Dec 282011
 
Delia in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Delia in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey.

Teaching Traveling: I’m thrilled to introduce you today to a remarkable traveler named Delia Harrington. Delia, tell us about your background.

Delia: I am a 22 year old college student graduating this May from Northeastern University.  I’m originally from the Boston area, and before I came to college I had only been to Canada and France.  At Northeastern, though, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to include purposeful travel in my education.  I went to Egypt for 6 weeks in 2009 to study Arabic and Middle East politics.  In 2010 I then spent a semester in Cuba studying Santeria and all things Cuban, as well as a month in Benin, West Africa studying sustainability in international aid.  This past year I spent my Spring Break and Summer classes in the Dominican Republic, working to study and improve the reach of micro-finance with Haitian borrowers in particular.  In between all that I’m earning my BA in International Affairs with minors in Political Science, Latin American Studies, Social Entrepreneurship and Middle East Studies.  What a mouthful!

I’m currently living and working in Thessaloniki, Greece.  Thess is the second largest city in Greece, and has a HUGE student population.  I work at American College of Thessaloniki as an International Student Advisor as part of the N.U.in Greece program at Northeastern University.  I live with 140 Northeastern University college freshmen.  I help create the curriculum for their Global Experience class and am responsible for grading assignments.  I also take on many additional roles because I live with them, ranging from mentor to travel guru to disciplinarian to ultimate authority on what it’s like to be a college student.  I also plan alcohol-free events and helped plan a trip for all 150 of us to go to Istanbul for the weekend.

TT: Wow! Tell us more about your recent travels.

Delia with a student travel group.

Delia with a student travel group.

D: Over fall break, I returned to Cairo, Egypt to relax, see friends and become reacquainted with post-Revolutionary Egypt.  The break was only a few days but it was the perfect blend of seeing old friends, having fun (I went to the US Embassy Halloween Party, which was like being on another planet), and witnessing demonstrations.  I went to Tahrir Square with a friend who is a journalist for Bikya Masr, and I followed along as she interviewed bystanders and participants in several different rallies, a march on the Maspero Building (where 27 people were killed by the Egyptian military a few weeks ago) in support of free press, the storming of the US Embassy in support of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Oakland, and the funeral of Essam Atta, a blogger who was tortured and killed by the new Egyptian government.  I know it made my parents nervous (and in fact I didn’t tell them until I was already in Cairo), but it’s important to me to stay in touch with Egypt, the Revolution, and my friends there.  It’s also incredibly important to remember that things are not finished when media attention fades, and that there is a lot of work still being carried out by dedicated Egyptians.

TT: Fascinating. How do you find and structure your travel opportunities?

D: Northeastern University is famous for it’s co-op program, through which students apply for 6-month positions at companies in Boston as well as throughout the world.  We alternate 6 months of classes with 6 months of work, and can go on up to three separate coop positions.  This job is my final coop, and is my first international job.  NU compiles opportunities in a database, but we still have to complete resumes and go to group and individual opportunities, and there is no guarantee of a job.  I knew someone in the office from a previous coop I did at Amnesty International, and she invited me to come to an info session.

TT: How do you find the money to fund this travel?

Demonstrators at Essam Atta's funeral in Cairo, Egypt.

Demonstrators at Essam Atta's funeral in Cairo, Egypt.

D: Luckily, this is job is one of the few international coop opportunities that is paid.  N.U. includes round-trip airfare, housing, and meals as part of my compensation.  To fund my side travel I saved up money from my previous co-ops and from my part-time job at school.  I also dabble in freelance writing and translation to add to my travel fund.  I’m also not independently wealthy, and neither are my parents.  They both work full time to help me pay for school, and I have a lot of loans, but I also have merit scholarships and financial aid and I work all year round.  Luckily, NU’s structure means that my scholarships and financial aid helped pay for my other trips, which were study abroad opportunities.

TT: Fabulous! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

D: One of the strangest things for me has been to see how much the media distorts the protests, strikes and demonstrations.  Our trip to Athens was cancelled largely because of the (false) perception that there was widespread violence.  Strikes in Greece are carefully planned; the buses don’t strike on the same day as the cabs, so everyone can always get to work.  Strikes don’t happen on the weekends, and demonstrations stop for siesta and dinner.  Thess has seen minimal property damage, and almost no violence.  The only violence has been limited to a very small part of Athens, and yet I still see headlines that say things like, “Greece is Burning!”  It makes me wonder what these media outlets are really after, especially the American ones.  It seems selling papers and making America look okay in comparison to Europe are the top priorities, instead of showing what life is really like here.

TT: Such a good point. How have your travels impacted you in your career trajectory?

Delia dying a co-worker's hair on a slow weekend on-duty.

Delia dying a co-worker's hair on a slow weekend on-duty.

D: At this point as a graduating senior, my career is pretty wide open.  I’ve been considering applying to Teach for America and this job has convinced me to apply for sure.  My current job has far less involvement, though, in the field of social business and it has served to prove to me that I can’t be fully content unless my work has significant social justice impact.  That’s part of why Teach for America (or working in low income schools by any other method) is so exciting to me.  I’m constantly impressed by people like Lillie or my father who have committed years of their lives to teaching in low income areas.

TT: Yes! How have your travels impacted you as a person?

D: My travels have been an integral part of the process of becoming an adult.  For me, the personal, professional and academic are inextricably intertwined.  I have been able to learn and improve my language skills in French, Spanish, Arabic and Greek.  I have also seen firsthand the pros and cons of international aid, non-profits and for-profit social businesses.  On this job, I have improved my ability to maintain a public face when everything is falling into chaos, as so often happens when traveling.  I’ve also embarked on my first truly solo travels, which has been challenging and thrilling at the same time.

TT:  What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

D: DO ITTTT!  Everything is about priorities.  If you prioritize going to interesting places over owning a car, eating out or buying a lot of expensive clothing, it will happen.

For me, I made worthwhile, repeated, educational travel a major priority in my college decision-making process.  There are only about ten schools that offer freshmen semester abroad programs like N.U.in, and none of those programs are as big as the one at Northeastern, only 10-15 schools in the US have legal permission to send their students to Cuba, like I did and no other school offers repeated study abroad opportunities that are paid for out of tuition (which means financial aid counts) like NU.  I didn’t want to wait for junior year to go abroad and I didn’t want to just go to Australia and get drunk, so I made sure I picked a school with more to offer.

Long story short: Prioritize travel and it will happen!

TT: Thanks so much, Delia! Readers, feel free to leave comments or questions for this amazing traveler, and check out her blog at http://awaylaughingonafastcamel.wordpress.com/

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