Jessica Buchleitner, our Tripper of the Week shares her life-changing experiences living in France, her memorable encounter with a kind stranger in Germany and her passion for the internationally-focused humanitarian project she founded.
You currently live in San Francisco. What is the one place you like to take all first-time visitors to the city?
I love taking people to North Beach via Chinatown. In this case you get to see two popular destinations. North Beach is such a unique neighborhood and is tucked right behind the financial district. Another place is Twin Peaks- the view from there is extraordinary!
During your travels, what has been your most memorable experience with locals?
In Germany, I stayed with a friend of mine from my university days and that was worth everything! Her family was so kind and I got to stay in a small farming town called FuBgoenheim. The views across the fields were amazing and on our first night visiting her family fed us with all local meat from the butcher in town and German beer.
Another memorable but heartfelt act of kindness also in Germany occurred when we took a bus trip across the countryside in attempt to return to Frankfurt. I had nothing to eat and when we arrived in Frankfurt everything was closed. I was so hungry and realized I would not be able to eat a solid meal for several hours. A German girl I met on the bus reached into her bag and gave me a box of British cookies she brought back from her stay in the UK. I said to her “No. these are souvenirs!” and she told me “It’s ok. I don’t want you to be hungry”. It was nice to experience a random act of kindness in another country like that. I was so appreciative.
The Middle East is one of your favorite places on earth. Is there any country in particular that you would recommend as a must-see?
In my extensive interaction through The 50 Women Project, a nonprofit I founded, with people from various countries in the Middle East, I have discovered so many rich, amazing and exotic cultural elements that I have just fallen in love with. To me, the Middle East is not the ravaged place you see in our media- its rich in history and culture. I have not had the opportunity to travel there, but certainly would not turn the next opportunity down!
Tell us about the time you spent living in France. In which city did you live? How did you decide to move there?
I was living in Montpellier in the south part of the country for a summer and living with a French family. It was a beautiful city on the Mediterranean. I moved there because I was tired of living in South Carolina and desperately wanted to escape the culture I had never really felt connected to. I had just come out of some difficult times in my life and I was craving new adventures and strangely enough the ability to live somewhere where I did not speak the language. Living there really changed my perspective and change me for the better. It helped me learn another language.
Although sometimes I’ll admit I did feel vulnerable not being from the country and having to recalibrate myself with how the French society works. That vulnerability was actually a good thing because it forced me to think about a lot of things. Sometimes vulnerability can be very useful or therapeutic.
Another benefit of that experience was my lack of knowledge of the language in the beginning. When you live somewhere and have to learn a new language, your mind opens in ways that you can never imagine. You reevaluate how you communicate with people as well.
I traveled all over France that summer and even vacationed in north France in a town called St. Malo. It was a beautiful experience that really changed the course of my life.
Coming back to the United States I was a much less nervous person. I was more concerned about quality of life.
You are the force behind The 50 Women Project. Tell us a little bit about that project and why you are so passionate about it.
I conceived the idea for The 50 Women Project in 2009. I felt stagnated in my life and had an overwhelming desire to change the world in some way, I just didn’t know how. When I attended Winthop University as a student I met so many people of all different ages from all over the world. One of the things that I took away from that experience was the memories of the stories all of these people told me about how they arrived in the United States. Some of them had perilous journeys- for example, I had a friend who had a difficult time getting her passport to travel because the embassy in her country was bombed.
When I moved to California in 2008, I started to do volunteer work with Refugee Transitions where I went to trainings on teaching ESL and civics education to newly arrived refugees.I was studying alot about Afghanistan at the time and just became enraged at the situation concerning women in the country. Reading the stories of these young Afghan women I felt that I was reading about myself. I felt a shared sense of pain and suffering with their experiences and HAD to do more. That is when the idea for the book “50 Women” came about. It was conceived by my feeling a shared sense of empathy and connection to the world as one community. Now two years later I have had the blessing of connecting with so many women from all over the world. The 50 Women Project is not for profit and all of the work done on it is volunteer only, including all that I do. When the book is published, the proceeds will become a charitable foundation to give back to the world. Its a “live and let live” mentality.
I am passionate about it because it plainly and simply means the world to me.
If you could hop on a plane tomorrow morning and travel anywhere in the world, where would that be?
I would choose somewhere different. I would want to go somewhere less traveled but rich in culture: Azerbaijan, Laos, even certain parts of India.
WOW- this is a hard question because I cannot just narrow it down to one. If I ever have to make this decision, I think I will just throw all the places into a hat, shake it and the one that I draw is where I go!
Thank you Jessica for sharing the stories of your travels and cultural exchange! Trippers, you can connect with Jessica via her Tripping profile.