Monday, major campus organizations will host an award-winning reporter, Fulbright recipient and traveler to speak about the benefits of international travel in the Eleanor Searle Drawing Room in Joseph Reynolds Hall at 5:30 p.m.
Stephanie Claytor, who reports on Polk County for Spectrum Bay News 9, is the writer behind the blog “Blacktrekking,” and a book of the same name. The Junior Journey Program, the Simmons Center for Multicultural Appreciation and Dr. Jenny Moffitt, the prestigious fellowships advisor, are sponsoring the talk, which will center on Claytor’s experience living in Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
“For my family, what I wanted to do [international travel] was a completely foreign concept,” Claytor said. “No one in my family had a passport.”
Claytor traveled to the Dominican Republic for a study abroad program, and was one of the first students from her university to do so. While she was there, she took classes on community service, Dominican-Hatian relations, gender in Latin America, and Spanish, and lived with a host family.
As Claytor finished college, she was awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship grant to Colombia. As her side project, Claytor, who is African-American, wanted to study Afro-Colombian culture, which has an especially strong presence on the coast of Colombia.
A month before she arrived, however, the Fulbright commission told her that she was actually going to be placed in the capital city, instead.
“That’s the biggest thing Colombia taught me,” Claytor said. “I thought I was going to go to the salsa classes and be in the salsa scene and be immersed in Afro-Colombian culture…. It was kind of crushing in the moment, [but] I really learned how to go with the flow.”
Claytor’s experiences in Colombia have been formative for the rest of her life. Not only did living abroad make her more flexible and adaptable, but learning the language, she said, helps her on the ground as a journalist. When breaking news happens and witnesses don’t speak English–but they do speak Spanish–Claytor has a leg up from her colleagues.
Claytor’s writing is deeply personal; in her book and on her blog, she writes about moments of vulnerability that she experienced abroad. In one instance, she conducts interviews with Colombians who had been displaced by violence. In another, she develops an interest in a man who hides the fact that he is married from her.
Claytor has to toe the line between what she wants to share and what she can share, given that she still works as a journalist for a regional powerhouse like Spectrum Bay News 9. Those are the hardest decisions to make when she publishes; choosing what to leave in and what to remove from her stories is a “very delicate process,” she said.
“I still had stories that I wanted to be told. There should be a guide for someone who wants to live abroad,” Claytor said. “I didn’t have that; I didn’t know what to expect.”
Claytor wants people who are considering international travel, especially to the places she’s visited to know that there’s no guarantee that they will experience what she did. However, there’s a chance something negative could happen, or that people might be treated a certain way.
Claytor’s “Blacktrekking” has the tagline “explore more,” and that’s what Claytor has been doing with her family since she returned from Latin America. When she’s not working in news, she’s posting on her blog and her instagram. She recently visited Japan and Ghana.
“I have some trips booked for this fall; I’m going to London, Brussells, and Amsterdam,” Claytor said. “My next big trip that I want to do is a safari in Kenya.”
“Blacktrekking” isn’t just a travel blog; Claytor also intends it as an encouragement for more people, especially people of color, to travel around the world.
“My mom, she was kind of leery or scared of me living abroad, but she knew it was something I wanted to do,” Claytor said. “She would Skype with me several times while I was living over there…. Her witnessing my living abroad… made her realize, ‘Maybe I can get a passport and go somewhere.’ In 2015 we went to Paris.”
Claytor is glad that her encouragement is working, not just for her family, but for some of her friends as well. In college, the majority of her friends did not study abroad, but now many are traveling more.
“Take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad while you’re young and don’t have anything holding you back,” she said. “And… if your family is fearful, just do it anyway, because you’re going to be better off. Either way, that’s going to prepare you for the future; global experience on your resume is going to set you apart.”