Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Unthinkable has happened

Two years ago, I walked into the office of Belmont's most forward-thinking Sociology professor, and told him I was planning a trip that would be the apex of my college experience and the culmination of my life schooling.  A trip that would incorporate my thesis research and result in a documentary promoting youth study abroad.

That is, a self-directed study abroad journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

21 days and 5,772 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok.

I put an initial proposal together, set out a book list of sociological, economic, political and historical volumes and other material that would provide me with a solid foundation of the area, researched a budget, read up on logistical concerns such as visa requirements and lodging.

But there were obstacles.  Time, money, credit transfer, administrators who were quick to point out risk and liability concerns, individuals who said, "cool, good luck!" but didn't buy into the dream.

....Until yesterday.  After finding out I had secured an internship in Russia with the State Dept. and would able to extend my stay for intensive language study programs through the School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS), I once again became hopeful that my Trans-Siberian dream trip might materialize in the near future.  I had not given up on it, merely put it aside for a time.  At any rate, I emailed the director of SRAS yesterday morning, explaining my vision for the trip and inquiring about any interest her organisation might have in sponsoring the trip -- not financially, but more in the way that a friend would attend  your concert for moral support.  A sponsoring organisation takes on logistical planning, helps travelers to obtain visas, arranges for lodging and other excursions, works with the traveler to set an itinerary, gives advice, purchases tickets, assumes liability, provides travel insurance, and provides emergency support.  Sponsoring a trip like this is no small matter.

The Trans-Siberian Route in Red - click map to enlarge

Yet, just hours later, I received a reply from the Director, saying "It is something that requires a lot of planning,".....but "definitely something we can help with.....And it certainly is something we would be quite interested in getting involved with."

I literally about fell out of my chair.  This is the response I did not let myself even hope for.  I read the email once, twice, a third time -- still not convinced that what I was reading was real.   I had restrained my enthusiasm in writing the first, proposal email to the Director, attempting to appear casual, calm, and nonchalant.  But now....I couldn't hold back.  My reply to her was an outpour of all the ideas and possibilities that had built up in my head for this trip.  My only request was that she somewhat sort through them, dismissing the unfeasible ideas and working with me to develop the good.

The implications of securing a sponsoring organisation go far beyond the simple logistical planning of the trip.  Having secured such a sponsor, I am now eligible to apply for a Lumos Scholarship -- a grant available through my university to students who propose a specific voyage that will enable them to "travel with a purpose."  I would never be able to pull together the resources for a trip like this without a financial sponsor as well.

As I mentioned before, an objective of this trip is to film a documentary promoting study abroad, appropriate to share with 6th graders through high school and even college students.  My next task: find a videographer. I have an idea of what I want this documentary to look like; I want it to be professional.  Belmont has an abundance of skilled film artists, but it's not simply about skill.  This person must be mentally, socially, and physically prepared for the rigors of a trip like this.  They must be able to stay calm and work well under pressure, deal with conflict well, have a desire to integrate into a new culture, and be able to handle spending 21 days in a small group in a foreign land.  Doesn't sound like much to ask, but believe me, quality travel partners can be few and far between.  

But for now, I'm still reveling in the excitement of acquiring sponsorship and moving this project onto the next step!!


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