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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Colombia: Coming Full Circle

dsc_06044138As my three-year-old daughter tested her dexterity by leaping from cobblestone to cobblestone in Villa de Leyva’s exquisite colonial plaza, I couldn’t help but remember how I explored this village nearly 15 years ago with a friend who declared that he wanted to have six robust sons.  The well-preserved white-washed buildings graced with evergreen-colored shutters and doors enchanted me and shortly afterward so did the friend, who was now concerned that his daredevil daughter was going to twist an ankle.

Our trip back to Colombia filled me with nostalgia and also pleasantly surprised me about various changes I observed since my last visit two years ago.

  • Bogotá’s Gold Museum was just reopened and the newly renovated building has beautiful displays which showcase the priceless pre-Colombian metalwork.
  • Zipaquirá’s Salt Cathedral, a Roman Catholic cathedral constructed within a salt mine used by the indigenous Muisca culture before the arrival of the Spanish, has invested in tourist facilities such as parking, restrooms, and a cafeteria.
  • There is an increased number of international visitors and additional U.S. airlines serving the capital city.
  • Happily, Villa de Leyva is still as charming as it was fifteen years ago.

dsc_06284162In addition, I discovered that the country’s tourism promotion campaign doesn’t exist in a void.  They are also bringing in consultants from countries known for their excellent tourism to assist in training Colombian guides.  Even before I married a Colombian, the country was already dear to my heart.  The happy, spirited people, the breathtaking landscapes formed by the Andes Mountains and two oceans, the varied cuisine, colorful traditional festivities, and impressive pre-Colombian ruins clearly distinguish it from many other places I have visited.  Knowing how much Colombia has to offer tourists, it was very exciting for me to witness these changes and see that Colombia is on the cusp of becoming the next up and coming destination to visit.  I have no doubt that it will enchant others as it did me more than 15 years ago.

Michelle Korczynskidsc_05484083
Senior Program Manager
Academic Travel Abroad

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