Voracious Voyager

From Africa to Asia, Crystal Bae, B.A. ’10, is trying to see as much of the world as she can.

June 17, 2010

By Julia Parmley

“The world is moving under your feet wherever you are.”

As she listened to a lecture by Jim Miller, president of the American Institute for Maghreb Studies, in Rabat, Morocco, earlier this month, Crystal Bae, B.A.’10, wrote down that sentence. It’s a phrase that has stayed with Ms. Bae, who is spending her first few months after graduation doing what she loves the most: traveling.

Ms. Bae has just returned from a three-week trip to Morocco, where she joined nine other students from around the country on a geography-based trip led by Oklahoma State University.

The course she took, “Cultural and Natural Resources in Morocco,” had Ms. Bae and her fellow classmates journeying all around the country, visiting different cities and landscapes and talking to locals. Although an English major at GW, Ms. Bae began taking geography classes as a junior and earned a minor in geographic information systems.

“Because I recently graduated and didn’t get enough of a chance to explore more topics in geography, I thought this trip would be a great way to hone down what interests me in the field,” says Ms. Bae.

The course exposed Ms. Bae to the country’s diverse landscapes, which Ms. Bae says came as somewhat of a surprise. “As it’s in northern Africa, most people think Morocco is all desert, but there’s also farmland and snowcapped mountains,” she says. “It’s a country with a variety of geographies, which is fascinating.”

“The Arab world itself is interesting— the influence of Islam really shows in the landscape, architecture and way cities are planned out,” she adds. “It’s so different from what we know.”

Led by Oklahoma State Professor Dale Lightfoot, Ms. Bae and her classmates learned about water resource management with underground wells, migration concerns in the village of Ait Ben Haddou, a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization world heritage site, phosphate mining in Safi; and toured the cities of Fes, Marrakesh and Casablanca.

“The value of travel is to be able to make people-to-people connections and experience things on the ground,” says Ms. Bae. “It makes a real impact, being able to meet local families and see how certain issues affect them.”

But there is more exploration to be had for Ms. Bae. On July 4, she embarks on a two-month solo backpacking tour of Southeast Asia, beginning in the Philippines and ending in Thailand, where she has extended family.

Although she hasn’t mapped out an exact itinerary, Ms. Bae says fellow travel aficionados on Twitter and blogs have offered her advice on where to stay and what to visit. “Southeast Asia is a great place for backpackers because it’s affordable and fairly safe, so it’s somewhat ‘on the beaten path’,” she says.

Ms. Bae’s love of travel stemmed from past family trips and her own curiosity about the world. “I’ve always been an avid reader, because I wanted to learn about other people and places, but traveling is a way of really immersing yourself in a place,” says Ms. Bae. “You think you can learn about a place just by reading by about it but when you’re there you learn so much more, even when you’re pushed to your limit.”

Urban geography is what interests Ms. Bae the most; she says her birthplace of Seoul, South Korea, Cairo and the recently-visited Moroccan cities are some of her most favorite places. But she loved her time at GW and in the District, which she said afforded her a lot of opportunities, including internships at Rosetta Stone and the U.S. Census Bureau.

An aspiring travel writer herself, Ms. Bae keeps her family and friends abreast of her travels and District adventures on her blog, “Aesthetics of Everywhere.” “Blogging a great way to practice writing,” says Ms. Bae. “You get immediate feedback so you can improve very quickly. And it’s something you can do for yourself, especially if you enjoy writing.”

Her advice for upcoming graduates: take time to explore your interests and don’t fret if you are unsure about what you want to do.

“Don’t ever feel you are stuck on a certain path,” she says. “In the end, it’s your life and it’s your decision, so you can always change your direction.”

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