What I Learned From Being a Volunteer Tourist Abroad

**SPOILER ALERT: THIS IS AN OPINION / LONG READ ARTICLE **

After having worked in the volunteer tourism industry in Ecuador and Cambodia, I realized that if I really wanted to make a meaningful difference, I should be writing about volunteer tourism and researching the phenomenon rather than to do the actual volunteer work. So I started to conduct research on the phenomenon in Cuba. For now, my own research is done (and compiled in some articles and a Masters’ thesis), but for some the research continues…

Recently I got contact by Julia Rommel, a student at ‘iba’ Internationale Berufsakademie Köln in Germany. She is currently conducting research for her own thesis on “Volunteer-Tourism as a form of travel in context of development cooperation – a critical analysis of assorted characteristics, development possibilities and effects of the view of the various involved participants”. She asked me if she could interview me about my own personal experiences. It turned out to be a very meaningful reflection for myself again, and I realize I should keep sharing what I have learned from volunteering abroad. 

So here’s to all who consider to volunteer abroad. Julia and I wanted to share the interview online so that we could raise awareness and open a public discussion. 

Continue reading if you want to know: 

  • How the involvement in the projects can be envisioned locally on the spot.
  • What exactly I did in Ecuador and Cambodia
  • Which impact volunteering abroad had on my personal life 
  • How I finance my trips abroad
  • What I think is the best way to organize a volunteer trip
  • How I really think about volunteer tourism

Please share your comments after reading. We love to hear from you and who knows… it can help Julia to collect more research data for her thesis!

1. What do you personally find fascinating about travelling?

I love to travel because it allows me to see different parts of the world and de-familiarize my own culture, habits, world views and so on. You can meet new people, discover new places, eat different foods, see other types of architectures and religions, and so on. Traveling is part of my personal development because it turns you into a different person after: in my case, traveling has made me feel more open-minded, conscious, knowledgeable, confident, adventurous, flexible, social, assertive and open towards a multi-cultural society.

Travel far enough, you meet yourself.

David Mitchell

I feel also that travel gave me more understanding of life outside my own bubble (village), but also about political and religious issues, such as climate change, female circumcision, prostitution and illiteracy. By experiencing things first-hand or witnessing situations you often learn a lot more than from reading it in books or hearing about it on tv or in the university. Simultaneously, you get to know yourself better because you obviously start to question your own life, conditions and ways of seeing or thinking. This is why I like traveling so much. 

Moreover, I love photography and writing so I love traveling because it is beautiful to go somewhere for photographic reasons or to write about places for my travel blog. On top of that, traveling allows you to learn languages and practices your language skills better than any course can do. I have learned basic Spanish at school, but it was only by studying in Spain, doing my internship in Ecuador, conducting research in Cuba and working in Mallorca that I could become so fluent in it.

Lastly, because travel is so adventurous and challenging at times, it gives you an adrenaline rush. Therefore, I would say that travel becomes an addiction. You always want to see more places, travel more often, do it again and again. For me, it is very hard to settle in a small Belgian village now that I have travelled to so many places and lived abroad for so many times and so long. I am so used to having stories to tell, to get inspired by the things I encounter along the way. I just love it!

2. Where do you currently work and live?

I currently live in Palma de Mallorca where I work for Thomas Cook in Destination Management. This is a temporary contract for the Summer Season from March until October. I chose this job because I wanted to live on a Spanish island in the sun under good working conditions (apartment, salary, insurance, …) but I am not sure yet if I will want to or can stay in the company. I am thinking of going on a Working Holiday Visa (WHV) to Australia before I get 30 (I’m 27 now) so that I can travel while working in Oceania as well, but the plan is not concretized yet.

3. How do you define „Volunteer Tourism“?

For me, volunteer tourism is the travel that includes some activities of volunteering. Ideally, it should represent a balance between a holiday (tourism) and volunteering (work), but often this is not the case. Usually, it tends to focus more on the touristic part of the trip. We must not forget that tourism is an economy (providing a product or service in return for money), whereas volunteering is usually associated with altruism (doing something good without expecting something in return for it). My thesis deals with the contradiction between profit-seeking activities and charitable generosity. Nowadays, any kind of touristic activity that includes volunteerism can be considered volunteer tourism.

For a detailed conceptualization of the term ‘volunteer tourism’ I refer to chapter 2.1 in my Master’s thesis (p.22) ‘Why Don’t You Give Me Some Love – An anthropological examination of the intimate relationship between volunteer tourism and jineterismo in Cuba’ and a paper I wrote ‘PLEASE MIND THE GAP! (In-) Consistency in Gap Year Volunteer Tourism’.  

4. From March until June and from June until August 2014 you worked as a project coordinator and group leader for volunteers in Cambodia and Ecuador. How can I envision the involvement in the projects locally on the spot?

What exactly did you do there? Were the projects comparable? Do they have something to do with Volunteer Tourism? Tell me about your experiences and about the volunteers that had applied for the voluntary work.

Yes, indeed. I worked in Ecuador and Cambodia as a volunteer group leader for a gap year company in the UK in 2014. I also participated in a volunteer brigade in Cuba for my Master’s thesis research in 2016.

Ecuador

I worked for the Yanapuma Foundation in Ecuador. This is a grassroots, self-sustaining NGO in Ecuador that works with a number of rural, indigenous and marginalized communities on sustainable development projects in the areas of health, education and agriculture. As part of its long-term goals to assist local communities adapt to an increasingly globalised world while promoting and preserving their culture, Yanapuma provides economic, material and human resources so that they may partake in social development projects within their communities.

An important aspect of my work at Yanapuma Foundation was the provision of international volunteers for both short and long-term periods (from one week to six months) to assist these communities with their goals. The NGO receive groups of volunteers from The Leap Gap Years Overseas between 18-22 years old from gap year programs several times per year, particularly for 6 to 10-week programs.

My responsibilities were to maintain in contact with the volunteer coordinator at the office to organize logistics and plan the project prior to their arrival. I had to receive the group upon arrival and be their leader through most of their time with Yanapuma in Ecuador. This included traveling with the group and living with them on site to participate in their project work and coordinate accommodation, food, and extra activities. I was serving as the principal English/Spanish translator between the group and local project coordinators. I also managed money for group expenses such as bus tickets and I made expense reports at the end of each phase. I was the point-of-contact between the group and the Yanapuma office in case of problems or concerns, and I was overseeing the health and wellbeing of the group, during their time with Yanapuma and react in case of emergency. I provided weekly updates describing group activities and/or any health issues.

As a Volunteer Group Leader I had to motivate, manage and lead these groups in different locations around Ecuador. Locations included Quito, Otavalo, indigenous communities, Baños, Quilotoa, and Riobamba. The programs included a mix of community volunteering and tourism. As a group leader, I lived with the group. In the indigenous communities, everyone lived in volunteer cabins, and while in Quito and traveling to other destinations we stayed in hostels.

Chilcapamba

Cambodia

In Cambodia, I was contracted by Indochina Adventures, Co. Ltd., a tour operator based in Siem Reap since 1999. I worked for them as a Volunteer Group Leader for similar volunteer groups as in Ecuador sent by The Leap Gap Years Overseas. Indochina Adventures is, in contrary to Yanapuma Foundation, not an NGO. It is a commercial tour operator specialized in cycling and trekking, but the company also offers bird watching, photography tours and volunteer programs.

Indochina Adventures is a local travel company that actively participates in country development and helps the Cambodian community as it strongly believes that local people are the people who should get the most income from tourism. The founders recommend tourists to sleep in home stays, to eat delicious local food such as Amok, to support the floating school at Tonle Sap lake by providing school kits, and so on. Indochina Adventures strongly believes that poor schoolchildren with better education will have a better future. In addition, it supports some of the NGOs to help the kids with HIV/AIDS, it also support the Trailblazer Foundation to provide water filter for ‘the poorfamilies’ (quoted from their website). 

Comparison – Difference in Projects

My job role in Cambodia was similar to that in Ecuador. The difference is probably most in the nature of the projects. Hereby a list of the various project I worked on:

Ecuador – Chilcapamba

The Chilcapamba Community is located near Otavalo in the Andes, two hours north of Quito. The region is a center of indigenous culture in Ecuador and continues today the production of world-renowned handicrafts. Many indigenous communities in the area still face economic hardship and erosion of their culture. The community of Chilcapamba is working hard to preserve their language and identity, whilst still participating in modern Ecuadorian life through education and the development of sustainable industries. There are approximately 100 families in the community and they are currently undertaking a range of projects in the areas of education, development, sustainable agriculture and the preservation of indigenous culture. 

In the mornings we were helping with a variety of projects. Activities included digging irrigation ditches, clearing rocks and planting trees. Volunteers also cleared weeds near future garden sites, helped to maintain existing gardens, worked on construction in the community centre or helped out in the local school. In the afternoons, volunteers had group Spanish classes for 2 hours in the community.

Ecuador – Tsachila Community

In the lowland jungle there was another volunteer project with the Tsachila community. Here we did a number of cultural activities and got to know the community. The volunteers have participated in expanding the cultural centre and the cacao cooperative. They have helped to reforest the area, maintained the botanical gardens and constructed additional tourist cabins and classrooms for the local school. 

Projects included planting hundreds of cocoa plants (3 days a week) and constructing small plant nurseries for a number of the families (the other 2 days of the week) so that they could easily care for the crops that they grow from the beginning. Volunteers also had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Tsachila culture with afternoon activities such as making artisan crafts, painting your hair bright red with achiote paste and learning how to play Marimba (typical instrument).

Ecuador – Hacienda Tranquila

In the Galapagos Islands, I took the volunteers to Hacienda Tranquila. The Hacienda is located in the highlands of the island, on a 50-hectare site, where there is still native vegetation. The main objective of the project was to develop the technology to reconstruct native habitat in the highlands on San Cristobal, and to serve as a centre for similar projects in the highlands of other populated islands in the Galapagos chain. We worked to reverse the negative effects of invasive or introduced species, restoring the native and endemic forests of San Cristobal. This means much of your time was spent cutting down invasive species such as blackberry bushes and in turn planting tree species native to the islands. Afternoons were spent working in the organic garden: watering plants, weeding, and caring for the baby plants in the nursery.

On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, special needs children from the community came to the Hacienda and the volunteers assisted them in a form of therapy in which the children ride horses. Finally, volunteers took care of the animals on the hacienda which include cows and chickens. 

Cambodia – Water Project

Despite its beautiful exterior, Siem Reap is one of the poorest regions in Cambodia, a town the difference between rich and poor is stark. The illegal slum settlements which perch on the polluted riverside are a stones throw from luxurious 5* hotels with their turquoise swimming pools and overflowing breakfast buffets. Communities of displaced people, army families, victims of landmines and sex-workers live in deep poverty with little access to education or basic amenities – tucked out of sight of the cities’ affluent tourists. It is estimated that only half the population have access to clean water and less than a quarter have access to a toilet. With the volunteers’ help, Indochina Adventures aimed to build functioning wells and flushing toilets to service these communities and, in the process, help to restore health and dignity to people too often overlooked by the authorities. 

The mornings were spent with a team of local construction workers, digging, mixing cement, helping to lay pipes and installing water pump kits.

Cambodia – Orphanage Project

In the afternoons volunteers joined forces with the Cambodia Development Organisation (CDO) who provide a home for orphaned and poor children. Founded by a local Cambodian in 2006 CDO provides children at risk with vital shelter, protection, food and education for people who need it most. The centre is situated 7km East of Siem Reap and comprises basic accommodation, classrooms, performance spaces and outside play areas for 30-40 children at a time. Volunteers assisted the centre with improvements to the buildings, interact with, feed and teach kids English whilst supporting CDO financially through the donation Indochina Adventures made on their behalf. 

Cambodia – Eco-Agriculture Project

Another morning project included the immersion in a rural farming community in Samrong village near Siem Reap, where subsistence rice farmers still live in wooden houses on stilts and children catch fish with simple wooden rods. Like many small, traditional agricultural communities the people of Samrong were, until recently, entirely dependent on the rice harvest for their livelihoods. The grain forms the basis of their diet and any additional rice left over after the community have used their share is sold for a small profit to purchase other foods, pay for education and health care. 

However, unpredictable weather conditions and the fluctuating value of rice on the market has left them vulnerable. Now with the help of local NGOs the village is working hard to diversify into other areas to have a more stable income and range of crops, increase their farming areas and productivity and have even built a communal rice store to make their harvest go further. Volunteers assisted the community with harvesting, infrastructure projects and a variety of income generating schemes, such as basket weaving and making incense sticks.

Cambodia – Teaching English

In the afternoons, volunteers worked with school children at a local school in Siem Reap while teaching English, which focused on education as a means of breaking the poverty cycle in the area. The school provided social care and aimed to improve access to education for around 1,500 disadvantaged children and young adults in their area and have a variety of incredible community projects that volunteers can get involved with. From sports coaching to painting or construction, helping out in organic farms or delivering English lessons – volunteers supported the work of the school and got to know the incredible young people they work with.

Cambodia – Children’s Painting Project ‘Let Us Create’

Let Us Create (LUC) is a day centre that provides nutritional food, clean drinking water, educational enrichment, and a creative outlet for over 100 registered children in Sihanoukville. This community group of children comes from very poor backgrounds, and many of them scavenge through garbage bins or sell souvenirs to tourists on the beach to help support their family. These identified children come to the LUC centre every day between the hours of 7:00am and 7:00pm, where they are provided breakfast, and lunch, and have the opportunity to attend educational enrichment classes. 

The project aims to provide a safe environment where the children can learn, play, be creative, challenge themselves, have fun and grow into happy, healthy young adults. In addition, LUC hopes to give them the skills and opportunities they need to become confident about and prepared for the future whilst having the tools to make educated decisions. Here, the volunteers assisted in the daily tasks of the staff members at LUC: cooking, teaching, playing, cleaning, painting, dancing and so on.

Cambodia – Elephant Valley Project (EVP)

Here I was working alongside local mahouts (elephant keepers) the volunteers were taking care at Elephant Valley Project for the rescued elephants, some of which have been abused or cruelly maimed by landmines. They spent many, magical sun-drenched hours escorting the elephants on its ambling adventures as it roamed free through jungle and grasslands, washing troubles away in the river and simply observing the largest mammal on Earth at incredible close-quarters in the wildest reaches of South East Asia.

Link between volunteering and tourism

During the weekends and between the phases of their volunteer trip, the volunteers could go on day trips or overnight trips to touristic places in the areas where they stayed. Sometimes, there were even ‘Adventurous Weeks’, ‘Island Trips’ or ‘Rutas del Sol’ included, for example. For the volunteers, the volunteer program was a way to stay longer in the country and to get a more in-depth immersion into the local culture, as compared to a usually shorter roundtrip or backpacking trip through Latin America or Southeast Asia. Moreover, it was a way for the them to make their travel not only beneficial to themselves, but also to the local communities they visited along the way.

My experience with the volunteer projects

When I started as a group leader in Ecuador, I had no experience in volunteering abroad. I was enthusiast and I really enjoyed the work. Each project had its own unique character and contribution to sustainable development. The projects seemed to be carefully selected by the local NGO which had a good reputation since many years in this sector. Of course, the volunteers were very young and not always as interested or motivated in the volunteer work itself, but with extra effort from our team we were able to lead them through the various phases of their program: despite them feeling homesick, sick, unmotivated or more interested in exploring the country or having a good party. 

When I later moved to Cambodia, I started to look different at things. The projects did not seem to be that well selected, I had the impression that the volunteer program was operated by a business rather than a community-based organization because the owner was a rich business man with many connections in the country. The owner let me stay in his boutique hotel for the whole Summer, where I was treated as a princess, which did not feel right to me. I felt that the volunteer business was for him part of a philanthropic effort while still making money out of it. Think of the Gates Foundation… There’s no such thing as a free gift. I started to learn slowly but steadily what volunteer tourism was about. The children in the orphanages seemed to be coming and going to the center whenever they wanted. I had to hand over hundreds of dollars to the school and orphanage directors without ever needing to ask what was happening with this money. The wife of my boss gave a television as her own birthday present to the school. There were no requirements for volunteers regarding minimum stay or teaching experience when going to teach in schools. The schools did not follow any learning plans (and neither did we offer to implement this) so the volunteers kept repeating the same basic stuff, and so on. 

I think I started to understand what was really going on (and what was really going wrong) when we were working on the water pump wells in Cambodia. While driving through the villages, I could see that many existing wells were broken or not operative. We drove further until we reached a village where there were no wells built yet. The plan was, according to my boss, to provide all villages with wells until everyone had water. It sounded great, but when I asked why we did not go to fix the broken ones or teach the village people how to use them better or how to repair them their selves, he said that was not in his business interest. Moreover, volunteers wanted to see instant result and he felt pressure to keep them happy with what they were doing. They needed to feel like they were making a difference. Here is when I realized that volunteer tourism is really a business which is not sustainable, and still mostly oriented towards the creation of profit for the volunteers and the organizers of it, rather than for the orphans, school children or village people.

Volunteer tourism is not a sustainable business.

– Julie Rausenberger

I decided not to continue my position after that contract (even though they offered to extend it) and I returned back to Belgium to start my Masters’ degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Leuven, where I wanted to research intimacy and the concept of gift-giving within the context of volunteer tourism, this time in Cuba. I never regret this decision to quit my job in the volunteer tourism industry because the volunteer program in Cambodia has been operating the same way it was since 2014, despite my constructive critique towards the company to be more careful in the selection of volunteer projects and their long-term implementation. 

My experience with the volunteers 

I worked with volunteer tourists from the United Kingdom who were mostly between 18-22 years old and who were currently on a gap year before starting their higher studies at the university. Most of them were dividing their year off between a few months of student work in the United Kingdom and traveling abroad to explore the world. The volunteers did the latter rather in organized and controlled ways because of different reasons: they felt too insecure to travel to far-away continents on their own, or were too unexperienced to go on a backpacking adventure on their own, or they did not have a travel mate, or they were not allowed by their parents to travel alone, or they did not know where to start, or they wanted to contribute to the world while traveling and volunteering, or they wanted to have a unique travel experience, or they were looking for a way to stay longer in one country without ‘just traveling’. They also gave the impression that they wanted to make a difference somehow this way, and that they were looking to ‘find their selves’ while seeking personal development in this year off. 

Some volunteers were even sent by their parents because their parents were convinced that this program abroad would broaden their horizon and would prepare themselves better for the ‘real world’. I had the impression that, in this case, the parents found their kids spoilt and wanted them to get out of their comfort zone by traveling in a basic but still organized and safe way (because of the guidance, group leader presence, follow up, weekly reports to parents, …). Also, the volunteer programs were very expensive and therefore obviously targeted towards a specific target group of richer families who sent their children on ‘an adventure of a lifetime’ in the hope that their children would learn not to take things for granted. Sometimes this led to paradoxical situations: the volunteers wanted to go back to basics and experience the ‘real Ecuador or Cambodia’ but in the same time they complained when their room was not ‘good enough’ or when they did not get cereals for breakfast or milk in their tea (knowing that milk and cereals are expensive in Cambodia).  

At times I was frustrated because the volunteers did not show as much interest and motivation in the volunteer work as I hoped for.

– Julie Rausenberger

A reason for this could be that they were sent by their parents, but also that they expected to see faster results. It was not motivational for them to be working on digging holes for water pipe lines in Chilcapamba, for example, for weeks. Rather, they seemed to be satisfied when they could see instant results such as when they were building a water well pump in Siem Reap: this only took a few days to be finished per well. I also noticed that they enjoyed it more to be surrounded by children or to be involved in social work in orphanages or schools. The fact that they never spoke the local language (Spanish or Khmer) withheld them from engaging more in-depth with the local community members they were working with, so the contact was again very limited and not reaching the level they had hoped for. With children, this seemed less problematic because playing did not need that much conversation. Interestingly, most of the volunteers did not make efforts before or while traveling in-country to learn the local language. This showed for me that they were only partially looking for a real engagement with the communities.

Last but not least, it speaks for itself that a large part of the trip was about fun, parties, adventures, activities and other things that are related to tourism for young travellers. The touristic aspect of the trip was very important to the volunteers, despite us – as organizers – trying constantly to put the voluntary work to the foreground. 

5. Which impacts did the work in these projects have to your personal life and to the other participants?

Impact on my personal life

At the very personal level, I think that the volunteering pushed me into the direction of my continued university studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology (after having studied Tourism and Leisure Management). I remember I met a French anthropologist, Richard Couedel, in the jungle in Ecuador. He was studying the community we were working with and eventually published a book “Yo me acuerdo, biografía de un líder Tsa’chila”about it a few years later. I was very inspired by his research and life in the community. A colleague of mine in Quito was also an anthropologist, so again, I felt that anthropology was a useful discipline to study if I wanted to continue a career in the non-profit sector. Most of all…

I realized after many personal experiences in the volunteer industry abroad, I could make a more meaningful difference by writing about volunteer tourism and researching the phenomenon than to do the actual volunteer work.

Julie Rausenberger

I also met very interesting people along the way while I worked within these organizations. For example, one of the volunteer coordinators in the UK became a friend and she now runs her own travel business in Tanzania and she has invited me to come over. Another colleague from Canada who worked in Ecuador with me is now living in New Zealand and working with another NGO, for example. It is these connections with other persons that I really value and that really had an impact on my life because they inspire me and make me believe that there are other life routes than a village life and a 9-to-5 job in Belgium.

Impact on the volunteers’ life

It is of course difficult to tell what the impacts of these volunteer programs were on the life of the volunteers because I did not keep in touch with all of them and I cannot know how they feel about it. However, from what I have seen, there are very varied scenarios: some people really opened up, I could see them becoming more confident, more assertive, more culturally aware and so on. Others could not deal with the out-of-the-comfort level of the volunteer programs. Some became very homesick or even wanted to go home (one volunteer really left home early despite us trying to cheer him up repeatedly). 

Others again saw this volunteer experience as the starting point and preparation for their independent travels. They went to travel afterwards on their own in Latin America of Southeast Asia. For some, this continuation of later travels – post-volunteering with our organization – turned out a great adventure, but for some it was a complete disaster: they were shocked how much they suddenly needed to plan and organize their selves without having the support and translation of our organization. 

On the long term, I kept in touch with some of the volunteers whom I saw growing from adolescents to young adults with a university degree and a full-time job nowadays. I do not have the impression that they became ambassadors for the volunteer work they did, or that they repeated a volunteer program ever again (not even in another country). They also did not become ‘world travellers’ or ‘frequent backpackers’, in most cases. Rather, I see them going back to a more traditional form of tourism (like package holidays or city trips within Europe) when I see and hear about their recent holidays on social media. 

One thing is for sure to me…

Volunteer programs have more impact on the personal development of the volunteers itself than that their personal effort has an impact on the volunteer projects

– Julie Rausenberger

6. What was the greatest experience during this time?

Without a doubt, I have the best memories from my time working as a volunteer group leader in Ecuador. Maybe because it was the first volunteer program I worked on, but I think it has to do with the professionalism of the NGO I worked for. The projects were very well selected and I was also very lucky to have a nice group of volunteers to lead. The most beautiful memory I have is from the Tsachila community in Ecuador because this was for me the most authentic experience. I slept in a wooden bungalow without electricity supply, there was only a natural toilet, and the shower was in the river in a lush forest. We ate bananas with fresh river fish in the morning and had no fridge. There was not even a phone signal and there was only one truck per day going to the nearest village one hour further from where I lived. The volunteer work was rewarding because we were planting small tree in bags to plant new forests to beat the deforestation in the area by American oil companies. I just knew how important this was for the local community and they were never able to build all of these trees ever again in this amount of time on top of their normal daily work. It was very humid and tough at times to work here, but because of the remote location and isolation of the community, we grew more closely together to the locals, even without knowing their language: Tsafiki.

I personally grew closer to the head of the community, who spoke Spanish, and for whom I translated everything to English to the volunteers. He was a shaman with a lot of natural wisdom who taught me to get closer connected to nature. He taught me about his spiritual life and the magic effects of ayahuasca (a traditional drink containing natural ingredients from the Amazon that causes shamans or healers to reach the expansion of their consciousness). For me, these are experiences and interactions that I will never forget. Also, the Yanapuma NGO worked together with him for many years in the battle against capitalism and the deforestation in the area, and they used the money for the conversation of this community. I really felt that the work we did, combined with the financial contribution of the volunteers, made a difference in their lives. 

7. How do you finance your trips?

I always had a both fortunate and unfortunate situation when I was a student: because I came from a rather disadvantaged family background, I managed to get scholarships more easily to finance my studies as well as my studies abroad. I got a scholarship for my internship in Ecuador and I was lucky that the NGO covered my daily expenses: Yanapuma provided food, accommodation, program related travel, and certain activities (such as white water rafting and mountain biking) while I was working as a group leader with my group. When the group was traveling to the Galapagos Islands, I had the option to stay on the mainland or to go with the group but then I had to pay my flight myself, but I still got accommodation and a few weeks off there. 

When I went to Cambodia, the company paid my flights and travel expenses, as well as housing and food. My personal expenses I covered with some saving money, which I gathered together from during student work in Belgium as a travel agent, social media manager, sales assistant, and many other student jobs that I combined with my studies. My parents have never supported my travels financially, but I always managed to budget my trips carefully. Gradually, I also became an expert in negotiating deals in destinations with local suppliers: for example, in Ecuador I would always take my volunteers to restaurants where I got good deals so that I could get something for free, or when I organized excursions for the groups in in Ecuador during their free time, I negotiated that I could join for free as their group leader. This way, I did not need much more additional pocket money to travel either.

8. In your opinion what is the best way to organise a volunteer trip?

I think the best way is to start with volunteering at home and to think about which values you are willing to represent and defend even before and after the volunteer trip.

– Julie Rausenberger

Especially now that we are living in a digital era, we can no longer find excuses to defend the values we stand for, whether these are civil rights in Ecuador or equal access to water in Cambodia. There are many social and political platforms where you can share your experiences, knowledge, where you can start campaigns, sign petitions, or you can become a member of an NGO in your country which defends your values. 

If you are then still feeling the need to go volunteering abroad, instead of empowering local communities in their own country, to defend their rights and develop their lands, then you should do a lot of research before you decide what you will do and where you will do and with whom you will do it. Nowadays, the internet is full of articles and papers about the pro’s and con’s regarding volunteer tourism. One good source I would recommend is: ‘Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad’, a book in which I contributed my experiences (anonymously) as well. On the website www.leaningservice.info you can find many useful tips and information on how to do ‘doing good’ well.

On a personal note: I found out about Learning Service through Daniela Papi. She was also working many years in the volunteer industry in Phnom Penh in Cambodia for PEPY Tours. When I first saw her TedX Talk on YoutubeI was mesmerized. In my opinion, she hit the nail on the haid. I started following her work and that’s how I started to understand better how to organize a volunteer trip.

Another good checklist on ethical volunteering trips abroad can be find on HostelWorld

9. What is your personal view on Volunteer Tourism? Do you have anything to criticize about that concept? (if yes, why and what?)

This is a very complex question to answer because I can give many arguments both pro and contra the phenomenon. As already mentioned, nowadays I support more the perspective of Service Learning, as developed on the website www.learningservice.info.

As mentioned before, I believe that people should not engage in volunteer tourism if they are not willing to OR engage in volunteering at home OR engage in defending the project at a long-term basis as ‘an ambassador for the good cause’ they are supporting during the trip. First of all, if you are willing to volunteer, there are plenty opportunities at home. If you are merely willing to do this because you can travel abroad, then maybe the intention is more self-centred / opportunistic than altruistic. I believe that the idea of volunteer tourism should still be to support local communities / projects / … primarily, your personal development should come second. So, basically, my greatest criticism would be that volunteer tourists tend to think more about how it will turn out for them personally, then for the ‘Other’ and this is a treat to the phenomenon. This is in line with critiques of volunteer tourists using their volunteer trip as an argument on their CV to show that they gained experiences in intercultural awareness etcetera. 

Also, I mentioned before that organizers of volunteer tourism should be engaging more with long-term goals and ways of working to improve the sustainability of projects and benefits for local communities. Think about the water pump wells in Cambodia example I gave. The problem that summarizes this tendency of ignorance is expertise. Both the organisations as the volunteers lack the expertise to be involved with volunteer tourism: the volunteers do not have the skills to be teaching English, for example, and the organizations do not have the means, tools or knowledge to be creating a sustainable project plan. 

What happens when there is a lack of awareness of expertise, is that volunteer tourism can do more harm than good.

– Julie Rausenberger

It is not good for children to get another teacher from another country every two weeks. The dynamic of volunteer tourism can also undermine local workers, who are put aside when a volunteer comes to take over the job.  

10.Meanwhile the combination of travel and voluntary work is developing into a profitable business. What do you think about tour operators that offer Volunteer Tourism? Is helping in this concept helpful for the locals?

First of all, we must recognise the difference between non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) offering volunteer programs and tour operators (commercial enterprises). 

To be honest, I think that tour operators are undoubtedly monetizing volunteerism into an industry. They are charging a lot of money for these programs, and most money goes into the organizational aspects of the volunteers’ trip as well as the support given to the volunteers. Many staff members are involved in a volunteer program: imagine that for my groups there was a travel agent involved in the UK, a webmaster, a marketing director, a volunteer coordinator, a group leader (or two in case there is a local group leader needed for translation or in case the groups are large) and a reservation agent for operational queries, just to name a few. The donations given to the projects are indeed also included in the expensive program prices, but I did not have the impression that the company cared about what is actually done with the money. For example, I remember that I had to donate money to an orphanage director who had the latest new smartphone and a nice motor cycle, and that I was promptly wondering whether it might have been that he bought those with the donation money (because we never got to see what he actually did with the donations). Also, in order to maintain a long-term collaboration with local projects, the projects need to remain ‘poor’ in order to be attractive in the ‘needy’ discourse that volunteer tourism organizations like to present to the tourists. This is such a pity. I think this is also the case with The Leap Gap Years Overseas, a company specializing in volunteer programs abroad for UK based travellers. 

In the case of NGOs, I think that the situation in much different. In Ecuador, for example, I worked with Yanapuma Foundation. This NGO has financial challenges to survive: they need to commercialize their projects through collaborations with volunteer companies such as The Leap Gap Years Overseas in order to earn an income to invest in their community project. They lack financial support by governments and depend on donations from volunteers. The money that they earn by collaborating with volunteer programs goes partially into the operational costs (such as housing, transport and staff salaries), but also to invest in the development of their projects. To give you an example, developing a website is very costly for an NGO and to finance this, they can also use the money they earn by their collaborations with tourists. You can also find the yearly reviews of NGOs online, or request them by email, which usually reflects their transparency. 

For the ‘locals’ involved in volunteer tourism, this is a business like another: whether you are selling a cooking workshop or a toilet construction project, it is basically the same. I had the impression that the locals saw it as a job and that they were nothing like ‘the needy’ persons that are often depicted in advertisements for volunteer tourism. They gave me the impression of participating in the game of tourism: you look authentic, poor, smile, be thankful, speak a little bit, show them a bit of what traditional skill you can, and in return they get paid for this. Maybe it is not always this straight forward: sometimes the organizers will come ‘for free’ and are ‘invited’ by local communities, but they are well aware that such a collaboration will help them to construct a new house or that they will leave them with a donation at the end, for example. In this regard, I am still very frustrated with the power dynamics going on in the First World Giver – Third World Receiver discourse that is deeply entangled in the tourism industry. I tried to write about this in my Masters’ thesis as well.

In summary, I think there is always an interest involved, whether financial or not, for all of the parties involved, and it is therefore much less about the actual help that local communities or projects need than about economic or personal development for the parties involved. 

If volunteer tourism organisations and volunteer tourists really wanted to help local communities, they would pass on their knowledge and skills to the local communities involved. 

– Julie Rausenberger

However, this does usually not happen because it would translate soon into a death end of the business, which it unfortunately remains. I questioned once too: why do we not invest the money that we spend on our volunteer program travels ourselves fully into a donation, if we would really want to help financially? Ah, because maybe the volunteer wants to travel more than he wants to support?!

11.Is a catalogue of requirements for tour operators or anyone who offers Volunteer Tourism in that business appropriate (as an entrance examination)?

The last decade there has been an increasing attention paid by NGOs and in academia to the volunteer tourism industry. Many articles are published in scientific journals and online to raise awareness about the issues with volunteer tourism. Simultaneously, the volunteer tourism industry is booming and Generation Y, or the Millenials, keep showing a significant interest in traveling ‘for a good cause’. 

Many organizations have been publishing guidelines and tips about ‘how to volunteer abroad ethically’ and ‘how to avoid the voluntourism gap’. Tour operators such as Gadventures nowadays promote such guidelines on their own websites by collaborating with Planeterra, for example. Together with the International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Planeterra (a leading non-profit organisation dedicated to sustainable community development and environmental conversation through travel), has set up a set of criteria to help volunteer tourism organisers to offer, plan and manage their volunteer programs. 

A catalogue of requirements exists but there is no overarching international organization that is controlling their operations. There are organizations who try it, such as Fair Trade Tourism in Africa and beyond, but I think there is a need for more attention to be paid by the phenomenon ‘volunteer tourism’ at a global scale by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)The Code on Responsible Travel launched in 2017 was a good start. Hopefully it is the beginning of a continued trend.

12.Critics are particularly concerned that unskilled volunteers take a part in the children lives, especially short-time stays are under strong critique which do more harm than good. Do you agree?

Yes, as mentioned above, I believe that it is irresponsible to engage as a volunteer tourist for a short period of time in teaching English to children in schools or to engage in social work more generally. Orphanage tourism should be banned overall, regardless of volunteer activities being short term or long term because it is focusing too much on compassion and guilt. This again something that I tried to explain in my thesis ‘Why Don’t You Give Me Some Love?!’ in Section 4.3.4 on ‘Help, Consciousness or Guilt?’ (page 84).  

Orphanage tourism should be banned worldwide because it focuses on discourses of compassion and guilt.

– Julie Rausenberger

When I was working with orphans in Cambodia, I heard rumours that the children were bought from their own families to go and live in an orphanage. For their families this initially seemed an excellent opportunity: they got money which they otherwise never be able to earn and they were promised that their child would be educated, well fed and taken care of. However, the child was taken away from its family which could sometimes lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and detachment. Moreover, when the child got ill or misbehaved in front of tourists, orphanages tend to send back the child to its family. The family then ends up dealing with the problem and loses the money. These are situations that I believe often happen. The offer is, in most cases, too good to be true.

13.Local people get degraded to an aid recipient, volunteers presented as social workers or even heroes. The communication doesn’t seem to meet at eye level. How would it be possible to change the point of view in their heads?

*This question is hard to answer as it is not entirely clear to me. Volunteers are presented by who as social workers? Which communication are you referring to? Whose communication are you referring to when mentioning ‘the communication’? Whose heads are you referring to?* 

I assume that you are trying to ask how I suggest to change the mentality of volunteer tourists when it comes to their – what we call in academia – ‘White Savior Complex’. It refers to white people helping non-white people, which can be perceived as self-interested and which is typical to our times. I think that the book ‘The White Man’s Burden’by Rudyard Kipling is explaining very well what is going on, still today.

Communication of volunteer organisations is a matter of marketing, not anthropology, unfortunately. There is a lack of cultural relativism in volunteer tourism discourses as adapted by volunteer companies.The often-used expressions such as ‘Discover the real Africa’, ‘Help poor people now’, ‘give back to society’ and ‘go local’, are good examples of typical expressions that can be problematized from an anthropological perspective. Not enough attention is given to the agency – the capacity of persons to independently act and make their own decisions or choices – in the press or in marketing of such companies because they want to enforce the hegemonic discourse of need. In Ecuador, for example, I have personally witnessed that the local communities were acting as very powerful examples of sustainable development to other communities in their society. They were seen as creative entrepreneurs with an open-minded approach to development because they were having cross-cultural relationships with volunteers around the globe, learning foreign languages and because they were actively engaging in political struggles to defend their lands. 

Marketeers in the volunteer tourism industry still reinforce the hegemonic discourse of need in development cooperation.

Julie Rausenberger

Even more, sometimes – I would dare to say – communities were actively trying to ‘play’ the ‘impoverished’ role because it was in their economic advantage. This was especially the case in Cuba, where I have been participating in a volunteer brigade to express solidarity with the Cuban Revolution in 2016. We often neglect the agency of the communities we work with because we are made believe that they need our help. The first steps to change this would probably be education, ethically responsible marketing and communication and no misleading advertisement and press. 

14.Do you think a volunteer trip has more good impact on the local society than bad?

Like any other type of tourism, volunteer tourism has a strong effect on the development of a local society, village or community.There are always positive and negative consequences involved in this, depending on the parties involved and the perspective you have. Economically, volunteer tourism will be beneficial for those parties involved that work in the industry. For others, it might translate in a loss of jobs: think about English teachers in Thailand, for example. At the socio-cultural level, I do not believe that volunteer tourism is good: it reinforces unequal power relations in the world through a First World giver and Third World receiver discourse and it reinforces tourism as neo-colonialism through its indirect political control over developing countries. 

15.How can you improve Volunteer Tourism in regard to the critical points that it might has?

I often feel ashamed these days when I look back to my volunteer tourism activities and because I actively promoted the industry myself. I feel that I have been part of the neo-imperialistic machine that characterizes the capitalistic rather than altruistic trend in volunteer tourism. However, there is no way back and I cannot erase my past experiences. I can only turn my negative experiences into something positive: I have therefore transformed my attitude towards one of service learning (and this interview is part of this transformative attitude). 

I feel that I have been part of the neo-imperialistic machine that characterizes the capitalistic rather than altruistic trend in volunteer tourism.

– Julie Rausenberger

I learned to accept my ‘mistakes’ in the volunteer industry abroad by turning it into something positive these days back at home: because of my own experiences I also have the power to share why volunteer tourism is bad and now I try to encourage people to think twice before they book their volunteer trip, rather than to support them to ‘do more harm than good’. I believe that if all ex volunteer tourists who feel the same can unite and spread this message of a sustainable tourism and inspire other to engage in positive volunteer practices at home and abroad.

Interview conducted by Julia Rommel.

Interviewee: Julie Rausenberger

A Giant Tortoise & A Tiny Island in The Indian Ocean

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things. That’s what I am thinking right now while writing this blog with a grateful but sad muzing gaze. I am already back in Belgium, and with pain in the heart I had to leave Mauritius after a wonderul three weeks. Unfortunately, I did absolutely not manage to keep up with my blog, as I was too busy having fun. But I’ll keep my promise and write some after-travel memoires and reflections, while letting Mauritius mesmerize me over and over again… ❤

It’s a little bit paradoxical to hear from a giant tortoise that you have to enjoy the little things in life, but it is exactly what I’ve learned the other day from him while visiting his tiny island habitat in the Indian Ocean, when he secretely whispered in my ears: A great life isn’t about great huge things, it’s about small things that make a big difference. I think that what he ment to say is: it’s not because you seem to be giant, that you can do great things, buy you can still do tiny things in a great way. And sometimes it are exactly those little things that manage to occupy the biggest part of our hearts. Or in short: the versatility of ‘small’ and ‘large’ in a spiritual nutshell is where my mind wonders when seeing a giant tortoise on such a small island in the Indian Ocean. 😉

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 We didn’t know we were making memories. We just knew we were having fun…

It was Thursday, the 23th of July, when we had a new field trip with the Ethnographic Field School to the south eastern part of the island again (noth so far from Mahébourg which we had visited the other day). On today’s agenda was Activist Efforts in Mauritius, a break at Blue Bay and visiting the Mauritian Wildlife Foudation at Île aux Aigrettes.

We started with an almost 2-hours drive, but by now we got so used to our driver that we were actually becoming close friends, exchanging phone numbers, life histories and music from our iPods with him. To be honest, the poor man had no other choice than surrendering to our (damn cool) Western party music, but the good thing was that he liked it. Or at least that what it looked like, because he always turned the volume up. And he started to initiate us to Mauritian music as well, so we ended up exchanging our musical preferences while ‘cruising’ through the island, with tropical beats on the background… There is actually one particular song that I really want to share with you, because of various reasons…

Zoli Mamzel, is a Créole song, which means “Jolie Mademoiselle” (Pretty Lady) and it is written by Gary Victor, a cute Mauritian guy with a big heart. He has an adorable voice and addictive flow which enables you to experience instant happiness, and it is a sing-along-song…. It is thé song that everyone on the island knows, it was a big summer hit, and it’s lovely! Okay, just listen and try it: ”Hey zoli mamzel,..Beh zoli Nation pas gagne droit tousel,..dans gauche, dans droit, fodei gueter couma li aller, La haut enbas, fodei gueter couma mo ..?” (I give you the acoustic version, but if you like it more up tempo, try this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_ZuCGllSrk

Ok, back on track… Our first stop was Blue Bay, a highlight of any visit to Mauritius! Whether you are on an educational trip or not 😉 Blue Bay is located in the south eastern part of the island, not too far from the international airport. While you drive to it, you can enjoy some of the most wonderful scenery and landscapes of Mauritius. But then when you arrive at Blue Bay…. I mean, it is obvious where the name of this place came from: such a blue bay! This is the kind of place where you realize: yes, yes, yes, I am in paradise! Look at all this beauty our earth has to offer us: white sandy beaches, turqoise blue water, small green islands, …. No wonder that this place is a favourite of both tourists and locals!

Mauritius Day 11 019The best things in life are for free? All beaches in Mauritius are public!

After having a coffee at a local bar with one of the students, and enjoying a lovely chat, I went to walk around the bay for some photographing and observation of the locals. It is amazing to see how the locals are also enjoying this piece of paradise. The hindus for example, come to pray at the beach as well. Of course they won’t wear bikinis, and so as a tourist you should dress and never go monokini (a bikini is provocating enough!), but they wear sari’s. I have no idea what kind of rituals they do, but involves some prayers with water, flowers, and offering of food to the gods. Beautiful hindu religion! It adds this extra value to the place, which makes it so relaxing at the same time. Just staring at it with this ocean background made me feel in a meditation-like mood. If that makes sense?! 😛

Mauritius Day 11 067Some people look for a beautiful place. Others make a place look beautiful. 

After spending some time at the beach with my fellow students, swimming, snorkeling and feeling over-blessed in life, it was time for a more educational turn of this field trip day. We took a boat trip to Île aux Aigrettes, a nature reserve, where we would visit the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. We got a guided tour by Nethi Chunwan from this organization, and he showed us all the island. And with all the island, I mean, the whole 27 ha. 😀 And with the boat trip, I mean: a 5 minutes ride to cross the 850 meters of ocean between the coast and the island. Lol.

But what makes Île aux Aigrettes so special, is that is made up of coralline limestone, whereas the mainland of Mauritius is of volcanic origin. And that’s why you can find some special nature stuff there, I mean: exotic animals and native plant species. It is good that this place is kept well maintained as a nature reserve, and clearly a lot of effort was put in the intense conservation of restoration of this bit of forest and the reintroduction of these rare species, such as the pink pigeon (yes, it exists!), the Mauritian Fody (a red-head bird), the Olive White-eyes (Birds with white circles around their eyes), some special orchids (“Oniella-polystachys” if that rings a bell), and the Aldabra Giant Tortoise (yes, the one who taught me a lesson… 😉 ).

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The Aldabra Giant Tortoise

My favourite, however, was the Ornate Day Gecko, a typical specie of Mauritius and Madagascar that feeds on insects and nectar and has a total length of only 12 centimeters. But it absolutely mesmerized me because of its bluish green, blue, brown, cyan, white, turquoise and red colors. And no, I couldn’t bring it as a pet, because it needs a temperature of +/- 28°C and…. They are protected, of course!

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The Beautiful Ornate Day Gecko… You can look but you can’t touch…

After being introduced to the unique flora and fauna, the restoration work on the island, and some knowledge on the local area and the history of the island, we were taken back on a short boat ride to Pointe Jerome, where our trip started. Well, this was an amazing place worthwhile visiting! Bye Île aux Aigrettes, take good care of your beautiful self! ❤

Mauritius Day 11 263A short boattrip in paradise. Off to Île aux Aigrettes!

After this amazing day, we drove back home to Pointe-aux-Piments. And because home is where the heart is, I spent some time with my very best local family. Eating together, talking about our days, and feeling loved!

I ended the day with some writing on projects, making apointments for interviews and going through my pictures of the day. What a great time!

Friday, the next day, back to school… Back to reality! Classes in the morning became quite a habit at our temple based Summer School University. We had class in the morning about how to write up our papers, because slowly but steady each students began to have some ideas and data for his/her project. Yes, yes, I keep saying it: we do actually work between the hours of fun in paradise!

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Some publicity for our Ethnographic Field School in Mauritius!

After school, I went with my roommate to the local tailor shop, which was actually just a house with some very lovely ladies who had great fun dressing us up, and especially watching us getting dressed and undressed, admiring our white skin and making jokes. A great experience to get measured for a tailor-made sari by the way, especially when the seamstress appears to have no measuring tape. The Mauritian way! Lolll 😀

Mauritius Day 12, 13 & 14 001Getting my Sari tailored…

In the afternoon we had ‘free time’ to spend working on our projects, and so I had planned 2 interviews with informants for my anthropological project. I met one man and one woman in town, and spent an hour with each of them. A great and interesting excercise, but also very exhausting!

At 5 PM we had an evening session by Dimitris Xygalatas, our professor, about how to write an Ethnographic Paper, followed by a session on how to write a Scientific Paper (yes, those two are not the same!) by his Phd-student, Martin Lang, and another session by Michaela Porubanova, one of the other instructors, who is specialized in Psychology, and she did some cool experiments with us.

We finished the night of ‘classes’ eating in a Chinese Restaurant, while watching a documentary ‘Stealing a Nation’ (2004) about  Diego Garcia, another small island in the Indian Ocean that belongs to the Chagos Islands, and which was claimed by The United States to build a large naval and military base there. Ever since 1971, the population of this British Indian Ocean Territory was removed (deported) to Mauritius and the Seychelles. This caused a lot of controversy, together with the other dubious military activities of the US… This was really something I didn’t know about before, but which is very interesting knowledge, and very sad at the same time. Makes me think about “Make Love, Not War”, and how idealism and realism don’t walk hand in hand with each other most of the time. You should just check it out and reflect upon this, by watching this short movie (or watch the full movie that we have seen):

But then, finally… After some heavy stuff… It was time to let go all the stress and prepare for the second weekend, which I started in style with some of the students and instructors at our favourit party spot: the Banana Beach Club in Grand Baie. Party along all night long… And even though we had other awesome plans for the weekend… YOLO, because no one looks back on their life and remembers the nights they had plenty of sleep! 😉

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

Yours Truly ❤

‘Zoli Mamzel’

Julie

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Dreaming of the Dutch & the Dodo

Oh my God, I am already more than 2 weeks here now and I realized that I don’t manage to write properly about every day, because there is happening so much all the time! I am only in my room for a few hours of sleep each night and the days are very very busy! But in a good way, of course! What am I doing….? Following classes, doing fieldtrips, researching for my project, visiting beaches, doing some sightseeing and having the time of my life with the best host family ever, and an even greater group of students and professors!

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The Summer School group in front of the National Museum of History

There is literally not very much to complain about, and if there was one thing that could be better, then that would be… Having more TIME! So I guess that time flies when you’re having fun, and unfortunately there are only 24 hours each day, so let’s just give you a brief overview of some of the past few days so you get an idea of what exactly makes it so much FUN being here!

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On the road in Mauritius…

The second week started with a second field trip. The theme of this excursion was “Cultural Heritage of Mauritius”. We started the day with a journey from Pointe aux Piments (north west) to Mahébourg (south east), where the sea looked a bit less turqoise blue and the coastline was a bit more rough. We met our guide for the day near the peer. Geoffrey Summers and his wife, Francoise Summers, were living on the island for several years. The Brittish couple knew the island very well, and with archeology as Geoffrey’s specialisation, he knew a lot of things to talk to us about. We got to know a more historical part of the island that we had not heard of before. Interesting!

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Geoffrey Summers (our guide) & Dimitris Xygalatas (our professor) at Mahébourg

After a windy walk on the peer in Grand Port and a quick visit to the restants of some tanks used during World War II, we continued to Fort Frederik Hendrik. It’s a museum which is named after a Dutch guy who had his office here during the 17th century colonisation period by The Netherlands… The historical site became a museum in 1999 and tries to represent both the Dutch and French colonial settlements in Mauritius.

Did you know that the Dutch were the first inhabitants to settle on the island and colonised Mauritius from 1638 – 1710 ? Later it were the French ( 1710 – 1810 ) who colonised the island, and after that came the British rule ( 1810–1968 ), followed by the independence of Mauritius in 1968.

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Students at the peer in Grand Port

After a brief guided visit to the museum, it was time for lunch in the beautiful tropical garden of Fort Frederik Hendrik, surrounded by ruins. The leftovers from the walls of these ruins learned archeologists that French ruins were standing on top of a Dutch fort, so in this regard it is an important place for those who want to get to know Mauritius very well. And I guess that was the aim of this visit, even though I must admit that this historical tour was a bit boring for me.

Maybe more interesting was the Tour des Hollandais, which was founded very funny by me (Flemish) and another Dutch student. This tour is about an old watch tower, used  as a vantage point to observe the bay for any incoming ships, and protect Mauritius from invaders and so on. From this point they could prevent potential attacks from the French and later on from the British.

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Dutch Girls gone Wild…?!

In the afternoon we continued our excursion to Mahébourg, where we visited the National Museum of History. Here we got to know even more facts about the colonial history of Mauritius. But the most magnificent part of this element of the trip, was the beautiful French colonial mansion in which the museum was located. It was built around 1770 and inaugurated in 1998 as a museum by the one and only Prince Maurits of Orange-Nassau, exactly 400 years after the first Dutch landing in Mauritius.

But an even more interesting novelty was the story about the Dodo bird in Mauritius… which explains why this animal is so popular, even though you cannot see it anywere on the island…

  • The dodo (Raphus Cucullatus) is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to Mauritius
  • The dodo was extinct by the time the Dutch abandoned Mauritius due to extensive hunting
  • The dodo’s appearance in life is evidenced only by drawings, paintings, and written accounts from the 17th century
  • The dodo achieved widespread recognition from its role in the story of Alice in Wonderland
  • The dodo has since become a fixture in popular culture, often as a symbol of extinction and obsolescence

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The famous but extincted Dodo bird…

Okay enough history for today! What else did we do? We also walked to a river where women washed their clothes on stones, saw a place in the lush forest where people practice Black Magic, and visited a grassroots NGO where women do basket weaving… The last stop of the day was in a restaurant, to have some well deserved food after a busy day of educational travel before heading back to our home town!

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Francoise Summers guiding us through the Basket Weaving NGO project

That evening I was very tired, and so were my roommates, from all this traveling around. We had dinner at Nanny’s place, and worked on our computers for a couple of hours before heading back to bed for a good night of sleep.

The schedule of Tuesday mentioned “Cognition and Culture” in the morning and “Religion and Cognition” in the afternoon. These classes were given by both Dimitris and his co-instructors, and were something totally different from what I had heard about Anthropology before. It was interesting, but also very difficult material to relate to in my opinion, so I guess I will better not bother you with the details about this either.

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Another day of classes at the Temple

But don’t think now that this was all very boring, no, not at all! Because just when you think it is getting boring, it is time for a lunch break again, or another few hours between the break at the beach! And this is how we roll: time flies when you’re having fun, so you better make the best out of every day you get here! And so did I do: bought food for lunch at a local ‘Patisserie’ and went straight to the beach to chill out a few hours between Cognition, Culture and Religious classes today…

Another piece of daily wisdom and insight: if you want to be and stay happy, be flexible and always open to changes! Don’t fix your plans, because…. The weather can change, just to give an example! I was actually planning a second visit to Triolet during lunch break, but the weather was so extremely nice that I decided to run home for that bikini, and run back to the beach. Best decision ever! Everyone happy! 🙂

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Me and a colleague-student at Pointe aux Piments beach

Or to rephrase this in a more anthropological way… 

Be stubborn about your goals and flexible about your methods… 😉

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Enjoying our daily lunch break…

In the evening my roommates and I were taken to a local restaurant in Trou aux Biches by our host brother. He invited us to try some of the local food in that place, which was quite a surprise. Some of the dishes were very nice, but others I didn’t like very much. But it was good to try everything, and to be hanging around with a local family member in a not so touristy-spot.

Wednesday was another day of classes. So you see, I am actually very busy studying here! In the morning Dimitris (yes, we call the professors by their first names here) talked about Cognitive Anthropology, one of his specialisations. It is all about addressing the ways in which people conceive of and think about events and objects in the world, while providing a link between human thought processes and the physical and ideational aspects of culture. And yes, I know that this sounds Chinese to you, so that is why I will not go into details again…

After spending lunch break in a local restaurant in the village and a powernap on the beach, together with some other students, it was time for another lecture given by Martin Lang. He gave us an inspiring introduction to Cognition and Quantitative methods, such as surveys, questionnaires, etc. and he also talked about Cultural Consensus.

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Martin Lang talking about Cultural Consensus

I also went to the village to recharge my phone, which is another notable story! Did you notice that I am always online while being in Mauritius? Well, if you reload every week for 100 rupees (+/- 2,5 euros) then you can get a package with Free Internet & Unlimited Facebook for a week here. So my 3G is on most of the time and whether I am in the forest or at the beach, I am always connected… Whether that is such a good thing for an internet addict like me, I am not sure… Because you know what they say: there is no WiFi in the forest, but there is a better “connection”… 😉

That evening I spent most of my time writing a Research Proposal for the project I am going to do here. My subject is now definitive, and I will explore the intertwined relationship between cross-cultural romantic affairs and sex tourism on Mauritius. The fundamental purpose of this study is to explore the question: “What is the difference between sex tourism and romance tourism, and how is it perceived by people who have intercultural relationships in Mauritius?” The objective of this research will be to increase our understanding of this social reality by developing explanations of the phenomena by critically evaluating the interrelation between sex tourism and romantic cross-cultural relationships in Mauritius. So now you finally now what I am doing my fieldwork about!

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Trying out a Sari in the local village’s shop

But oh yes! Before I forget to mention… Apart from working on this, I also went with my host father and host sister to the village to buy a Sari! Sari…What?!

  • A sari is a South Asian female garment, associated with grace and is widely regarded as a symbol of Hindu culture
  • It consists of a drape that is typically wrapped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder
  • A sari is one of the most common outfits used by the women of India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, …
  • Saris differ from each other on the basis of design, fabric, drapes and colors
  • The length of a sari can vary from 4 to 9 meters

And moreover, that Wednesday evening we (my American host sisters and I) cooked dinner for our host family, after them cooking us dinners so often. We decided to make Mexican food, even though that is not very American or Belgium, because first of all the ingredients were more or less available here in the supermarkets, and second of all… A funny story! Our host family eats “Faratas” all the time, a local flat bread of which you have to use to eat the rest of your dish by wripping of pieces of this piece of bread. But I used to eat it all the time as a Burrito/tortilla, so that is why we decided to learn the locals eat Tortillas stuffed up as burritos. A funny cross-cultural experience in which we exchanged our culinary behaviour and habits! 😛

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Me and my American host sisters cooking Dinner for our Mauritian host family

Unfortunately I must admit that it was more fun for us than for our host family, who was not used to eat Guacomole with cheese and salad in a wrapped up – look a like – Farata flat bread… I am not sure if they really enjoyed this ‘different’ food as they are quite conservative. Also, our Hindu family is vegetarian so they do not eat meat, chicken, fish, eggs, … Therefore we used Tofu – look a like – chicken, which they did appreciate of course.

The evening ended with showing the Saris we had bought to our grandmother and family, and that was a lot of fun! And I worked until the late hours designing some research methods and tools for my research project…

Voilà…. This was another update of my busy days in Mauritius! I hope you liked reading it as much as I liked experiencing it, and I will keep you posted soon with more!

Kisses & Love,

Julie

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The beautiful peer and the view at Grand Port

Settling into Mauri…What?!

Waww, I have only been here for a few days and so much has happened already! I feel like a cameleon, adapting smoothly to my environment. So: where to start?!

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It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives.

It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Sunday I arrived and I got to know my host mother a bit. She speaks some French but mostly Créole and it is obviously not always obvious what she is trying to say. She is very nice and kind, but also a little bit possessive in her own unique hospitable way, as she is cooking dinner and makes me eat whatever she likes. She made me eat the weirdest things, fortunately she is Hindu so I am not supposed to eat meat (lucky vegetarian I am!).

I was very happy to meet my fellow roommates after a few hours of being drawned into a little culture shock, having no internet, no phone, no toilet, no shower and so on. Emily is an American student who is staying at “grandma’s place” (as she calls it) as well, and Francesca is also an American student who is staying in the house next door, where I go to shower and use the internet. The house next door belongs to the children of ‘Grandma’.

Where I stay there is no bathroom at all, unless you consider the open air sink as a bathroom. So I have to walk through a garden and knock at the other houses door, which is not really a problem actually. But not really a luxury either! :p In the shower I got company of Mom and Daughter Cockroach, so yes… I have already made some friends here, and built up a reputation as murderer!

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Going out to get some streetfood with my roommates

But enough about the house and the weirdest food being served there, I am here for Ethnographic Fieldwork, not for wishing I was at the beach all day! And dear friends, I hope you don’t keep thinking that that is (the only thing) what I am doing here. Anthropologists do have a hard life! 😉

Because as fast as I arrived in the house, so fast was I gone again. After a terrible too sweet and pink drink that I was offered to drink as a way of welcoming me into the family, I was invited at a Knife-Walking ritual in the village of Pointe-aux-Piments. So I did not even have time to put my luggage down and check my room, as my host father and I were already gone again.

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Colorful Hindus in Pointe-aux-Piments

The ritual was exactly what it sounded like: people were literally walking over knifes, while playing music, burning essence sticks, while suffering and so on. I had never seen a ritual like this before – and I am not expecting to see many of these again in my life – and I was also not really understanding much about it either. The only thing that is for sure that is they sacrifice theirselves for their religion (Hinduism). I was told that before the ceremony those people were praying and fasting for several days, and during the ceremony partcipents would then envoken their godess whilst making a sacrifice. Walking over the swords appears to be a very meaningful and extreme ritual for hindus, in which they are seeking to prove their piety by withstanding their pain.

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Walking over Knifes… A quite unsual religious practice in Mauritius!

Monday it was time to go to school at 9AM… Dimitris Xygalatas, the Summer School professor, an anthropologist who is very experienced in doing research on extreme rituals in Mauritius, opened the course by overviewing all practical concerns and reviewing the syllabus. I got to meet all the other students. We are with 18 students, coming from different countries such as Denmark, United States, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Peru, Servia and Belgium (which is represented by myself). After introducing ourselves, our field of study (we come from different degrees in social sciences, varying from Bachelors to Masters levels), the instructors also presented themselves. Apart from Dimitris, there are a few other instructors as well, who are basically research assistants or connections of Dimitris who are also researching within Mauritius. So we are a group of +/- 25 persons.

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Having classes at the beach. This is The Life!

So what is this “Ethnographic Field School” all about?

Well, the course will “provide empirical training in ethnographic fieldwork through immersion into the field and engaging in qualitative as well as quantitative field studies involving a variety of methods such as participant-observation, interviews, surveys, and behavioral and biometric measures. The course also examines key methodological, epistemological, and ethical issues pertaining to the study of culture and working with human subjects. Furthermore, it involves a series of field trips and lectures on Mauritius, its diverse culture, and its fascinating history”, as it is mentioned in the syllabus.

So: again, we did not come here for 3 weeks of paradise and sunbathing, but we came to experience “the real Mauritius” (even though you can start questioning that, if you think about being a large group of Western students living closely to each other for the next few weeks).
After that first general session in the morning, we had our first lunch break and everyone was excited to get to know each other better, to overcome to culture shock and make some new friends. We decided to explore the coastal area of Pointe-aux-Piments (the village were we stay), and so we discovered our first beach at only 5 minutes walking from the classroom, which is actually located nearby a fancy hotel: Récif Attitude Hotel*** (about €90 per night for a standard room, which is kind of affordable for a paradise island!)

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Getting to know each other at the beach of Pointe-aux-Piments

Well, I have to admit… It is kind of paradise here, right? And I guess not many of you reading this have lunch breaks as I am having here. So God bless the life I lead, and thank God for this amazing opportunity! But to all good things come to an end, quite fast, because lunch break was “only 2 hours” and then it was time again to return to the afternoon class. The only thing that I could think of, was that this might become an extreme ritual that people must start to practice every day and everywhere, lol.

This session an introduction about Mauritius and its culture was on the schedule, but as smart as Dimitris is (yes, we can actually call our professor here by his first name!), he started with a little quiz to test our knowledge about Mauritius, or in other words: did we read enough, and prepare ourselves well for this course? I spare you the answer to be honest… Woops! 😉

Funny facts you might like to know about Mauritius:

  • Did you know that Mauritius is about the size of Luxemburg?
  • Did you know that Mauritius has no official language? (But English and French are taught at school)
  • Did you know that the tallest mountain on the island is about 800 meters high?
  • Did you know that Charles Darwin has written not only about the Galapagos Islands (which I visited last year), but also about the flora and fauna of Mauritius?
  • Did you know that there is actually a town called Pamplemousses (grapefruit) in Mauritius?

But… maybe most important, do you actually know where in the world Mauritius is located? I bet most of you readers don’t, which is actually not really a problem (because I also did not know it very well before I heard about this course and looked it up). The most important is that you know that it is NOT “one of those French islands in the Caribbean”, but that is actually “one of those islands in the Indian Ocean, near Madagascar and La Réunion”. Or to be more specific… here’s a map:

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Enough educational stuff for today! Unless you really want to know more interesting facts about this island, then you should look at this nicely written article! Tomorrow I’ll write about more interesting facts, but more important: my interesting life and experiences here, a Sega dance night and much more fun!

A big kiss for all of those who are so great to keep following me!

You’re the best! Thank you for all the support!

x x With Love x x

Julie

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Welcome to Mauritius!

Here I am. After all I got what I wanted. I have travelled again to a place far far away, both geographically and psychologically. I might say that I do not need therapy but travel to feed my huger for soul food. And soul food can be understood in much variations.

Let me begin with the beginning. In March 2015 I applied for an etnographic field school. I was not counting on a big chance to be one of the lucky few. But I made it and a few months later I am in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean, known as a honeymoon destination in Belgium, but so much different than perceived, that is obvious after a first few hours here.
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I have been travelling from Antwerp to Brussels, to Paris to Mahé (Seychelles) to Mauritius. The journey took me 27 hours in total, and therefore you can imagine it was itself quite an experience. However, what touches me most is not the distance, but the people. What speaks more for a country to a heart than people? Maybe a landscape, but still… I have had an amazing flight, meeting a French guy who was going to visit his family in Madagascar. Unfortunately in this life our roads have split fast, him flying further to Antanarivo and me going to Port Louis, but time went to fast that I did not even suffer from these long flights! I just remember I could not stand almost crying when the plane left the Seychelles, because I was so touched, and it really looked like a paradise: I cannot describe it!
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View over many amazing islands near Mahé, Seychelles
Arriving in Mauritius was different. It was a bigger island, less paradise and more organised at the airport. The road to Pointe aux Piments was modern, but the infrastructure was mixed: both modern buildings, luxury hotels and poorer houses where observable on the road. After a field of sugarcanes, the road split: left to the Oberoi hotel, and right to the village. And no, this was not the Mauritius from the postcards or from the pictures on Google, this was an untouristic place, untouched by globalisation, so it seemed…
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Entering my Homestay House
My heart beated faster and faster, as I was arriving more closely to my homestay “house” and having to force myself to give up all hope for “destination paradise”. I was not staying at The Oberoi, obviously! My new house was a concrete building in a street without name, barking dogs, no hot water, no internet, no toilet paper and so on… Nothing to fancy for at all! But I surrendered immediately: from the one second to the other… Acceptance is sometimes in life the best way to make things “flow”… And after all, didn’t I just say that it are the people who touch us most, and not the infrastructure or the distance?
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Life With Family “Bissessur”
Some very friendly local people warmly welcomed me into their “house”, and made me (almost) forget the cold of concrete third world buildings and poorness. Isn’t the one who has the biggest smile and the most open heart the richest and most beautiful person on earth? Yes, I have to learn my lessons in life over and over again… And if I long for development, the comfortzone is the first one to leave. Because through development is not in comfortable housing, but in personal development and widening your horizons.
So, yet here I am… Or to end where I started off with: After all I got what I wanted: a new adventure, starting from today in Mauritius, and you will read more about it soon!

KEEP CALM and STUDY ON.

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My Erasmus time is about half. I do not know where to start, but I decide to write about what the past 3 months did to me… Even in my head there is no structure in it, I can only say that it was a crazy period, undoubtedly one of the best in my life. I have to admit to myself: the (good) life is like a (good) wine … It gets better as it ages. Until recently I thought I had found the best already, that I had found heaven on earth: I found my passion in traveling the past years, I met a soul mate in Roatan (Honduras), I went back to Central America because of him, and ultimately it didn’t lead to the love of my life but to the best backpack trip ever through Honduras, Belize and Guatemala. A new world opened up for me, I met different people with open minds and crossed my own boundaries, shifted my limitation-level.

Mijn Erasmus-tijd is over de helft. Ik weet niet waar te beginnen, maar ik besluit om wat te schrijven over wat de voorbije 3 maanden met mij deden… Zelfs in mijn hoofd is er geen structuur in te vinden, ik kan alleen maar zeggen dat het een knotsgekke periode was, ongetwijfeld één van de leukste in mijn leven. Ik moet het toegeven aan mezelf: het (goede) leven is als een (goede) wijn… Het wordt met de jaren beter. Tot voor kort dacht ik dat ik het beste al had gehad, dat ik de hemel op aarde al had gevonden. Ik vond mijn passie de voorbije jaren in het reizen, ontmoette een zielsverwant in Roatan (Honduras), ging door hem terug naar Centraal-Amerika en dat leidde uiteindelijk niet tot de liefde van mijn leven maar wel tot de beste rondreis ooit, door Honduras, Belize en Guatemala. Een nieuwe wereld ging voor me open, ik ontmoette open geesten en verlegde mijn eigen grenzen.

BIG TRIP (3) 301Apart from that, I started a lot of studying during recent years. Time flies and the second year of my bachelor study in ‘Tourism and Recreation Management “is almost over. I am more motivated than ever to go for it, and I discovered while doing it all that the ‘journey’ is more important to me than the ‘goal’. That is to say, the more I get to know myself better, the less I know what I want to do by profession.  I just feel that the life I lead and the path I walk, is undoubtedly the correct one. The past few months here in Spain are proof of that. So, do I study to graduate as soon as possible and find the best job (read: best paid) as possible? No, I’m studying and I want to make full use of this student time, and along the way enjoy … And so I came in recent months mainly to a new spiritual insight that I already knew before, but not so much appeared to penetrate in my mind …

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

(where did it all started again?)

Life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy the ride.

(do I need to have a goal?)

Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.

(is this my destiny?)

Los daarvan ben ik de laatste jaren ook flink aan het studeren gegaan. De tijd vliegt voorbij en het tweede jaar van mijn Bachelor-studie ‘Toerisme- en Recreatie Management’ zit er alweer bijna op. Ik ben meer dan ooit gemotiveerd om ervoor te gaan, en heb al gaande en al doende ontdekt dat de ‘weg’ voor mij belangrijker is dan het ‘doel’. Het is te zeggen, hoe meer ik mezelf beter leer kennen, hoe minder goed ik weet wat ik bijvoorbeeld exact wil doen van beroep. Ik voel gewoon dat het leven dat ik leid en het pad dat ik bewandel, ongetwijfeld het juiste is. De voorbije maanden hier in Spanje hebben daar uiteraard hun aandeel in. Studeer ik om zo snel mogelijk een diploma te behalen en een zo goed mogelijk (lees: betaalde) job te hebben? Nee, ik studeer en wil deze studententijd ten volle benutten, er gaandeweg van genieten… En zo kwam ik de voorbije maanden vooral tot een nieuw spiritueel inzicht, dat me eerder al wel bekend was, maar niet zozeer bleek door te dringen…

A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.

(waar begon het ook alweer?)

Life is a journey, not a destination, so enjoy the ride.

(moet ik dan een doel hebben?)

Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.

(is dit mijn lot?)

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In October I become 22 years old. And although here on Erasmus I undoubtedly act more than ever like a real student, I realize that I get older, I will never be 18 again. And I realize that this time here is passing too, and that adulthood imposes itself inside me. I notice that in my environment too: old friends are starting to graduate, to find work, to think about children, and oh yes … of course … Many have been in a relationship for certain time already. The stability which I mirror myself to gives me a strange feeling of instability… I mean, my life is far from stable, and I would do everything to keep it like that, so it seems … Do I want to graduate? Do I want a fixed job? Do I want to think of children? Do I want to commit myself in a relationship? Or shortly said: do I look like I am fascinated by this stability? The answer is an obvious NO. I crave more of my current lifestyle, and it feels more like I have fear of commitment… I want to get out, on the road, on track, … and gradually, I secretly hope to find my place, my position, my destiny in this world. Because no, I still don’t have any idea where or what that might be. And I realize that with every step I take, I hope to be one step closer to my “home”, a place or a person or I-know-not-much-what where I can “come home”. That home does not seem to be in Belgium, that is one thing we can all agree about already… And may it also be clear by now: on Erasmus in Gandia (Spain) I have not found it either. So … Now I can tell you one thing for sure though: my Spanish prince on the white horse didn’t canter around here. 😉

In oktober word ik 22 jaar. En hoewel ik hier op Erasmus ongetwijfeld meer dan ooit als een echte student tekeer ga, besef ik dat ik ouder word, dat ik nooit meer 18 zal zijn. En dat ook deze tijd hier voorbijgaand is, en dat de volwassenheid zich in mezelf opdringt. Ik merk dat ook aan mijn omgeving: oude kennissen beginnen stilaan af te studeren, vast werk te vinden, aan kinderen te denken, en oh ja… natuurlijk… Velen hebben inmiddels een relatie van enige tijd. De stabiliteit waaraan ik me spiegel doet me een vreemd gevoel van instabiliteit geven… Ik bedoel: mijn leven is verre van stabiel, en ik zou er dan ook alles aan doen om het zo te houden, zo lijkt het… Wil ik al afstuderen? Wil ik al vast werken? Wil ik al aan kinderen denken? Wil ik al een vaste relatie? Of kortom: ben ik gefascineerd door die stabiliteit? Het antwoord is een stevige NEE. Ik hunker naar meer van mijn huidige leven, en het voelt eerder alsof ik bindingsangst heb… Ik wil weg, op weg, onderweg, … en gaandeweg, hoop ik stiekem mijn plekje, mijn functie, mijn lotsbestemming op deze wereld te vinden. Want nee, ik ben er nog helemaal niet uit waar of wat dat moge zijn. En ik besef heel goed dat ik bij elke stap die ik zet, hoop om een stapje dichter bij mijn “thuis” te zijn, een plek of een persoon of ik-weet-niet-veel-wat waar ik kan “thuiskomen”. Mijn thuis is niet in België, dat heeft iedereen inmiddels al wel door… En moge het bij deze ook duidelijk zijn: op Erasmus in Gandia (Spanje) heb ik ze ook niet gevonden. Dus… Bij deze kan ik jullie al één ding verklappen: mijn Spaanse prins op het witte paard is niet voorbij gegaloppeerd. 😉

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Anyway, even if life is all the more out of the journey itself, and the less about the destination … I would not be me if I did not continue indefinitely planning, searching and thinking ahead. I live in ‘the now’, try to take only the best of the past, but the future … That, to me is an art: the art of always thinking 5 steps forward, always have a plan A, B and C, and not mind to throw all those plans suddenly over completely just because you’re fickle by nature/character … It might be the secret of my success. 😉

Enfin, ook al bestaat het leven des te meer uit de reis, en des te minder uit het reisdoel… Ik zou ik niet zijn als ik niet tot in het oneindige bleef plannen, zoeken en vooruit denken. Ik leef in ‘het nu’, probeer van het verleden alleen het beste mee te pakken, maar de toekomst… Die is voor mij een kunst: de kunst van altijd 5 stappen vooruit te denken, steeds een plan A, B en C te hebben, en het niet erg vinden om onderweg al die plannen plots helemaal om te gooien, gewoonweg omdat je wispelturig van aard bent… Dat is denk ik het geheim van mijn succes. 😉

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How do I see the future? Beautiful … Of course. And challenging … That especially! The recent months might be flown so fast that I even almost forget what I did exactly and with whom, but a little voice in my head is so inspired and motivated, that a lot fantasies are growing up to work out as new ideas and opportunities … So it is becoming clearer in my head how the coming years should look like: I will return to Belgium in July, as it must, and because there is some money to be earned. That’s part and parcel of life. Then I continue my studies Bachelor of Tourism and Leisure Management in Belgium, for the last year already. This means that academic year 2013-2014 will be my graduation year, normally. The first semester I stay in Belgium, but the second semester I ‘must’ do an internship. And as my specialization is ‘Hospitality Management, Hotel & Tourist guide‘, I opted for an internship abroad. This does not surprise  you anymore, naturally… I have not received confirmation of my internship destination yet, but I know that it will be for a period of four months (March – June 2014). The permission for my projects will be offered in July, as the conversation with my coordinators can only take place after my Erasmus time here in Spain.

Hoe zie ik de toekomst? Mooi… Uiteraard. En uitdagend… Dat vooral! De voorbije maanden mogen dan wel voorbij gevlogen zijn, zo snel zelfs dat ik bijna vergeet wanneer ik juist wat heb gedaan en met wie, maar een stemmetje in mijn hoofd is zodanig geïnspireerd en gemotiveerd geworden dat er heel wat hersenspinsels aan het werk zijn gegaan met nieuwe ideeën en mogelijkheden… Zo wordt het stilaan duidelijker in mijn hoofd hoe de komende jaren eruit moeten zien: ik keer in juli terug naar België, omdat het moet, en omdat er wat geld verdiend moet worden. Dat hoort nu eenmaal bij het leven. Dan zet ik mijn studie Bachelor in Toerisme- en Recreatie Management voort in België, het laatste jaar. Dit wil zeggen dat academiejaar 2013-2014 mijn afstudeerjaar is, normaalgezien. De eerste semester blijf ik in België, maar de tweede semester ‘moet’ ik verplicht op stage. Gezien mijn afstudeerrichting ‘Hospitality Management, Logies, Gids & Reisleiding’ wordt, heb ik voor een buitenlandse stage geopteerd. Dit verbaasd jullie natuurlijk niet meer. Ik heb nog geen confirmatie van mijn stagebestemming gekregen, maar weet wel dat het voor een periode van 4 maanden zal zijn (maart – juni 2014). De toestemming voor mijn aangeboden projecten zal er pas in juli zijn, gezien het gesprek met mijn coördinatoren pas plaats kan vinden na mijn Erasmus-tijd hier in Spanje.

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I have proposed 3 choices: my first choice is Yanapuma in Ecuador. I quote a web page for this: “It is an NGO (non-governmental organization) and is to be carried out in urban and rural communities throughout Ecuador with sustainable development as an aim. It will mainly help the local communities so that they can develop conservation and protection of their natural environment and their cultural heritage. Yanapuma helps with technical assistance, experience, knowledge and both national and international connections in order to ensure in these communities sustainability in the future. They work on different themes: health, criminology, education, nature, water, agriculture, … and it is also active in tourism. “Community-based tourism” is a more social form of ecotourism in local communities and aims the community and tourists to be aware of the natural and cultural value of the area (and the community) and to ensure that the benefits will continue within the community. ” http://www.yanapuma.org/

Ik heb 3 keuzes mogen opgeven: eerste keuze is Yanapuma in Ecuador. Ik citeer hiervoor even een internet-pagina: “Het is een NGO (non-gouvernementele organisatie) en heeft als doel duurzame ontwikkeling te verrichten in stedelijke en landelijke gemeenschappen in heel Ecuador. Men wil voornamelijk de lokale gemeenschappen helpen zodat zij zelfstandig kunnen ontwikkelen met behoud en bescherming van hun natuurlijke omgeving en hun cultureel erfgoed. Yanapuma helpt met technische hulp, ervaring, kennis en zowel nationale als internationale connecties om zo duurzaamheid in de toekomst te verzekeren in deze gemeenschappen. Men werkt rond verschillende thema’s: gezondheidszorg, criminologie, onderwijs, natuurbescherming, watervoorziening, landbouw,… en men is natuurlijk ook actief in het toerisme. “Community-based tourism” is een meer sociale vorm van ecotoerisme in lokale gemeenschappen en heeft als doel de gemeenschap en de toerist bewuster te maken van de natuurlijke en culturele waarde van het gebied (en de gemeenschap) en ervoor te zorgen dat de voordelen binnen de gemeenschap blijven.” http://www.yanapuma.org/

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Of course I hope to be selected for my first choice by my university, but I also selected a nice second choice: Het Andere Reizen (The Different Traveling) in Peru. Again, I quote here: “In Cusco you can go to a travel agency or a tour operator that focuses primarily on adventure travel. The travel agents are small in size and you will work with two or three other employees. Volunteers may travel guide, arrange airport pick ups, provide information or work in the marketing field. The tasks depend on the season. ” http://www.hetanderereizen.nl/latijns-amerika/peru/diverse-reisbureaus-en-touroperators

Uiteraard hoop ik voor mijn eerste keuze geselecteerd te worden door mijn universiteit, maar ik heb ook nog een leuke tweede keuze: Het Andere Reizen in Peru. Ook hiervoor citeer ik even: “In Cusco kun je terecht op een reisbureau of bij een touroperator die zich hoofdzakelijk richt op avontuurlijke reizen. De reisbureaus zijn klein van omvang en je zult met 2 of 3 andere medewerkers samenwerken. Vrijwilligers kunnen reizen begeleiden, airport pick ups regelen, informatie geven of werkzaam zijn in de marketing. De taken zijn afhankelijk van het seizoen.” http://www.hetanderereizen.nl/latijns-amerika/peru/diverse-reisbureaus-en-touroperators

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And as a third choice, I gave Living Stone Dialogue NGO. This organization’s mission is to use tourism as a tool for sustainable development. As an intern you will then go to the Via Via Travelers cafes. These are “meeting places for world travelers.” I quote: “You can go there to work with others and to rinse away the dust of your journey. Food and drink, music and art, artistic and cultural projects, trips and courses are bringing people and cultures together in a spirit of openness, respect and wonder. In most ViaVia’s you can also spend the night. ViaVia Joker Traveler cafés are oases of travel information. Through their local roots and involvement with the local environment, they add value to your discovery of country, culture and people. ViaVia encourages travel, explore and broaden your horizons ” The selection is done by JOKER TOURS, they send you – depending on your profile – to a destination. In my case, that will be a Spanish speaking country anyway, making these destinations options: Argentina (Buenos Aires), Chile (Valparaiso), Peru (Ayacucho), Ecuador (Tonsupa), Honduras (Copan) or Nicaragua (Leon). Read more: http://www.viaviacafe.com/

En als derde keuze, heb ik Living Stone Dialoog vzw opgegeven. Deze organisatie heeft als missie het inzetten van toerisme als hefboom voor duurzame ontwikkeling. Als stagiaire kom je dan terecht bij de Via Via reiscafés. Dit zijn “ ontmoetingsplaatsen voor wereldreizigers”. Ik citeer: “Je kan er terecht om samen met anderen het stof van je reis weg te spoelen. Eten en drinken, muziek en kunst, artisitieke en culturele projecten, trips en cursussen brengen er mensen en culturen samen in een geest van openheid, respect en verwondering. In de meeste ViaVia’s kan je ook overnachten. ViaVia Joker Reiscafés zijn oases van reisinformatie. Door hun lokale inbedding en betrokkenheid met de plaatselijke omgeving, zijn ze een meerwaarde bij je ontdekking van land, cultuur en bevolking. ViaVia zet aan tot reizen, ontdekken en het verruimen van je horizon.” De selectie gebeurt door JOKER REIZEN, zij sturen je – afhankelijk van je profiel naar een bestemming. In mijn geval zou dat sowieso Spaanstalig worden waardoor volgende bestemmingen opties zijn: Argentinië (Buenos Aires), Chile (Valparaíso), Peru (Ayacucho), Ecuador (Tonsupa), Honduras (Copán) of Nicaragua (León).  Meer lezen: http://www.viaviacafe.com

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Anyway, 2014 promises to be a spectacular year so… But there will be also hard work to be done: final projects and exams are also ahead! The purpose is to complete by the end of June the final stretch of the bachelor’s degree and then graduate to get the diploma. (I now realize that it is the first time that I think about it like that and describe it. Maybe that’s a good thing to do!).

Bon, 2014 belooft dus een spetterend jaar te worden… Maar er zal ook hard gewerkt moeten worden: afstudeerprojecten en eindexamens staan ook voor de boeg! De bedoeling is immers om eind juni de laatste loodjes van het bachelor-diploma te voltooien en vervolgens het diploma in handen te krijgen. (Ik besef nu dat het de eerste keer is dat ik dit zo uitvoerig bedenk en beschrijf. Misschien is dat wel goed om even te doen?!).

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Basically, I will be graduated from mid 2014, ready to revoke the wide world or in less philosophical terms: to sign a permanent contract and get to work. Forever. Until my retirement. And you hear it, that idea alone depresses me desperately! And I would not be me if I was not already dreaming about some other, new future perspectives … I explain it here: before my Erasmus period I secretly dreamed of starting a master study after the bachelor. For this I saw two possibilities: a Master in Tourism, or a Master in Anthropology.

In principe ben ik dus vanaf midden 2014 afgestudeerd, klaar om de weide wereld in te trekken, of minder filosofisch uitgedrukt: een vast contract te ondertekenen en aan het werk te gaan. Voor eeuwig. Tot het pensioen. En je hoort het al, dat idee alleen al deprimeert me mateloos! En ik zou ik niet zijn als ik alweer aan het dromen was over andere, nieuwe toekomstperspectieven… Ik leg het even uit: voor mijn Erasmus-periode droomde ik er stiekem van om na de bachelor een master-studie te beginnen. Hiervoor zag ik 2 mogelijkheden: een Master in Toerisme, of een Master in Antropologie.

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The Master in Tourism lasts one year, but requires a bridging semester, and takes place as well in Bruges as in Leuven. I could start with the program in September 2014 and thus ending around January 2016. I quote here: “The emphasis is on sector-specific marketing studies, including competitive analysis. Besides the economic aspect, however there are still many aspects that focus on the behavior and impacts on environment and society. This means that the social, geographical and cultural disciplines will enrich the offer into a coherent program that the multidimensional nature of tourism fully addresses and that the aspect of sustainability presupposes ” You can read more about it at: http://aow.kuleuven.be/geografie/masterinhettoerisme/index.html

De Master in Toerisme duurt 1 jaar, maar vereist een schakelprogramma van een semester, en gaat door in Brugge en Leuven. De opleiding zou ik kunnen starten in september 2014 en dus beëindigen rond januari 2016. Ik citeer ook hier even: “Het accent ligt op sectorspecifieke marketingstudies, inclusief concurrentieanalyses. Naast het economische zijn er echter nog vele aspecten die vooral gericht zijn op het gedragspatroon en de impacten op ruimte en samenleving. Dit betekent dat ook de sociale, geografische en culturele disciplines het aanbod komen verrijken in een coherent programma dat het multidimensionele karakter van toerisme ten volle aan bod laat komen en het aspect duurzaamheid voorop stelt.” Je kan er meer over lezen op: http://aow.kuleuven.be/geografie/masterinhettoerisme/index.html

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The Master in Social and Cultural Anthropology is a different kettle of fish, it would be throwing my whole career on a different track… Or at least highlight it from a different, new perspective: “Anthropology is the scientific study of human history in its biological, linguistic and social aspects “. I quote this as the K.U. Leuven describes the program: “What makes anthropology unique is not so much what she studies, but the way and the position from which she approaches the human condition. Anthropology focuses on what divides people as to what binds them.

De Master in de Sociale en Culturele Antropologie is een andere koek, het zou mijn hele carrière over een andere boeg gooien… Of op zijn minst vanuit een ander, nieuw perspectief belichten: “antropologie is de wetenschappelijke studie van de menselijke geschiedenis in haar biologische, taalkundige en sociale aspecten”. Ik citeer hiervoor even de K.U. Leuven om de opleiding te beschrijven: “Wat de antropologie uniek maakt, is niet zozeer wat ze bestudeert, maar de manier waarop en het standpunt van waaruit ze de menselijke conditie benadert. Daarbij richt de antropologie zich zowel op wat mensen verdeelt als op wat hen bindt.

As an anthropologist you study problems of identity, globalization, the relationship between man and nature, colonization or ethnicity. You do this from the perspective of those who are involved in it. The focus is on the experience of the ordinary man or woman. For example, given the political discourse on globalization, ecology or migration an extra dimension, which often yields surprising insights. ” This field of study actually excites me a lot, and would give my tourism-world a whole new digression to other domains. But the full course lasts 2 years, and there must be followed a bridging program of one year for bachelor students like me. In addition, you must be accepted for enrollment. As mentioned above, the program takes place in Leuven. Read more: http://www.kuleuven.be/toekomstigestudenten/studiekeuzebegeleiders/nwsbrf/0910/13/antropologie.html and http://onderwijsaanbod.kuleuven.be/opleidingen/n/CQ_50268970.htm

Als antropoloog bestudeer je problemen als identiteitsvorming, globalisering, de relatie mens-natuur, kolonisatie of etniciteit. Je doet dit vanuit het perspectief van de betrokkenen. De focus ligt hierbij op de ervaring van de gewone vrouw of man. Zo krijgt bijvoorbeeld het politieke discours over globalisering, ecologie of migratie een extra dimensie, wat vaak verrassende inzichten oplevert.” Dit studiedomein boeit me eigenlijk enorm, en zou mijn toerismewereld op haar manier een hele uitwijding geven naar andere domeinen. De volledige opleiding duurt wel 2 jaar, en er moet een schakelprogramma van 1 jaar gevolgd worden voor bachelor-studenten zoals ik. Bovendien moet je ook geaccepteerd worden om te kunnen inschrijven. Zoals hierboven vermeld, gaat de opleiding door in Leuven. Meer lezen: http://www.kuleuven.be/toekomstigestudenten/studiekeuzebegeleiders/nwsbrf/0910/13/antropologie.html en http://onderwijsaanbod.kuleuven.be/opleidingen/n/CQ_50268970.htm

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If I would pick the hard way, I would choose the Anthropology Master, but I also realize that it could be a disappointment, and that it will not be possible then to go back to the Master in Tourism. A safer choice would thus be Tourism, which program is also just half as long to complete. Of course this master is also less valuable than the Anthropology one, but on the other hand the tourism industry offers more jobs … On the other hand it is often said that Masters degrees in Tourism do not earn more than Bachelor degrees in Tourism, so it raises the question whether it is really worth the investment to take the Master if you stay in the tourism industry anyway? Many question marks in the head so …

Als ik voor de moeilijke weg ging, zou ik voor de Antropologie kiezen, maar ik besef ook dat het wel eens zou kunnen tegenvallen, en dat er dan moeilijk nog een weg terug is naar de Master in Toerisme. Een veiligere keuze zou dus Toerisme zijn, welke opleiding ook maar half zo lang in beslag neemt. Uiteraard is ze ook wel minder waardevol dan de antropologie, maar toerisme biedt dan weer meer werkgelegenheid… Anderzijds wordt er vaak gezegd dat Masters in Toerisme niet meer verdienen dan Bachelors in Toerisme, dus is het dan ook de vraag of het werkelijk de investering waard is om die master te volgen als je toch besluit binnen de toeristische sector te blijven? Veel vraagtekens in het hoofd dus…

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And then there was ERASMUS! Some time for not too much thinking about this, and to lead the good life and to be inspired by the multiculturalism and so on, as previously mentioned. And how could it be otherwise, I really do not believe in “coincidence”, ERASMUS MUNDUS became discussed, here in Gandia one day. I had previously never heard of it, but it did immediately ring a bell in my head. Ahaa!

Erasmus Mundus is a program of the European Commission. The aim is to increase higher education level, promote it around the world and cooperate with non-EU countries. Some European higher education institutions give an Erasmus Mundus Masters Course form and go into partnership with institutions in the rest of the world. Students from the rest of the world then come to study at such a master by at least three European institutions ” Read more: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/

En toen was er ERASMUS! Even tijd om daar niet teveel aan te denken, en om het goede leven te leiden, en om zoals eerder al gezegd, geïnspireerd te worden door de multiculturaliteit enzovoorts. En hoe kan het ook anders, ik geloof echt niet in “toeval”, kwam ERASMUS MUNDUS op een dag ter sprake, hier in Gandia. Ik had hier voorheen nog nooit van gehoord, maar het deed meteen een belletje rinkelen in mijn hoofd. Ahaa!

Erasmus Mundus is een programma van de Europese Commissie. Doel is de kwaliteit van het Europese hoger onderwijs te bevorderen, het over de gehele wereld te promoten en de samenwerking met landen buiten de EU te bevorderen. Enkele Europese hogeronderwijsinstellingen geven een Erasmus Mundusmasteropleiding vorm en gaan een partnerschap aan met instellingen in de rest van de wereld. Studenten uit de rest van de wereld kunnen zo in Europa studeren aan zo’n masteropleiding die door minstens drie Europese instellingen samen wordt vormgegeven.” Meer lezen: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/erasmus_mundus/

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As soon as I heard this, I quickly searched which ones were the different masters offered, and unbelievable but true: “European Master in Tourism Management” consists in the list of master programs! The program takes two years to complete: there are thus four semesters: the first semester takes place in Denmark, the second in Slovenia, the third in Spain and the fourth – last – semester is dedicated to writing the master’s thesis, and you choose one of these three destinations / universities for this last semester. Good to know is that each university has its own specialty, for example, focus on economy, sustainability, policy, … So you get offered within a program “the best of both worlds”. This degree, I do not have to tell you, is one of the best degrees you can find. Cost? Well, IF you are selected and IF you get a scholarship, nothing … How do you get accepted? With a bachelor’s degree in which you obtained at least 70%, so if you graduate with distinction. Of course I just counted how far I am in my second year, and yes, I got so far 77% on average. It may therefore still be possible! I also have to be able to submit proof of English language proficiency at the excellence level because the master courses are offered in English. For this, I could take evening courses and I could do an examination at an official institution. Just another challenge! Furthermore, there are some other requirements, too many to mention here. Read it yourself if you want at: http://www.emtmmaster.net/

Zo gauw ik dit vernam, zocht ik de verschillende mogelijke masteropleidingen op, en jawel hoor: “European Master in Tourism Management” bestaat hierin! De opleiding neemt 2 jaar in beslag: er zijn dus 4 semesters: de eerste semester gaat door in Denemarken, de tweede in Slovenië, de derde in Spanje en de vierde – laatste – semester wordt gewijd aan het schrijven van de master-thesis, en daarvoor kies je één van deze drie bestemmingen/universiteiten. Goed om weten is ook dat elke universiteit zijn eigen specialiteit heeft, bijvoorbeeld focus op economie, duurzaamheid, beleid, … Zo krijg je binnen één opleiding “the best of both worlds” aangeboden. Deze opleiding, ik hoef het je niet te vertellen, is één van de beste opleidingen die je kan vinden. Kostprijs? Wel, ALS je geselecteerd wordt en ALS je een beurs te pakken krijgt, niets… Hoe geraak je er binnen? Met een bachelor-diploma waarin je minimum 70% behaalde, onderscheiding dus. Heb ik natuurlijk even gerekend hoever ik nu zit in mijn tweede jaar, en jawel, ik behaalde tot nu toe 77% gemiddeld. Het kan dus nog! Ook moet ik een bewijs van Engelse taalvaardigheid op excellentie-niveau kunnen voorleggen, de master is uiteraard in het Engels aangeboden. Hiervoor zou ik avondschool kunnen volgen en een examen kunnen afleggen aan een officiële instelling. Slechts een uitdaging! Voorts zijn er nog enkele andere vereisten, te veel om hier op te noemen. Lees het zelf maar even na op: http://www.emtmmaster.net/

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So, now there are thus three possibilities to continue studying and I have a good view on it. I believe in it! And no, you do not hear me speaking about quitting studies soon. The student life is way too good for that! I think I will go to work the day I’m tired of studying, or the day that I ‘bump into’ the job of my life: something with travel, tourism, culture, writing, photography, … I’m not there yet, but as I said, I do not worry about that job, practice makes perfect. And I enjoy my “journey” …

Zo, inmiddels zijn er dus 3 mogelijkheden om verder te studeren en ik heb er een goed oog op. Ik geloof erin! En nee, je hoort mij nog niet snel over ophouden met studeren spreken. Het studentenleven is daar veel te goed voor! Ik denk dat ik zal gaan werken de dag dat ik het studeren moe ben, of de dag dat de job van mijn leven mij ‘overvalt’: iets met reizen, toerisme, culturen, schrijven, fotograferen, … Ik ben er nog niet uit, maar zoals ik al zei: ik maar me er niet druk om, al doende leert men. En ik geniet van mijn “journey”…

beauty-dreams-future-quote-text-Favim.com-355712And oh yes … For those for whom it all seems a bit much: if I have completed the bachelor and master, I will be about 25 years. So eventually… all not so bad, right?! Enough time to settle down, LATER ……;-)

En oh ja… Voor diegenen voor wie het allemaal wat veel lijkt: als ik de bachelor en de master voltooid heb, zal ik ongeveer 25 jaar zijn. Dus helemaal nog niet zo slecht, toch?! Tijd genoeg om te settelen, LATER…… 😉

20121012-210008So to conclude this whole story… For now…. A GOOD MOTIVATION!!!  😉

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