In Cuba, technology may beat censorship

Published June 4, 2014

Cuba’s first major independent newspaper in more than five decades — a digital
daily called 14ymedio — was quickly blocked within the island last week, but the
big question is for how long the country’s regime will be able to maintain its
monopoly on the news media.

Yoani Sanchez, the prominent Cuban blogger who launched the new digital paper
with her husband Reinaldo Escobar and a staff of about a dozen reporters, is
confident that ordinary Cubans will be able to bypass the government’s censorship
through a variety of technical gimmicks.

Right now, 14ymedio can be easily accessed overseas, but not in Cuba. Little more
than an hour after it appeared last Wednesday, its website was hacked and
redirected to a pro-government Web page called Yoani$landia, accusing Sanchez
of trying to enrich herself with her new venture.

But the Cuban regime’s attacks in the past have not prevented Sanchez from
becoming one of the world’s most admired journalists.

Sanchez has 609,000 followers on Twitter, compared with Cuban President
Gen. Raul Castro’s 130,000, and Cuba’s official Prensa Latina news agency’s
63,000. She has been awarded the world’s top journalism prizes, and Time
magazine has selected her as one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

In an article titled “Our first day,” 14ymedio published among other things a
report on a public letter of support signed by intellectuals from throughout the
world, led by Nobel Prize winners Mario Vargas Llosa and Lech Walesa.

Minutes after its birth, the website was blocked to readers on the island, the
story recalled. But 12 hours later, the 14ymedio staff was celebrating. Staffers
had been able to access 14ymedio through a proxy server — a program that
allows people to conceal their computer’s identity, which allowed them to
access the website as if they were doing it from a foreign country.

“Censorship won’t be the most difficult obstacle we will have to breach,” the
14ymedio article said. “Blocking 14ymedio could become a failed tactic if they
want to silence us. There’s nothing more attractive than what is prohibited.”

In addition to “proxy” severs, 14ymedio will be distributed within Cuba
through the so-called memory stick “paquetes” (packages) or “combos” 
that have become ubiquitous on the island.

Cubans buy memory sticks, also known as flash drives or pen drives, or
get them from the estimated 500,000 Cuban-Americans — mostly from 
Miami — who visit the island every year. They use them to buy weekly 
“paquetes” of foreign movies, music, or news, on the island’s black market.

Much like people in other countries subscribe to a cable TV company, Cubans
who want to circumvent the Communist Party-run media subscribe to weekly 
“paquetes.”  They take their pen driver to their supplier — a black market dealer 
— and get a fresh package of movies, music or news every week.

“At the end of the day, the government will not be able to stop 14ymedio,”
says Raul Moas, executive director of Roots of Hope, a Miami-based group 
that sends cellphones, flash drives and other computer devices to the island. 
“Cubans are finding innovative ways to access and share information offline.”

Skeptics say Sanchez’s 14ymedio newspaper will be — like blog GenerationY
— much more popular abroad than in Cuba, for the simple reason that most 
Cubans have never had access to her writings because of the island’s rigid 
censorship, and highly restricted Internet access.

Cuba, alongside Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador, is one of the Latin
American countries with less access to the Internet, according to World 
Bank figures. Only 25 of every 100,000 Cubans has access to the Web, 
mostly at very slow speed and one of the world’s highest costs.

The black market pen drive “paquetes” will not topple the island dictatorship
any more than black market cassette tapes in the 1970s, videocassettes in the 
1980s, or satellite cellphones paid by friends and relatives abroad most recently, 
skeptics say.

My opinion: I have nothing but admiration for Sanchez, Escobar and their
team, who are pushing the limits of Cuba’s censorship like nobody has in 
recent memory.  They are true heroes of our times.

Sure, Cuba’s decrepit dictatorship will keep millions of Cubans on the island
from getting access to the website. But it’s fighting a losing battle: Today’s 
memory sticks are much cheaper, smaller, and can store many more hours of 
videos, music and news than the old cassettes.

The Cuban regime has shot itself in the foot by blocking 14ymedio at a time
when the government officials are trying to convince the world that they are 
carrying out meaningful reforms in Cuba.

They would have been much smarter if they had allowed the website, because
as technology becomes cheaper, it will become increasingly more widespread, 
and more likely to beat censorship.

Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for The Miami Herald. Email:

13 moments of culture shock for the first-time American traveler

Published September 12, 2013

MY FIRST TIME ABROAD, I knew things were going to be different the moment I saw my European host dad strip down to a speedo tighter than my bikini bottoms and dive into the Baltic Sea. Cultural differences will surprise you, but you have to learn to live with them to enjoy traveling.
When you realize you’re not as smart as you thought

You thought you knew it all. After all, you’ve been trained since birth to consider yourself living in a melting pot. “Traditional ethnic foods” like spaghetti and meatballs, burritos, and chop suey have laid the foundations for our sophisticated, multicultural palates. If you really think so, I challenge you to order one of these dishes in its alleged country of origin and not make a total ass of yourself. Then, I challenge you to haggle for items like fabric softener, tampons, or a bootleg iPhone in a bustling open-air market using your straight-out-of-the-textbook “fluent” language skills.
Pre-departure, you thought you knew the food, the language, and the culture of your destination. Then, you find yourself resorting to gestures and drawings while trying to buy condoms (thanks for nothing, Spanish class), staring blankly at people because they have a different accent than your teacher back home, and having a public meltdown because none of the words being spoken to you were on your vocab lists. And, by the time you mistakenly state that you’re “pregnant” instead of “embarrassed” to your Spanish host family, fluent has taken on a whole new meaning and you realize you don’t know anything at all.

When you’re forced to poke your head through the sunroof

Everything is small. Serving portions, refrigerators, cars, and often even the people themselves are mini, relative to our Hummers, super-size fries, and obesity epidemic.
I’ve spent time abroad yearning for men whose eyes weren’t at my boob level and wasted precious days scouring stores for shoes that could accommodate my big American feet. Besides coming to terms with these types of genetic differences abroad, you’ll also get used to consuming the appropriate amount of food and driving in cars that actually fit into parking spaces.
We come from the land of the unnecessarily big. When it comes to the things we buy and consume, you’ll learn that bigger doesn’t really equal better. In fact, it usually equals unnecessary waste and weight. If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from my time abroad, it’s that smaller sometimes equals smarter.
When you learn there’s more than one definition of “punctual”

Without our rigid scheduling, we’d be late to work, late getting the kids from soccer practice, and late for our Starbucks coffee break. Abroad, you’ll find this time and scheduling junk is not an innate lifestyle.
For me, the lesson came only after the umpteenth time I’d waited an extra hour for a man named Luis outside of a seedy metro station in Mexico City. Evidently, our 9pm meeting time for him signified the time to shower, roll a cigarette, and grab some tacos on the way to the metro.
Once you accept that the numbers on the clock are basically arbitrary, you’ll stop getting pissed off at all the Luises of the world and start to arrive at their flexible version of “on time.”
When you learn that eating’s more than just chewing

As it turns out, eating can serve a purpose beyond sustenance and a temporary taste bud sensation. That deeper meaning will come once you’ve spent 5 hours at a dinner table (flattening your ass a good bit in the process) with friends.
In many places, meal time is almost sacred — a time to connect with family and friends until the wee hours of the morning. Aside from the company and conversation, it’s likely that what’s on the table will get your taste buds off more than Mac and Cheese or a pre-made bagged salad ever could. Hopefully, once you’ve stopped making (and missing) post-dinner plans, you’ll learn to quit shoveling food down your throat at record speed in order to catch the last half of American Idol.
When you’re alone in a foreign land, thinking “people are so nice…”

Whoa, people — strangers — want to feed me, show me around, and introduce me to their families? While I’m on the road, I’m always taken aback at the selfless generosity of people I meet. They love foreigners and are genuinely concerned that you have a great time.
Ahh, when you put positive vibes out there, you get good travel karma in return.
When you’re alone in a foreign land, thinking “people are so mean!”

Nobody says sorry when they bump shoulders with you on the sidewalk. Your friendly smiles at strangers are unreciprocated. Also, why doesn’t anybody have patience with your language skills? At least you’re trying! Everybody blames you for US foreign policy and the Bush years, even though you swear you never voted for him.
Or maybe you’re just being overly sensitive because you’re feeling vulnerable in a foreign country. Regardless, you start to understand the heavy responsibility of being an ambassador to your country — patriot or not.

Read more: 8 inventions that create global culture
When you decide you actually don’t like the attention

If you have two legs and breasts, prepare for courting and cat-calls in a far more aggressive manner than Screech’s pursuit of Lisa Turtle. This is especially true in Latin America.
At first, I wrote these men off as disrespectful machistos and gave them the finger. Eventually, I chilled out and was able to ignore it, the way the local women did. After all, it’d be naive to assume people would change their ingrained behavioral patterns on the account of one American.
When you realize that nobody bites their tongue

Your mom always told you that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Really, I wonder if our euphemisms were born out of our sensitivity or if it was the other way around. People you’re used to aren’t fat, they’re plus-sized. Slower kids aren’t dumb, they’re special needs. Well, nobody exercises a politically correct filter like an American does, so it’s a pretty good idea to be prepared to be offended when you leave.
I was always getting more gordita, according to my Latino friends. I was also la negrita, or “the little black one.” To my relief, they weren’t hinting that I should stop eating or going in the sun. Rather, their comments were more like endearing observations…but I did raise my eyebrows when they referred to all people of Asian descent as Chinese.
When going up shit creek is a real thing

In many countries with weak sewage systems, it’s necessary to throw used toilet paper in that little garbage can beside the toilet.
Whatever you do, you are absolutely not to throw it in the toilet for risk of a clog. But if you’re prone to forgetfulness, get used to the inner to flush or not to flush debate. You’re damned if you do, but you’re that shitty foreigner if you don’t.
When the line between public and private begins to blur

Public displays of affection vary per country, from no physical contact to dry-humping on a park bench. I could never tear my eyes away from the dozens of men lying on top of their spread-eagle girlfriends at my Mexican university. I personally saved my own full-body contact for the salsa dance floor.

But by far my favorite PDA to gawk at is that between Italian men. So casually they stroll down the streets, arms linked, carrying on their conversations. They kiss on the cheek as a greeting and farewell. And guess what, American? They’re not gay.
When you kiss the ground after getting out of a taxi

In the US, we follow traffic laws mainly to avoid getting a ticket. Abroad, it’s terrifying to see these laws function more as guidelines. Driving can be like a game of bumper cars, only 5 times as fast and over potholed pavement. Even more terrifying is the helmetless family of 3, their dog, and a birthday cake swerving through traffic on a mini-scooter.
Because I survived such chaos while illegally driving a mostly non-functioning Fiat 500 at night, in the rain, uphill, without my glasses, I can safely reassure you that it’s possible to come out alive, without killing anyone, and without shitting yourself.
When you realize the rest of the world knows something you don’t

One night, you’re hanging out with your friend in a plaza. “What time does the football game start tonight?” you ask him. “19:15,” he responds. You nod your head and play like you knew 19:15 was a time.
Then, there’s the metric system. Nothing like the embarrassment of ending up with enough pasta to feed 25 and just 2 tomatoes for sauce to get you to study up on your kilos and grams. And what about the time you hysterically yelled at your taxi driver to speed to the airport because you’re still 60 kilometers away, but you only have 30 minutes?
Study up on what the entire rest of the world knows and you’ll save time, money, and stress.
When your arrogance is put in check

I always knew I was from America. Once, when I was 17, my Chilean friend referred to herself as an American as well. In disagreement, I called her out. Luckily, she immediately pointed out that I was the one who was mistaken.

By  On September 10, 2013
* Note: Vicki is a student in the MatadorU Travel Writing program.

How to use your mobile device to create awesome travel images

Published August 29, 2013

MOBILE PHOTOGRAPHY has become a full-blown movement. From San Francisco to Shanghai, amateur and professional photographers alike have been experimenting with various shooting and editing techniques on their mobile devices, finding they can achieve comparable and sometimes even more creative results than with their heavy cameras.
It’s been a few years since I switched into the smartphone realm, and my life as a traveler has changed completely. As an avid “fauxtographer,” as I like to call it, I believe the images taken and edited on phones and tablets can give professional photographers with expensive equipment and software a run for their money. Photo ops are often spontaneous and unpredictable, which is why being able to snap a quick photo with your phone over a traditional camera is sometimes a better option, especially while traveling. It’s a perfect hobby for travelers in transit.
While most traditional photography principles (composition, rule of thirds, etc.) also apply to mobile photography, there are some ways in which they differ thanks to the added versatility of portability and instant editing options. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when shooting and editing with your phone or tablet.

By Larissa Olenicoff

Santa Barbara Middle School – Discovering Hanoi

Published April 4, 2013

By Daniel 

We started off the day with a visit to a Confucian temple, also called “The Temple of Literature.”  It was filled with young school children, maybe 5 or 6 years old who were on a field trip to receive awards for getting good grades in school. The temple had a beautiful garden that included an intricate array of flowers trimmed to the shape of Chinese prayers. We did not spend very much time there because we wanted to move on to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We had to dress formally and the girls had to cover their shoulders and wear long skirts. We were not allowed to take pictures out of respect. We were asked to walk in twos and as we walked in there were many guards. The closer we got to the body the guards become more armed. The body was perfectly preserved through a mummification process and it was lit with a sort of eery orange light. After we exited the building we were allowed to take as many pictures as we like, in front of the huge building that was built to replicate Lenin’s in Russia.  We learned that the mausoleum takes $2 million to upkeep each year.  There were massive grassy lawns in front but we weren’t allowed on the grass.

We then hopped back on the bus and drove to the Hoa Lo Prison. It received the nickname the Hanoi Hilton because the american soldiers gained a sense of humor about it and though something ironic up. It was built by the french imperialists when they colonized Vietnam. They used the prison to detain Vietnamese revolutionaries. Later the when the Vietnamese gained independence they used the prison to house and torture american military, but specifically pilots that were shot down over Hanoi, for example: John McCain. It was a very depressing and worn out building. The walls were high and topped with broken glass, like barbed wire to keep the prisoners in. They had made wooden statues of Vietnamese prisoners to show you how they were treated. I felt that you could look in their eyes and feel how depressed they were. The whole building had an oppressing feeling to it and we moved on from exhibit to exhibit as fast as we could. After the prison, we left to go to the largest buffet that I have ever been to, but it was full of foreign and exotic looking foods that most of us were reluctant to eat.

After lunch we went to a water puppet show. A water puppet show is exactly what it seems. It had live music and puppeteers conducting different scenes from the rural cultures of Vietnam.  It was so boring. Not many of us payed attention.

We were taken to a strange Vietnamese restaurant that has caused Alex to puke and feel very ill. After we reflected in the hotel with some journal writing, the day is ending with a movie in Alex and Ryan’s room.

Tomorrow we are going to spend the morning at the Peace Village. A few of us are nervous because we don’t know what to expect or how intense it might be spending the day with children who have severe mental and physical disabilities, because of the effects of Agent Orange. I am excited to bring them supplies for their orphanage- we have a big donation for them from money we raised along with soccer balls, bubbles, toys, instruments, art supplies, and soaps/toothbrushes, etc. that we brought with us.


Santa Barbara Middle School – Vietnam – Day 5

Published April 3, 2013

By Sarina

Long bus rides are the perfect time to reflect, learn, and inspire. You have the chance to glimpse at the
natives live their life whether it is: working, cleaning, cooking, or looking after children. From our side of the glass window it seems so different form what we know but, for the most part, it is the same. We hopped off the bus in Trang Bang to enter the boiling heat and extreme humidity. We walked into a small resturant where we were greeted by Kim Phuc’s sister-in-law. She guided us to a table and turned on the TV. A documentary about “The Girl in the Photo” came on. We watched for a short while and decided it was time to give her her gift. Kelly presented the gift (a DVD of the Teen Press interview with Kim when she came to the Lobero, some goodies from our SB farmers market, and some of the money we raised from our bake sale.) while Annie did the talking. None of us understood what Annie was saying, but by both of their actions and reactions we could tell that the sister-in-law was very touched. She started to tear and gave Annie a big hug. We gathered around for a group picture and then made our way to the building next door. Kim’s sister was working in her out door café when we walked in. We got right to it and Annie and Kelly presented her with her gift. It was so inspiring to see the reactions both of Kim’s sisters had towards the gifts. It meant so much to them, and to know that just a little gift could make someones day felt amazing!
It was incredible to be in the very spot where Nick took that famous photograph, which helped lead to a turning point in the Vietnam war.

We saw the Cao Dai temple that was bombed, which Annie was running from when the picture was taken.  The area has become more developed over the years but there are still scars that remain from that horrible day.  After Trang Bang we had lunch then went on to the Cu Chi tunnels where the Vietcong hid and used as a major weapon in their guerrilla warfare against the US during the war.  We then had another 3 hour drive to the delta before hopping on a boat taxi to the rural homestay where we will be for the next three nights.

Santa Barbara Schools – Trip Reflections

Published March 31, 2013

Laura: We can’t believe our Vietnam journey is on its last leg. It feels like months ago that we first arrived in Saigon, but also weirdly seems like it was just yesterday. We had an awesome trip and learned so much as individuals and as a group. This country has such a rich culture and history that is very interesting to learn about from a local perspective…especially as Americans. We leave with full bellies and full hearts for the Vietnamese people but ready for some burgers, fries, and time with our Santa Barbara people. The kids have each written a final paragraph to sum up their trip and some of what they’ve learned. We’re sure you’ll hear many stories and see thousands of pictures to add to these thoughts. Stay tuned for a video/slideshow in the next couple of weeks.

Pierce: After 9 nights in Vietnam I have conflicting emotions on tobogganing back to that 805. The
remarkable culture, people and country not only opened my eyes to the polar opposite differences in our economic and social structures, but also the many similarities that we share.  Despite language barriers, our fearless troops and I were able to kindle flames with Mr. Hau, Dukey, and many Hanoi University students (especially Beatrice).  The experience for me was made by our trip to the Thanh Xuan Peace Village, the center for victims of Agent Orange.  Many of these children suffer from severe metal and physical disabilities; however, these children had an ineffable love of life surpassing any disability these remarkable kids inherited. This passion for life personifies not only Vietnam’s resilience and strength , but also their devotion to equality and striving to give every person a fair chance in life.  24 meals from free-range chicken to more exotic duck embryos and wafer thin sparrows will be quickly missed, but not soon forgotten.  So familiar to this country after countless jokes (that still aren’t over), amazing memories, and destroy-me inducing heat. Good night, Vietnam!      

Malaya: While traveling through Vietnam, I was given an amazing opportunity to learn more about myself and
the Vietnam War.  I will never forget my experience at the home-stay in the Mekong Delta. In the Mekong Delta I learned my limits with biking, but I also discovered my love for living outdoors (well, in cabins, but my point is made, I think).  On this trip, I also learned more about the Vietnam War, and was able to think critically about our past actions. Being able to see the war from the opponent’s point of view gave me a new perspective on the war.  I am extremely grateful for everyone who supported me and helped me get to Vietnam (shout out to the family, especially Herb Tuyay, he is a pretty cool guy). Thank you for a trip of a lifetime, and sorry for being extremely cliché, I think it runs in the family.

Jack: On this spectacular journey through this beautiful country called Vietnam, I have learned so much about the war and the Vietnamese culture. Part of that was through meeting the Vietcong general and understanding what it was like to live through the war. My favorite part about this trip was traveling through these hectic cities and peaceful country sides. During this trip I made new friends and strengthened my bonds with old ones. Even though we had to deal with extreme heat and a ton of bug bights, I would call this class, nah, this tight group of FRIENDS a group of intense travelers. I love Vietnam and it might be one of my favorite countries after America.  I will miss it here and I will miss this tight bond we have all created.

Daniel: The expedition to Vietnam was very interesting. I created strong, family-like ties with my fellow travelers and I got to learn about and experience Vietnamese culture and history first hand. Saigon was very comfortable and besides the near-death-via-moped experiences it was doable. The Mekong was a great surprise to me because of the 1800s-like home conditions and hellish temperatures. Lastly, Hanoi was a historical and educational hub in which I got to meet some bright-souled Agent Orange victims and become a point of interest for the Vietnamese college girls at the Peace Village with us.  This trip taught me how to get the maximum from the minimum in various senses and I am thankful for it.

Carter: This has been an amazing experience for me. Considering Vietnam is my favorite place I have

already been to, it would be impossible to not have a great time, but I owe this remarkable adventure to the wonderful Dorfman and Wooster. The schedule was great and always consisted of fun, exciting activities and foods. I really enjoyed the strong bonds we all created on this trip and hope to continue these new friendships.  I learned the importance of being able to forgive through war stories from the Vietcong general. I loved this trip and am very grateful to my parents, Peace Works Travel tours, the amazing chaperones, and the excellent guides that all played their role in bringing me this remarkable opportunity.

Bea: Vietnam was VERY interesting. It’s so different from America, it’s like comparing a cat to a dog. Vietnam had its ups and downs. It is a rich culture and a new experience. I got to see things like floating markets, busy streets, strange customs, and help locals along the way. I made friends and strengthened relationships with people who I had a first thought were far too different from me; I will continue to be friends with them even after this trip.  I learned about the history of Vietnam and our war against them, which I had previously known squat about.  On the downside, staying in a place where the food doesn’t agree with your stomach or tongue is a challenge.  Also, the whole trip consisted of brutal waves of homesickness and lethargy. All in all, I will probably not visit Vietnam again, but am very content and grateful I had this adventure.

Kayla: I was extremely blessed to be able to go on this trip. Vietnam was an amazing experience, from the culture to the food (of which the majority I didn’t enjoy). Saigon was a very hectic place, crossing the street was sketchy, but so are a majority of cities. When we went to the War Remnants Museum it really opened my eyes to how Americans could do these things to the Vietnamese people. It shed a different light on the war and the American people. Having stayed in the city of Saigon for three days to then having to adjust to
the country in the Mekong was difficult. I wasn’t fully prepared for what it was like. Sleeping with mosquito nets over you was a little scary, but waking up to the roosters rather than honking was so comforting. My favorite part of being in the Mekong was being able to fish in the stream, the water may have been hurtful and dirty but it was so exciting catching those fish. I also really enjoyed learning how to do my laundry and cook dinner the way they do. All the sweat and mosquito bites were worth the incredible time we had there…even the karaoke wasn’t too bad. I’m glad we got to enjoy the city as well a sthe country with our one-of-a-kind tour guide, Mr.Hau. I kind of missed roughing it when we got to the next hotel in Hanoi. The weather felt so much better in Hanoi then the Mekong, it was nice adjustment. Our second day there we went to the Peace Village, I was expecting worse than I saw so it was almost a relief. The kids there were so full of joy and lively. Seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter was great knowing just our presence could do that for them. I was able to step out of my comfort zone and enjoy my time there. Throughout our journey in Vietnam I learned a lot about myself and how easy I have it. I hope to one day come back and explore the world more. This was a great adventure I will not forget.

Tuesday Travel Tip: Ethical Travel Photography

Published June 5, 2012

Student traveler in Vietnam

I’d been living abroad in Vietnam for three months and was having one of those days were the cacophony of a foreign culture was starting to grate on me. I had reached that point of romanticized nostalgia for the states that my very gut throbbed for home. I was whining to my friend over Skype about my homesickness, when he asked me a question that gave me pause: “why do you travel?” It was so simple. It seemed like the most obvious question to ask myself before moving to a different continent, but I had to admit I had no idea. Why do I travel? I must think there is some implicit value to the experience, but why was I doing it? What was the value? And how could I get the most out of it?
When I sat down to write this travel tip on ethical travel photography the same question popped up again: why travel? Before you can be a responsible photographer, you first need to be a responsible traveler. And in order to do that you need to ask yourself: what is it that I am trying to get out of this travel experience and how can I document my experience in a way that is accurate and beneficial? These are difficult questions to answer because there is no one right response. People travel for a variety of reasons and individual interests and experiences will influence those. But over the years, I’ve noticed a fundamental, reoccurring theme: travel is about gaining new perspectives, about learning how other people live and about humility (realizing that your way isn’t the only or necessarily the “right” way). Having respect for the people and place you are visiting is essential in order to gain these insights. And when it comes to taking photos, respecting the humanity and cultural norms of the place you are visiting is key.

So how do we translate respect into our photos? In an attempt to answer this question, I’ve broken ethical photography down into a handful of guidelines, none of which are set in stone, but instead can be used to assess situations when abroad and make the final decision of whether or not take the picture.
Bagan, Burma
Ask permission before you snap a photo. Human beings are not objects and they shouldn’t be treated as simply part of the scenery. How would you feel if a stranger walked up to you, shoved a camera in your face, snapped a couple pictures and then took off? Unless you’re at a large public event where people expect to be photographed, talk to the subject and make sure you can take their picture. If there’s a language barrier make an effort with sign language, gesturing to your camera. The camera can also be used to build relationships with people. If you take someone’s picture, then show it to them. Use your photography as a means of interacting and understanding the people and the culture you are visiting; this will make both your pictures and your time abroad more meaningful.
Don’t pay for pictures. Especially in underdeveloped countries, you might be asked for money in exchange for a photo. While this might seem like a tempting exchange, Ethical Travel’s Katia Savchuk warns against it. Savchuk references Explorer Worldwide’s Maz Linvingston, who explains that rather than giving back to the community, paying people to take their picture turns travel photography into “a kind of prostitution.” It also transforms what could have been a cultural exchange into a business transaction, creating a staged picture that does not honestly depict the situation or lives of the people.
Respect no photography signs. If there are signs that say no photos, don’t snap any. Taking pictures at important religious sites, for example, demonstrates a lack of respect for the culture you are visiting. Remember you are in a foreign country. This isn’t your home; you don’t know all of the taboos or understand the subtleties of social relations. In this case, err on the side of caution.
Father and son in Kedougou, Senegal
Build relationships with the people you’re photographing. The best way to photograph people is to develop a trusting relationship with them. If you have the leisure to be spending an extended amount of time with a family or group of people, the emotional bond you create with them will enrich your photographs. The more people become comfortable with you, the more willing they will be to let you and your camera into their lives. Not only does a human bond make the photographs more meaningful to you, but they will also be more honest in their depiction of a person’s life and culture.
Photograph honestly and capture diversity. A photograph is a simplification of a complex landscape. Each photo you take tells a short story. It is your responsibility as a photographer to make sure that the stories you are telling are as accurate as possible. When photographing your travels, try to document the diversity of the culture rather than focusing on one thing; this will help you to understand the complexities of the place your visiting and keep an open mind.
Join the discussion! We’d like to hear from you. What do you think about photography and ethics? Post your insights in our comment section.

Tuesday Travel Tip: Bargaining 101

Published May 15, 2012

Souvenir shopping goes hand-in-hand with travel, but when your adventuring through South America, Asia or Africa this process becomes a little more complicated than swiping your credit card. Haggling, even over small items, is not only expected, but also plays a big part in the cultures and everyday life of most of the world’s countries. Unless you plan on systematically paying an exorbitant “tourist” price for everything you buy, it’s necessary to participate in the bargaining game. Being skilled at bartering is an essential trick of seasoned travelers, but with a little practice even the greenest traveler can pick it up.
So, how does one learn to be a good haggler? Unfortunately, as John Navata explains in his article “Bargain when in Foreign Countries,” “most North Americans are terrible at bargaining.” But don’t get too down on yourself, “bargaining simply does not play much of a role in our everyday transactions.” Even more so, bargaining can be counterintuitive to our culture. To walk into a department store in America and try to haggle over the price of a T-shirt would be gauche to say the least. But keep in mind, you’re not in America anymore and in most countries the price is always negotiable.
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
To help you get comfortable with bargaining before you burn a hole in your pocket, I’ve outlined a few easy mantras follow, so you won’t arrive at the market completely unprepared:
Never settle for the first price. Remember you are expected to bargain. This means the first price offered is often two to three times higher than what the merchant is actually expecting to get. Think of the first offer is an invitation for you to make a counter offer. You are a tourist and you definitely stand out. The very fact that you have the leisure to travel means you have money to spend. Merchants target tourists and will often list exorbitant prices with the hope that you will be naïve enough to pay it. Don’t fall into this trap: make a much lower counter-offer and see if you can both can compromise on something in between.
Decide how much you are willing to pay. Value, especially in bargaining, is in the eye of the beholder. How much you want something will affect your ability to haggle. Decide how much you would be willing to pay for the item, make that your maximum price and stick with it. Keep in mind, the merchant’s first offer is much higher than the price they are trying to get, so make your first offer much lower than the maximum you are willing to pay.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. Disinterest is key. If the merchant is sticking to a high price then walk away. Being disinterested in the items for sale gives the buyer the advantage. If the seller is interested in making the sale, then the act of leaving will force them to drop their price. Of course this doesn’t always work and you may end up walking out empty handed. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide just how much you want that item and if you are willing to pay their price.
Make an effort to use the local language. There’s a local price and a tourist price. No matter how hard you bargain, you’ll never be paying the local price. The goal is to get a close to the local price as possible. One of the best ways to do this is to speak in the native language. People respect when you make an effort to learn their language and participate in their culture. Even trying to bargain in the native tongue can drop the price significantly.
Have fun. More than anything, remember to enjoy yourself. You’re traveling in a foreign country and have the opportunity to participate in a different culture, so appreciate it; these chances don’t come often. If you approach the process with a positive mindset your likely to get way more out of the experience. If this is your first time haggling, you are guaranteed to get ripped off at least once. Don’t let this intimidate you, instead learn from your mistakes, keep a smile on your face and enjoy the game. You’ll meet some interesting people and certainly learn a lot.

Having to bargain over even the smallest items can be shocking and intimidating at first. But if you’re willing to embrace the learning curve and put in a little practice, bargaining can be enjoyable and educational; and it will certainly save money. 

Tuesday Travel Tip: Flying Affordably

Published April 24, 2012

With summer approaching and gas prices rising, many fear cheap airfare will be a thing of the past. But with a few tricks of the trade, finding affordable flights is still possible. In his article “8 Insider Secrets to Booking Cheap Airfare,” US News reporter, Daniel Bortz gives readers the scoop on how to snag the best deals.  So to help you get the most of your summer vacation without breaking the bank, we’ve listed a few of his key tips:

1)    “Book six weeks in advance” – on average, “most people booked the cheapest airline tickets 42 days in advance.” Buying your ticket last minute or too far ahead of time usually means that you are spending more than you need to.
2)    “Scan for morning deals” – in this case the early bird does catch the worm. Airlines tend to post their cheapest tickets overnight, so scanning deals early in the morning is the best way to grab them before they sell out.
3)   “Best time to buy”— if the morning deals elude you, try “Tuesday at 3p.m. Eastern.” Some experts say that there is no exact date/time correlation for cheap airfare, but it’s still worth taking a look.
4)    “Cheapest day to fly” – “Wednesday,” according to is the best day to book for domestic flights. This is the day the least people fly, which means the airlines are more likely to release more deals in order to fill the seats.
5)    “Fly out early”— “The cheapest flight is typically the first flight of the morning,” says Bortz. This means flights leaving around 4 or 5a.m.. But booking times around lunch or dinner as well as red-eye flights will also help you to fly more economically.
6)   “Check low-cost airlines individually” – price compare websites don’t compare everything. Some airlines only release cheap tickets directly, so it’s important to peruse for deals through airlines like Jet Blue and Southwest. However, make sure these low fares aren’t a trap: remember to watch out for  additional costs like baggage check fees; they can add up quickly.
For his last two tips and additional facts and figures read Bortz’s article in its entirety by clicking here. Or check out some of the best low-cost airfare and travel tip websites: Joe Sent Me, Airfare Watch Dog and Fare Compare. Students are also eligible for discounted tickets and can find the best deals with STA Travel. Now that you know the secrets for finding affordable airfare, you can save your money for your travel destination and enjoy your vacation to the fullest. 

Tuesday Travel Tip: Avoiding Culture Shock

Published April 10, 2012

Dog, sold at the market in Hanoi, Vietnam
Culture Shock is an affliction that affects all travelers to varying degrees; it is a form of anxiety that occurs when we lose the familiar social cues and norms with which we daily orient ourselves. Dr. Lalero Oberg, cultural anthropologist, explains: “These cues, which may be words, gestures, facial expressions, customs, or norms are acquired by all of us in the course of growing up and are as much a part of our culture as the language we speak or the beliefs we accept. All of us depend for our peace of mind and our efficiency on hundreds of these cues…” But when we travel to a different country, all of these bearings are stripped away and we lose the most essential method of orienting ourselves. This makes traveling to a country with different traditions, languages and social norms a stressful and even traumatic experience. Struggling to communicate and function within an unfamiliar place can make even the most basic tasks (e.g. buying food, crossing the street, shaking hands) seem as daunting as Herculean labors.
The idea of culture originates with the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder and his concept of Volksgeist, which means “the spirit of the people.” Cultures are a complex network of social identity, which includes symbolism, language, religion, social rules, fashion, art, &c. They are developed over time through particular historical circumstances and traditions and shape the way we identify ourselves and conduct ourselves within the social community. But when we leave the comfort of our familiar culture and step into an alien one, it is easy to become frustrated by different customs, because they don’t make sense to us.
At its essence, culture shock is a lack of understanding. And a common reaction to a culture we don’t readily understand is to belittle and stereotype its country and its people. Unfortunately this type of response is an easy trap to fall into; this attitude not only prevents one from integrating and participating in a new culture, but also perpetuates the sense of alienation and discomfort that goes along with being an “outsider.”
So how do we visit and participate in a new culture without falling into the negative cycle of culture shock?
Bagan, Myanmar
Completely avoiding culture shock is impossible. Relearning a new understanding and approach to life is difficult and you are guaranteed to make mistakes and feel homesick. That’s natural. But what you can control is your attitude and mindset. Culture shock is lessened when you gain knowledge of the new language and the culture and accept the customs of the place you are visiting. So here are a few tips to help mediate the effects of culture shock and make sure you get the most out of your experience abroad:
·       Learn about the culture before you leave. Doing some research about the place you are visiting and making an effort to familiarize yourself with the new language, history and traditions will help to smooth the transition. Of course there’s no way to truly experience and understand a place until you’ve been there, but at least this way you won’t be taken completely off guard by the unfamiliar.
·       Keep an open mind and be flexible. As I have discussed earlier, this is a new place with different norms. But just because something is different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Don’t judge immediately; remember your culture is just as bizarre to the people you are visiting as theirs is to you.
·       Laugh it off. Humor is the best approach to frustrating situations. Laughing at yourself and your own difficulties will prevent you from getting hung up on what’s different and will allow you to enjoy every step of your adventure.
Bagan, Myanmar
·       Try to speak in the local language. Even if you only know a few words and your pronunciation is horrible, just making the effort to communicate with locals in their own language will make a HUGE difference. It shows that you respect their culture by making an effort to participate on their terms.
·       Be a participant observer. Join in local activities, talk to local people and try to learn about their history and perspective. This will help you familiarize yourself with the new culture and will help you to re-orient yourself within the terms of new social norms.
Overcoming culture shock isn’t about rejecting your culture for the acceptance of another; as Dr. Oberg explains, it’s about developing “two patterns of behavior,” so that you can accept multiple ways of life and participate within more than one “spirit of the people.”