I Love Egypt’s Revolution

How can you not love a Revolution wherein a human chain forms to protect its museums and priceless antiquities?  A mob that thinks to maintain its history and culture, even in their anger and confusion?

How do you not love revolutionaries who form a citizen police force, because they don’t want looters or violence and their government has abandoned them and their safety?

How is it possible for your heart not to ache for the Christians who are human shields to protect their Muslim countrymen while in prayer, repaying a favor from Christmas Eve of this past year?

I think this revolution is beautiful.  People keep asking me, who are the good guys?  Isn’t Mubarak better than the Muslim Brotherhood?  Is it safe over there?  These people are the good guys; the people who protect their countrymen, their history and their homes.  These people who want real democracy because their “president” has not left office in 30 years.

Mubarak isn’t better than the Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood.  But that’s irrelevant, because MB didn’t organize this, and they don’t want to come to power.  This was organized in what was once a small facebook group, by students on twitter, by men smoking hookah in cafes, and by women bringing their children to school.

This isn’t about religion or extremism or fundamentalism or Islamism or hating America or being lazy or getting violent.  This is about food shortages and housing shortages and high unemployment and constantly being watched and martial law and slaughtering the pigs and a guy with an AK on every street corner.  This is about opposing to all of that peacefully and in great unity, about tahrir fee Tahrir: Liberation in Liberation Square.

This is quite possibly the most graceful and glorious revolution of our time, and we have the privilege to watch it on tv, hear the cries of the people on the radio, and read about it across all forms of the internet.  And I don’t just think it’s a privilege, I think it is an obligation.  I feel obligated to spread anything I learn, and to pay even more attention every time the internet is turned off.

I hope you will join me.

Lessons Learned from Jacqueline Novogratz

Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the Acumen found, world traveler, social entrepreneur and all-around badass wrote the book The Blue Sweater.  Ms. Novogratz is one of a growing group of business people who believe that we can combine the goals of philanthropy with the methods of for-profit business and come up with a sustainable way to help people.  The emphasis is on providing opportunities for people in developing countries to make their own money, rather than simply giving it away.

I’ll be writing about the book and these ideas quite a bit on here, since I greatly admire her path in life and would like to emulate her.  Before a formal review, though, here are some take-aways from her book:

  • Don’t create more dependence
  • Invest in good people
  • Listen.  Really, really listen.
  • Involve people in the formal sector of the economy
  • If you want to be taken seriously, take everyone else seriously.  That means real logos and an office, but it also means that if someone defaults on a loan, there needs to be some sort of punitive measure.  Just because the work is motivated from a place of humanitarianism doesn’t mean your customers and clients can do whatever they want.
  • Focus on building upon systems that are already in place.  Starting scratch often means failing.
  • Sell to them on their terms, not yours (know your audience)
  • Everyone can contribute
  • You need feedback, something the market can provide that is often missing from traditional philanthropy
  • Don’t leave people behind
  • The world’s poor are active customers, not passive receptacles of charity
  • We are all smarter for knowing one another

It is worth noting, I think, that her book was not ghost-written, as far as I can tell.  I highly recommend that you read it, even if this isn’t usually your thing.

eCollegeFinder’s Study Abroad Ambassador List

eCollegeFinder is a website dedicate to helping students find an online educatuon that’s right for them.  They also offer resources on every aspect of the college experience you can imagine, from health and well-being to finances.

They just released their list of the Top 75 Study Abroad websites, and I’m happy to say I’m on it!  If you’re looking into study abroad, check out their list.  There are blogs from students, study abroad providers, and members of the industry.  Beneath the link to each blog, you’ll see their advice to students looking to go abroad.

I’m so excited to be included on a list with some other great bloggers, like API’s study abroad blog.  API (Academic Programs International) is a provider NU works with, and one I’ve used before as a participant.  They are awesome people and they run a great blog, even if you’re not going through their company!

How to Get What You Want from College Administrators

Working for Northeastern for the last six months or so, combined with going here for four years, has given me a lot of insight into wrangling the system.  Here, we call it the NU Shuffle: everyone you speak to sends you to a totally different office.  Sometimes, they’re the exact right office, but they still try to pawn students off on others.  Even worse, most offices at such a large university have little to no idea what the other offices do, so often they’re making their best guess.  Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve gleaned.  Some may seem obvious, but I’ve still seen hundreds of students make these mistakes, so I guess it bears repeating.

  1. Go to the top.
    There is always that someone in each department who will make exceptions.  Ask friends, make lots of appointments.  If you can’t find them, complain as much as possible all the way up to the president.  They usually just force the office to comply with your wishes.
  2. Tell them if you’re a veteran.
    Obviously, this only applies to people who have actually served.  But if you have, most universities will bend over backwards to make sure you receive proper treatment.
  3. Have a good subject line.
    I get tons of emails with subjects like, “Study Abroad question,” “REAALLLY IMPORTANT!” or even blank subjects.  These are all obnoxious and unhelpful.  Something like, “Greece Housing Spring 2011” is far more useful.  That means I will answer your much quicker.
  4. Make a phone call.
    Emails, especially those that I have determined not to be urgent, can linger.  A phone call, on the other hand, gets an immediate response of some sort as long as it’s during working hours.
  5. Keep a record.
    Write down the name of the people you spoke to, the date, time and what was discussed.  That way, if it is disputed later, you have something to back you up.
  6. Look at the website first.
    Tons of students show up at random times or dates instead of during our posted walk-ins.  They blast emails unnecessarily to the director, or they ask questions that are very clearly answered on the website.  If you’re one of these students, not only are you wasting everyone’s time, but we’re less likely to go out of our way to answer you later, since you’ve shown that you’re a student who doesn’t pay attention and look for their answer on their own first.
  7. Double-check.
    Many of the administrators know little to nothing about your school as a whole, and the functions of the other on-campus offices is pretty much never covered in any sort of training.  So when they send you somewhere new, politely question them if it sounds off to you, and look into the new office before you go to see if it sounds reasonable that you are being sent there.  For example, multiple offices have “international” in the name at NU, but one is for sending students abroad, another is for recruiting international degree-seekers, and a third brings international students up to speed on English language and American scholastic expectations.  All very different, and if you hike over to the wrong one they won’t be able to help you at all.
  8. Ask a student worker or an alum.
    This might seem counter-intuitive, but remember: they actually go here.  Many offices will only hire upperclassmen or people who have used their office in the past.  This isn’t true for everyone, but a former or current student is far more likely to have gone through this exact rigmarole than someone hired from the outside.
  9. Be nice.
    It may seem impossible, but we really do remember the vast majority of our students, even though there are thousands.  When someone applies for another program, wants an internship, needs an exception or fights a charge, we definitely work harder for students who were polite and did their research.  No one will bend over backwards for someone who is rude and clearly wasn’t paying attention during meetings.
  10. Follow up.
    While we may remember all of you, there are so many students who all have problems with varying degrees of severity.  It is really on you to make sure that your issue is tended too.  That being send, keep in mind that while some things are serious and urgent (you have a hold on your account and can’t sign up for classes tomorrow), others (you need a class sometime before you graduate in the next two years) can stand to wait.

How I Pay For It

  1. Financial Aid.
    Because I travel through my University, all of my financial aid applies as normal.  I’m getting regular credits, so the travel part is really an extra.
  2. Scholarships.
    NU gave me enough money that it would cost me about the same to go there as to UMass (without full scholarship tuition.)  I’ve also been looking into the additional, overlooked scholarships both at NU and elsewhere, and I’ve been coming up with some serious dough.  A thousand here and there doesn’t sound like much, but for me $1,000 is round-trip airfare to Costa Rica and at least two weeks of accommodations and food.  If your travel is for legitimate, educational purposes, you can find a lot of people/institutions willing to fund it.
  3. Loans.
    Luckily, my loans are all some sort of less-scary student loan.  But I will have debt when I graduate, so that will limit my options a bit.  While I know I can live on $100 a week in some random place, I still need to make enough to pay off my loans.
  4. My parents. 
    Because my travel is educational and embedded in my college costs, and my parents are helping me pay for college, they’re also helping pay the cost of travel.  As an aside, I honestly have no idea how much they are or are not helping, which is part of why there’s no dollar-for-dollar breakdown.
  5. I go to cheap places.
    I love the developing world for oh so many reasons, but that one I always jokingly tell people is that it’s cheap.  A three-course lunch with a beer for $1?  Isn’t Cuba sounding nice?  You can also make some places cheaper by staying in hostels, going to the local market and being careful about when you splurge.  I definitely had a couple amazing expensive nights in Egypt, but in the end they cost like 50 bucks each for a pretty five-star evening.  In downtown Boston, 50 bucks won’t get you very far.  In some places, thats the cover and a couple of drinks.
  6. I work and save.
    NU has the coop program, which means I alternate six months of work for six months of class.  I have made it a priority to only take paying jobs, which is sometimes rather difficult in my major.  But this is a necessity for me, and I’ve still been able to have interesting, fulfilling work in my field, though some people (usually those who do not get the paying jobs) claim that is impossible.  I also work during the semesters when I’m in class.  Most importantly, I’m frugal.  I didn’t pick up my paychecks for my current job until 3-4 months in.  I only spend money on the weekends.  My downfalls? Concerts, clothing, and you guessed it: travel.
  7. Northeastern is Awesome About Travel.
    A lot of the programs I do have been great bargains.  I recently calculated that I spent $11,000 less than I would have if I had been on NU’s campus the whole time.  In Cuba, we paid a stud abroad fee on top of tuition (under $4,000) but that included flights, 2 meals a day, 4 side-trips, museums and the Cuban license.  If I had been at NU, a meal plan and on-campus housing would have been significantly more, with much less pizzaz.  For Egypt and Benin, I paid regular summer tuition (remember, NU students go to school year-round!) and in exchange got the credits, airfare, occasional meals, cultural activities and lodging.  In Egypt there were even more extras, like swanky hotels with floating swimming pools and all-you-can-eat buffets.  Again, housing and a meal plan of some sort would have cost me much more, and even if I just bought my own groceries and cooked it would have cost more than what I spent in Egypt, which was less than $100/week on top of tuition.  And that $100/week is not just food–it was booze, gifts, camel rides, and Nile cruises.

The moral of the story is that even if you ignore the value of the extras attached to my travels, I still saved money.  Make sure you investigate all of your school’s opportunities for travel and additional money.  Look at Fullbrights if you’re graduated, or free travel based on your profession, like the Boston Public School Teacher opportunity.

Travel is like anything else: if you want it bad enough, you will make it happen.  And it was certainly easier for me than it would be to buy a car or something.  Travel isn’t for the wealthy–it just depends on length of stay (longer is better), area of the world (developing and non-resort is better) and your priorities.  If it isn’t a priority for your savings, it will always be too expensive.

10 Things People Say About My Travels

  1. Have you read Eat, Pray, Love?
    Good lord, no!  But might I interest you in some Ayn Rand, Ayun Halliday or Malcolm Gladwell?
  2. Have you been to___________?
    Probably not.  I’ve only been to a few places.  They just all happen to be a little scary to the average bear, and one trip right after another.
  3. Why don’t you just go where they speak English?
    I speak other languages and I want to learn more.  Also, my travel is an integral part of my education.  It is not based on areas of high booze, sex or beaches, but rather areas I want to study.  England and Australia appeal to me as a traveler, but not as a student.  It would be counter-productive and perhaps a bit unethical for me to take money from NU, the government, and my parents to go abroad for non-educational purposes.
  4. Wasn’t it scary?  And don’t they just treat women like crap? And aren’t they awful?  (you get the picture…)
    No!  I promise!  I really have enjoyed everywhere I have gone, and I have never felt truly unsafe.  I research where I go pretty heavily, and I have turned down opportunities because I deemed them unsafe.  And if you come away from reading this blog thinking the people were awful and mistreated women everywhere I went, then I’ve failed.  I tell it like it is, and that means mentioning the harassment.  But I also get an alarming number of doors opened for me, and strangers who make sure I’m not lost, and people giving me presents at random.  It’s a mixed bag, like anywhere else.
  5. I wish I could do that!
    You can!  And please do!  If you’re in college, travel is super-easy.  If you go to Northeastern, absolutely no complaints out of you!  Leave a comment or shoot me an email if you want help figuring out how you can go abroad.
  6. But did you go sky-diving/bungee jumping?
    Absolutely not.  I think I would vomit profusely if I ever tried.  It doesn’t really appeal to me, and that’s a lot of money for something I don’t have any interest in.  We don’t all have the same tastes or the exact same experience on study abroad, even if it sometimes seems that way.  I prefer wandering around a city solo, meeting little kids, going to lectures and impromptu fun over the dare-devil type stuff.  I guess I’m just not that brave.
  7. Stop going to scary places!
    Again I say: absolutely not.  Also, as the person who actually went, they’re not so scary.  My old apartment in Roxbury was scarier than anywhere I’ve been abroad.
  8. Is that from place x/y/z?
    While I do LOVE to buy jewelry, clothing, decorations and accessories from abroad, lots of it is just Made in China and sold at H&M.  Sorry, I’m just not that exotic.  And suitcases are small.
  9. …But I bet it cost a ton of money
    It didn’t!  I swear!  Look for a dedicated post on this soon, but Financial Aid and my NU scholarships applied, so that certainly helped.  Also, I would be going to school anyway and nothing cost much over tuition.  Finally, I go to developing countries where my dollar goes farther, and I’m a pretty frugal person in general.  So I live happily average at home, and abroad I can often stretch that to average with many nights of excess if I feel like it–but I usually just save it for my next trip!
  10. You went to…Turkey (or Lebanon or Costa Rica or South Africa or wherever), right?
    Hehe no, but that’s fine.  I don’t expect everyone to remember everywhere I went and when and why, especially if you don’t see me that often.  Let’s make a deal: don’t get mad if I forget the names and schedules of your kids, and I won’t get mad when you forget all my countries.  Just don’t refer to them as “vacations”!