the wait. Well, it was eventually worth the wait.
The tricky part of about being that far above sea level is that you are literally walking through clouds. Therefore, the volcano crater was completely covered with clouds for the first thirty minutes we were there. Our tour guide (who was seriously incredible) kept telling us to be patient, be patient. Then, a swift gust of wind swooped down, and blew away the cloud like the top of a dandelion getting blown away. You could see a lake at the bottom, craggily sides, and mineral deposits from millions of years of volcanic eruptions. The last eruption was in the 1950s, which is nothing in terms of geologic time, so it is very much still an active volcano. We were able to get some pretty incredible pictures, then it was time to head out. 
ImageThere’s an active volcano underneath all of these clouds, promise!
ImageFinally getting a glimpse of the side of the volcano!
The next stop was a small, middle-class town of Sarchi. Sarchi’s claim to fame is an all metal church, designed by the same architects who designed the Eiffel Tower. We did a a loop around the church, then saw the world’s largest ox cart! Ox carts are a huge part of the Costa Rican culture, as they used to be used to transport coffee from one side of the country to the other. They started painting elaborate floral designs because the men were often gone for months at a time and their wives painted unique designs to remind them of home. 
ImageWorld’s Largest Oxcart!
ImageThe detail was incredible!
Once again, we were ushered into a Costa Rican souvenir shop that had pretty much everything under the sun. I did the rest of my Christmas shopping, then we headed back to the ship, seeing the most incredible sunset over the Pacific in the process. It was an incredible day, and I know that I’ll be coming back to Costa Rica to explore sooner rather than later.
ImageNot a bad way to end the day in Costa Rica
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All Was Calm, All Was Bright on the Panama Canal

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

Today, Christmas Eve, I got to check off three very cool things from my Bucket List:

  • Be in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in the same day
  • Traverse the Continental Divide by ship
  • Experience one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World

Today, we traversed the Panama Canal! It was, by far, one of the coolest things I have ever experienced. It took about nine hours, and through a series of dams, locks, man-made lakes, and more, our 900-passenger MV Explorer made it from the Atlantic to the Pacific, across the Continental Divide, and proved that the Canal deserves its spot on the list of modern wonders.


The start of the Canal! This was the when we were still on the Atlantic, ready to be hoisted up through the locks.

Galina and I woke up early (for us; it’s all relative when you are sailing!) to get a good breakfast in before we started going through the Canal. Since we got a late start out of Cartagena we got bumped in line to go through the Canal. Originally, we were slated to start at 5am, but now we started at 9am and finished around 6pm, which was perfect for a little leisurely wake-up call, plus we ended up in the Pacific just in time for sunset.



A carefully choreographed routine of train engines on either side of the ship pulling and tug boats pushing from behind helped our ship safely get through the Canal.  


Sailing under the Bridge of the Americas! 

It seemed like every person on the ship was on deck to see the start of the locks, and with good reason. It’s not every day that you are lifted 20-50 feet by a series of locks and mechanisms that date back 100 years! A set of three locks got us to the lake, and then we had a very slow ride (it is a totally wake-free zone) through the nine-mile, man-made lake until we got to the three sets of locks on the Pacific side. I spent most of the day reading in the Glazier Lounge. This is the faculty lounge on the top deck of the ship and has a 180 degree, glassed-in view. I thought this was the perfect spot as it was shaded, air-conditioned, but still accessible in case I wanted to pop out to take a quick picture.


Panama is the only country in the world where the sun rises in the West and sets in the East


After nearly nine hours, we finally made it through and have the Pacific in our sights

The sunset was truly spectacular and the crew opened up Deck Eight, which is usually off-limits so we could get an even better vantage point. After we were on our way through the Pacific to Costa Rica, G and I grabbed dinner, then headed to the Christmas Eve service on the ship.

The service was interdenominational, and hosted by a Unitarian Universalist minister. There was a 40+ person choir and the service ended with a rousing version of The 12 Days of Christmas, which involved motions of each gift (including eight maids a-milking!) and I laughed to the point of tears. The best part of the entire service was when the minister talked about community. She said, in a way, we were all searching through foreign lands during this voyage and what made this possible was the community of travelers. We had, over the past few days, created our own community. We ended the official part of the service with “Silent Night.” The minister asked us to reflect on the lyrics “all was calm, all was bright.”

Since I’m sitting on Deck Five, typing this at 10pm on Christmas Eve with the stars above me, sea beneath me, warm breeze around me, its hard not to be grateful, humbled, and inspired by this unique gift and indeed privilege of travel.  My family never really traveled as I was growing up. My dad was always working his second job at our family farm, and my grandparents had a small place on Lake Erie that was our default vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade summers of suntanning, boating, fishing, firefly catching, adventures to the sand bar, or summer flings for anything, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I truly traveled.

There is something to be said for being uncomfortable, for struggling to communicate or for getting lost in an unfamiliar city. There’s something to be said for being plopped down next to total strangers every night at dinner and making conversation for two hours. There’s something to be said for making decisions from your heart and not your bank account. For leaving port and learning to sail as you go. Although the voyage is only half-over, I’ve already learned to trust that part of my head and heart that says, “This is probably not the most practical option which is EXACTLY why you need to do it.”

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Jewels and Affluenza in South America

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

First time in South America! Whoo-hoo! We pulled into port in Cartagena, Colombia and must say, I was pleasantly surprised. Cartagena is a bustling city on the Caribbean and has a population of around one million. It was occupied by the Spanish, and still has several remnants of that time, including a gorgeous downtown (which reminded me a lot of the French Quarter in New Orleans) and a “Walled City” fort, which is now available for, you guessed it, tours.

ImageView of Cartagena from the ship!

We only had about five hours in Cartagena, so I was excited to meet our tour guide, who was also named Paula and get going. I was signed up for the Emerald Jewelry Making excursion, since I really couldn’t go nearly three weeks without some kind of crafting! We hopped on the bus and only drove about a mile into the city until we were dropped off at the Fundacion Escuela de Joyeria del Caribe. This is a jewelry school in downtown Cartagena which funds scholarships for teenagers and young adults from the developing parts of Cartagena. They train them in various jewelry-making techniques, which is big business in Colombia. After coffee, bananas, and flowers, emeralds are Colombia’s largest export and they are still mining Colombia for emeralds, while veins in other countries have long since dried up.

We were ushered to the instruction room where we were given an introduction to the school and taught about the mission. Then, each of us were paired with a current student who was the “master” while we were the “apprentice.” I met Yazmina, who was 18 years old, and going to school part-time to become a teacher. She was learning how to make jewelry to fund her education. Between her limited English and my limited Spanish, we were able to get along just fine. It was lovely to be able to have a conversation with someone from the place I was visiting, instead of feeling so separated on the bus, through translators, etc. We made a variety of jewelry using raw emeralds and hung out for nearly two hours. I ended up making a ring, pendant, bracelet, and earrings. I ended up buying all of the them and plan to give away some as Christmas presents. It was also nice to know that at least some of my money was going to fund the education of Yazmina and the other students of the school.

ImageSelfie in Colombia with my incredible instructor


 Started with raw silver and emeralds, and ended up with these beauties 

After we were done making the jewelry, we went to see the walled city, which was left over the colonial days and then headed to an emerald museum. To the surprise of no one, we ushered through a high-end emerald shop on the ground floor. I am not really a jewelry connoisseur, so I had no idea if the prices were good or bad, I just knew they were far too rich for my blood. I was a little perturbed that we were one again asked to purchase items, but then realized that the emerald store completely funds the jewelry store and usually employs the students upon graduation, so it wasn’t simply an easy way to prey on tourists.

ImageWalled City with Colombian flag

I didn’t want to buy anything, so I headed back to the bus where I met a young guy named Hunter. Hunter said he was 22-years-old and from Santa Barbara. He had shagged brown hair, wore purple John Lennon sunglasses, and had an air of privilege to him. Do you ever just meet someone and think to yourself, “I bet you’ve never been told no in your entire life.”? Maybe it’s just my seven years of working at private, very expensive schools, but my privilege radar was beeping like crazy. I didn’t think much of it, until we got back on the ship and they started paging Hunter over the loudspeaker.

A little context before I continue with this ridiculous story. For every port, the passengers had an on-board time and a departure time. It is absolutely essential that you are on-board by the on-board time because we WILL leave you by the departure time. Obviously, some tours may go over by a few minutes, so there is an hour buffer between on-board and departure time. They need to be really strict about this because there are title issues, immigration issues, and a host of other issues that start to occur if we are in port longer than agreed upon with the country in question. Therefore, when you hear someone’s name being paged in between the on-board time and departure time, you know either they aren’t on board, or failed to swipe their ship ID properly at the entrance.

Hunter’s name kept being called. Since he was on my excursion, I knew that we had made it back about 30 minutes before on-board time. Also, the ship was docked in a residential neighborhood, not a bustling marketplace or shopping district, so it’s not like he just lost track of time looking for souvenirs. Here’s what ended up happening, all of which we were told at the beginning of our next pre-port meeting. These meetings are kind of like floor meetings in residence halls in that it is a way for the community to come together before heading out in a new country, learn about customs, traditions, political climate, ideal spots to visit, etc.

Our pre-port after Colombia started with a staff member throwing up a picture of a speed boat. I was a little confused, until the staff started talking about the adventure of Hunter. Apparently, when you fail to make it back by departure time, the Semester at Sea staff leaves your passport with the country’s authorities and convey the message that you either need to find a flight home, or need to meet up with us in our next port of call. In Hunter’s case, he got back just as our ship was leaving the harbor, so the Semester at Sea Captain said he could hire a tug boat to ferry him to the ship, and then he could have to climb aboard using the exterior ladder, usually reserved for pilots who take us through the Panama Canal. Since we were heading to the Canal next, we couldn’t afford to lose our spot in the queue. It would have cost thousands of dollars in fuel costs and penalties to slow down, turn around, and wait for Hunter. According to the staff, the tug boat wasn’t fast enough, so the tug turned around, Hunter rented a speed boat, and then tried to catch up in what, to those on the outside decks, looked very much like a high speed chase! The speed boat was able to catch up and Hunter was brought aboard.

The story would have been over at this point, but Hunter was, in the staff’s description, “overly alert.” His behavior alerted them and they did a thorough search, which resulted in about three grams of COCAINE! In less than two hours, Hunter had ventured into Colombia, purchased cocaine, then chased down the MV Explorer, after nearly 1,000 people had been waiting on him and him alone, for over an hour. The staff then had the choice of turning him over to Colombian authorities, or waiting to turn him over to American authorities when we traversed the Panama Canal. Being kind-hearted people, who didn’t think a 22-year-old white guy would fair too well in a Colombia prison for attempted drug smuggling, so they decided to allow him to stay on board for the night, and then turned him over to U.S. authorities the next day in Colombia. Between the tug boat rent, the speed boat rental, the amount of fuel the Explorer wasted slowing down, then speeding up so he could board, plus flights home, they said he would be charged between $15,000-20,000, much less all of the legal fees when he returned home. Needless to say, most people on the ship thought Hunter was suffering from a near fatal dose of affulenza.

photo(18)View of Cartagena from the ship after I was able to get my butt back before departure!

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Learning to Be Human: A Day in the Dominican Republic!

Author’s Note: I recently returned from the voyage of a lifetime. Along with my good friend and colleague Galina, we sailed with the Winter Enrichment Voyage through Semester at Sea.This combines travel, adventure, workshop speakers, relaxation, and more. Enrichment Voyages are billed as “Trips for intelligent people who like to have fun.” We traveled to eight countries, two oceans, two continents, experienced Christmas and New Year’s Eve with the Pacific breeze in our hair, and basically had the time of our lives! I blogged along the way while on board, but due to limited Internet connection, I’m posting them now so follow along and enjoy!

First true port today!! After two horrible, sickness-filled days at sea, I was never more happy to be on dry land again. G and I both agreed that we had images of kissing the ground once we made port! I was signed up to go on the “Chocolate Lovers Tour” which was billed as seeing the chocolate process from cocoa bean all the way through to the final product.

IMG_0175First port of call: Santo Domingo! This was the view we woke up to this morning.

We started by making port in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Santo Domingo was “discovered” by Christopher Columbus’ brother. Our tour guide, Paula, stated that the city boasts the first University in the Americas. She also said the minimum wage is about $200 per month, there is an 18% sales tax on everything, but only property tax on property that is $6 million and up. The country has to import nearly everything, so a gallon of gas costs around $6 per gallon. Higher education is affordable from a U.S. perspective, with a college degree costing about $600 total. (Please note: I haven’t fact-checked any of these items as I don’t have Internet connection on the ship, so take all of that with a grain of salt.) Paula had just finished up her college degree and spent a lot of time talking about her experience. My favorite quote from her was “In University, you not only learn your trade, you also learn to be human.”

I found this interesting because we had to go through the less developed portion of the city to get out to the cocoa plantations. It was hard not to notice the threadbare clothing of the occupants, unpaved streets, entire families of five riding on one motorcycle (no helmets for anyone), and the lack of trash removal. I found it to be a big disconnect to be riding around in these air-conditioned busses, some folks dripping in jewelry, and holding cameras that cost more than a year’s salary for the average Dominican. It seemed easy for most people to turn off that human part of themselves when seeing such a disparity of wealth and resources. This was particularly true when Paula talked about the strain on the country’s resources as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. The Dominican Republic estimates nearly 600,000 Haitian refugees have entered the DR and are usually employed in the jobs that Dominicans don’t want to do, like cutting sugar cane or picking coffee. However, there is a lot of anti-Haitian sentiment that Haitians are “stealing” jobs from Dominicans. Sound familiar? Immigration issues aren’t just for the United States.

We slowly winded our way out of the city, into lush landscapes. We knew it was going to be about two hours to the cocoa fields, but then Paula and the driver got into a heated debate in Spanish. Paula went back and forth between talking on her cell phone to what I assumed was the tour operation office and the driver. Apparently, there were two different plantations the tour office uses. The driver thought we were going to one and Paula thought we were going to the other! As a result, we went about 90 minutes in the wrong direction! Yikes! The positive spin I put on it was that we got to see about half of the entire country!

IMG_0191 View of the countryside on the way to the cocoa plantation 

Once we finally got to our destination, we were greeted by the employees of the plantation and offered fresh, hot cocoa. It was about 80 degrees with 70% humidity, but you do not pass up fresh hot chocolate! It was simply incredible, and the thickest, richest I’ve ever had. It put Nestle to shame! After that, we were walked around the different stations of the plantation to see how cocoa beans are planted, matured, grown, and gleaned. It was clear that the entire set-up was made for tourists, with cute, matching signs in Spanish and English and that the real work was done far away from where we were. Since this was my first port excursion, I didn’t really know what to expect, and had hoped for a more authentic experience. However, it was interesting to see the cocoa trees, taste the cocoa at every step of the process and realize that adding milk, sugar, and allowing it to temper really makes a huge difference!

IMG_0207Cocoa fields: I honestly had no idea cocoa grew on trees! 

IMG_0209The beginning of all good chocolate. This pod was filled with slimy white things that contained the cocoa bean. 

IMG_0215Here are the nasty, white, slimy, surprisingly sweet cocoa bean with casing. Think melted mochi, combined with jello.

IMG_0220The white things go here for several days where bugs pick away the white casing and get to the bean. And. it. REEKED.

IMG_0223The beans then go to dry for several days. During the height of the season, this is filled to the top! 

IMG_0235The beans then go through all kinds of processes to shuck, shell, smash, and extrude the oils. It tastes like nasty, bitter paste at this point. And the taste refuses to leave your taste buds. 

IMG_0242This is when the magic happens! The chocolate is tempered, melted, and sugar and/or milk is added. 


Tasting the chocolate I helped make! It was a much more pure and clear taste than American chocolate. 

We had a delicious lunch of spiced chicken, rice, beans, plantains, and of course, hot chocolate, and then had time in the gift shop. I picked up a bunch of chocolate bars for my student staff with the hope being a chocolate tasting staff devo activity at our first staff meeting. I also got the DR’s version of Nutella, which is made with chocolate and macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts, plus powdered hot cocoa mix so I could recreate my very own cup during the “cold” nights of Northern California. Next up, South America for the first time in Cartagena, Colombia!!!

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