I’m so honored to be featured on the XX, Will Travel Podcast for independent women travelers. On International Women’s Day, I’m talking about how I grew from vulnerability abroad, learned to normalize self care, and how that’s impacted my life as a woman today.
As travelers, we constantly put ourselves in vulnerable positions by exploring unfamiliar languages, cultures, social mores and even physical terrain. Char Stoever is an LGBT diversity trainer and Peace Corps alum assigned to Nicaragua who coined the term “vulnerable traveler.” She joins us to talk about how to view vulnerability as a learning tool and relationship builder instead of as a weakness. Opening up is never easy and does require care, particularly for members of marginalized groups. But, as Char discusses, the rewards often outweigh the risks and can lead to a more authentic travel experience. We also touch on self care while traveling and avoiding the “1000 Things to See Before You Die” trap.
This week’s episode features Char Stoever. Char is a Mexican-American bacon lover, travel writer, and diversity trainer with a passion for the intersection between social justice and technology. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is grateful to have attended a women’s college where women’s opinions, aspirations, and accomplishments were valued. In 2011, she studied abroad in France, and after graduating in 2012, she taught in public schools in Boston and San Antonio.
In 2016, she finished 27 months of service with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, where she worked as an LGBT diversity trainer, social media manager, and fundraiser for gender empowerment camps. She’s currently Wanderful’s social media intern and has written about travel, LGBTQ issues, mental health, and women’s empowerment for sites like Go Abroad and Travel Latina.
I’m a travel writer, trip director, communications specialist, and diversity trainer who is passionate about the intersection of social justice and technology.
My appreciation for gender empowerment stems from graduating from Wellesley College, where women’s aspirations and accomplishments were valued. I’ve studied in France and I’ve taught in public schools in Boston and San Antonio.
In 2016, I finished 27 months of service with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, where I worked as an LGBT diversity trainer, social media manager, TEFL teacher trainer, and fundraised thousands of dollars for gender empowerment camps. Now, you might see me giving bike tours on the National Mall with DC Bike and Roll!
I do translation work, editing, research, and social media consulting consistently and quickly. Whenever I work, I make sure everything I post goes the distance. I know the value of consistency, communication, and creativity. Everyone has a story to tell. Not only will I help you tell your story, I’ll make sure it is heard.
This GoAbroad.com e-book features three articles I wrote. One talks about navigating mental illness abroad and another talks about how to support a friend abroad with a mental illness. The last discusses practicing self-care abroad.
Thank you so much, Sylvia D., for emailing me to introduce yourself after having read my self care article a while back. Little did I know you’d come to be an integral part of helping me with these next posts and to continue the never ending conversation about mental health abroad after we skyped in August for three hours.
I still think about our conversation and about how much you taught me about breaking the ice about this important topic that too many people feel uncomfortable talking about.
The more we talk about it, the more we normalize discussions about mental health and navigating mental illnesses abroad.
This is an entry I wrote on December, 2011, during a family visit to Mexico. I was in my senior year of college. I hadn’t published it until now, so while I’m a little late, the message still rings true. This week I’ve been staying with my grandma and enjoying her company and the delicious tacos, menudo, and pastries of León, Guanajuato.
I hope to finally see the Monarch butterflies when I go to Morelia on Tuesday. Enjoy!
I flew to Mexico and arrived in Morelia, Michoacan my birth town, at about midnight. Finally. It had been two years and I’m always restless to go back to Mexico. I stayed there for about 4 days and saw family, hiked, and basked in the sun that I missed so much. It was hard to believe that the beating, hot sun down here is the same one that teases us in Boston, where it begins to set at 3:30.
One restaurant that stuck out to me was the San Miguelito, where my aunt and cousin went. It’s famous for basically being a museum to San Antonio, the saint that women turn over so that they can find boyfriends. There was even a life-sized one there, turned on its head, accompanied by several advertisements of women seeking good men to marry. All of my photos of the place seem annoyingly upside down. I looked at the menu and decided to try Huitlacoche, which is the cooked fungus that grows on corn. It’s a delicacy there, but after a bite of some in my quesadilla, it tasted and looked just like cooked spinach.
The day before I left, I took a stroll past the huge aqueduct through the historic downtown, which has been around since the 1500s. I really missed the concept of a town plaza where people go to sit and relax, as they listen to the constant flow of water ebbing from the fountains-or children crying loudly, asking their parents to buy them that unnecessarily large sized tweetie balloon. I was basking in the 70 degree weather, and everyone could tell I was not from there because I was making a conscious effort to sit in the sun while they wore their hats and long sleeved shirts. “No, I’m not cold,” I’d say to them. “Your winter is my summer!”
Then came the bus ride to Leon. I thought I loved to recline in my seat but these Mexicans had me beat. Halfway there, I turned and saw half of them knocked out, reclining one after another like dominos. There was a movie about a cave playing (the only actor I recognized was the man who blew the whistle at the end of Titanic in search of survivors) but I lost interest after the only female lead died. How Wellesley of me. My favorite part of the 2.5 hour long journey to León is the ride over Lake Cuitzeo. It’s this large expanse of grayish blueish water teeming with white herons all over it, and the road glides right through the middle of it. The environmental studies side of me wonders how badly contaminated it is at this point, as there weren’t many fishermen out there at all.
I should stop here in order to describe León in its deserved detail, but I’ll leave with one thought. This morning I heated up my egg, tortilla and salsa and broke my fast with abuelita (grandma). Somehow the topic of the monarch butterflies emerged, and she marveled at the way in which four generations of them migrate each year from Canada to Michoacan (the state I was just in).
She lamented at the fact that deforestation is leaving them with less places to land, and how blood has been lost over the land that these creatures deserve to call home. On a brighter note, she asked me “¿Como deben saber a donde ir, año tras año, desde Canada hasta aqui?¿Que maravilloso, no?” (“How do they know where to go, year after year, from Canada all the way here? Isn’t it marvelous?”).
Well, the monarch butterlfies are just like me, I thought. They always just want to come back to Mexico.
I don’t know why, but I’m as restless as any one of those Monarch butterflies to leave the North for a while and join family here and there, and ultimately to stay at my grandma’s house for a while. I thought by now this urge would die down, but it seems just as strong as ever.
Every day, the thought of your cloudy skies and rainy streets permeate my mind. I never thought either of those things would appeal to me, not now they’re forever preserved in amber in my memory.
I flew into you, knowing little more about you than the fact that you’re bursting with about eight million people.
The hum of Pillar Point’s Dove oozing from my headphones, I gazed out onto the hazy, emerald mountains outside my scratched, undersized window. I’d watched Kia Labeija voguing through Bogotá each day before visiting you, each time my soul building with anticipation to wander La Candelaria’s cobblestoned streets.
I couldn’t wait to see your jarring contrast of skyscrapers and Montserrat’s looming presence with my own eyes. I wanted to feel as free as the uncaged Kia.
As soon as I arrived, I felt disoriented. Which way was North? I wondered countless times. My obsession with order was flipped on its head. I’m usually quick to orient myself, but with mountains on all sides, it was hard to do so.
Which way is up? I might as well have wondered. I was vulnerable in a most basic sense, but I’ve learned to grow from this discomfort.
I was nervous and thrilled, but with you, this excitement was different. I’d returned somewhere I’d never visited. I felt as if you’d been waiting patiently for me all these years, trusting I’d walk in the door eventually. Like a dormant volcano whose crater filled with water over millennia, you basked in waiting.
What was the rush?
I’d meet you in due time. Now, as I write this, I realize how much I miss you. I miss the cool air that put my blankets to use. I miss wearing jeans without sweating and layering my clothes. I miss the peppery smell emanating from food carts selling warm empanadas.
“Beef or chicken?” the vendor asked me.
“Mmm…One of each, please. Oh, and do you not have salsa?”
“Como no,” he said, and he placed the magical ingredients in a brown paper bag.
I felt inspired during the Bogota Graffiti Tour. I’d learned of the artists from Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand who’ve made this place their second home, and now I wanted to join them.
A Reptilian monster wrapped itself around buildings’ unassuming walls, and an indigenous woman looked to the sky, averting her gaze from us mortals. I’d learned of the artist the police had shot, then of the subsequent police barrier protecting Justin Beiber while he stained your walls. Once the police left, your artists reclaimed your wall.
I loved the atmosphere of change. Of recuperation from trauma of a violent, capitalist-driven cocaine trade. Just like with any trauma, I’ve never completely recovered from mine. I constantly seek to explore my traumas and the effects they’ve had on me, and writing has been my saving grace in that process.
I was only there for three days, yet I was blessed with being able to queer it up during the LGBTQ Pride Parade. Just like Pride in Managua, Nicaragua, you haven’t sold out to corporate interests. Instead of free t-shirts, I got kisses on the cheek from new friends. We floated past the rainbow banners in between patches of sunlight that the skyscrapers’ granted us. I took my sweater off and put it back on.
I danced the night away at the immensely fabulous gay club, Theatron, then on the taxi ride home, I fell into darkness. It could’ve happened anywhere, and I’ve learned just how resilient I am since it happened.
I wanted to stay. You know, I really do love museums. It’s how I get to know a place intimately. I wanted to dive further into you, to explore your history in its glory, sadness, and tumult. I still want to know you. I felt the heaviness in my heart one feels when they’re not ready to leave a place. This feeling reminds me of Iranian author Azar Nafisi’s words about leaving:
“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place… like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” – Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
I miss who I was when I was with you. Now you know. I can’t wait to explore you again.