A young woman volunteers for the Peace Corps straight out of college. The skills she develops there – speaking French, becoming resilient, learning the local customs – will pave the way for her career as an expert in African democracy and development.
It was the Peace Corps that moved me in the direction of French-speaking Africa. (Jennifer, 33:15)
Jennifer Seely is an Associate Professor of Politics at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana and mom of two. She grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and joined the Peace Corps after college, spending two years in Côte d’Ivoire, followed by additional experience in the West Africa region including a Fulbright research grant in Benin and Togo. She earned her PhD from Washington University in St. Louis with expertise in African democracy and development, and has authored two books, The Legacies of Transition Governments and the fourth edition of the Historical Dictionary of Togo, which is due out this month.
A college senior suffers a stroke just weeks before her graduation. After four years of rehabilitation, she feels called to take a “victory lap,” visiting every continent on earth, including Africa.
To actually get on a camel and ride beside the Great Pyramids! (Karissa, 05:46)
A daring explorer, inspiring author, and engaging speaker, Karissa Denae Johnson strives to be a leading advocate for bravery. After being gripped by a devastating stroke at the age of 21, she eventually regained her ability to speak, write, and walk. Her courageous efforts later led her to explore seven continents before the age of 30.
Five weeks after his 1991 wedding, Willie White and his new bride were working in Saudi Arabia. Over the next 30 years, they would travel, live and work in more than 50 countries, she as an engineer, he as an English teacher.
“What am I doing? This is kinda crazy, and it’s a little scary. But it’s exciting!” (Willie, 19:00)
Willie White has visited and lived in more than 50 countries, although these days he and his wife Meg are hunkered down in their house by the Chesapeake Bay with our two dogs. In addition to travel, Willie loves all aspects of boating, from sailing to canoeing, as well as hiking, camping, and seeking adventure. Currently, he teaches online for an English school in Thailand, and is a Historical Interpreter for The National Park Service at Fort McHenry National Monument and Shrine.
A young Punjabi bride raises her daughters in Maryland under a cloud of fear. As the girls grow up, they embrace their independence while continuing to respect their parents’ traditions, including the prospect of arranged marriage.
Sisters Bhavneet and Taranjit Athwal are the co-hosts of the Drive With Us Podcast. (Check out Kate’s interview on S2 E9) They both work in the cancer therapeutics field and each has a 3-hour round trip daily commute! Born and raised in Maryland to immigrant parents from Punjab, India, they had to learn early on how to properly balance the two cultures. Although it can be difficult at times trying to help their friends understand why they do certain things the way they do, the sisters have not been deterred from owning who they are and taking pride in being Sikh Americans. That same determination has helped them to push cultural boundaries and step out of their comfort zone to pursue their passion of creating a podcast. They also hope to one day have a travel channel on YouTube.
“I had to figure it all out on my own.” (Taranjit, 13:15)
Check out their podcast, which is called Drive With Us
(and be sure to listen to Kate’s interview on S2E9!)
Bhavneet & Taranjit recommend:
When Purdue Pharma began to coach physicians to include pain as the fifth vital sign, it led to over-prescription and ultimately, the worst drug crisis in American history.
A retired physician, Dr. Jetmore currently serves as the Health Officer in Wayne County, Indiana. In his interview, he talks us through how the opioid crisis began in the US, providing valuable context about Purdue Pharma and its questionable prescribing practices. A collaborator with Groups Recover Together, he supports the organization’s dedication to medication-assisted treatment and a supportive approach.
“It’s your nephew. Or God forbid, your son.” (Dr. Jetmore, 29:41)
Dr. Jetmore recommends:
Groups Recover Together: joingroups.com
Wayne County (Indiana) Groups: 765-286-5773
Wayne County (Indiana) Health Dept: 765-973-9245
A retired ENT/otolaryngologist, Dr. Jetmore practiced medicine in Richmond, Indiana and the surrounding area for nearly 40 years. He currently serves as the Wayne County Health Officer.
A single mom self-soothes by going through the drive-thru and eating alone in her car, but the pounds pile on. After many failed attempts at losing weight, she reaches out for help, vowing to break the cycle.
Jen Pendleton has lost and gained more pounds than she cares to count. In 2014, she reached an all-time high body weight of 265 pounds, and for most of her adult life she has battled binge eating disorder. Today, she has lost 115 pounds, which took almost four years to lose, and she has maintained that loss for the past two years. She documents her journey via her JenX Journey blog and Instagram account.
“Listen to your own gut.” (Jen, 55:01)
Jen launched 51 Bridges Nutrition in May of 2020, a business which provides one-on-one virtual nutrition coaching. She is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach in Sports & Exercise Nutrition and has a bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in Communications, with a minor in Counseling Psychology. She is a CrossFit Level 1 trainer and USA Weightlifting Coach and coaches at Elavus CrossFit in Crawfordsville, Indiana.
My conversation with Jennifer did not disappoint! Like two Hoosiers sitting around catching up, we touched on lots of subjects, shared some belly laughs, and came to some common insights.
An author plans to hole up and write on a remote island, but on the very first day she meets and falls in love with a man who bears a striking resemblance to her lead character.
Her website/blog is jenniferniven.com
“Never limit your imagination.” (Jennifer, 43:55)
Jennifer Niven is a #1 NY Times and internationally bestselling author, who has written ten books, including All the Bright Places and Holding up the Universe. Her work has been translated into more than 75 languages, and All the Bright Places has won literary awards around the world. The film, for which she co-authored the screenplay, is now streaming on Netflix.
Jennifer’s latest novel, Breathless, has just been published, and she is hard at work on her next two books. She also oversees Germ, a literary and lifestyle web magazine for girls and boys age high school and beyond that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between. Her previous works include four novels for adults, as well as three nonfiction books. She divides her time between Los Angeles and coastal Georgia with her husband, kids, and literary cats.
Ten years ago, Shelly and her husband James set out to create a contemporary arts center. The space they chose is a former 18th century papermill in the Loir Valley in France, where they make a constant effort to hold space so that other artists can express themselves. Their goal is to revitalize the campus with the goal of bringing the arts to everyone, while shining the spotlight on the social issues and situations facing society today.
Turning their dreams into reality was not easy for Shelly and her husband. After all, they took a leap of faith when they created their arts center, and that is why their story is so inspiring to so many people. They did not go into the arts for the money, but rather followed their hearts and stayed true to their vision.
However, this does not mean that art should be free, but rather that it should be accessible. Everyone deserves to be in the presence of excellence, even the people who lack the economic means to do so. After listening to Shelly, it is clear that artists from all disciplines need to be supported. And in the context of the current coronavirus crisis, it is clear that galleries and museums need institutional support if they are to keep from closing their doors.
“Supporting the arts isn’t just financial.” (Shelly, 37:22)
Shelly De Vito is a Paris-based stage director and playwright originally from New York. In 2010, with her husband, visual artist James Porter, she founded Les Moulins de Paillard contemporary arts centre in a former 18th century papermill in the Loir Valley of France. For the past ten years, the couple has directed their attention and efforts to the work of other artists.
Take in their website for Les Moulins de Paillard
Even though Sarah grew up in a Christian household, she drifted away from religion when she was 17 years old. After years of partying and doing her thing, she started looking for a deeper meaning at age 28. She researched multiple religions and discovered that merely picking and choosing her favorite elements of a religion is not an option. Just when she was looking into Islam, she met the man who would become her husband. He came from Egypt and was a non-practicing Muslim.
It soon became clear to Sarah that she would convert to Islam. She found a sense of peace and dignity, as well as a loving community that changed her life. She started wearing the hijab and went to University. She used her degrees to work as a teacher at Islamic schools. She found everything she was ever looking for.
“I think we all find our path to God, and Islam happens to be my path to God, and the path that has worked for me.” (Sarah, 38:56)
However, being a Muslim in America wasn’t always easy, especially after September 11th. Even though Sarah never felt seriously threatened, she decided to stay at home for a few days after the attacks. Listen to her interview to find out more about her experiences, her insights and her decision to wear the hijab.
Sarah Ronan is a 49-year-old American who raised four children while completing two university degrees, including a Master’s in Education. She has used this degree to travel the world and teach abroad. She is currently an elementary librarian at the largest Islamic school in the south, which is located in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas.
“When I was 16, I learned my mother had been lying to me all my life. It was a big and terrible lie, as lies between mothers and daughters often are.” These are the first words of Devora’s novel, The Spanish Painter, published in 2017.
In our interview with Devora, she talks about the story behind the novel. How it took her thirteen years to finish The Spanish Painter, how she met a German man in France and followed him all the way to Spain, landing in a small town called Cuenca. Little did she know back then that the experiences she would encounter there would have nothing to do with the man who had captivated her. Instead, she would meet Flores, the woman who inspired one of the main characters in her novel.
“There was a story to be told, I just didn’t know how to do it!” (Devora, 03:45)
Devora’s friendship with Flores continues to this day. Devora still remembers her cooking, her devotion to keeping her house spotless, her pristine white apron, her perfect silver bun. Flores created a home for Devora that she had never experienced before, and told her stories about her love affair with a Spanish painter under Franco’s dictatorship.
Devora Rogers is a writer and consumer researcher. She is co-author of Fire in the Zoo and author of The Spanish Painter. Devora is a regular public speaker and her TedX talk on the Future of Shopping and Retail has been viewed over 235,000 times. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, daughter and ornery cat.
These two adventurous Estonians had the courage to cycle their way around Europe. Starting from their front porch in the middle of the woods, with the goal of reaching Portugal, they packed up their bikes and started riding. They visited a total of 16 countries and spent 8 months on the road.
“Let’s take a chance and we’ll see!” (Kätlyn, 08:31)
On their way, they got the chance to meet friendly, kind people who helped them whenever Ats’ bike broke down, which was… pretty often! And even though they only speak English and Estonian fluently, they also feel confident using a different type of communication: body language! A kind smile in the right moment was all they needed.
Though there were times of struggle and uncertainty, they acknowledge that this experience has shaped their mindset. Today, they feel their priorities have shifted and they feel more confident when taking on risks.
Ats Remmelg and Kätlyn Jürisaar cycled across Europe and back again in 2016 and 2017. Natives of Estonia, their trip began and ended on their front porch. Ats is now in his final semester of a BA in Geography, and previously studied woodworking, while Kätlyn has a Masters in Communications Management. They work at the same high school, Ats as a geography teacher, and Kätlyn as a project manager.
Being born and raised in Belgium, a country with three official languages, has surely shaped Laura’s perception of the world. While growing up, she spoke Dutch at home and learned German, French and English at school. Crazy, right?
How fascinating is it that in Belgium everything is subtitled (as opposed to dubbed). From TV shows to movies and the news, you get to hear the whole thing in the original language! At a very young age, Laura discovered how listening to the original voices broadens our perspective of the world.
“Your voice and your expressions are part of who you are.” (Laura, 15:15)
However, living in such an environment doesn’t mean she didn’t encounter friction when traveling the world. When she first traveled alone abroad, she discovered how difficult it is to express one’s emotions and feelings in a foreign language.
Now, she knows that communication is not only about words, but also about facial expressions, gestures, tone, melody… Language and communication are part of who we are.
Laura Vander Kerken is a 27 year old Belgian who has participated in exchange programs in such countries as the US, Spain, France and England. She is addicted to learning foreign languages and experiencing new cultures. Recently she and her Spanish husband biked from Belgium to Spain, then backpacked in Colombia and Ecuador, on the ultimate dream honeymoon. Laura, who is now working in the tourism sector in Belgium, plans to keep on dreaming and traveling.