Tribute to Amy Kotkin

photoI am very lucky to have spent so much of my career with Amy Kotkin, Smithsonian Journeys’ Director since 1995. She retired last week after a brilliant career at the Institution, where she held several important posts during her decades-long tenure there.
Amy was at the helm of the largest, most comprehensive museum-based travel program on earth, through good times and challenging ones. She rode the wave of the economic boom of the “go-go 1990s” and bore the shock of 9/11 and Americans’ ambivalence to travel at all for some time afterwards. She helped open up destinations previously off limits to Americans, like Saudi Arabia and Cuba, and pioneered new ways to see the world, whether by private jet, chartered train, or small ship.

She challenged us to scale new heights of creativity with the types of programs we proposed to Smithsonian Journeys each year. She allowed us to contribute our talents to the Smithsonian brand, which has always been an honor and a pleasure for our staff.

We will sorely miss our smart, funny, fair-minded, forward thinking, passionate, practical, kind colleague in travel! Our gratitude and best wishes, Amy! We are excited to hear where you will travel next.

Chase Poffenberger

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Local travel renders unexpected results.

Some days we all envision traveling far and wide to unknown reaches of the globe to find that elusive hidden treasure of the like we’ve never encountered before.  Well today was was one of those days.

Members of the staff pulled their resources together and collected warm clothing and small gift cards to local stores and eateries to hand out to the local homeless in and around our immediate neighborhood.  We divvied up the goodies and headed out with the hopes that the loot would serve those less fortunate well in this bitter cold season of giving.

We traveled north and south, east and west and strangely had some difficulty finding those we had intentions of helping.  We searched for blocks and they were simply not to be found.  Eventually we found a few and offered them what we had.  We took the remaining bags to a nearby rectory  where we were told that our timing was perfect.  Tonight they were having a gathering for underprivileged families and the items would be a welcome addition to the event.  So we left knowing our small efforts just might have the warming effect we had originally intended.

Upon returning to the office from our trek, we discovered two remaining gift cards atop one of our desks.  So we decided that one of us would carry them with on their walk to the metro that evening and hope to give those away to someone along the way.

Well I did just that.  As I rounded a corner I noticed a homeless man sitting to the side of the walk.  As I approached him, I reached in my pocket and pulled out one of the eatery gift cards and kindly asked if he could use it.  He slowly looked up at me, smiled graciously and asked my name as he took the card.  I told him as he reached around behind him and grabbed a small ruffled bag.  He then pulled out his pen and a red envelope from the bag and carefully wrote my name on it without saying a word.  He then lifted the envelope up to me and again thanked me graciously for the gift card and wished me a “warm and happy holiday.”  I smiled and walked on, not wanting to open the envelope in front of him.  He was clearly a man of pride.

I walked a block and opened the envelope.  What I saw truly moved me.  It was a simple holiday greeting card that read;

With best wishes
for the holidays
and happiness
in the new year

It wasn’t the words themselves that moved me, but the gesture.  Here was a man who clearly had nothing but the clothes on his back, and yet he took some of his meager  daily collections and bought holiday cards to give to those who gave to him.

As I said, some days we all envision traveling far and wide to unknown reaches of the globe to find that elusive hidden treasure of the like we’ve never encountered before.  Well, during the holidays, sometimes we don’t have to  travel far to find such hidden treasures.

Our best wishes to you too… “John”

Academic Travel Abroad

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