March 21, 2020
By Carolina Souza
I like people. I like spending time together, talking and getting to know other people. This is the part that I like most about the trips I took. Visiting museums, walking in the park are both really cool things to do, but I would exchange a tour to go through downtown to have a cup of coffee with you.
I met Phillip a few days after I arrived in Wisconsin, it caught my attention that he likes to travel, but when I heard that he spent two years in Madagascar, I was curious-- what was a guy from the Midwest was doing on an island for so long?
I always knew there were people like me out there, but I had never met anyone who traveled to the African continent to do volunteer work for Peace Corps. I spent hours talking to him, and here are some of the questions from our conversation.
What motivates you to travel?
I fully enjoy experiencing new cultures other than my own of Southeastern Wisconsin. Whether it be domestically or internationally, there are foreign concepts that hearing in class in school or on the TV simply do not do enough justice. The world is a vast place and I simply want to experience as many places as possible in the time that I have.
What's the best and worst part of being away from home for so long?
I believe that I carry my home with me wherever I go. The obvious answer is family and friends. But even so, the most important people in my life will stay connected with me and vice versa. With the age of social media (although I don't dabble with any), being a 5-hour drive from family might as well be an 18-hour flight. The best part is always coming back to the place I love the most, Wisconsin. When I separate myself from the life I knew growing up for a lengthy period of time and then return, I am able to contrast with the life others know thus strengthening or weakening my feelings of what I like and where I want to be.
What was the best experience you had while traveling in Europe?
I would have to say that I enjoyed landforms and historically significant places the most. European nations have a much longer history than the United States. The culture in North America is harder to find at its origins because of the fact that much culture has not survived the invasion of European settlers. Although when it comes to sheer “fun”, the experiences I shared with newly formed friends over the pond will always win.
What stereotype did you have and many Americans have about the African continent and Madagascar, which is a complete mistake?
The biggest mistake, whether it be ignorance or simply miseducation is that Africa is a continent. A lot of friends asked the question "how is/was Africa?” I may have asked a similar formatted question prior to my time living in Madagascar but I quickly learned how unique Madagascar is from other parts of the world. Language, traditions, customs, flora and fauna, wildlife, etc., all combine to make a land unique from the next and African nations are definitely not an exception. I think that politics and news push the message of negativity, barbaric ways, rampant disease and poverty describe all of Africa. While obviously all exist in Africa, they also exist in our own backyard and most of my friends here in Wisconsin at least are too lazy and superficial to formulate their own opinion outside of what mainstream may tell them. This doesn't mean if you travel or read about a place on Earth that you can't form a negative view of it, but I think the more educated you are about a place the more accurate your assessment will be. I have never spent time in a mainland African country but I can tell you what life was like for 2+ years living in Madagascar. I will tell you it is nothing like what the animated movies try to associate with.
How did you feel when you first arrived in Madagascar?
I honestly think the excitement was the most overwhelming feeling. The thrill of not only traveling to a place but knowing I was about to live there for the following two years was a humbling moment. I realized the best way to approach my time there was to throw away biases as much as possible and challenge myself with new experiences.
Many people stay at the hostel because it is a cheap option, but it is a space where you can find company and can even make friends. What do you like most about staying in a hostel?
I enjoy talking to fellow travelers at hostels. I also think that location is a huge factor in whether I stay at a hostel next to the price. A free breakfast for travelers on a budget can be a very big deal.
If a person goes to the same places you went and needed 4 tips. What tips would you give?
1) Keep an open mind and respect others
2) The real gold is the old lady sitting on the bench rather than the skip the line pass to see the attraction
3) The less I have planned the more I have done
4) Your fun should come before your wallet
If you had to choose only one place to go back, what would it be and why?
Madagascar - When you stay somewhere for so long you develop close relationships. I also think it's not a high vacation spot for many Americans and I hold that dear to my heart. I was able to learn so much about a life that was different from Wisconsin and I miss my Malagasy family.
Carolina Souza is from Brazil and a part of Cream City Hostel's work trade program.