Welcome and thank you for checking out the third entry in the Humor Travel Life Diversity Series. This series is about celebrating and featuring travelers of diverse backgrounds. Travel is about experiencing the world, and as we all know, our world is beautiful - and most importantly, diverse! I think it's important to acknowledge and celebrate that in the travel blogging industry. Thank you to my friends and fellow travelers who have agreed to be a part of this, and I look forward to celebrating you and your experiences as travelers.
Meet Steven Ma!
Steven Ma, pictured here with fellow teachers during his time teaching at a local high school in Kenya
1. Where is your home base?
2. Where have you traveled to so far?
Canada, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, China, Philippines, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji.
Born in Vietnam.
3. I know that a lot of your travels have been with nonprofit work. What have those experiences been like and what was the work you were involved with?
I’ve been involved in a variety of nonprofit work, including construction, teaching, photography, and youth sports programs. On a personal level, they’ve been challenging and humbling. In most instances of volunteer work, it’s often in a developing country or in a community with high levels of poverty. There’s the physical discomfort of sometimes not having certain amenities that you’re used to - air conditioning, paved streets, running water - even if it’s only for a brief time. There’s the social dynamic of trying to interact with the community you’re trying to serve. And you have to wrestle with existential questions like, “Why was I born into privilege while they were born into poverty?” or “Am I even making a difference?”
It’s challenging, but it’s an experience that I believe everyone needs to have. It not only develops a much greater sense gratitude for you have, but can also ignite a greater sense of purpose for where you fit into the world.
4. How would you encourage people to travel more for volunteer and non-profit opportunities, rather than just vacationing?
I think a lot of people see travel as either vacationing or volunteering, but they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s really easy to do both. You can either volunteer formally through an organization that helps plan out your trip, and then takes you on a few days of sight-seeing. Or you can plan our your own vacation, then contact local organizations to see if they have volunteer opportunities. In many cases, there are an abundant amount of opportunities if you’re willing to look and nonprofits are more than happy to have your help, even if it’s for a few days or a few hours. I wrote another article that lists a few websites where you can connect with volunteer opportunities while traveling: https://intrinsicstyles.com/blog/volunteer-youre-traveling-abroad/
If you’re short on time, consider just asking for a tour of the nonprofit to learn more about it, then make a monetary donation.
5. What is your favorite place that you have traveled to?
My favorite place “naturally” is Fiji. The sunsets on the beach every evening were unbelievably picture perfect, and the rivers, jungles and waterfalls that you can tour are the epitome of exotic. In terms of cities, it’s Paris. I love the rich architecture on every street corner, the walkability of the city, and how you can see people everywhere just sitting, reading, drinking coffee, or napping.
6. Least favorite?
I would have to say China, at least in the major cities like Beijing or Shanghai. It’s very crowded and the air quality isn’t the greatest, as you can imagine.
7. Where would you like to travel to next?
I’ve always wanted to go South America, specifically Peru and Chile. Another region is Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Cambodia, or India.
8. In your opinion, what is the best part of travel?
The best part of travel is the human interaction. Getting to see the perspective of people on completely different worlds is eye-opening. You realize just how much your upbringing and culture have shaped your views, and hopefully, you’re open enough to realize that your perspective may not be the right one. But you also realize the common humanity of everyone. Wherever you go, you can always share a cup of coffee, jump in on a pickup game of soccer, or show each other pictures of our families. You realize there is so much more that connects all of us than separates us.
9. What is your biggest pet peeve, if you have one, when it comes to other travelers?
I hate when tourists trash a place. Visitors sometimes have this mentality that it’s the responsibility of the people who live their to pick up after them. When you travel, you’re visiting someone’s house - respect it. Just learn to throw your trash in a trash can.
10. Is there anything you'd like to see more of in the travel industry overall?
Traveling is mostly good for everyone. It grows economies and brings in revenue for communities. But it can also be harmful for the environment when natural habitats get stripped away for hotels, or for people when they get displaced or exploited. I’d like to see greater social responsibility from companies involved in the travel industry, but that has to come from travelers demanding it.
11. What is your biggest piece of advice to fellow travelers?
When you travel, go to learn. Read up on the history of the place you’re visiting. Go a few blocks away from the main touristy places and eat at small family restaurants. Have conversations with people who live there and learn about their lives.
About the author
Jill Zwarensteyn is a writer, comedian, and television producer who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com