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Thursday, April 9, 2015

When Paradise Becomes a Nightmare: Accidental Exposure to Harmful Chemicals

Most people have seen the selling of pesticides in small local stores or on the streets that guarantee to kill all household bugs better than any other product out there. What people don’t know is that these are illegal pesticides and they can do more than just kill bugs in your home, they can hurt you as well.

In many countries the risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals (not just pesticides) is very real as there are few regulations and even less enforcement. Accidental poisonings kill an estimated 355,000 people globally each year in developing countries. Two thirds of these deaths occur with poisonings that are associated with excessive exposure to, and inappropriate use of, toxic chemicals. In many cases, toxic chemicals have be released directly into soil, air, and water at levels or rates well in excess of those tolerable to human health from industrial processes, pulp and paper plants, tanning operations, mining, and unsustainable forms of agriculture.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has estimated that by the year 2020, nearly one third of the world's chemical production will take place in non-OECD countries and that global output will be 85% higher than it was in 1995. The shift of chemical production to poor countries may increase related health and environmental risks.

Illegal pesticides are usually much more toxic the approved EPA pesticides. EPA has initiated an effort to protect people from these types of products across the country, by increasing enforcement actions against companies selling and distributing these illegal products and increasing the efforts to raise public awareness.

Recently in the news there has been a family of four that were poisoned by one of these illegal pesticides during a Caribbean vacation in St. Johns while staying at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort. It is said that the illegal pesticide, methyl bromide, was used to fumigate the condominiums first floor villa two days before the family’s stay, and that it has been used several times at other Sirenusa units in the past year. Methyl Bromide, which is odorless, can be fatal or cause serious damage to the central nervous system and respiratory system, according to the EPA. 

All four were airlifted to separate hospitals in the States suffering major respiratory trauma. Both parents were released while their two boys are still in critical condition.

These types of situations trigger powerful emotions, in crisis situations we have a tendency to react and be impulsive. This is where having Travel Assistance can give you peace of mind by providing the much needed professional advice and assistance to travelers.

Visit for more information.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The World as Your Classroom: Traveling as a Study Abroad Learner

Research shows that students who go abroad, as compared to ones who stay home, may be inclined to a broader world-view. International understanding and a care for international issues are two general indicators of the students who are more likely to self-select for enrollment in a global education program, but there are a variety of factors that might aide in motivating the less-certain (but curious about giving it a try) study abroad applicant. International travel leads to a greater understanding of the self, and students return with a greater global-mindedness.

Study abroad programs offer students a unique opportunity to grow academically, professionally and personally.

Academically, international students are presented with the opportunity to earn college credits while immersing themselves in an educational system that can be drastically different than what they are accustomed to at home. Some study abroad travelers describe their educational experience as being the “full-time learning” that they expected from higher education. Many students will take on a full class-load while traveling abroad while also learning the culture in which they become a temporary part of. International students have the opportunity to fine-tune their conversational level second language, or pick up a new one altogether. Being surrounded by native speakers forces the learner to be immersed in the language, which usually leads to a higher retention and a greater chance for fluency.

The most commonly observed impacts on students who studied abroad are better foreign language proficiency, more knowledge about the culture, politics, and society of the host country, and altered perceptions of global networking.

Many students who return from a study abroad travel experience report that they found their ideal career path while on their trip, or at least a new direction of interest that will lead them to a fulfilling job after college. With exposure to global issues and international opportunities, professional development is a large part of the benefit of study abroad travel. The Institute of International Education’s report on “Open Doors” described the value of international study abroad travel as the “competitive edge” that college grads are often missing for when it comes time to apply for jobs. With an extremely competitive job market, and with an increased number of applicants holding college degrees, study abroad provides an advantage to these special travelers. As a way to stand out, students who study abroad can usually demonstrate a higher-level of understanding for other cultures, perhaps have learned a second language while traveling, and usually have a better skill set when it comes to intercultural communication. These are all highly valued skills, especially as the world becomes more connected globally.

In terms of personal growth, studying abroad provides many students with the opportunity to develop an understanding of how they fit into the world. Students learn to depend on themselves in a real-world setting, ask questions, remain proactive, and ask for help. By putting themselves in these vulnerable and often uncomfortable situations, students gain the benefits of increased self-awareness and self-confidence. Being flexible and open to new people, places, cultures and values affords student travelers with platforms for problem-solving. In many cases, these travelers become better team players, as they learn that it is okay to rely on others for assistance, while discovering their own strengths that they can offer to a group.

Traveling for the sake of international education offers students the chance to challenge their personal beliefs, and break down stereotypes and misconceptions about foreign cultures. Student travelers can gain a wealth of insights about not only themselves and their own biases, but will be introduced to people who will serve to demonstrate just how much all people have in common- regardless of where they come from or how they live.
"... a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to
scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own..."
While studying abroad may sound like an escape from reality, student travelers should be wary of some of the challenges that will occur before, during and after their trip. Pre-departure preparations are key to making your study abroad experience a positive one. Thanks to technology, student travelers have access to a wealth of information about their host country, and can take the necessary measures to make their transition as smooth as possible. Language guides, cultural briefings, and city maps are just a few examples of things that travelers can have handy before they depart. With virtual communication capabilities like Skype, students can even connect with their future classmates or roommates.  

While most colleges and universities require their study abroad leaners to enroll in international health insurance, most do not offer travel assistance memberships. Students who will be traveling with any study abroad program should inquire about Travel Assistance membership, as international insurance does not necessarily protect them in all emergencies/ unexpected situations. While travel insurance may protect the traveler in an umbrella sort of way, many details (like medical evacuations, repatriations and prescription replacements) are overlooked. Pre-departure is a good time to review the fine print of your insurance and also enroll in a travel assistance membership.

Students who are not frequent travelers often find themselves facing a serious case of homesickness. While this can be difficult, again, technology can aide in alleviating this discomfort. Facetime, Skype and other international communication programs can reconnect travelers and their families. After the trip is over, travelers returning from study abroad trips should also note that while culture shock can occur upon arriving in their destination country, it can also occur when returning home to their native country. When a traveler becomes accustomed to their new environment, returning back to “regular life” can present them with unforeseen challenges. While this shouldn’t be a deterrent from embarking on this kind of trip, students should be aware that they might face challenges they wouldn’t expect long after they have returned from their adventure.

In general, using study abroad as a means to travel the world is a great idea- as it comes with a variety of benefits and opportunities for growth for all kinds of learners. Margaret Mead once said, "As the traveler who has once been from home is wiser than he who has never left his own doorstep, so a knowledge of one other culture should sharpen our ability to scrutinize more steadily, to appreciate more lovingly, our own." And if one thing is for certain, traveling will do just that.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Green Can Still Be Glam

A buzz word in the travel industry is “ecotourism”. While trending lately, this mode of travel actually came out of the environmental movements in the 1970’s, and has since become one of the fastest-growing sectors of the tourism industry on a global scale. Since the 1990’s, ecotourism has been growing between 20-30% each year. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in 2004, ecotourism grew three times faster than the tourism industry as a whole.
Ecotourism encompasses the environmental, social, cultural and economic features of travel destinations. In general, it is a means of uniting the traveler with the natural world- while minimizing the damaging aspects of travel. It bridges communities, conservation efforts and sustainable thinking, too.

Ecotourism was founded on, and continues to grow based on a few principals. It is intended to build cultural and environmental awareness, providing positive experiences for both the visitor and the host. The financial benefits of this branch of tourism provide direct aid to conservation efforts, and should also be directed to the local people of the travel destination. In working to travel with a reduced-carbon footprint, “low-impact” facilities are to offer accommodations to visitors, and these facilities are to be designed, constructed and operated in such a manner.

These basic guidelines are important to the companies guiding the eco-friendly travel arrangements, but it is also important for the traveler to keep in mind- from the planning process, through the trip itself- all the way through returning home.  One of the “big picture” intentions of ecotourism is to provide the traveler with memorable experiences that are open for interpretation and sharing- so, in returning home, engaging in discussions and spreading awareness about their experiences allows the ecotravel cycle to continue.

Ecotourism has expanded beyond the idea of being only for the “environmentally responsible” traveler. In the past, there was a negative connotation with this idea, but luckily, this is changing. Traveling with an eco-friendly group also doesn’t mean that you’ll be stuck with a bunch of tree-huggers and hippies. Ecotourism appeals to a wide range of travelers who vary in age, background and culture who happen to share a common thread of making consciously “better” choices while away from home and a desire to explore in nature. Travelers who wish to be a part of the ecotourism movement have the opportunity to connect with people who they probably would not have had the chance to otherwise.

Traveling in an eco-friendly fashion also doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice luxury, if luxury is what you are seeking while on your trip. Again, there is often a misconception that environmentally sustainable travel means primitive accommodations, basic cuisine and a general lack of comfort. Many modern hotels and resorts that have been built for the purpose of ecotourism are actually very high-end, and offer all of the services that any resort might.
Many of the world’s most fascinating natural attractions are located in less-developed countries, making them hard to access or seen as inaccessible by travelers. Ecotourism works to not only connect people with these natural wonders, but also provides an economic boost for the destination in which these places are. Biodiversity exposure and conservation has played a major role in engaging governmental agencies of developing nations to be a part of the ecotourism movement. So first, revenue is generated by ecotourism companies and guide services. They seek out remote locations that tourists might be intrigued by. Then, locals of that destination are provided with work opportunities, as lodging, transportation and logistical planning has to be established. Travelers with money to spend arrive in these places, stimulating the local economy and bringing foreign exchange- affording the government to pour some of these funds into both operating and protecting these natural habitats. The WTO notes that tourism is the world’s largest employer, and be it directly or indirectly, it generates 200 million jobs. Opportunities for employment are brought to remote and sometimes desperate regions. The richest resources are often in the poorest places, so this can be a major boost for ecotourism destinations.

"...the richest resources are
often in the poorest places..."
Of course, there are major dangers in this process. If these building and guiding processes are not highly regulated, there can be adverse affects on these already fragile environments. Overbuilding and drastic influxes of populations can have consequences that are both long-term and irreversible. Forest and marine habitats are particularly sensitive to change, and some of the wildlife that lives in these areas can be driven to extinction if the proper precautions are not made priority. The people of these locations can also be damaged, if not protected by regulations. Local interests can easily be pushed aside or overshadowed by the desire to make a profit. As soon as short-term profits become a priority over the conservation of people and animals, this means of travel is no longer sustainable.
Ecotourism, when done in a respectful and truly eco-conscious way, can provide great benefits to both the traveler and the host/ host country. Travelers interested in participating in this type of travel have the ability to research the most sustainable ways to see the most remote locations, while contributing to the local economy and interacting with natives, who can provide them with the best information about their own land. Many reputable ecotravel companies can assist the traveler in making the best choices when it comes time to plan an eco-friendly adventure. The best ecotourism practices will integrate the natural with the native, allowing visitors to experience the destination from the perspective of the people who know it best. Ecotourism must focus on the long-term contributions to the environment and the community for it to be truly responsible traveling.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Interface and the Face-to-Face

Technology has had an immense impact on the tourism industry as a whole, providing travelers with unlimited options, resources and information. It has shown us places that were once unvisitable with real-time views of our destinations through cameras and satellites, aided us in translation and broken down language barriers, and even given us forums to write about the pro’s and con’s of our destinations- including the culture, cuisine and accommodations. The hidden gems of cities are exposed through photographs on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Technology has played an incredible role in connecting humans on a global scale. With just a few clicks or taps, we can virtually connect with people around the world.

Here are just a few of the benefits that travelers can take advantage of to maximize their time, money and satisfy their inner explorer while on their trip:

You can plan ahead extensively, or plan as-you-go:

Depending on if you are the kind of traveler who needs to have every part of your itinerary planned in advance, or if you are a more flexible type who likes to act on a whim when you see or hear of something you want to do, technology allows both types to travel with ease.

For the more structured type, hotel rooms, dinner reservations, tours and excursions can be booked in advance as to not have to worry about a shortage of accommodations or not catching a seat at the show you wanted to see. Many tourist-friendly hotels and restaurants will have websites that allow the traveler to handle all of this virtually, without having to deal with language barriers and other communication issues that happen over the phone or in person.  Some websites, like Tripomatic, will not only assist you in building your itinerary, but will also stay with you and keep you on schedule while away. Essentially, the traveler chooses their destination, specifies the dates that they will be there, and this program aides them in choosing things to do/ places to stay/ where to eat- all on a schedule. As you are traveling, the program alerts the traveler when it is time to move on to their next activity, and even tells them how to get there. You can also share the planning with other people on your trip, and it will sync with their smartphones as well.

For the more impulsive traveler, technology allows them the flexibility to do last-minute research to search and find a bed in a part of town that they stumbled upon, or help them to find a local eatery that specializes in that food they have been craving all afternoon. Websites like Yelp and Tripadvisor provide forums where people who have “been there, done that” can give honest, raw reviews of restaurants and make note of the highlights of their meal, post pictures of their hotel rooms, rate the service they received from a car service. Available both domestically and abroad, these tools can assist the whimsy traveler to make great decisions about what comes next on their itinerary.

You can find great deals:

Technology has given us the ability to take advantage of “last-minute deals” through a variety of websites. Often, when a hotel has just a few rooms left, or a tour company has a couple of seats remaining on their bus, rather than let them go unused, they will offer discounts. Most booking websites, like Travelocity, even have a “deals section” where explorers can look for short-notice flights, too.

You can find travel companions:

Traveling solo is not for everyone. While some people may embrace the opportunity, others might fear the idea of being in a new place by themselves. If you happen to have a free afternoon or a day with nothing planned, or even a week in a new palce, solo travelers can use technology to connect them with a travel buddy- sites like TravBuddy are designed for just that. Users can login with an account, enter their location and their interest in finding a companion, and the site provides a space for travelers to connect and eventually meet up to share an experience of exploration. It is a very organized way to find travelers and locals who are in the same place at the same time as you.

Find alternative accommodations:

Travelers looking for accommodations who don’t want to stay in a standard hotel have options, thanks to services like AirBnB. When traveling to a new place, there is something magical about learning about the destination through the eyes of the people who already live there- so why not stay in their home or apartment? AirBnB provides locals with a place to list their extra bedroom or rental home for travelers to reserve for their time in a new city. Available internationally, travelers can search and find spaces to stay- providing them access to the people who already live there- the most valuable resource when traveling. Locals can post photos and details about their space, and travelers can reserve them online.

Now, with all of the amazing benefits that technology provides us, we can’t forget that human connection is half of the experience to be gained in travel. Travelers should use caution when turning to technology while traveling- and like all things, find a balance between the virtual conveniences and the real-time options available.

Certainly, half of the beauty of travel is to see new places and experience new cultures- but isn’t the other half about connecting with people of that place and experiencing the world through their eyes and their experiences? Missing out on that human connection affords the traveler only half of the potential experience they could have while on their journey. The lessons in personal growth and exploration come as a result of human interaction while taking in the culture and the beauty of one’s physical surroundings. In relying too heavily on technology to do the work for us, we can overlook the importance of these face-to-face interactions that the virtual world has replaced.

Think back to the travels of your own- how many of the memories that you cherish are interactions that you had with people? Those moments of embarrassment because you used the wrong words, or those moments of gratitude when a stranger helped you to find something on the map. Sure, you might never have caught the other person’s name, or even remember what city you were in when it happened- but those face-to-face and human-to-human encounters are such a valuable part of the journey. Those are the stories worth sharing when you return from your trip.

Travelers should also be aware of how the instantaneous nature of the internet and associated technology has seeped into our normal expectations- that everything around us function at this speed, too. Instant gratification is a part of who we are as a society, but it is so important to remember that perceptions of time and pace of life vary so greatly from culture to culture, and from country to country.

Technology can lead us down new and exciting paths when used appropriately, and is best used as a supplement to local resources, rather than as the only resource.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Cuba: More than Jazz and Cigars

One month after President Obama ordered the resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the US Treasury and Commerce departments issued new, more lenient rules outlining how Americans can legally travel to the country. While access to Cuba still isn’t wide-open, these new regulations allow Americans to visit more easily than at any time in the last fifty years, which is very exciting.
With all of this excitement comes a very necessary examination of the facts. As it has become easier, there are still a few issues- it still isn’t as simple as packing your bags, grabbing your passport and getting on a flight. Here are a few things that all ardent travelers should know before they begin planning their trip to Cuba:

As an American, if you wish to visit Cuba for one of the twelve purposes laid out by the United States, you can now do so without having to apply for a license.

The twelve categories of legal travel include visits to relatives, academic programs (students must be receiving academic credits), professional research, people-to-people trips, religious or journalism related activities, and participation in sporting events/ performances.

In the past, permission was granted on a case-by-case basis. It was a process that could take months, and could be rejected for any number of reasons. Now, travelers will be able to use boxes on a checklist to describe the nature of their trip, as provided by customs. They will still be required to present a full itinerary of their scheduled travel plans to prove their selected category of travel. Travelers should also note that they are required to save all of their receipts from travel transactions and expenses for five years upon returning to the United States.

General tourism is still banned by the embargo.

People-to-people trips” is a phrase that has been flying around the media lately as a suggested means to travel to Cuba. What does it really mean, and what is involved in arranging this? In the most basic sense, these are highly regulated tour groups. People-to-people trips serve as educational programs, so they fall into one of the twelve categories of travel. It gives the traveler the opportunity to interact with locals and learn about the culture of the island. Under old regulations, they were approved more easily, as the traveler’s itinerary was laid out by a Cuban resident. These trips can be expensive ($4,000 USD per week is the norm), but include accommodations, flights, tours and lectures.

Air travel is also changing to accommodate these new travel standards. Flights to Cuba had previously been operated by licensed charter companies via Miami (they will continue to do so), but there are talks about re-opening air-traffic routes between New York and Havana at some point in the future.

New air travel regulations state that any American commercial airline can operate flights to Cuba, and so far, American Airlines, United Airlines and Delta have shown the most interest in starting these programs. Aviation authorities have estimated, though, that it could take up to a year to negotiate agreements between the two countries’ air controllers. What is the alternative for immediate travel? Eager travelers can get a non-American flight through a third country to gain access to Cuba- like through Mexico or Panama.

Since tourism in Cuba has been restricted for so long, visitors might notice a lack of high-end hotels. As the number of visitors is expected to increase significantly in the next few years, the ministry of tourism in Cuba has begun investing time and money into improving their available accommodations. It is said that there are presently about 60,000 hotel rooms throughout the country, with many of them not available because they are in need of renovations or repairs. Travel experts estimate that Cuba should consider adding at least 150,000 more rooms to prepare for the surge of new visitors.

If you do intend to travel to Cuba somewhat soon, an alternative to these high-end hotels is to make a reservation at a bed and breakfast. Also known as casas particulares, these alternative accommodations will provide the visitor with a chance to interact with locals on a level much deeper than at a regular hotel. There are plenty of them located throughout Havana and other larger cities.

Before these new regulations, Americans visiting Cuba were not permitted to use any sort of credit or debit card to pay for expenses while on their trip. Now, Americans don’t have to pay for their entire trip in cash, as they can use their cards to cover tabs. Great deal for Americans, who don’t have to feel unsafe about carrying so much cash, and also great for Cuban businesses, as visitors are more likely to spend more with access to “virtual funds”, and pay for it later.

In the past, there was a cap that Americans were only permitted to spend $188 USD per day while in Cuba (including hotels, meals, etc.) which has also been lifted. The traveler might want to return with a keepsake of some sort. New rules state that Americans are permitted to bring back up to $400 USD worth of souvenirs, including $100 USD worth of cigars and tobacco.

Travelers should be aware that American cell phones don’t work in Cuba, and that internet and Wi-Fi is rare. The White House has commented that Internet penetration rates on the island are some of the lowest in the world, and that improved telecommunications is on the list of new policy goals.

"...spots blend old with the new, as well
as locals with the visitors."
What does Cuba have to offer the traveler?
If you are willing to be flexible and make arrangements in line with the new regulations, Cuba has so much to offer the traveler.
For the nature lover, Cuba has more than 300 beaches, providing access to both the Atlantic and Caribbean. White sand, uncrowded surf and lots of water adventure- like scuba diving, snorkeling, and swimming with dolphins- is available. For the land lovers, there are caves, mountains and numerous hiking trails to be explored, as well as birdwatching tours and beautiful scenery provided by the landscape.

Music and art are an important part of Cuban culture. Live music can be found throughout many bars at just about any time of day. Famous for jazz, salsa and merengue, music is everywhere. Art lovers will also find a variety of genres of work- from mosaics and tile work, to painting and charcoal drawings. Collections range from traditional to modern.
History lovers will enjoy the old buildings and cars that are found throughout the cities of Cuba. Visitors will notice that there are an abundance of American cars from the 1950’s. After Fidel Castro became president in 1959, he required that Cubans seek government permission to purchase a new foreign car, so these American classics are common.  Architecture also provides the visitor with a perspective on Cuban history, with nine UNESCO heritage sites throughout the island. Military bases and forts remain preserved for travelers to see firsthand.

Lastly, the cuisine of Cuba is something for all visitors to enjoy. Paladares, or privately-owned family restaurants are popular, and again provide the visitor with an intimate look at Cuban culture. Often run out of the chef’s home, these unique dining spots blend the old with the new, as well as the locals with the visitors.
For those travelers who have had Cuba on their “bucket list” for too long, these new regulations may provide them the opportunity to finally make this trip a reality. This is an exciting time to attempt to gain access to the island, as both Cubans and Americans are actively engaged in discussions about relations between the two countries. Hospitality is a value in Cuban culture, despite Cuban-American relations. The Cuban people may be as eager to teach Americans about their culture and heritage as Americans are eager to be on the island- a win for both parties involved.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Mosquito?

Lately, when you do a brief scan of the news, it seems like the entire world is plagued by acts of terrorism, violence and unrest. The media portrays the world as being in a state of chaos- full of uncertainty and danger- sometimes to the point of making it seem as though it is a risk to even go outside- as terrorists are on every corner and every city around the globe. While yes, terrorists are everywhere, what kind of threat do they really pose to the average traveler?
According to the State Department’s Country Reports on Terrorism, in 2013, there were nearly 18,000 deaths globally as result of terror attacks, with more than one-third of them occurring in Iraq. How many vacations, business trips and travel opportunities have been cancelled or postponed because of the imminent threat of terrorism?
How do we make choices about our travel plans when there is a need to evaluate the level of risk involved? In examining how individuals act, feel and think about risk and their decision to travel/not travel, we have to take a look at the psychology of risk. This includes their perception of hazard, how they make decisions, what they deem “safe”, and how they rate the value of the reward of travel (as in, risk over reward).
One aspect of how we as humans gauge risk comes back to the rhetoric and language surrounding the potential danger.
The shifting nature of terrorism and the semantics used to describe it have changed the way travelers think of global violence. In an article recently published by Al Jazeera, author Michael Pizzi describes a “new model of terror”, one that is evolving and fearful, and discusses the acceleration of “hard-to-detect lone wolf or wolf pack attacks”.
In traditional folklore, the wolf is the predator- it is strongly associated with danger and darkness, evil and sneaky attacks. In general, it is a fearful creature that is pinned against man, always with malicious intentions. This kind of imagery is extremely powerful, and creates an emotive response almost immediately. Interestingly, in most cultures, the symbolism of the wolf is consistent. 
At the same time, the American Mosquito Control Association estimates that between 700,000 and 1,000,000 people each year are killed by the diseases that mosquitoes carry (ranging from Dengue Fever to Malaria).
A wolf sounds more threatening than a little mosquito that we can crush between our fingertips. When in reality, we should be way more fearful of the mosquito than the “wolf”.
"...yet how many mosquitoes were given
the power to stop us from traveling?"

We have the ability to shift our perspective and change the risk-response by educating ourselves about our destinations and preparing for the unexpected. One way to do this is to do a pre-travel assessment, which involves reviewing the issues that can affect the traveler while on their trip, and creating plans of action for such incidents. Collecting information on the current events and happenings of your destination, registering with the embassy, talking to your family and friends about your itinerary- these are all great means to travel smart and travel safe. Travelers can also partner with their Travel Assistance provider to plan ahead, should an incident requiring an evacuation take place. These companies can provide DNA storage, country briefings, and other pre-travel safety measures can be taken so that you can travel at ease.
In the big picture, terrorism is not something to take lightly or ignore, as yes, it is a threat. However, from a statistical perspective, it also isn’t a great enough reason to avoid travel altogether. Mosquitoes are present in nearly every country on Earth, and can survive in harsh environments, including arctic and volcanic regions. How many mosquitoes were given the power to stop us from traveling? Probably not too many.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Big Globe, Small Talk: Intercultural Communication

Communication is the means by which people initiate, maintain and end their relationships with others. It is a process that requires the active participation of two or more people who are simultaneously sending and receiving messages. Communication is shaped by culture, as it is bound by cultural contexts.
As we become a smaller world, you will notice that you don’t have to travel all that far to experience the need for being culturally competent. Globalization has played a role in this: fast travel, international media and the internet have connected people from all over the world. Interacting with people from different cultures and countries is impossible to avoid.

Intercultural communication requires us not only to recognize and appreciate cultural differences, but also to develop skills to effectively interact with others from different cultural backgrounds. As Americans, we have the advantage to excel in intercultural communication, yet often fall short in doing so. We have unlimited resources to learn about the people, places and customs of our travel destinations, it is just a matter of accepting the challenge to use these tools.

Ideas for Communicating Effectively when Traveling:
Be aware of your own culture and style of communication. Self-awareness can help in assessing many issues that may arise in attempting to connect with those around you. Are you a direct or indirect communicator? What kind of nonverbal cues do you use that you might not even realize you are making? How strong is the eye-contact you are making? Culturally, these are all relevant parts of communication that will determine how effectively your message is received.

Try to listen and observe rather than speak and make assumptions. As Americans, we tend to talk over others, raise our voices when our words aren’t received the way we want them to be, and listen only to answer a question. While this style of communication might work amongst fellow Americans, it probably won’t get you very far when interacting with softer, less abrasive communicators. In being observant, one can witness the gestures, cues and rhythms in which natives interact. How close do they stand? Do they use touch? Do their eyes meet, or do they look away?
Assumptions can be a hindrance to not only you, the traveler, but also the recipient of your message. One of the most common assumptions in intercultural communication is that “the message I am sending is not the message being received”. This isn’t always true, and can be prevented if the traveler is culturally sensitive and prepares ahead of time for the problems they may encounter. Intercultural communication doesn’t have to be a clash of communication styles- in fact, this situation is very avoidable, with the proper research and preparation. We often assume “worst-case-scenarios” in environments and amongst cultures that are unfamiliar. Being flexible, not taking things too personally, and using pre-determined strategies to communicate effectively will help to reduce stress in these tense moments.

Often subconsciously, we humans tend to classify or categorize others based on their race, sex, age or occupation. We tend to see others not as individuals, but rather, as parts of these larger groups. This can cause us to lose opportunities to connect with others and gain so much valuable information. For example- you’re traveling in Spain, looking for something to do. You pass an older man walking down the street. You might think, “Oh, he’s just an old man- what would he know about the new nightclubs in Madrid?” when in reality, he could be the owner of one! If you make assumptions because of these groupings and don’t attempt to communicate, you could miss a world of insight and connections.
There are many benefits to intercultural communication. With every destination comes a world of knowledge to be gained about the culture and traditions of that place. The educational aspect of this part of travel will be valuable in many aspects of your journey, and overall, can contribute to making your trip a positive experience.

You may be exposed to “hidden gems” in your destination that only the locals know about. That, in itself, is a risk worth taking for any travel lover. As with the “old man” example above, that traveler could have been given a VIP access pass to the club of their dreams, but only because they chose to communicate.
Locals and natives of the place you are visiting are likely to be more welcoming of you, the visitor, if you make an attempt to communicate as equals and communicate in the style that they do. While sometimes awkward, the gesture is generally appreciated. In making the attempt, people will generally be empathetic to your struggles and offer to help as they can. Hopefully, you can both get a laugh out of your failures, too. While often frustrating, the challenges of intercultural communication can prove to be great opportunities for personal growth.