Postcards from Stef: Connecting Across Cultures

Thanks so much for stopping by! As you’ve probably noticed, I love to travel. While travel is amazing for so many reasons, what I love most about it is connecting with people around the world and realizing that we have more in common than not. Hence, the theme of my blog: “Connecting Across Cultures.”

I hope you’ll follow along on these jaunts and journeys, where travel is the best education, and the interactions we share are the ultimate souvenir. Sometimes lessons from the road are fun, at times funny, sometimes frustrating, often inspirational, but always worthwhile!

“The journey of a 1000 miles begins with a single step.” –Chinese Proverb”

Delphi, Greece

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” –Mark Twain

About Stef (the short story!)

“Thanks a lot, Dad!” 

I caught the travel bug early on, thanks to my parents, and in particular, thanks to my dad’s job. Because of his career, we moved every couple of years growing up, so — all before the age of eighteen — I got to call these wonderful places home:

• Germany: Munich
• Greece: Athens
• Israel: Caesarea (attended school in Tel Aviv)
• South Korea: Busan, Seoul, and Daegu
• United States: Arizona and Hawaii (the Garden Island, Kauai)

After experiencing all of those amazing places first hand, I was hooked. I had contracted the incurable: the travel bug.

About Stef (the longer story!)

Q: “And what do you want to be when you grow up?”  A: “A traveler, of course.”

As a young adult, I knew that I wanted to travel more than anything else. But I had no idea how. I could hardly afford a ticket to the next state, much less an around-the-world ticket. How was I going to accomplish such a seemingly impossible feat?

As it turns out, that’s the problem I’ve spent my adult life trying to solve — and it’s still a work in progress. Here’s a rundown of how things went:

Making Pizzas

After high school, I had no idea what I should be doing as a so-called adult. I enrolled in the local community college in Prescott, Arizona, but soon dropped out after having attended just one class. I worked full-time at a local pizza place and dreamed about travel. Eventually I managed to scrounge up enough for a trip via Greyhound bus to New Orleans, Louisiana, to experience Mardi Gras first hand.

New Orleans was, and is, a unique feast for the senses. Culturally. Architecturally. Musically. It gives one the sense of having traveled abroad without actually leaving the United States. That trip only served to whet my appetite for more.

Cross-Country Road Trip 

I kept making and serving pizza, and burning my arm on that dang pizza oven. Throughout the following year I saved and brewed plans for the next big adventure: a road trip across the United States. A friend and I had managed to get hired on as camp counselors for the summer at the Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan.

“What better way to get there than to drive?” I thought.

Riding off into the unknown along US interstates in my little silvery-purple pickup truck, I felt the exhilarating freedom of being on the road of possibility and exploration.


From Prescott Valley, Arizona, we headed off to Interlochen, Michigan, with stops along the way in Dallas, New Orleans, Virginia Beach, Philadelphia, Atlantic City, Washington D.C., and Niagara Falls.

Once our camp-counselor gig in Michigan came to an end, we stopped in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and continued West to Portland, Oregon. There I said goodbye to my partner in crime as she flew back home to Phoenix. I drove north to explore a tad more.

That epic summer adventure finally came to an end in Seattle, Washington. My pickup truck had covered over 6000 miles through twenty-four states in about three months.

It was a memorable coming-of-age summer that — instead of quenching — only served to stoke the flames of my wanderlust.

Broke Without a Plan

Once I arrived in Seattle, I realized with horror that I had no more money; and furthermore, that I had no plan for what on earth I was supposed to do next. Much like your average twenty-year-old, I had not thought things out that far ahead. Not at all.

What on earth was I going to do?

As any self-respecting twenty-year old might do, I called Mom and Dad.

Thankfully, they came to my rescue. Dad’s from Hawaii, and that’s where they happened to be living at the time. They had my truck shipped from Seattle to Kauai and bought my plane ticket over as well. I was extremely thankful. In fact, whenever I think back on that time, I am grateful to them all over again.

Kauai Bound

With that twist of events, I moved back home.

I spent the next year on Kauai juggling several jobs: pizza-delivery girl at Domino’s, “sales-associate” at K-Mart (that’s just a fancy term for cashier), and security guard at Royal Guard Security. Yep, I once was a professional security guard.

What should I do “when I grow up?” — I still had no idea! So I just focused on taking things a day at a time. Dad thought my future would be sorted by joining the Air Force. My heart wasn’t in it, but for lack of a better idea I gave the recruiter a call.

That didn’t work out and is a story for another day, but suffice it to say that today the pacifist in me is extremely thankful for how it all unfolded.

Off to Europe Again

Keep on Travelin'My parents knew I desperately wanted to travel, learn German, and delve into my Germanic roots (Germany being my birthplace and my mother’s homeland). So, when other options crumbled, they helped me do just that. Yet again, I felt (and feel) very thankful and grateful to them.

At the ripe young age of twenty-one, I flew to Frankfurt and spent six months taking intensive-language classes in Wiesbaden and in Limburg an der Lahn. I stayed with family that was kind enough to take me in. I lived meagerly on a very tiny budget, but I was learning so much: about the language, the culture, and about growing up.

The College Years

At twenty-two, after having reached intermediate German proficiency at the language schools, I took out student loans and spent my next four years studying abroad in Germany. Mostly, I spent that time at the University of Maryland University College campus that once thrived in the cute little town of Schwäbisch Gmünd. But I also spent one semester studying at the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.

Before finishing college, I was hired for a summer job on cruise ships as Junior Activities Coordinator. In anticipation of that new challenge at sea, my stomach cramped, twisted, and turned — worse than any seasickness. I was both scared to death and excited as heck!

A Sailor’s Life for Me

In 2000, I joined Cunard Line’s Caronia and as Junior Activities Co-ordinator. I organized all the activities for young passengers: kids and teens. During that first summer at sea I was ecstatic to be able to visit a dozen European countries during my two months on board. From Arctic waters to the Baltic Sea, from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, it was quite literally a voyage of discovery.

Yet again, I was hooked.

After graduating with a BA in Psychology and in German Language & Literature, I headed straight back to ship life. (With a quick interlude of summer school at the University of Hawaii Honolulu campus, where I drudged through a statistics class to meet degree requirements. And said hi to mom and dad!)

Sea ho! A sailor’s life for me! What was meant to be just a few months at sea after college turned into seven years, during which I was able to visit 70-plus countries on six continents.

And sail around the world.

Five times.

Hong-Kong-Harbour Sailaway
My friend, Laura, and I sailing through the Panama Canal!
Posing in front of my old floating home, Queen Elizabeth 2, in Sydney Harbor!
Queen Mary 2 anchored in Geiranger, Norway
Getting the red-carpet treatment in Taiwan!
Rejoining the Landlubbers

Eventually it came time to settle back down on land. At the end of 2009 I moved to the beautiful Pacific Northwest, where I now live in the cozy town of Edmonds, just north of Seattle.

Currently, I work as a Travel Advisor, Tour Assistant, and Speaker at Rick Steves’ Europe, with many wonderful and adventurous like-minded travelphiles. I feel very fortunate to be able to talk travel for a living and help others who are also dreaming of and/or embarking on adventures of a lifetime!

My hope is to continue that people-to-people connection I love so much via this travel blog. I’d be so pleased if you’d join me!

Rooftops of Florence

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