From Peace Corps Volunteer to Travel Advisor
How my life in Africa led me to a lifelong love of travel.
Whenever asked for a “fun fact” about myself, I always say, “Believe it or not, I used to have a shaved head and speak the tribal language Sepedi while I was a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa.”
Every Peace Corps story is unique, but one common thread is that no one ever comes back to the United States the same. My time in Africa transformed the way I looked at the world, getting me out of my comfort zone and into a place of both cultural and self discovery.
Peace Corps also transformed the way I looked at travel. It showed me not only the joy of traveling that comes with meeting new people, tasting exotic foods, and having unique cultural experiences – but also the importance of traveling which comes from supporting local economies, exchanging traditions, and gaining a new perspective.
The Peace Corps taught me the powerful positive impact travel has on a person. My time abroad made me more compassionate, generous and grateful, to name a few. Now as a travel advisor, I aim to pay it forward by creating opportunities for others to have exceptional and meaningful travel experiences wherever they go. There are billions of people and places out there, and so much to gain and so much to learn by just getting out there! Yes, sometimes travel is a great way to relax and get away from our hectic daily lives, but whether you mean for it to or not, travel has the power to leave a lasting impression on you the people you meet.
I traveled a lot as a child. I was raised by parents who were passionate about exposing me to new things as well as our social responsibility to our community and the communities we visited. Therefore, joining the Peace Corps was an early dream of mine. Even though we traveled often, I grew up in a suburban Florida neighborhood with all the standard first-world luxuries. Because we were so fortunate, I always dreamed of experiencing more deeply how people of other cultures lived, and also doing some good at the same time.
After graduating from college and working in New York City where I commuted to work in a suit and high heels to my hedge fund job, I made the life-altering decision to apply for the Peace Corps. I had always felt a call to go to Africa, so requested the region and was assigned the poorest province of South Africa: Limpopo.
Moving to a one-room concrete hut in a village without running water where I was the only American to ever live there was actually not as much of an adjustment as I had expected. Daily life was beautifully simple and very slow-paced, a welcome shift from the chaos of Manhattan. My host family was welcoming, and I woke up each morning to the sound of roosters and laughing (or crying) children.
While there I taught middle school English and led a few after-school programs that focused on art, fitness, and HIV education. My proudest accomplishment was starting a library full of hundreds of donated books from across the world, that was still in working order when I went back years later to visit. Although my impact on the village of Dicheoung felt insignificant in my eyes, the effects it had on me were substantial.
The unique experiences I had like sharing cookies and conversation with the tribal king in his home, singing Celine Dion at the top of my lungs with school children, and preparing a chicken dinner (where the first step was bringing the live chicken home from the market) will forever be etched in my memory.
As a Travel Advisor, I aim to help travelers get that same feeling that I got in South Africa…that feeling of experiencing something unlike anything you have ever felt, seen, smelt or tasted – something that wakes you up and makes you feel alive and connected to the huge world out there.
No, I did not come back from South Africa the same. And that is something I hope for each of my clients traveling to a new place. Get out there, try something new, learn something, and bring something back with you. Whether it be new memories, a recipe or a friend – travel has the exceptional power to change the lives of all brave enough to get out of your routine and out into the world.