Around the World Beauty by Stephanie Flor

Stephanie Flor, Make-Up Artist and Digital Creator
By day, Stephanie is a NYC-based makeup artist with Ecuadorian and Costa Rican roots who works with some of the most influential celebs out there from Mariah Carey to Sting and brands who focus on global beauty like Shea Moisture, Clinique and many others.. After hours she’s a bona fide #BeautyTraveler who’s traveled to the tip of India to take part in the Ayurvedic way of living, and through the heights of South America where she climbed Machu Piccu – you know – just to get a closer look at the sun. Stephanie is the host of “Journey to Beauty,” a regular beauty and travel series on vivala.com and her global beauty tips have been featured in O, the Oprah Magazine, on travelchannel.com, allure.com, cosmopolitan.com, and more. She’s also been named as one of Latina Magazine’s “Beauty Vanguards” a trailblazer in Marie Claire Magazine and was featured in Glamour and Skyla’s “Making Her Mark” campaign.

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Stephanie Flor

Stephanie created Around the World Beauty because of her passion for culture and travel. She wanted to find a way to combine her career in the beauty industry with adventure, while also breaking out of the norms of what we think beauty is. Beauty is an adventure, getting outside the comfort zone, and seeing from the heart. To see from the heart, it takes being with yourself, taking risks, and willing to trust others. Travel is truly the only way to discover who you really are.

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Around the World Beauty reveals beauty rituals and traditions that are practiced by women all over the globe. Our mission is to inspire women to reconnect with their ancestral beauty path. Ancient old beauty remedies passed down from generations that celebrate the beauty of women in all different cultures.  

Discover Your Beauty Roots
1) A call to explore the history of global beauty, which spans from the beginning of time.
2) The demand to uncover the beauty traditions of one’s ethnic heritage.

ATW has offered trips to India and Ecuador in the past. We’ve ventured into the Amazon, and meditated next to the ganges under the Himalayas. It’s been a beautiful journey expanding to new locations, and making women travel to locations off the beaten path, full of inner and outer beauty.

Peru Beauty Journey (November 15th-24th, 2018)
Experience the land of Pacha Mama, the mountains of the Incas and Sacred Valley that holds an abundance of Beauty Energies. This journey brings us to Peru to discover the deeper meaning of beauty. Together we will immerse into the true spirit of holistic wellness while we #BeautyExplore two days in the ancient city of Cusco, six days in the Sacred Valley at Willka T’ika Retreat Center, and spend two days at the mysterious Machu Picchu. We will be special guests of Willka T’ika, the luxury full-service retreat center situated at the feet of the Andean Peaks in the Sacred Valley. Experience cultural and traditional Incan ceremonies with healers, musical celebrations, vibrant Chakra Gardens, and the delicious organic gourmet vegetarian cuisine.  There will also be plenty of free time for Andean Spa Treatments, and to be immersed in the spiritual essence of the Andean world. Here, you will be surrounded by the beauty of the mountains, the magic of ancient civilizations and transformational energy which can only be found in the lands of Pachamama. Alchemy with the Elements, Beauty Rituals, Chakra Gardens, Ceremonies, Mystical Temples, Sacred Sites, Pristine Mountains and Sacred Lakes, Q’ero Wisdom, Beauty Give Back, Textile Shopping, Solar Bathing, Andean Spa Treatments.

 

The retreat is designed to accommodate 10-15 women. We bring women together in a safe, spiritual space to learn about the meaning of different beauty rituals, the source of #BeautyCulture from Around The World. Our following is a niche group of nomadic and conscious beauty lovers who care about the world of beauty around us, and changing the way we see and share in beauty.

ATW’s Journeys explore the deeper meaning of beauty and the passed down rituals of our ancestors to celebrate and empower younger generations through wellness and beauty from the source. Let us inspire you to make a beauty discovery of your own! Join our next Beauty Journey to Peru 2018.

 

A Note on the Deposit and Instalments
The initial non-refundable deposit is $1,150. You are able to pay as you go for this trip until September.
The full price for this trip is $4,250 but she’s offering $150 off if you use the code: TravelXLatina.

 

A Love Letter to Bogotá

Ah, Bogotá. 

Every day, the thought of your cloudy skies and rainy streets permeate my mind. I never thought either of those things would appeal to me, not now they’re forever preserved in amber in my memory.  

In July of 2016, I flew into you, not knowing much more about you other than the fact that you’re bursting with about eight million people.

The hum of Pillar Point’s Dove oozing from my headphones, I gazed out onto the hazy, emerald mountains outside my scratched, undersized window. I’d watched Kia Labeija voguing through Bogotá each day before visiting you, each time my soul building with anticipation to wander La Candelaria’s cobblestoned streets. 

 

I couldn’t wait to see your jarring contrast of skyscrapers and Montserrat’s looming presence with my own eyes. I wanted to feel as free as the uncaged Kia.

As soon as I arrived, I felt disoriented. Which way was North? I wondered countless times. My obsession with order was flipped on its head. I’m usually quick to orient myself, but with mountains on all sides, it was hard to do so.

Which way is up? I might as well have wondered. I was vulnerable in a most basic sense, but I’ve learned to grow from this discomfort.

I was nervous and thrilled, but with you, this excitement was different. I’d returned somewhere I’d never visited. I felt as if you’d been waiting patiently for me all these years, trusting I’d walk in the door eventually. Like a dormant volcano whose crater filled with water over millennia, you basked in waiting.

What was the rush?

I’d meet you in due time. Now, as I write this, I realize how much I miss you. I miss the cool air that put my blankets to use. I miss wearing jeans without sweating and layering my clothes. I miss the peppery smell emanating from food carts selling warm empanadas.

“Beef or chicken?” the vendor asked me.

“Mmm…One of each, please. Oh, and do you not have salsa?”

“Como no,” he said, and he placed the magical ingredients in a brown paper bag.

I felt inspired during the Bogota Graffiti Tour. I’d learned of the artists from Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand who’ve made this place their second home, and now I wanted to join them.

 

 

A Reptilian monster wrapped itself around buildings’ unassuming walls, and an indigenous woman looked to the sky, averting her gaze from us mortals. I’d learned of the artist the police had shot, then of the subsequent police barrier protecting Justin Beiber while he stained your walls. Once the police left, your artists reclaimed your wall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I loved the atmosphere of change. Of recuperation from trauma of a violent, capitalist-driven cocaine trade. Just like with any trauma, I’ve never completely recovered from mine. I constantly seek to explore my traumas and the effects they’ve had on me, and writing has been my saving grace in that process.

Bogota-Street-Art

On your walls, people explore their traumas or those of humans no longer with us. This homeless man was beaten to death and one artist commemorated him.

I was only there for three days, yet I was blessed with being able to queer it up during the LGBTQ Pride Parade. Just like Pride in Managua, Nicaragua, you haven’t sold out to corporate interests. Instead of free t-shirts, I got kisses on the cheek from new friends. We floated past the rainbow banners in between patches of sunlight that the skyscrapers’ granted us. I took my sweater off and put it back on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I danced the night away at the immensely fabulous gay club, Theatron, then on the taxi ride home, I fell into darkness. It could’ve happened anywhere, and I’ve learned just how resilient I am since it happened.  

I wanted to stay. You know, I really do love museums. It’s how I get to know a place intimately. I wanted to dive further into you, to explore your history in its glory, sadness, and tumult. I still want to know you. I felt the heaviness in my heart one feels when they’re not ready to leave a place. This feeling reminds me of Iranian author Azar Nafisi’s words about leaving:

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place… like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

I miss who I was when I was with you, Bogota. Now you know. I can’t wait to explore you again.

Love,

Char.

I’m as Migratory as a Monarch Butterfly

Dear friends,

I wanted to share a journal entry I wrote in 2011 during a family visit to Morelia and Leon, Mexico. While I’m a little late, the message of migration still rings true, and most importantly, of embracing change. I’ve been back to Mexico a few times since, and one of the things I look forward to the most is staying with my grandma and enjoying her company and the delicious tacos, menudo, and pastries of León, Guanajuato.

When I think of my top ten favorite places in the world, I think of her kitchen. It’s a place where we can sit and peruse her family albums. It’s during one of our memory recovery sessions that I found one of my favorite pictures of my family (the cover photo). Having albums is a tradition I wish my generation continued with as well, but with facebook, we’re leaving our memories online, and who is to say they will be preserved there forever?

 

 

 

 

I’m dedicating this post to the Monarch butterflies which I was lucky enough to see in the state of Michoacan in November 2016. I was born in Morelia, Michoacan, but it wasn’t until I finished my Peace Corps Nicaragua service at age 26 that I ventured by land up to Mexico to finally witness the millions of butterflies swarming around and coating the trees in what at first glance looked like leaves–but no, they were butterflies.

 

 

 

Change has always been a part of my life. At three, I emigrated to Washington State. At 17, I moved across the country to Boston because that’s where it was the cheapest place for me to go to college. At 18, I came out as a lesbian. At 21, I became a U.S. citizen. At 24, I moved to Nicaragua. At 27, I swam at the edge of Victoria Falls, hiked Table Mountain in South Africa, and finally ran on Ipanema Beach in Brazil. I underwent top surgery due to gender dysphoria and am exploring the fluidity of my gender identity.  2017 was scary, but it taught me so much and I learned that I have much to look forward to. This month, I just took the GRE (after 6 years of self-doubt) and am considering getting an MBA.

 

This year will be just as stressful as it is exciting. I know it. The butterflies remind me of how easily they accept change and migrate with this intense, innate sense of purpose that I like to think that I share with them. My goal is to just accept things for how they are, and not as they should be, just as the Monarch butterflies do.

Enjoy!


December, 2011

I flew to Mexico and arrived in Morelia, Michoacan my birth town, at about midnight. Finally. It had been two years and I’m always restless to go back to Mexico. I stayed there for about 4 days and saw family, hiked, and basked in the sun that I missed so much. It was hard to believe that the beating, hot sun down here is the same one that teases us in Boston, where it begins to set at 3:30 pm.

One restaurant that stuck out to me was the San Miguelito, where my aunt and cousin went. It’s famous for basically being a museum to San Antonio, the saint that women turn over so that they can find boyfriends. There was even a life-sized one there, turned on its head, accompanied by several advertisements of women seeking good men to marry. All of my photos of the place seem annoyingly upside down. I looked at the menu and decided to try Huitlacoche, which is the cooked fungus that grows on corn. It’s a delicacy there, but after a bite of some in my quesadilla, it tasted and looked just like cooked spinach.

The day before I left, I took a stroll past the huge aqueduct through the historic downtown, which has been around since the 1500s. I really missed the concept of a town plaza where people go to sit and relax, as they listen to the constant flow of water ebbing from the fountains-or children crying loudly, asking their parents to buy them that unnecessarily large sized tweetie balloon. I was basking in the 70 degree weather, and everyone could tell I was not from there because I was making a conscious effort to sit in the sun while they wore their hats and long sleeved shirts. “No, I’m not cold,” I’d say to them. “Your winter is my summer!”

Then came the bus ride to Leon. I thought I loved to recline in my seat but these Mexicans had me beat. Halfway there, I turned and saw half of them knocked out, reclining one after another like dominos. There was a movie about a cave playing (the only actor I recognized was the man who blew the whistle at the end of Titanic in search of survivors) but I lost interest after the only female lead died. How Wellesley (my women’s college) of me.

My favorite part of the 2.5 hour long journey to León is the ride over Lake Cuitzeo. It’s this large expanse of grayish blueish water teeming with white herons all over it, and the road glides right through the middle of it. The environmental studies side of me wonders how badly contaminated it is at this point, as there weren’t many fishermen out there at all.

I should stop here in order to describe León in its deserved detail, but I’ll leave with one thought. This morning I heated up my egg, tortilla and salsa and broke my fast with abuelita (grandma). Somehow the topic of the monarch butterflies emerged, and she marveled at the way in which four generations of them migrate each year from Canada to Michoacan (the state I was just in).

She lamented at the fact that deforestation is leaving them with less places to land, and how blood has been lost over the land that these creatures deserve to call home. On a brighter note, she asked me “¿Como deben saber a donde ir, año tras año, desde Canada hasta aqui?¿Que maravilloso, no?” (“How do they know where to go, year after year, from Canada all the way here? Isn’t it marvelous?”).

Well, the monarch butterlfies are just like me, I thought. They always just want to come back to Mexico.

I don’t know why, but I’m as restless as any one of those Monarch butterflies to leave the North for a while and join family here and there, and ultimately to stay at my grandma’s house for a while. I thought by now this urge would die down, but it seems just as strong as ever.

 

 

Celebrating Culture Through Traditional Dress is a Form of Travel

Whether you wear your traditional clothing from the motherland while exploring, or you are celebrating your culture in your hometown outside of the motherland, both are equal forms of travel. Maybe you are performing a Folklórico dance at an art museum in Philadelphia you have never visited. Maybe it is “International Day” at school in California. Maybe your spiritual center is offering a cultural day where you get to show your pride, and learn about other countries in Michigan. Maybe your cultural dance group gets to travel to the next city over in Florida to perform. These are some of our favorite photos to feature considering the fact that it feels as if one is transported to the motherland when shared with others. Through these different photos, you allow people to see a small snapshot of what it feels like to be visiting the country you or your family are from.

“No dejes que te roben tu alegría, tu orgullo, tu poder” -@amandaalarah
“I am my Ancestors’ Wildest Dreams” -@marley_marz

BONUS! The funniest outfit award for celebrating culture goes to:

Our First Workshop in Eje Cafetero, Colombia

This spring, Travel Latina is teaming up with Scarlet Macaw Trips to host the first ever CONEXION LATINX in the beautiful eje cafetero region of Colombia. The week (slated for late March, early April, 2018) will be dedicated to personal and professional discovery, cultural growth and understanding via dynamic workshops, fun classes and immersion activities, dialogue, art making, and professional roundtable seminars.

As entrepreneurs, we at Travel Latina and Scarlet Macaw are in the process of molding our passion projects into something sustainable and for the greater good. We suspect we are not alone in trying to get a passion project off the ground …and so we are reaching out to our community.

 

 

We are inviting artists of all kinds, movers and shakers, entrepreneurs and adventurers to join us for a week in the eje cafetero region of Colombia to explore themes that we believe will help us galvanize growth in our personal, professional, spiritual, and emotional lives.  

As Latinxs, we believe we are stronger, smarter, and more powerful together.  We want to hear your stories, what you’re doing and dreaming, where you’re stuck, and how we can lend helping hands or facilitate a meeting of minds. Sharing insights from our respective experiences might inform the choices we make next.

 

 

 

Why Colombia?

  • Both Ale and Sahara (the founders of TL and SMT, respectively) have chosen to move there and are currently working on projects specifically linked to the country. With travel to Colombia booming, the time is right to host the first workshop for Latinx here in the rich soil of the coffee region. The fertile lands that produce world-class coffee, guanabana, banano, papaya, orchids – and more – can serve as a metaphor for what we hope to nurture with you throughout this week. What can we plant? What can we cultivate within our communities for the greater good?
  • We know the region and feel comfortable hosting you here.
  • A number of Ale’s travelers have passed through or want to return to Colombia. We think this is the right spot for our workshop not only because of the country´s breathtaking beauty but because the environment is inspiring and lends itself to community interaction and collaboration. Colombia will open our minds and serve as ground 0 for creating meaningful work.

 

This trip is right for you if:

  • You’re at a crossroads or on the ascent professionally
  • You’ve started a project and are seeking ideas or collaboration
  • You want to explore Colombia while collaborating with local women and supporting local entities
  • You are seeking an amazing travel experience (day trips, nature, beauty, music, good company) while seeking answers or feeling curious and want to explore your inklings with us
  • You are collaborative, driven, adventurous, and are craving a peer-to-peer experience

Goals for this trip experience & workshop:

  • To nurture this first cohort of Latinx Firecrackers from here on out; this group is for life – a growing network of Latinxs working in every sector from education to tech, art to medicine.
  • Support and strengthen you through this travel experience.
  • Provide a safe space in which to address everyone’s project, offering genuine support and honest feedback. Constructive criticism makes us stronger and equipped to take on big challenges.
  • Show our travelers other facets of Colombian society not often shown by western media.
  • Connect with: the earth, ancestral roots, each other, ourselves, local communities.
  • Bring back to our communities at home more reason to listen, watch, and learn from this generation of Latinx.

Stay tuned on social for further details about pricing, itinerary, and registration process – tentatively opening on February 1 at midnight.

Carnaval de Barranquilla

Quien lo Vive es Quien lo Goza

Carnival is a mix of joy and rebellious celebration, and while the world knows all about Rio de Janeiro, it’s Colombia’s festival that has a place in my corazoncito!

The biggest celebration during the week and a half before Ash Wednesday takes place in the industrial port city of Barranquilla. I’ve explored much of the Colombian Caribbean coast’s pre-carnaval celebrations that occur every weekend leading up to Mardi Gras, and my experience was specifically in a small beach-side pueblo in Dibulla, La Guajira about 4 hours from Barranquilla. Recently I had the opportunity to experience the festivity with many of my Peace Corps co-workers in Baranquilla.

I highly encourage everyone to check out this vibrant, colorful, happy, and fun event. It’s no wonder their slogan is always “quien lo vive es quien lo goza“, translating to “who lives it is who enjoys it.”

History
Carnival originates from a combination of pagan ceremonies, catholic beliefs, and ethnic diversity (a mixture of the African, Indigenous, and European traditions), dancing, and music. It was at first a holiday for slaves protesting and mocking the reigning power, religious authority, the wealthiest classes, and other forms of crippling colonization. It later grew to be a celebration of the region. The first documented date in the Carnival’s history was in 1888 when the first King Momo was picked. The King Momo signifies the beginning of festivities, is usually charismatic and/or a good dancer. Unfortunately, the queen is chosen by her physical appearance, unlike the King, as well as her charisma and/or dancing skill. It is customary to choose a King Momo and Queen by schools, institutions, and regions.

Parade
We had a wonderful time! We attended the biggest parade that takes place on Saturday before Mardi Gras by road Via 40. Here is where we haggled for tickets (25,000 Colombian Pesos or about $8.50 USD per person) just outside of the parade gates. We did have to wait around for about an hour in order to find the best price with the help of local Colombian friends. It didn’t help that we were with a small group of “stereotypical” Gringos, therefore we were given higher prices by most. This is where being Latinx or POC and speaking fluent Spanish will help you, and possibly get you in faster with a better price offer. The same Colombian friends said the tickets are usually more expensive if you buy ahead of time because the tickets we got were last minute. We went to the parade again on Sunday, which was free but not as extravagant as Saturday.

The most comical of these caricatures is the Marimonda because they are usually silly and perform goofy dance moves. They are always trying to make fun of everyone, especially the ruling powers. When I ask what type of animal the mask represents, I get hilarious explanations:  “a monkey”, or “no it’s not an animal, it represents male and female genitalia on the face!”

One of the first quotes I saw in large, bold print on a taxi when I first arrived to Barranquilla for my initial Peace Corps training said “Más feliz que un gringo con disfraz de Marimonda“, which translates to “More happy than a gringo with a Marimonda costume”, meaning that even foreigners enjoy the fun that this caricature brings.

A couple of us were featured in the local newspaper El Herlado with exactly that quote as the title since Colombians have been very excited about the decrease in violence and the uptick in tourism.

Entertainment
The most popular form of music and dancing during the parade and other events is Cumbia and Mapalé:

Two highly recommended evening events we attended for open-air dancing were the Carnavalada in the Parque Cultural del Caribe with live music, and the famous La Troja on Carrera 44 con calle 74. Take a look at the Carnaval’s main website for a list of events starting from pre-carnival season until Mardi Gras. The most common music played at these venues is Vallenato, Champeta, Salsa, Reggaeton and other Afro-Colombian beats.

Warnings
Be aware of three potentially annoying things to look out for at this celebration.
1) Constant flour, foam, and water being thrown in your face, hair, clothing, and even directly in your eyes. This will happen no matter what you try, so if you know you won’t like this, don’t go.
2) Be wary of wearing fancy jewellery, clothing, or carrying your phone. Colombians will always urge you to not “
dar papaya” which is slang for “making yourself a target.”
3) Black Face is very prevalent throughout the festivity which is cringe-worthy. Be prepared to see this, while most dancers and paraders are a mix of black and brown Colombians, and while the majority of the queens are white or light-skin Colombians. Be careful if people dressed like this approach you because they like to intimidate tourists and foreigners to give them money, and they will try to touch you with the tar they are painted with.

black face

This caricature is supposed to represent African slaves mocking their masters. They cover themselves with black tar, wear large colorful hats, and make crazy movements with their mouth.

 

Experience it yourself, por que quien lo vive es quien lo goza!  Carnaval de Barranquilla‘s main parade takes place the Saturday before Mardi Gras every year. If the time coincides, flights to Colombia are very cheap in February!

To hype you up, enjoy a video I organized of our 2017 experience:

How to Find an International Degree Program

1

It’s no secret that the cost of higher education in the US is a nightmare and that my generation is defined by student loan debt. A perennial favorite of news outlets is to talk about the cost of education in other countries and how many American students are looking abroad for school.

While they always share the success stories, they never tell you exactly how to find an international university for that degree. In the last year I did a lot of research, and here’s a guide on higher education abroad!

2

What schools are best? Who offers programs in English? Where do I see myself living? Does it count in the US?

Why do I want to study this specific field and what am I willing to do to get there?

For me it had been brewing a while because I blog about museums, so a future working with museums and cultural heritage was what I wanted. This guide will be written from that POV and my desire to get a Master’s. My location focus is on Europe. The process began in March 2016 and ended exactly a year later for application deadlines.

This guide can also be adapted for undergraduate use.

3

Research organizations in your field that serve as a network for professionals.

I found the American Alliance for Museums had a directory of Museum Studies and Related Programs, and the National Council on Public History had their own.

I used LinkedIn to search and message people that listed the orgs as an affiliation and noted where they went to school to check out those programs. I also made contacts with individuals through their groups, including one who became my mentor throughout the process. They directed me to other people and I began interviewing them about their experiences to get a realistic picture of the field.

After speaking to roughly 15 professionals in varying areas, I felt adequately informed on what to expect after completing an MA.

4

Identify a region you can see yourself living and studying in.

I didn’t want to rule out US schools and wanted to compare information to something I felt comfortable with. I looked at states I could see myself living in and then went to each university’s website to search their departments. I made a spreadsheet with each school’s information, a direct contact, and cost. Separate from that I made a notebook of pros and cons for every program.

The listings were generous with US programs, but sparse with international options. I found a global listing on another museum website that gave me the first step in where to look abroad.

The US was the easy part. What followed took weeks of work.


5

Cross Check, Triple Check.

The biggest hurdle in finding a program taught abroad was finding on that was only in English. The problem with many international school listings is that they are never consistent, lack important details, and open up a whole world of new terms and scheduling. Even University websites can be vague about the language.

I used FindaMasters.comMastersPortal.com, and GradSchools.com to search for specific terms and made a list of schools. I even looked up the schools that attended international school recruitment events to see if they were relevant.It didn’t feel complete, so then, using this amazing map tool, I manually went through every single country and looked up every single university to catch any I missed and confirm that each had what I wanted.

You can imagine the time this took, and so make sure you note every url, email, and program name. Set up a folder in your email for future correspondences and tag email threads with a school name.

I also discovered that “museum studies” was too vague and limiting, and many listings and schools used “cultural heritage”, “heritage studies”, or “heritage preservation”. Expand word choices and if you see a phrase pop up often, write it down and use it in your searches.

6

Say Hello, Look Up Funding


After dozens of university websites, I finally had a list. By now it was June.

I emailed department heads to ask for more information, hit up students on LinkedIn, and looked through Facebook groups of current students. I narrowed it down again and again, and then moved on to visiting the schools that were local to me in the US. I made appointments and talked to their department directors, including about financial aid.

When my top US school would have cost triple the amount of an EU program, not including cost of living, the list became smaller. Many programs in the EU are for a year and were significantly more affordable.

Tuition for a Master’s from some my selected schools:
(not including living costs or fees)

2 years in the US: 

$59,680 (Mid Atlantic School)
$47,653 (Northeastern School)
$33,072 (State School)

1 year in Europe:
$21,015 (United Kingdom)
$14,517 (Netherlands)
$8,783 (Denmark)

Unfortunately many US-based scholarships are not applicable to foreign schools, and the few grants and scholarships available from international schools are usually reserved for top GPA applicants.

The US Department of Education offers this FAQ with details about Federal Funding and a list of international schools that participate (opens as an Excel spreadsheet). You have to fill out a FAFSA and will need your school’s country code because it may not be in their system automatically.

 

11

Will a non-American degree be valuable?

It surprised me how often this came up, so I turned to one of the most common resources used by undergraduate students here in the states: US News & World Report issue the “Best College” guidebook. They also have an online Global University Ranking.

In the 2017 guide, their method looked at 1,262 institutions in 65 countries. They included schools based on “academic research and reputation overall” rather than “their separate undergraduate or graduate programs”. It also considered those that “had published the largest number of articles during the most recent five-year period (2010-2014)” (Read more here). With this data, cross referenced with the rankings hereand here,I was able to get a better idea about reputations.

The verdict? In some cases the schools I was looking at abroad were either higher or comparable to the ones I was considering in the US.

7

See it for yourself.

I thought long and hard, spending weeks to mull every detail over and looked up the cost of living. I researched potential fellowships, the weight of EU degrees in the US, and school accreditation. All of it was a blur and intimidating to make a decision based off websites. By now it was August.

Two of the schools were in the same country within 2 hours distance of the other and they were both having open houses in November. It was the off season to travel and my local international airport had cheap airfare through Norwegian. I found myself on a red eye with only a backpack, arriving to the first open house with an hour to spare.

I am SO glad that I went in person to see these places, because I would have made the wrong choice based off my original list.

 

8

I’m going for it.

A letter of motivation, a certified copy of your diploma via mail (NOT digital), a transcript, additional docs. In the end I applied to three programs at only two international schools.

Make sure you have looked each school’s application website because some places require registration in advance. Don’t expect to upload all your docs on the day you are ready to hit submit. If needed, renew your passport before you start the process.

I notified the department heads that I applied, and had I emailed sooner I would have had my fee waived. They noted my visit as an international student, and I regret not following up.

Each school strictly required a bank transfer to pay your application fee, no credit cards or online payment, and my local banking branch was confused. In addition to the application fee:
1) The bank has a fee to send the money.
2) Some schools have a fee to receive the money.

You must have the exact amount needed and confirmed with the university, and have every detail of their routing numbers correct.
Then, you wait.

and wait.

and know that you’ve done all you could do.

9

Congrats! You’ve earned this!

I emerged with an acceptance to my top choice and began the process of working with my future university’s International Student office. It’s wise to purchase a printer with a scanner if you don’t have access to one because of the amount of paperwork that needs to be signed and scanned over on a regular basis. Save phone numbers for specific administrative offices and note the time zones.

If you’re going through with a Federal Loan, the Financial Aid office will be in contact with a series of steps, and more documents, in order to secure it. You need that information completed in order to apply for a visa.

In the Netherlands, students must have health and liability insurance or else you get fined. My American policy (surprise) wasn’t accepted, so I signed up for one through the university.

When the above paperwork has been completed, you can then submit a visa application. By now you should have a renewed passport ready to go, and if you’ve got a recent headshot photo save a copy in case you have to upload it for a student ID card.

While all of this is going on, finding viable housing either though the university or through outside channels should be something you keep your eye on. Join Facebook Groups, communicate with current students, or ask your department head for details.

If you are from the US, this is also a good time to start learning the metric system and military time.

I hope that my experience guides you, and if you’ve got something you want to share or questions I’d love to chat!

As for what it’s like to START a degree program abroad? I’ll know soon enough!

Cuba: Know Before You Go 14 Travel Tips

Part of travel is exposing yourself to new things, customs and ideals with an open mind and an open heart. I loved Cuba. Literally planning a second trip already. But different land, means different things. The mundane may not be so simple, the basics may not be as readily available like back at home. So here are a 14 travel tips I learned from my recent trip to Cuba that I hope will come in handy when you plan your trip out there:

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1. Visas and such:

Technically, it’s still illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba simply for “tourism”. There are 12 different visa categories you must qualify for in order to travel to Cuba. So how are so many Americans going? Well, most American travelers fall into the “educational/people-to-people” category. It means you are not going to sit at the beach all day and do nothing. It means you want to learn about the Cuban people and the history through experiences like museums, art, music, food and having genuine conversations with locals, which shouldn’t be hard since that’s what you will probably do anyways. Many US airlines have direct flights to Cuba. From Florida, it was super easy and I would recommend JetBlue which has direct flights out of Orlando and Miami; and the convenience to purchase your visa for $50 per person at the Jetblue desk at the airport during your check in. The visa can only be purchased at the airport and you have to buy the plane tickets directly from the airlines website. I tried using Expedia like I normally do and it didn’t work.

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2. Money:

Cuba has two currencies, the CUC (for tourists) and the CUP (used by locals mostly). Neither currencies are traded internationally so you can only get it upon arrival. Regardless of what currency you’re bringing with you, you’ll have to exchange it to Cuban Convertible Pesos or CUC. The Currency exchange window is located right outside the airport. So you’ll go through security, baggage claim, literally walk outside like you’re going to grab a taxi and the Currency Exchange office is located to the left. The signage will say “Cambio.” As for Americans traveling to Cuba, it’s best to arrive to Cuba with Euros or Canadian Dollars, because American dollars get taxed an extra 10% on top of the regular exchange rate fees. That’s less money for cerveza amigos! Cash is king in Cuba and don’t count on your USA issued credit/debit cards to work out here, hence plan out your budget and take a little extra cash just in case.

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3. Don’t buy cuban cigars:

From anyone that approaches you on the streets of Havana that is. It’s probably a bad fake & poorly made cigar. I know what you’re thinking, ‘A fake cuban cigar in Cuba?’ For authentic, good quality cigars you have to buy from government stores in the city or do what we did, take a day trip to Viñales on the west side of the island about 2.5 hrs from Havana. Viñales is known for its tobacco farms and you can visit many of these farms and buy cigars directly from them. Some farms have horse back riding tours through the fields and you can watch them roll the cigars, walk through the leaf drying warehouse and see the farmers out in the field picking leaves. At the end we bought a bundle of cigars for $20 at the farm. Our day trip was booked directly through www.olivacubataxi.com. You get picked up in a classy car and the driver is with you all day!

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Sadly I didn’t catch his name. But he clearly knew how to pose for the camera. As we walked through galleries & shops we noticed various paintings and photographs of him! Cigar King. FYI, he was not selling anything, just chilling.

4. Do stay in a Casa Particular:

Translation, stay in a “private home”. Book a room or an entire house/apartment from a Cuban. If your host lives in the house or an adjacent property, they will even offer to cook meals for you (for an extra fee) and it will probably be way better than eating out. It also gives you the opportunity to connect and have real conversations with locals. Our host was a lovely Señora named Glady’s, if you would like to book her place click here, and tell her ‘Ana La Brasileña from Florida’ sent you. Print out any confirmation paperwork and/or screenshot the address of the Casa you’re staying in, it will help the taxi driver or yourself if you get lost.

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Our host Gladys, in the center. Such a sweetheart!

5. Bring toilet paper or wipes, and sanitizer:

Let me explain. If you’re staying in a hotel or Casa Particular obviously they will provide you with toilet paper, duh. But when you’re out and about exploring the streets of Havana and need to use a public bathroom, well, more than likely, you’ll be shit out of luck (Pun totally intended). Usually bathrooms, even at some restaurants museums and government buildings might not have paper or soap. WTF. So in the name of hygiene, carry a hand sanitizer and some napkins in your day bag with you at all times. Typically an attendant out front will hand you a few sheets of toilet paper as you walk in; but they expect a coin or 2 in return. Example: In the Museum of Revolution (big museum housed in the old Presidential Palace); the bathroom actually did have soap (shocker!) BUT didn’t have toilet paper and we had to flush the toilets by dumping water from a bucket that the restroom attendant kept refilling for everyone. That was a first for me. And I’ve peed in holes in the ground in past travels. And if there is no attendant in the bathroom? That means probably no chance of you finding toilet paper to wipe your booty or dry your vajayjay ladies. Luckily for me I always pack baby wipes which saved my life. Well, saved my dignity and I didn’t have to drip dry. Again.

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Inside the Museo de La Revolucion

6. Do Bring Toiletries:

Bring what you’ll need in terms of shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste etc. If you forget any basic items, it might be hard to find it even in stores and pharmacies as sometimes shipments don’t come into the island and certain items may be scarce. My friend Danielle from http://www.shikshin.com could not find any conditioner out there! Read her post for what to wear & packing tips.

7. Do bring Sunscreen, sunglasses, hats:

I shouldn’t have to tell you this but I’m going to. Pack the sunscreen and sunglasses because it might be hard to find and it will be expensive like other toiletries. As for hats, you can bring one or purchase a cool hand made fedora style hat from a local Cuban crafts market or souvenir shop.

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Tony, a hat maker since childhood.

8. Catcalling & Stares:

Ladies, the Cuban guys will definitely let you know how beautiful, sexy and everything in between you are. (More so than the Italians!) And they are not the least bit shy about staring and checking you out either. I didn’t really hear cat calls because my friend and I went with our husbands. But we still got stared down. Don’t pay any mind and move on, strutting your hot self. Unless of course, you’re single and ready to mingle, so by all means wink, smile and go get yourself a Cuban Papi on the dance floor 😉

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‘Hey girl, what are you doing tonight?’ Just going to the fresh market in Havana. Chill Bro.

9. Wi-Fi Situation:

Cuba does have internet and wi-fi but it is limited. You have to purchase wi-fi cards and then find a Wi-fi zone. If you walk by a park, into a bar or hotel and see a bunch of people on their phones, it’s probably a wi-fi area. It’s a good idea to take screenshots on your phone of maps and places of interest since Google won’t be able to help you. I kept it simple and stayed off the grid for all 4 days. It was a much needed digital detox.

10. The smog and dust:

Having classic vintage cars all over the city, along with crumbling architecture comes at a price. Old and puzzled together engine pieces don’t usually have the cleanest of emissions; and forgotten, old buildings make it for a dusty atmosphere in Old Havana.

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11. Don’t expect the food to delight your palette:

The food is not bad in general but it wasn’t amazing either. We did find a great restaurant in Old Havana called Mojito Mojito which had well seasoned dishes and we ended up having dinner there 3 nights. Great service and live band every night playing great music! And the cherry on top was their bathroom had toilet paper, soap AND a working hand dryer. If your host offer to home cooked meals that’s a great option too and probably delicious #winwin

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Before the dinner rush.

12. Don’t drink the water:

Buy bottled water for your room and for walking around town. As with many countries, the water might have microbes that your body isn’t used to and that might get you sick. If you are traveling into other cities in the countryside, best to get the water before hand or ask your driver to stop somewhere. It’s just harder to find stores in smaller towns.

13. Safety:

As with any developing country I would always advise to not be too flashy with jewelry and name brands cause you never know, BUT Tom and I honestly felt safer here in Cuba than we did traveling in Brazil, my home country. Both Tom and our friend Carlos walked around all day with big high end cameras over their shoulders and I had my GoPro and not once did we feel unsafe, even at night all over Old Havana.

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Nos vemos pronto Cuba!

14. Bring Gifts!

The average Cuban salary is $25 a month. I know, astonishing. Granted the government subsidizes food, utilities, healthcare and education; most Cubans don’t have extra cash to purchase a variety of goods or specially of toiletries, which might not be available period. If you’re staying at a Casa Particular you could definitely leave behind extra toiletries. Some people dislike the idea of “gifting” because it can enhance the begging; but listen, if someone I talk to asks for something, I’m gonna hand over those cheap but super cool sunglasses I’m wearing because I know I have the means to go to Target and buy myself 10 more pairs. What kid wouldn’t like some cool shades or a superhero toothbrush? And if you want to take photos with locals, be polite and ask permission first! Most locals happily posed for the camera, but a couple did decline. And of course, offer some cash for the photos.

Hope you enjoyed all the Cuba travel tips here. Have you been to Cuba yet? What would you add to the list?

Read about more adventures at www.ChasingWildgusts.com

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No ceiling, no problem. Welcome to Cuba.

Scarlet Macaw Trips by Sahara Borja

“A social purpose travel effort that emphasizes a rich cultural experience while empowering local communities.”

Born in Toronto, where her father from Cali, Colombia had met her mother from the Bronx, New York, Sahara Borja is now connecting with her roots once again through the creation of her brand new social purpose travel effort: Scarlet Macaw Trips. The trips – headed back to Cartagena this summer and in early 2018 – are curated with both the beauty and reality of the region in mind. The trips will continue to find mutually beneficial ways for travellers, local artisans, NGOs and local organizations, schools, and women’s groups in the region to work together within the broader, more well-known travel experience of day trips and nights out dancing to champeta.

Baby Sahara in Cali, Colombia with family from both sides

Despite a few visits to Cali to visit family, she was really able to dig her heels in and reconnect with with her roots while on a Fulbright research grant in Cartagena, where she worked with women and youth in the situation of internal displacement via photography and interviews at the University of Cartagena. While there, she connected with a professional tour guide, a native of Cartagena, and a couple of years later the idea for all-inclusive trips to Cartagena was born. This August, they’re offering a unique opportunity to learn and experience aspects of the culture in a number of immersive and participatory ways, while also having one hell of a time.

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Sahara with Fulbright colleagues and friends in Cartagena, Colombia

Ms. Borja states: “Part of our itinerary takes us to La Boquilla, a primarily Afro-Colombian fishing village where we offer a lunch-and-learn with a local organization and eat on the beach in a makeshift restaurant with food cooked by Abuelita (aka Everybody’s GRAMMA!). Another day we’ll head to San Basilio de Palenque, the first free town of The Americas, founded by escaped slaves.

She explains that this trip is especially relevant for those interested in the African Diaspora as it is seen in this region of the Caribbean, in South America and Colombian culture, music, food, and in the class and race perspectives of the southern hemisphere.

“Being bicultural in the US is a trip; I’ve forever had the pull of Colombia within me. It’s a complicated untangling if you can’t afford to travel that much!” Though this trip costs $2,199 sans airfare, it’s an all-inclusive 8 days and 7 nights, and includes a professional photographer, artisan goodies to take home, breakfast, most lunches, and transportation throughout the week. The trip can be paid for in instalments with 40% deposit due at first.

Be sure to check out this inaugural amazing trip you won’t want to miss!

What You Need to Know About Cancelling a Flight Involving Colombia

I was in Colombia this week to visit family and had a last minute change of plans, resulting in me having to figure out a way to get home. There was lots of panic over the cost and frustration with a useless insurance policy.

I flew JetBlue and didn’t purchase their flexible ticket option, so I searched around and found that Colombia’s aviation administration issued new rules in 2015 that generously protects passengers…including what happens when you have to cancel a flight.

“When you a purchase a ticket from any booking channel in Colombia and/or your trip itinerary originates in Colombia, you can request a refund within at least twenty four (24) hours before the flight departs, in which case JetBlue can retain ten percent (10%) or fifty dollars (USD$50) of the base fare (whichever is less).”

If the ticket is purchased in the US, you can use the Law of Retraction in which JetBlue takes 10% from the base fare or $50, whichever is the smaller amount. A credit is then given to you in their Travel Bank and you can use it within the year.”


http://help.jetblue.com/SRVS/CGI-BIN/webcgi.exe?New,Kb=askBlue,case=obj(120961)

I called up JetBlue and my customer service agent didn’t know about the policy, so I directed her to their website and was on hold for a bit while they figured it out. They were super great and helped me out!

Since I purchased my flight directly from JetBlue and reside in the US, I was eligible to use the Law of Retraction resulting in a $198 travel credit that must be used within the year, and the airline only kept $12.06.

This amazing policy is not just applicable for JetBlue flights, and there are other details that may also benefit you. It was really refreshing to see this kind of protection for travelers and also a reminder that there may be rules in that small print of your ticket that could save you a lot of trouble.

Now what to do with this travel credit…