Tripper of the Week: Robina B., Returned Peace Corps Volunteer and Senior Traveler
She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer originally from England who volunteered in Thailand and now lives in Hawaii. Meet Robina B, our Tripper of the Week...
Tell us your story - we'd love to hear it!
WOW! Tell you my story…. It's a long one! I am humbled and honored you asked me to do
this. Thank you.
I have heard many times, “I wish I could travel to all those places. It must be wonderful." You can and it is amazing.
I grew up in England and since my early teens I knew I did not want to stay in England. I wanted to go places, but I had a slow start. At the age of 16 my mother and my Aunt and Uncle reluctantly gave permission for my cousin and I to go to the Jersey, a vacation island in the English Channel. This was in the early 60's and considered to be quite daring. We thought we were so “grown up" and behaved well and had a great time. This taste of independence just fed my appetite for more!
At the age of 21 I finally made it to Vancouver, Canada, found a job and lived a conservatively care-free life of beaches, parties, skiing, and friends and rarely looked back. After two years I was ready to move on, so applied for a green card and moved to Seattle. Seattle is a wonderful city, with access to so many adventures I had only imagined while in England.
I became a “two years at a time" nomad, moving to Arizona, Moab, Utah and exploring the “four Corners" area for a while, then back to Seattle and sailing. One weekend we sailed to the San Juan Islands, off the coast of Washington State, and decided to stay a while.
Next I went to Costa Rica at the time of all the conflict in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Panama in the mid 80's. There were not many westerners there back then. I stayed and taught 3 rd grade in an English speaking school, learning the language, the food, the music, the dance and about the people. I loved everything about Costa Rica. After four years it was time to move on.
Back in Seattle and the San Juan Islands, it was not long before I decided to move to Hawaii and I have basically made these Islands my home and seem to return here after traveling. I stayed put for quite a while with intermittent trips to the mainland states and Europe.
We see you were a Peace Corps volunteer. Where did you volunteer and what was your experience like?
In 2008, I wanted to join the Peace Corps and learned you had to be an American Citizen. I had been a legal resident of the United States for 40 years and never had a strong reason to change my citizenship. Now I did! Having been resident of the US all those years and embraced and enjoyed the American culture, and learned to appreciate the freedoms this country offers, I decided it was time to give something back. I was the wrong age for the military and the French Foreign Legion did not want me and I heard you are never too old for the Peace Corps. They wanted my skills and experience, so I applied for my citizenship and was amazed and pleased how quickly I was accepted and sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America in September 2008, Just in time to be able to have my first voting experience to elect a new president. What a thrill!
One year later I was invited to go to Thailand to work as a Teacher Collaborator and Community Outreach worker (TCCO). I was so excited to be going to , as I imagined, such an exotic country. I did my research, I packed my bags, my enthusiastic and supportive friends wished be well and waved me goodbye, and in early January 2010 I was on my way to California to meet Peace Corps Staff and 64 Other excited Americans (younger and Older) on their way to seek adventures of a life time.
In Thailand we worked with, ate with, slept with, learned to speak with, and breathed with the “heart" of the people. Most of us were in remote villages with minimum transportation to “towns" and had limited accommodations.
During our rigorous 10 week training we were all in one town and stayed with host families to help us integrate with the community. My biggest challenge was getting the hang of the language. This was partly due to an “age thing" and to the fact that Thai is high on the list of most difficult languages. However, I managed to communicate and tried to “tag up" with a younger member of the group who picked up the language really fast. After 10 weeks we were all sworn in as “Peace Corps Volunteers" and were sent to all parts of the country, miles away from each other in remote villages with our bicycles and bags. Yes, bicycles, our only means of independent transportation other than public transport of being offered a ride in a vehicle.
My greatest joys while there came from working with children among the Mayanar (Burmese) refugees, Karin Tribes, who escaped over the mountains to find refuge in the remote villages of Thailand. Such a wonderful and hopeful group of people despite their hard lives.
There is so much to say regarding this experience and I believe most of us left with the feeling we had gained far more than we had given to our villages in our work and projects.
You describe yourself as an active senior, and you haven't let your age affect your travel ambitions. What advice would you give to other seniors who think they can't travel anymore?
Anyone can travel if they want to. I have met travelers in wheelchairs, blind travelers, many young travelers and of course there are many “seniors" out there exploring foreign land and cultures. There are so many places to see. Remember the pictures and movies you have seen of the Taj Mahal, the Ganges River, the Great Mekong River, ancient temples where cities thrived in historic times? Now imagine how you would feel sailing down the Ganges in a local boat, seeing the sun rise over the Taj Mahal and the magnificent carved marble in the reflecting pools. It is thrilling to stand on the threshold of these magnificent places and imagine all that has happened there. Places which have withstood the passage of time for centuries and YOU get to experience their
magnificence personally - beyond expression. But I ramble.
Seniors, if you want to go… GO! Plan your trip within your comfort zone. Travel light. Be open-minded to differences in culture and lifestyles. Be patient; not everywhere is like your home town. Follow common sense safety rules. Carry your purse and day pack over your neck and shoulders and keep them in front of you. If you look vulnerable you will be a target. Drink bottled water. Try street foods; they are usually the best. But don't overdo it. Take your walking stick because some pavements are uneven. Go to the very edge of your comfort zone and boldly take one more step. You will feel amazing!
What's your fondest travel memory?
I have so many fond travel memories. Mostly, I think, they are about people, their willingness to help, to feed you, to have their children's photo taken with you. Sometimes they just want to stare. I have enjoyed just “hanging out" with groups of villagers even though nobody REALLY knows what the other is saying, but somehow there is a universal common language of friendship and joy and a need for parents to do what they can to make their children's lives better than their own no matter what the circumstances are.
If you could live anywhere that you've traveled for the next 5 years, where would it be?
It has always been difficult for me to imagine living anywhere for the next 5 years, although it has often happened. I think it is easier for me to say where I would like to revisit. I would love to return to the small Muslim island in the Maldives where I spent a week in a guest house and met some really wonderful and interesting people. They were open to my questions and wanted to hear about my life. I, unexpectedly, had the privilege of being asked to attend their teacher training workshop and give a lesson on ways to integrate hands-on activities into the classroom learning experience. I had so much fun working with the teachers and I ended up taking the whole morning showing them different ideas and techniques. They were delighted, and so was I. No plans yet, but I would like to return and volunteer in the school for at least a month and stay with a host family.
Any travel plans in the near future?
I have applied for a Peace Corps Response volunteer position in Macedonia which, if I am invited, will begin in August. Another exciting and culturally rich area with a lot of ancient history.
Mahalo for honoring me with this task.
Mahalo to you, Robina! Trippers, if you want to connect with Robina to swap travel stories, host her on her travels or Trip with her in her home on Hawaii's Big Island, you can do so via her Tripping profile.