Writing a Study Abroad Application? Here is Some Advice.

Advice on landing that study abroad acceptance every time.

Having studied abroad on four separate occasions, I have written my fair share of study abroad applications. These applications only got easier the more applications I wrote and, undeniably, with more travel abroad experience. Wanting to mentor other college students interested in study abroad, I became an Education Abroad Peer Advisor after returning from three months studying abroad in Russia, India, and China in my junior year. One repeated question I got from prospective study abroad students was “can you read and edit my application?” Having read, edited, and advised many students on applications, I thought it would be helpful to compile my suggestions along with the advice of my friend Alex, who is a Senior Program Manager for college short term study abroad programs- an expert to say the least!

 

Alex’s Advice

I am a big fan of the concept of backward design. In order to write a good application, you need to start at the beginning. What are your personal, professional, and academic goals and objectives? How will this particular program help you to get there? If you find that it’s a hard sell to connect these two, then you may want to revisit your program choice and apply for a program that will help you achieve your goals.

Let me give you an example. At the end of my final year of high school, I took a road trip to Austria (I was living in Switzerland at the time, so it wasn’t that far) and loved it there! I decided that I would learn German and move to Austria one day. So naturally, when I came to the U.S. for college and began taking German classes, I told all of my classmates that I was going to study abroad in Vienna. My overarching goal though was to become fluent in German. When I talked with my education abroad advisor, I learned that most people in Vienna spoke English and that if I wanted to be forced to work on my language skills, I should consider another program in a small town. Ultimately that is what I did and my German language skills dramatically improved!

Once you know what you want and have found a program that will help you get there, make sure to spell it out in your application. At the end of the day, faculty members and education abroad advisors want to help you achieve your dreams!

Here are a few other tips to help you as you compile your application:

  1. Be honest and authentic in your application. Tell YOUR story. I meet with students who are afraid to tell their story, because they don’t think it’s compelling enough, or they think it might disqualify them from a program. Part of telling your story is helping the person reading your application to assess whether this is a good fit for you and the program.
  2. Tailor your application to the program. Please please please do not submit a generic education abroad application! This goes for any job search as well. Research the program online and make sure that your application is tailored specifically to this particular program. Cite particular aspects of the program that are referenced in the online material. This demonstrates that you have done your research and will make your application stand out from the crowd.
  3. Reach out to the faculty member or education abroad advisor. Go to the faculty member’s office hours, get to know them, and share your passion for the program! Faculty members want to know that you are excited about their course, especially if they may be spending several weeks with you.

Remember education abroad programs are competitive. If you don’t get in the first time you apply, ask for feedback, and see how you can improve your application for the future. Your desire to grow and learn will only make you an even more attractive candidate for the future.


Ursula’s Advice

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received on writing applications is the following:

“The application viewer should be able to pick up your application from the pile, read it, and be able to identify it as being yours.”

In other words, make sure to make your application so unique to yourself, that no one else could pass it as their own. The examples you use, your writing style, and the sentiments within your application should be personal and specific to you.

Pick a specific and location and program, then do your homework. There are two reasons why this is important for you as an applicant. Firstly, wherever you are studying abroad, you will be spending a significant amount of time there. You want to make sure that this location and type of study abroad program is right for you. For example, many study abroad programs offer homestays, for language immersion this is ideal. When I studied in Frankfurt, Germany my senior year in high school this was the perfect opportunity for me to hone my German language skills and also learn more about the culture and German lifestyle first hand. Other study abroad opportunities require that you find your own housing within the school’s area If you are looking for greater independence and to take initiative on where you would like to live and who you would like to live with, this is a great opportunity to take ownership of your experience. Secondly, you want to communicate to your application reviewer that you understand the program’s offerings fully and that you would, specifically, benefit from this program and all that it has to provide. In knowing all about the program, you will be able to pick out specific aspects of the program and why you are the perfect fit.

Utilize your core competencies and personal unique experiences to stand out amongst the crowd. In a study abroad application, you really want to play up your strengths and emphasize how you will be the one to capitalize on this amazing opportunity because of similar instances where you did the same. For example, when I applied to go on Babson’s Dubai Elective Abroad program, I emphasized how much I wanted to learn, firsthand, about the culture that my friends come from. Here is an excerpt from my application that highlights this:

“At Babson, having such exposure to such diversity has encouraged me to explore the world and travel to the native countries of my classmates I have heard such fondness about. Specifically, I have formed friendships with many individuals from the Middle East. I have been able to learn about Kuwait, Bahrain, Beirut, and Tunisia through the personal stories, experiences, food, and culture these friends have shared with me. However, I aspire to go deeper, and to learn more, I have too many unanswered questions. I am eager to experience, first hand, authentic machos and look up at the Burj Khalifa. I want to know what drives the Emirati people’s decision making and how their ethics are developed.”

Lastly, show a genuine desire to grow and learn through studying abroad. Some of the best applications I have seen have been from students who have never traveled outside of the United States before. The eagerness that they exhibit in their applications is sincere, genuine, and authentic. They articulate what they want to learn and how they think that studying abroad will help them develop a global mindset both as individuals and students. In the end, those who are reviewing your application want to make sure that you will be taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity and that you will be up for the challenge.

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Best of luck out there!

The Best Museums and Exhibitions I’ve Ever Been To

A life’s worth of museum tickets and long lines.

Museums and exhibits can be transportive experiences that immerse and educate you about the world. I credit my mother to fostering my love for these places, when, growing up, she took my brother and I to every museum and exhibit in New York City. Whether it be the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Alexander McQueen exhibit or The Frick Collection, we took the day to look around and learn. The same applied to every vacation destination that my family traveled to, a walking tour or trip to the local museum being in order. This was a way for her to expose us to new perspectives, ideas, ways of life, and histories. She must have trained me well, as I have taken to visiting all of the best museums during my solo travels and study abroad trips. I make sure to do a full online evaluation wherever I go, so that I know what stops to hit along the way. And what museum trip would be complete without reading every insightful placard, taking a stop at the gift shop, and pocketing a pamphlet for the memories? If you ever need a suggestion, just ring me. I probably have a pamphlet for you somewhere!

 

Weaving Magic by Chris Ofili

The National Gallery

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I can honestly say that Weaving Magic is one of the most breathtaking pieces of art I have ever seen in my life. Composed of wool and cotton fibers, this enormous woven tapestry filled an entire wall within The National Gallery, a museum that houses some of the greatest masterpieces of all time. Appearing to be a watercolor painting, the craftsmanship displayed through this woven piece is so incredible, it had me entirely mesmerized. The tapestry, inspired by Ofili’s native Trinidad, was influenced by mythology and took an astonishing 3 years to create. Seeing this work for the first time was something I will truly never forget!

Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent

Somerset House 

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When I lived in London for the summer, museums were places that I visited every weekend. I was fortunate enough to stumble across this unique perfume exhibit at Somerset House during my stay. While Weaving Magic was a once in a lifetime sighting, this exhibit was a once in a lifetime experience. The exhibit was composed of various different rooms that encapsulated the experience of each smell within the room. It was designed so that visitors could pick up certain objects and smell them, while reading about their maker, influences, and history. Visitors were also encouraged to take a pencil and paper with them throughout the exhibit to write down their thoughts and impressions of the different scents. Boy, did I smell a lot of things that day! One of the best aspects of the exhibit, however, was the opportunity to speak with two perfumers from France, who could answer any question you might have around perfume chemistry and composition. Hmm… what a sweet day that was. 

California: Designing Freedom

The Design Museum

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California: Designing Freedom is an exhibit that I think about so often. Featured at London’s Design Museum, the exhibit traced how counterculture and even drug use led to Silicon Valley’s tech culture and the belief in boundless possibilities. The exhibit featured fascinating artifacts from the first ever Google signage (featured above) to blotter paper and a Harley-Davidson. The exhibit was divided into sections outlined: go where you want, see what you want, say what you want, make what you want, and join who you want. It might have been a longing to return back to the U.S. or the incredible exhibition (or a little bit of both) that made me consider this exhibit to be one of my all time favorites.  

The Fabergé Museum

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Located in Saint Petersburg, Russia, this museum is one that is not to be missed. The mere beauty and uniqueness of the museum itself are enough to warrant it a place on the list. The museum showcases the world’s largest collection of works by the House of Fabregé and it does not disappoint. There are over 4,000 items on display within this museum, which include many of Fabregé’s infamous eggs, that were created for the Tsars of Russia, made in the late 19th and early 20th century. There is so much to see in this museum, you might need to plan a whole afternoon for a look around! 

 

Edo Tokyo Museum 

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From the outside, the Edo Tokyo Museum’s architecture is spectacular- appearing half suspended in the air- and the inside does not disappoint either. The museum is packed with artifacts tracing Edo’s – or better known today as Tokyo’s- history, culture, traditions, and people. The museum is so visually stimulating, you feel as though you are walking through and experiencing the artwork, rather than reaching down to see and inspect it. I mean, there are multiple small villages, a wooden bridge, and a castle in this museum! If the museum wasn’t in Tokyo, I’d probably be visiting every weekend, just to make sure I read every poster thoroughly enough. 

Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color

FIT Museum

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Whenever I step into the Fashion Institute of Technology’s museum I am never disappointed. On a day when I popped in to see their latest exhibit Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Color, I could not have been more excited to stumble across the carefully selected styles that were being presented within the collection. From big satin bows to Gucci ruffles, there were so many gorgeous designs that took each visitor on a journey through fashion history (no wonder this museum is a staple visit for me). FIT does an amazing job in every exhibit that they show and this was no exception, showcasing a beautiful curation of pieces that embody pink’s ever changing narrative throughout time. 

Monet’s Garden 

The New York Botanical Garden

 

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The New York Botanical Garden is a place that transports you to an entirely different location. Located in the Bronx, New York, the garden is sprawling and lush, with a greenhouse meant to dazzle. For my Grandmother’s birthday many years back, we visited a botanical curation of water lilies inspired by the paintings of Monet that was so beautiful. The exhibit even featured a green bridge within the greenhouse that was meant to be a nod to Monet’s The Japanese Footbridge painting. The Botanical Garden does such an expert job of curating exhibits, I am always pleased and delighted with whatever I seem to come across on a visit. 

CHOW: Making the Chinese American Restaurant

Museum of Food and Drink

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Although this museum is tightly tucked away, it’s worth the extra time searching for. The exhibit I had the pleasure of visiting, CHOW: Making the Chinese American Restaurant, featured a fortune cookie machine, a wall of Chinese food takeout boxes, and restaurant menus from as early as the 1900’s, featuring General Tso’s chicken and chow mein. Despite how small the museum is, it is simple and well curated, taking each visitor through the economic, social, and political factors that shaped Chinese-American immigration. It also highlights the entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of Chinese immigrants in starting Chinese restaurants that quickly flourished across America. At the end of touring the gallery, there was even a “chef’s table” that visitors could sit at, enjoy a small meal, and talk with the chef. The tasting menu included hot herbal tea, gyoza, savory pork lo mein, and rose, coconut rice pudding that simply could not be passed up!

Chris St Jean on Building a Live-in Van and Life on the Road

Nomadic living at its finest.

If you have ever thought that living off the grid, driving cross country, and waking up with the sun was for you, then you have just met your best friend Chris St Jean. After retrofitting a van and heading out West, Chris gives us the skinny on what it is like to live life on his own terms- minimalism and adventure at the forefront of everything. Reading all about his journey has, personally, given me a lot of perspective on my own way of life. We are often told who to be and how to act, but what if we had the breathing room to decide that for ourselves, just like Chris has? What if we imagined life led by our own ambitions, desires, and passions? If that sounds enticing, keep reading…

Chris! Tell the blog a little bit about yourself!

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Hey everyone! I’m Chris (obviously), and I’m currently living full-time out of a Ford Transit cargo van, because isn’t it everyone’s goal to live out of a vehicle after college? I’m originally from Francestown, New Hampshire, which is a tiny little town in south-central New Hampshire with about 1,500 people. Currently, I’m writing this in Flagstaff, Arizona, which is my temporary home for the next 2 weeks. 

A little bit of background about me, I grew up in the woods, which definitely was a driving factor for my love of the outdoors. Basically, ever since I can remember, my dad was taking me hiking, biking, or climbing in the White Mountains. However, it wasn’t really until high school that I found cross country running, which I believe had a profound impact on how I regard life and ultimately led to me becoming a van bum. 

A lot of what I do, including living in a van, comes from a desire to live a life that I will look back on in 50 years and be happy about living. I believe keeping perspective on what matters is incredibly important, and what I have always found to be the most profound memories in my life are the ones filled with amazing people and new, unpredictable experiences. It just so happens that that has led me to be probably the most hippy person you’ve met: living in a vehicle, running ultramarathons, and eating nothing but plants. Sounds like a great life, right?

What was the inspiration behind “revamping” your van and taking it on the road?

I don’t think there is a single moment I can point to and say “That’s when.” I knew I wanted to live an unconventional lifestyle probably since high school, when I decided some time around Junior year that a life of 9 to 5 work on a computer just wasn’t for me. I love moving too much, which is probably a product of falling in love with running.

Although we did a lot of exploration around the Northeast, and the occasional family vacation, I wouldn’t call myself a travel-minded person until relatively recently. Up until the fall of 2019, when I took off across the country in a pick-up truck- which I will talk about later-, I hadn’t really been on a solo trip before, let alone one that didn’t involve hotels and tourist traps. However, I started getting the itch to go explore when I started meeting tons of new people at Babson (including you Ursula), and I realized there are so many amazing people and places even just in this country, let alone the world.

Around Junior year of college, I knew I could take a semester off, and it was kind of on a whim that I decided to take a 3 month road trip of the country, living out of the back of a pick-up truck. It was that experience that really let me know I wanted to do this. Seeing places and landscapes I’ve never seen before, having a couple scary encounters- including one with a bison that was probably the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life- definitely pushed me towards this, but mostly it was the people. There were so many generous, kind, unique people, that I never would have met without getting out of the back woods Northeast bubble, and that’s what set it in stone that I had to keep meeting people and experiencing new things in my life.

How long did it take you to make your van livable and what were some challenges you encountered along the way?

I bought the van back in May, and I officially finished it up on December 31st. Now, that is a timeline that is very specific to my circumstances; i.e. working full time, marathon training, and the slight inconvenience of a global pandemic. Someone who was working less, had more time, and who wasn’t trying to ship everything to the middle of nowhere would be able to do that much faster. The one huge advantage I had were my parents, and I really don’t want to undervalue how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. Having access to their building tools, their knowledge, and just having a second and third pair of hands around occasionally was invaluable to this process.

Honestly, I think the biggest challenge I faced was just simple monotony and loneliness. It was, and still is, a rough time to graduate, and to then take on a monumental project like this was much more mentally challenging than I ever expected. But in terms of the actual building process, it sounds odd, but I think the cabinets were the most difficult piece of that process. You don’t really think about cabinets having so many different pieces, or so much surface area to paint, but jeez, it’s a LOT.

What are some of your favorite features on the van and what is your perspective on minimalistic, nomadic living? Why did you feel it was right for you?

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So, in terms of my favorite features, number one has gotta be the solar panels and off-grid living. It’s just so freeing, and I think it’s really cool to think that all of the light, water pumps, fridge, everything, is just powered from the sun. Basically I’m just trying to be as much like a plant as I can.

In terms of the minimalist lifestyle, the word that leaps foremost to mind is appreciation. When you just don’t have a lot of stuff, you have the ability to appreciate what you do have. At the risk of sounding too philosophical- which is a line I probably already crossed multiple times-, I believe we appreciate the things that we are aware of having. The quickest fix to be aware of something we have is to buy something new. Suddenly, it commands our attention because it’s different than we’re used to. Eventually, however, the newness wears off, and then we get something even newer to get that same feeling of appreciation. What I find in living this lifestyle is that I’m aware of the things around me much more, because there’s simply less of it around. As a bonus, living in a van is incredibly cost efficient, which means I just don’t have to work as many hours, so I can spend that time meeting people, moving around, or just generally not being stressed to be constantly doing something.

That leads into the second piece of the lifestyle that I truly love, which is nomadism. I am such a sucker for landscapes, be it mountains, deserts, forests, oceans, you name it. Living out of the van not only allows for the ability to get to these places, but that there’s nowhere else I really need to be. There’s no home base, so I can stay for as long as I choose, to explore, get to know people, or leave because it’s getting too cold or hot for a guy in a vehicle.

Anything you miss about living in a home?

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Toilets. For sure. Van living is really glamorous a lot of the time, but most people don’t really see the unglamorous sides of it. Shockingly, pooping in a plastic bag is not the most comfortable thing ever. But on a more serious note, I would say having regular people around. One thing that really got old in the truck in 2019 was that there was this pattern of meeting really awesome people, and then basically leaving immediately and knowing you’re never going to see them again. Having friends and family around regularly, especially at school, was something I really didn’t appreciate enough.

What are some destinations you hope to hit over the next few months?

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Right now, I’m in Flagstaff, Arizona, which I will be at for the next week and a half. After that, I’m planning on heading to Southern California, to visit some friends. But after January 31st, the plan is to have no plan! The spontaneous exploration is something I absolutely love doing, so I know I will be on the West Coast, but that’s about as specific as it gets. I love climbing, running, and (of course) landscapes, so Yosemite is an obvious place to go. Other than that, it’s going to be a process of bouncing around places that I know I have people to visit, in California, Nevada, Washington, and Montana, until trekking back east in late May to graduate. And after that, there really is no plan for the foreseeable future, which is both exhilarating and a little scary, if I’m going to be honest.

How do you figure out where you should travel to next?

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A really big driver (pun intended) of where I’m going to go is where I can visit people. A lot of times, I know I have somewhere I want to visit someone, and I’ll go explore places in between where I am now and where I’m ultimately going to see someone. For example, I left home in the van December 31st, and I have a good friend in Santa Barbara that I know I want to visit. But there’s a very significant amount of land in between, basically the entire country. So I now have a reason to go to Vermont, New York, Ohio, and every other state in between New Hampshire and California, which is how I ended up in Arizona right now. 

Other than that, I have a map of North America on my door in the van, with push pins on certain places. They’re color coded, so blue is where I have friends to go visit, green is a place I’ve been to that I want to go back to, yellow is a place I don’t know anyone and I want to go explore, and orange is where I had a very memorable experience (such as staring down a bear in a hailstorm on the Olympic Peninsula or royally pissing off a bison during a run in North Dakota). 

What does a typical day look like for you?

Honestly, day-to-day life is pretty average. Those big experiences or amazing landscapes are definitely not the standard. One big thing is that I tend to get up and go to bed with the sun, because a lot of time is spent outside and when there’s no sun, there’s just not a lot to do. On days that I’m not driving somewhere, usually I wake up around 5am, have some breakfast and coffee, drive to somewhere with WiFi and do some work, go for a run, do some more work or van chores, and maybe go climb or do something to meet new people. Each day is very much dictated by just what needs to be done that day, so days that I need to get to a new state look very different than days where I’m in a place I’ll be in for a bit. What I really enjoy about this lifestyle is that you have full control over where you are and what you do. Again, your house is your car, so wherever that car is, your entire life is.

What are some pieces of advice you have for people looking to do something similar to what you have done?

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Do it. Don’t hesitate. There will always be a thousand reasons not to, and it’s impossible to predict and account for every piece of your life that will change. Decide to do it, begin the process, and figure things out when you get there. With that said, I definitely have some tips. 

  • Keep track of receipts! Not only will this help with budgeting, but even more so with insurance. Insurance companies tend to be a little hesitant to insure self-built vans, so knowing exactly how much it costs helps a lot.
  • There are amazing resources online, utilize them. I’m a business major who codes websites, I have zero education in how to build a house. But I am far from the first to do this, and lots of people have documented their stories online. Check out www.faroutride.com for an extremely comprehensive build journal, outlining insulation, electrical systems, water systems, and general building advice, from people who also do not have a background in carpentry or anything like that.
  • It’s a huge project, way bigger than I thought it would be when I started. Be careful not to get overwhelmed. Take it one step at a time, just focus on the next piece to get done. 
  • Have fun with it! Get some friends to come help, and to provide new ideas on how to accomplish certain things. Getting ideas from other people was incredibly helpful, there is no way I would have been able to do this on my own. That being said, this is your house, so keep that in mind as you consider different options
  • Take. Your. Time. Everything will go more slowly than you think. I originally thought I would be done by mid October. There will be things that don’t work as planned, or just take way longer than you think they would. Don’t get stressed trying to get everything done fast, because that leads to sloppy work or trying to take shortcuts that will come back and bite you later. If you have a choice between speed and quality, always go with quality, even if it is tediously and frustratingly slow.

How has this experience changed your perspective on life?

Honestly, I think this has actually done the exact opposite. It has helped me keep my perspective on life, and not let it get changed by things that seem important in the short term, but don’t really matter much when you get right down to it. As a business student, I saw the allure of flashy titles, bigger salaries, and the social status competition of working more, sleeping less, cutting more out of your life to be able to work more and more. I had this tugging voice in the back of my mind whenever I took part in that, that just kept saying,

“This isn’t worth it. You know what makes you happy, this isn’t it.”

What the road trip in 2019, and this process of building and moving into the van, has taught me is that that voice was, for the most part, right. I don’t want to pretend that money, jobs, and hard work are meaningless, they are very necessary to life, as frustrating as it can be sometimes. But I see them as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. And this is a lesson that can be applied to many things that don’t involve becoming a nomad. I wouldn’t be able to run and climb if I didn’t have the means to support that. I wouldn’t be able to visit friends, make memories. There was a lot of hard, tedious, and if I’m going to be honest, really lonely work involved with getting to be able to do this. It’s important to keep perspective, and realize that your work should be a means of achieving the lifestyle you want to live, and not let work become the lifestyle itself.

What excites you about the future?

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Honestly, the fact that I don’t know what excites me about the future is what excites me most. There’s so much possibility, things to do, places to see, people to meet, that just the raw openness of it all is the most exciting thing. It’s a lot like when you graduate middle school, and then high school, but it’s so much more poignant now. To think about it all at once is somewhat futile, like to think about everything I could possibly be doing a year, or two, or five, from now is just impossible because there are so many variables. It’s a feeling that’s not that well suited for words, but it’s something I wish everyone could experience. 

However, if I were to name one thing in specific, it is to meet people that live totally differently than I’m used to living. I’ve lived in New Hampshire my entire life, except when I went to college in Massachusetts, which is not that much different. New Hampshire is not known to be the cultural hub of the Northern Hemisphere, and to be able to experience different ways of living, even just in the United States, is just an incredible opportunity that I hope I never take for granted. And eating new foods. Because food is great.

Ari Somerfield on Miles for Smiles and Getting Free First Class Flights

Why pay for adventure when you can get it for free and in first class?

At just 23 years old, Ari Somerfield has a whole lifetime worth of experience as both a passenger and a pilot. Since a young age, Ari has been interested in aviation. On family trips, Ari cites looking forward to the flight more than their actual vacation. Ari’s passion led him to getting his private pilot license with an instrument rating right after graduating from high school. Needless to say an enjoyable Friday night for Ari as a nineteen year old was a bit different from the norm, Ari taking a rental plane to visit friends across Los Angeles to beat rush hour traffic. 

Although he is looking to pursue film professionally, Ari has taken up travel advising in his free time – a true passion. In high school, Ari worked for a luxury travel concierge and discovered the impact of travel points and racking up miles for future travel. It fascinated Ari that, in strategizing how to maximize your points, you could fly first class for free. Shortly after, Ari had made it his mission to discover the ins and outs in regards to how to accumulate points, getting credit card sign-on bonuses, referring friends for credit cards, and transferring points, to name a few. 

After having accumulated enough mileage points, Ari used the points to take his first trip overseas to England, where he flew business class and hasn’t flown anything below business when traveling long distances since. Unlike many travelers, Ari likes to travel for no more than two days to a week, considering himself a homebody. What Ari loves about racking up mileage points is that he can travel the way he likes to, on a whim and for short periods of time. Currently, Ari has over 3 million points and feels best when he has at least 2 million points at a time, so that he is able to take a trip whenever he likes. It isn’t unusual for Ari to fly to Singapore to visit his favorite vegan restaurant or travel to Vietnam for just two days and then hop on a flight back home shortly after. Two of Ari’s favorite flights so far have been his journey from Japan to Singapore, where he had the best vegan meal of his life and his first class trip from Hong Kong to New York flying Cathay Pacific, which he argues has an unparalleled in-flight passenger experience.

In accumulating such vast knowledge of credit card rewards, flying, commercial airlines, planes, and the like, Ari shared this knowledge with friends and family. At one point, however, Ari realized that his passion could be made into a business and started to help others maximize their points in the same way.

Since then, Ari’s business called Miles for Smiles has grown and he has established a process and methodology that he goes through with clients to ensure success. First, Ari has a meeting with his client in order to establish their lifestyle habits and existing credit cards to figure out what program he decides will be best suited for them. From there, Ari advises on which credit cards his client should open and strategizes on maximizing their points. For everyone that Ari works with he guarantees them 500,000 mileage points to use for the future. Ari also has an extensive knowledge of airlines and their product offerings, which will ensure an enjoyable and restful transit experience when he makes the final booking. Singapore Airlines is Ari’s favorite, but he can walk clients through every airline and airplane offered, a credit to his incredible in-depth knowledge of the industry. To date, Ari is responsible for earning 20 million miles for his clients  who have flown in premium cabins across the world and is only just getting started. 

IMG_4288Right now, Ari says that now is the best time to plan for the future and maximize airline points, given that credit card companies are offering some of the best deals he has ever seen, with major sign on bonuses. But what excites Ari about the future? In terms of commercial aviation, Ari mentions

“the advancements that I’ve seen in a short period of time, like the new products and services coming out are incredible, Air New Zealand, for example is rolling out beds in economy class. New things that are really exciting.” As a vegan himself, Ari also notes that airlines are offering more options than ever for the plant based community, a token to commercial airlines continuing to strive towards greater inclusivity in so many different ways. Personally, Ari tells me that one day he wants to get an aircraft of his own that he can fly around with friends and family. While he works towards accomplishing this dream, he also is excited for the day he works with film director Taika Waititi. 

What makes me so certain Ari will reach these goals? His incredible ability to become hyper focused on his passions and find success in whatever he does. Whether it be learning to fly, juggling numerous credit cards and their respective points, or directing a film, I trust Ari to get the job done- and not just well- first class. 


To contact Ari and Miles for Smiles

Website

Email: aripoints@gmail.com

A Day in Boston, Massachusetts with Me- It’s a Date!

My favorite spots in Boston to eat, drink, and enjoy ☁️

It is hard to imagine that my first time visiting Boston was only six years ago, considering how much I regard the city as a second home. I have spent a considerable amount of time in Boston during my four years of college and many memories have been made sitting with friends in a cafe, seeing a late night movie, or walking through the Boston Commons on a Spring day. I finally sat down to think about my favorite places in the city and it was so hard to pick just a few for each category. When it comes to fun things to do and great places to eat, Boston definitely has a surplus. I was able to narrow it down by consulting a trusted Boston expert to come up with this list. If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend checking out at least one of these spots… or all of them… just sayin’.


Favorite place for breakfast

Tatte

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Photo taken from Tatte’s Instagram

If you are ever hungry- or not hungry but you just need something to keep your teeth company- this is the place for you. Not a bad choice can be made at Tatte that is for sure! My favorites are the pistachio cherry tart, any of their iced drinks, anything with avocado or a poached egg on top, or basically…anything. You CAN’T go wrong here. Also, the quaint café vibes in here are not to be missed. 

Favorite places for lunch

KAVA neo-taverna

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Photo taken from Kava neo-taverna’s Instagram 

When I first went to Kava neo-taverna I fell in love. Everything about this restaurant is so special, from the hand painted wall art and nautical, Greek decor to the incredible food and friendly staff. This restaurant is so adored by me and my family that one time, when in restaurant was so full, we sat outside despite it being winter. The zucchini chips, mousaka, keftedes, desserts are to die for. But, you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, so I just order one of everything. (You think I’m joking)

Pho Pasteur

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Located in Chinatown, Pho Pasteur is one classic Vietnamese restaurant that everyone must go to at least once. The food is super yummy and inexpensive, a perfect meal for when the Boston winds are forcing you indoors for a hot meal. Although the servers mean business, it’s a great, casual place to enjoy a meal before popping into one of Chinatown’s famous bubble tea places to top off. 

Favorite places for dinner

Trattoria Il Panino

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Photo taken from Trattoria Il Panino’s Instagram 

Being Italian gives me full authority to say that Trattoria Il Panino should not be missed in Boston’s North End. The restaurant has some of the best lasagna I have ever tasted and, if your stomach is up for it, some indulgent carbonara. Whether you are looking for a romantic date spot or a place to host a large birthday party, Il Panino fits the bill. You won’t be sorry when you ask for the dessert menu too. 

Barcelona Wine Bar

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Photo taken from Barcelona Wine Bar’s Instagram 

Barcelona Wine Bar is more than a restaurant, it’s an experience. The bar tenders and servers are some of the nicest I have ever encountered and are incredibly hospitable, willing to offer suggestions on their favorite wines on the list. If you end up going, you have to order a pitcher of their red or white sangria, which is a perfect share for two people. Some of my favorite menu items include the fried brussels sprouts with sherry and pickled onions, and patatas bravas, and hanger steak with truffle vinaigrette. Eating at Barcelona is like walking into a warm hug- you leave wanting another. 

Empire

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Photo taken from Empire’s Instagram

This Asian restaurant and lounge in Boston’s Seaport district is a go-to on a Friday night for sure. Empire has a wide selection of really delicious food in a luxurious atmosphere. Did I also mention they have great music? I had a surprise birthday party here and it was one of the best birthdays I can recall in recent times. The sushi is amazing and so is everything else on the menu.  

Favorite place for coffee

George Howell Coffee

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Photo taken from George Howell’s Instagram 

There are so many things that make George Howell unique. First, their coffee is some of the best in the city, with every coffee type available to order. Did you say an iced red eye with almond milk? Yeah, they have that. Coffee sangria? They have that too. The coffee shop is also connected to the beautiful The Godfrey Hotel, where you can sit and enjoy your coffee if the café gets too packed. With a delicious selection of food also on their menu, is there any reason to leave?

Favorite tourist destination

Boston Commons & the Public park

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If you are visiting Boston, you have to go to the Boston Commons and Public Park. Whether it be Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall, the Boston Commons is the perfect place to take in the changing foliage and fresh air. Strolling through the park is also a great way to cut across the city, while still taking in some great sights. Grab a croissant and a coffee and park yourself on a bench- the park is yours!

Favorite day-time outings

Ice skating on the Frog Pong

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Photo Courtesy of Boston Magazine

I don’t know if it is just me, but ice skating during the Fall and Winter months is just such a fun and exciting outdoor activity. It definitely get’s the adrenaline pumping for sure! Located inside of the Boston Commons, the ice skating on this rink is a great way to spend an afternoon without breaking the bank either.

Kayaking on the Charles

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Photo Courtesy of Boston Magazine

Kayaking on the Charles River is another seasonal activity in Boston that has to be taken advantage of. The Charles River separates Boston and Cambridge, and kayaking along the river provides excellent views of both cities. This activity is a great one to participate in with friends, so rally the troops and hit the water!

Favorite night-time outing

Bars and Bowling

When it comes to nightlife in Boston, there are tons of things to do, from seeing a movie to Late Nites at the MFA and everything in between. Some of my favorite nights in Boston, however, have been bar hopping and bowling- two activities that are especially fun for a date night or night out on the town with friends. 

Lucky Strike

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Photo taken from their website

In terms of bowling spots, Lucky Strike is the place to go! Located in an iconic landmark building in Fenway, Lucky Strike has a full arcade, bowling lanes, a restaurant, and a bar. It’s a one stop shop for fun!  

Earl’s, Citrus and Salt, Lolitas

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Photo taken from their Earl’s website 

There are so many fun bars in Boston to go to, so it was hard to narrow it down to just three. Earl’s , Citrus and Salt, and Lolitas are top of the list, however, because of their delicious menus, beautiful ambiance, and yummy drinks. Earl’s is especially one of my favorites because of its open-air rooftop! You can’t go wrong with any bar in Boston, but you especially cannot go wrong with stopping by these three!

Everyone can’t leave Boston without buying….

A ticket to a Red Sox, Celtics, or Bruins game. 

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If there is one thing that Boston can be prideful of it is their sports. I have been fortunate enough to attend a Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins game and I have never been disappointed. The fans are proud and heartwarming, the stadiums are well taken care of, and the odds of a Boston team winning are definitely in your favor. If you are looking for a true Boston experience, attending a sports game is the way to go! 

Pamela Mukiza on Boston Real Estate and Buying during COVID-19

To buy or not to buy, that is the question.

Although a native from Maine, Pamela Mukiza has been living in the Boston area for six years now, having gone to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and is now working for a local commercial real estate development firm in the heart of Boston. When Pamela is not working on complex projects or looking into her next real estate investment, she is listening to music, obsessing over new skincare products, and planning on what to purchase next for the new condo she shares with her sister Monia. It must be in the blood because Monia also works in real estate, however she focuses on marketing, pricing, selling, and consulting on the buyer’s side of real estate- the two complement one another professionally. 

Pamela and her sister just bought their first condo, a dream of the two since they first started saving up after college. There are many factors that contributed to Pamela purchasing her first place, one being the current record low interest rates for borrowing, which means that you are paying a lower interest percentage on your mortgage. Pamela also had enough money saved up for her to feel comfortable with taking the leap into ownership. Additionally, Pamela saw that there were new properties hitting the market in developing neighborhoods that she viewed as appreciating in value over time. 

“If you think about renting,” Pamela starts, “you are throwing your money away by not building any equity. When you buy a place, you are still paying a monthly payment, but you are building your equity in paying off your home slowly over time”. Pamela views real estate as being one of the most stable investments, especially real estate in Boston, which is typically always appreciating in value because of limited supply.

Pamela and Monia’s new Chelsea apartment (below)

Trends in Boston Real Estate

Some current trends that Pamela indicated to me are increased concessions in buildings for starters. Boston is such an academic city, yet, because it is not receiving as many undergraduate, graduate, PHD, and MBA students, many buildings are struggling with a surplus of empty apartments. As a result, buildings have started to give concessions, such as the first three months rent free, on their apartments to incentivize renters to move in. Rents have also dropped significantly in order to attract renters in the area. “People who might have previously been on the fence in terms of buying or renting a place of their own are now jumping on board,” Pamela states. 

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Pamela and Monia, decided to purchase a condo in the Waterfront community in Chelsea, MA, which used to be a historically lower income neighborhood in Boston. Pamela notes that this was the first place that her and her sister saw that they could envision their lives in. Having to make an appointment for a time slot to view the condo due to COVID-19 restrictions, when Pamela and her sister left the place they immediately put in an offer. Pamela mentions that walking the neighborhood really sealed the deal in terms of convincing them to invest. They could see that a lot of investments were being made in terms of upgrading the T-station and new buildings going up that made buying the condo a good future investment, as the area becomes more appealing to others overtime. “You know a neighborhood is on the cusp of major developments when a grocery store chain begins its build or a new or upgraded T-stop is underway” Pamela notes. The easy 15 minute commute to work also didn’t hurt.

Pamela’s Advice for Future Investors

  1. Considering moving now? Do it! If you’re confident in your financial situation and have the money saved, go for it! It seems crazy and intimidating, but it’s not. There is a lot of paperwork, insurance papers, and lawyers involved, but it’s not as intimidating as you’d think.
  2. Look into federal programs offered in your city or states for first time home buyers. There may be some beneficial incentives that you can take advantage of. 
  3. Evaluate your situation with public transportation or personal car usage in terms of your needs (i.e. street parking, private parking, etc.).
  4. Make a checklist in terms of what you are looking for (number of bedrooms, hardwood floors, etc.).
  5. Talk to the neighbors if you can. Pamela and Monia ended up running into their future upstairs neighbor and spoke with him during their condo walk through, making sure to ask him about the neighborhood and to get a sense for who lived in the building.
  6. Come at night and drive around the neighborhood so you can to see all aspects of your future surroundings.
  7. Check the demographics online to get a sense of who lives there and how far it is from local amenities, etc. 
  8. Do some research on the condo board, read the condo documents, and make sure you understand all the legalities and fees associated with the purchase of your unit, who is managing it etc. 
  9. If you are in one, read your lease before you renew it and take into account where you are going to be in the future. 

*Condo (HOA) fees depend on how much it takes to take care of and maintain the building and all of the shared amenity spaces. The condo board is elected by the people of the board, takes care of the shared services such as snow removal, a common pipe bursting, etc. They also takes care of shared amenities, establish condo rules etc. 

A Day in Kuwait City, Kuwait with Fay Al Bader

Ever wonder what it is like to live in Kuwait City, Kuwait? Good thing I know someone who does- my bestie Fay!

In my first post of this series, my dear friend Divya, who is originally from New Dehli, India, but has grown up in Nigeria shared her favorite places to go and things to do in a day in Lagos. Next up is my bestie Fay Al Bader. Through hearing Fay talk about Kuwait since we met, it has always been top on my list for places to visit. Fay is my very first- and by no means last- Middle Eastern friend. In knowing Fay, I learned all about the Muslim faith, tasted Arabic coffee for the first time, and introduced more than one Arabic word into my vocabulary (habibi being a personal favorite). Fay’s enthusiasm for the Middle East even motivated me to participate in my college’s Dubai Elective Abroad program, where I traveled to The United Arab Emirates for ten days over Thanksgiving break. Without Fay, there are so many things that would be unknown to me, one of the many reasons that I cherish our relationship and am honored to call her one of my closest friends. Fay was kind enough to “virtually” show us around her home city, so without further ado, Fay take it away!


Kuwait… The Pearl of the Gulf… A land that I am honored to call my home. If anyone has been to Kuwait or met anyone from here, they will undoubtedly know how much love its people have for their country. It may be small to those looking at it from the outside, but to me it is my world and it will always be the most beautiful place in my eyes. One of the things I admire the most about Kuwait is that you still find a deep sense of culture and traditions embedded in many aspects of our daily lives and within many homes, which is something I believe is very rare to find in other parts of the world in our present day. Regardless of how far we progress and embrace change, you will always find Kuwaiti families that are determined to keep our culture alive and to stay loyal to our traditions, traditions that our late grandfathers and grandmothers have instilled in all of us. 

I can go on and on about why I have such a deep love for Kuwait, from its unique culture, its phenomenal food to its hospitable people but I will leave it at that. I hope everyone gets the chance to visit my beautiful country and experience all that I have with your own eyes. I sure do love every bit of it, down to the last grain of its fine sand.

Favorite place for breakfast

Madison & Heig

Photos taken from Madison & Heig’s Instagram 

They have a lovely selection of dishes, freshly baked pastries and drinks that always uphold to a high level of quality. Their staff and service are excellent. The place also has a great vibe and is decorated with such simple but beautiful elements. It also has floor to ceiling windows so it brings in so much sunlight (which I love to see especially in the morning) and you can see the waterfront because it is located on one of Kuwait’s main roads, the Arabiain Gulf Road, which overlooks the ocean.

Favorite places for lunch

Habra

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Photo taken from Habra’s Instagram 

The Peacock

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Photo taken from the following website

Aside from the fact that both these places have delicious food, they also hold so many memories. I often go to both these restaurants with my family and we always order the same dishes, if not more food every time we go. One is more fancy than the other but they both have the friendless staff and maintain an exceptionally high level of quality. Both are also family friendly which I love.

Favorite places for dinner

White Robata

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Photo taken from White Robata’s Instagram

Both these places have exquisite food that is prepared so well. I also like that you find a combination of young couples, families and group of friends at all times so it is nice to be around. In addition, they are not too loud which I really appreciate because I don’t like being in a place with music so loud that you have to constantly scream. Again the staff is extremely friendly and attentive to detail.

Ora

Photos taken from Ora’s Instagram

White Robata in particular is located in Jaber Al Ahmed Cultural Center (a.k.a JACC), which is one of the newer complexes that houses multiple restaurants and a beautiful Opera House which hosts many concerts throughout the year. Moreover, the restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating areas and in the winter, I enjoy sitting outside because it overlooks the dancing fountain, which always plays many national and/or famous songs that everyone always enjoys. It is so heartwarming to watch  families and friends gather around the fountain and enjoy the beautiful show, especially the young children who end up singing and dancing along.

Favorite place for coffee

Toby’s Estate

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Photo taken from Toby’s Estate’s Instagram 

I would say this is my favorite coffee place for multiple reasons. For starters, their selection of coffee and pastries are great. There are also multiple branches that are conveniently located around Kuwait so you can easily find one to stop by. Each branch is uniquely decorated and has so much open space. Again, you always find a mix of younger couples, families and friends, which isn’t the case with many of the other coffee shops. I particularly enjoy this because I feel more comfortable around this mix as opposed to just younger group of friends.

Favorite tourist destinations

Shaheed Park

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Photo taken from Shaheed Park’s Instagram

It is dedicated to all the martyrs who lose their lives within the Iraqi Invasion (1990-1991). The park has multiple phases, one of which is still under construction, and includes a few restaurants, tracks for running & walking, an atrium-like stadium (which hosts multiple concerts) and last but not least, a wall that displays the names and pictures of all the martyrs. 

Souk Al Mubarakiya (The Old Souk)

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Photo taken from the Souk’s Instagram 

This is probably the place that encompasses the greatest amount of Kuwaiti culture, which I found is the most beautiful part about it. You can find everything from traditional clothing, food, sweets, jewelery and so much more as you roam around this historical landmark. More importantly, this place embodies so much of Kuwait’s history of Kuwait and will definitely find a few stores that have been there since Al Mubarkiya was built, many passed multiple generations.

Favorite day-time outing

Either going to a mall or going out for coffee

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Photo taken from Toby’s Estate’s Instagram 

I like going to a mall for family lunch or to do some random shopping. I prefer going in the morning at times just to avoid heavy crowds but sometime I like being around a lot of people because it feels lively. I also like going out for coffee during the day with my family or friends because it is always very natural and chill and you get to sit down for a while and get to enjoy each other’s company after a long and tiring week.

Favorite night time outing

Movie

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Photo from the Cinescape Kuwait Instagram 

There is something about getting a warm bucket of popcorn and a side of nachos to share and enjoy with family and friends that is so comforting to me. It was also a tradition for my family and I to go out and enjoy a movie together every Friday night so I hope it is something we start doing again. Whether it a comedy or a thriller, I will always prefer going to a movie at night then getting dressed up for another dinner.

Everyone can’t leave Kuwait without buying….

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bakhoor, a dara’a, and local sweets 

Each and every one of these represents local culture and something special to Kuwait. You can find these items in essentially all other Gulf countries but they will also have distinct variations that are unique to every country.

Bakhoor – Essence

Dara’a – a local piece of clothing that is typically worn with Ramadan and family gatherings. They range from very casual, light designs to beautiful and lavish pieces that take your breath away with the amount of detail it holds.

Local sweets – first of all they are delicious and you never seem to have enough. Second of all, they contain local ingredients and are made from recipes that have been passed down from generations of families. (Of course every family makes it differently and has their own touch, which I love).

CEO Sit Down: Jack Flynn on Pure World

Pure World: Promoting adventure through sustainably sourced products.

Jack Flynn is someone who sees opportunity in everything. That’s why when Jack saw a hemp backpack for the first time, he knew that he had to share them with the world- through Pure World. Pure World is a company that sells sustainable backpacks that embody adventure, eco-friendliness, and social responsibility. A start-up founded in college, Pure World is now a fully operating company, sending backpacks to adventurers around the globe. Read all about Jack and his Pure World adventure below!


Jack! Tell us about you!

Hi Ursula, thanks for having me! So I grew up in Attleboro, Massachusetts and went to public school there my entire life. I played lots of sports, took music lessons and studied hard enough to be accepted into Babson College – a school ranked #1 in the nation for entrepreneurship. I chose business school because I believe that it’s the quickest and easiest way to make a meaningful impact on the world.

What was the inspiration behind starting your company Pure World?

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I always knew that I wanted to start a company with the minimum requirement that it’d be inherently sustainable. During your freshman year at Babson College, every student is required to start a business. My 14 person team had students from ALL over the world and one of our teammates was from Nepal. She had brought a hemp backpack to school that she had purchased from a street vendor in Kathmandu and our team absolutely fell in love with it. She asked her father to meet with the backpack vendor and to organize a bulk order and the rest is history!

Well that’s at least the story about how we were introduced to our backpacks… but my mantra for Pure World is that it is more than just a backpack company. I had the opportunity to travel and explore the outdoors a lot as a kid and that part of me really came to life when I saw that first Himalayan hemp backpack. Those backpacks belong in the great outdoors. I imagined all of the incredible adventures that our customers would take them on. In my opinion, sustainability is ingrained in our DNA, whereas adventure and free-spiritedness is our true personality.

What makes Pure World products unique and different from other products on the market?

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Pure World Backpacks embody sustainable fashion! The organic hemp that we use is local and abundant in Nepal. It requires a fraction of the amount of water that cotton requires and none of the pesticides. Not to mention hemp fibers are extremely versatile and durable too! Apart from the environmentally friendly aspect of our bags, they’re also socially sustainable. Our manufacturer really emphasizes social responsibility! They pay their employees well over the minimum wage and offer many care programs such as educational scholarships, personal finance classes, and health care clinics. I really believe that we sell the BEST hemp backpacks on the market.

 What has been the most interesting part of starting this company?

Our goal is to create a community of people who are passionate about sustainability and adventure. It has been an incredible experience to see the type of people who are attracted to our bags. They are people who care about the environment and want to cherish it and explore it in a respectful way. They are friendly and awesome! We are excited to build a platform that can support them. Something that helps them share ideas and meet new like-minded people.

What has been the biggest challenge in starting Pure World? Are there any stories that stick out to you?

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To me, the challenges are always the most interesting part! My first challenge was finding a replacement for our original manufacturer. Back in 2017, our bags were cool but their quality was just not quite where we wanted them to be. So after wiring money to half a dozen Nepalese manufacturers and receiving a ton of samples, we chose the manufacturer with the highest quality products and who offered the most employee support programs.

Secondly, facilitating community development has been a challenge. We spent a lot of time building a platform that allows travelers to document experiences as well as access a crowd-sourced database of other unique recommendations for off-the-beaten-path experiences. Unfortunately, servers and software development is expensive. Once our platform is robust enough to support users we are considering offering an access code with each of our Pure World Backpacks.

What does the future of Pure World look like? Do you have any goals or milestones you would like to achieve?

We are always moving forward! Right now we are looking to develop a carbon offset program. This would essentially mean that for every backpack purchased, Pure World would invest in carbon capture technology that would offset all of the carbon emissions associated with shipping and manufacturing the bag. Ideally, we could even take it a step further. Imagine the tagline “For every backpack purchased, we eliminate twice the amount of carbon created”.

Last question, favorite Pure World item?

We sold this one backpack called Purple Moose a while back. I took that bag with me on the most daring adventure of my life: a 10,000 KM solo backpacking trip from Paris to Bangkok. But it was never the specific style that made it special. It was special to me because of memories that I made with it.

A Day in Lagos, Nigeria with Divya Ramchandani

Ever wonder what it is like to live in Lagos, Nigeria? Good thing I know someone who does- my good friend Divya!

One of my favorite aspects of college was getting to know people from all over the world. I have spent hours picking my friend’s brains about anything and everything, from what local dishes are their favorite to what subjects they learned in primary school. Those I meet provide a window into new places and lifestyles that I might not know much about. These individuals have helped me understand that the world is so vast and that there is so much to learn, experience, and uncover. Despite this awareness being overwhelming to many, it excites me, as future possibilities seem so great. I hope to visit all of my friends in their native countries at some point, in the meantime I have recruited some of them to offer their insights on the places they love the most. First is my dear friend Divya, who is originally from New Dehli, India, but has grown up in Lagos, Nigeria. Divya has incredible insights on economics, international business, and vegan baking, but today I have enlisted her to share about her life in Lagos.


When Ursula asked me what it feels like to live in Lagos, it was hard to explain the emotion. I have lived here all my life and yet sometimes feels like I’m new here. There’s constant changes happening around the city, but the core and feel of being home in Lagos remains the same. The hustle and frustrations of the city comes in direct comparison with the amazing food and never ending adventures. No matter where I go, I always end up missing Lagos and all of its beaches, and it’ll always be home.

Favorite place for breakfast

Flowershop Cafe

Photo taken from the Flowershop Cafe’s Instagram 

A relatively newer addition to Lagos’ every busy food scene. They have a good mix of international breakfast options along with some local delicacies, that is sure to satisfy everyone’s cravings. The fresh roses and plants spread across the store is an added plus that’s impossible to miss!

Favorite place for lunch

La Veranda

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Photo taken from La Veranda’s Instagram

Hands down some of the best Italian food I’ve ever tasted in my life. Their gnocchi is a regular in my dreams and worth every carb. La Veranda has been around for about 10 years now and continues to have a loyal customer base with some of the best Italian food in Lagos.

Favorite place for dinner

Salma’s Lebanese Cuisine

Photos taken from Salma’s Instagram

Located by the water, Salma’s has some of the best mediterranean food in the city with a beautiful ambiance. Their falafels and kebabs were definitely something I craved the most when I was away from home. End your meal with an authentic coffee and rose ice cream that will keep you satisfied for days!

Favorite place for coffee

Jazzhole

Photos taken from Jazzhole’s Instagram

It’s a small cafe/book store/music record store that’s been around for years and you can pretty much find any book that you name here. The first time I was here, I spent over an hour walking around, taking the store in. For me, Jazzhole is the definition of calm amidst the chaos and the coffee and delicious cakes is just the cherry on top!

Favorite spot tourist hot spot

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Lagos is known for its beaches, and you really could not go wrong with any of the beaches here. My favorite is a beach about 30 minutes away by boat that keeps you away from the hustle of the city with the fresh breeze and strong water currents that leave you wanting for more. Cool yourself down with some fresh coconut water and Atlantic ocean waves to complete the day. 

Favorite day-time outing

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The constant heat and humidity makes it impossible to be out under the sun for extended periods, but there are several cafes and bars that combine the best of both worlds and are always packed on the weekends during the day. One such place is Moist Beach Club that provides a wide variety of food, drinks, seating options and quick access to the beach. Easily one of the favorites of the millennial crowd in Lagos and for good reason, Moist is always bustling on the weekdays and their Sunday sundowners provide the best excuse for a break before starting the work week.

Favorite local shops

Lekki Arts and Craft Market

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The home to a wide array of local paintings, sculptures, furniture and everything you can imagine in between showcasing the diversity of expression and cultures from all over Nigeria. It’s a must visit for anyone looking to indulge in local artifacts at a fraction of the price as compared to the mainstream city boutiques!

Favorite night time outing

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Take from the W Bar Instagram 

Lagos is home to several fun bars and lounges that make the most of the coastal city’s open and fresh breeze and are always packed starting Thursday evenings. W bar is a new favorite amongst the younger generation so be ready to wait for some time before you can get some space to sit or your drinks.

Everyone can’t leave Lagos with buying…

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Everyone can’t leave Lagos without buying some local artifacts, which could be as simple as some precious beaded necklaces or a local small sculpture. For food enthusiasts, suya powder is a must which is a peanut and chilli powder that could be used over pretty much any meat or vegetables and adds a yum spicy tang, it’s definitely something I’ve always taken with me when I was away!

A Semester at Sea with Justin Williamson

Have you ever thought that a semester at sea was right for you? Read all about Justin’s experience to find out!

Although studying abroad is not at the front of any student’s mind right now, it really should be! Planning your academic career around your study abroad experience is critical in making sure you graduate on time and taking the classes you need to. My good friend Justin is one of those people who definitely benefitted from looking ahead, packing in two semesters abroad during his time in college. One of them was Babson’s BRIC program, which I also participated in, and the other was the Semester at Sea program. Justin notes that his semester at sea was a unique and unforgettable experience that he hopes others will consider too. If you think you might be interested or want to know what the program is all about, this will be worth the read!


 

Justin grew up in Los Angeles, California and was heavily involved in the local Jewish community, which he credits to instilling in him a curiosity about the world and teaching him how to ask questions. Justin brought his passion for learning to Babson, where he attended business school. In high school, Justin focused on associating with a close circle of friends, however, at Babson things changed dramatically. Justin realized the value of forming relationships with people distinctly different from himself. Babson College is ranked by Forbes as the number one college for international students and is home to an international student population that makes up 26% of the undergraduate student body, making it the perfect place to meet people from across the globe. When Justin formed friendships with those from different backgrounds, his perspective on life and the world around him grew exponentially. 

Like myself, Justin went on Babson’s BRIC Program his junior year, which only expanded his mind further, as he lived and traveled to Russia, India, and China over the course of three months. Despite having lived in Israel for a summer and having traveled extensively with his family, Justin found that his experience on BRIC was different. On BRIC he was able to learn more in-depth about the cultures that surrounded him through embedded excursions and personal exploration. To him, the classroom was coming alive. From this experience, Justin knew that he wanted to continue to learn while he traveled. He valued the experience of learning about a topic and then going to experience it for himself, which inspired him to apply and participate in the Semester At Sea study abroad program his first semester senior year. Semester At Sea is a study abroad experience where a cohort of students from across the globe study and travel on a ship over the course of one semester. With some extra advanced placement credits from high school, Justin was able to squeeze this extra semester of study abroad into his college curriculum- and it was well worth it. 

While on Semester At Sea, Justin visited the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Morocco, Ghana, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, Ecuador, and Costa Rica over the course of his semester. Although this might seem intimidating to many, Justin had no apprehensions about this next adventure and was excited to see what this new opportunity had in store for him. When reflecting on his experience, however, Justin highlighted the importance of taking the time to process all of the incredible experiences that he had during his travels. “You are having so many unique experiences that are so different from one another, if you don’t take the time to deconstruct what you did, you miss the opportunity to learn and grow” Justin mentions as a take away. “When on Semester At Sea, you have to take the time yourself to turn experiences into learning experiences” and, as a result, Justin kept a journal to document every day spent on and off the ship. 

Justin’s notes that his favorite part of this unique study abroad experience was living on the ship. Surrounded by water for days at a time and with no distractions, Justin highlights that you are able to forge deep and meaningful relationships with the people around you, whether it be with peers or professors. Through this, Justin was able to create strong friendships and global understandings.

A typical day at sea for Justin consisted of waking up, having breakfast, taking classes, eating lunch, and then attending more classes. In the evening, Justin had time to complete his assignments and hang out with friends before having dinner and then attending a speaker series that Semester At Sea sponsored nightly. The speaker’s topic ranged based on the upcoming country that the ship would be docking at. For example, Justin notes attending a talk on the history of the Panama Canal shortly before the ship traveled down the canal itself. On land, when the ship had docked, students took part in a field experience based on what they learned in the classroom. When they were not having a field experience, students were free to roam about the country and explore for themselves. Justin notes his trip to Ecuador being one of his favorites, as he stayed with his Semester At Sea friends at an Ecuadorian host family’s house, living like a true local. 

Overall, Justin’s Semester At Sea experience helped him to understand that people from other cultures have a distinct way of viewing the world and there is a reason for that, being in the way that they live, their political system, their culture- you name it. In experiencing the people and their respective country first hand, Justin was allowed to relate and connect with people in a new way. “The experience as a whole has made me want to experience the globe even more, making me eager to travel and work with people who are from different countries. There is no doubt that you grow more when you are around people different other than yourself” Justin says. 

What is some advice Justin would give to someone who is also interested in Semester At Sea?

Justin suggests that you ask yourself: are you willing to embrace the unknown? And what is your tolerance for uncertainty? There is so much out of a Semester At Sea student’s control that you have to be open minded and willing to challenge your perceptions and beliefs. Justin also mentions that if you prioritize experiential learning, Semester At Sea might be perfect for you. What Justin learned in terms of life skills and experience during this semester abroad is more than he could have ever achieved in the classroom. The most impactful statement Justin made during our conversation was the fact that “Semester At Sea is so unique because, despite such uncertainty and discomfort that can come with travel, you are able to take that step out of your comfort zone because you know you are only a few days away from returning to comfort back on the ship. That is what helps students learn and grow in ways they would have never imagined.” If you ask me, that is a deep dive worth taking.