Student Travel Writing Contest Offers $500 For Best Essay Of Student Life Abroad

Are you a student who is aspiring to be a travel writer? Now’s your chance to strut your stuff and perhaps win $500.

Transitions Abroad has announced their 2013 Travel Writing Contest. It’s billed as “the only student travel writing contest to cover studying, working, interning, volunteering and living abroad.”

The contest is open to all “currently enrolled undergraduate and graduate students, students who have graduated within the past year, and students currently on leave from school.” The judges want to see essays of 1,000-2,000 words that offer solid advice for adjusting to student life overseas. Check out their guidelines carefully before putting pen to paper.

First prize is $500; second prize is $150; third prize is $100; and runners-up get $50. All get published in “Transitions Abroad” print and webzine. Deadline is April 15.

It’s always a good idea to check out what won in the past. Last year’s winner was “A Foreigner in the Middle Kingdom: Living, Working, and Studying in China.” My personal favorite was the practical and insightful “A High School Summer in Egypt Studying Arabic: Practical Advice and Tips.”

Thanks to the excellent online writing newsletter Writing World for bringing this to my attention. Check out their site for tons of free advice of value to aspiring and experienced writers.

[Photo courtesy Sarah Rose]

St. Bride’s Church in London: a place to honor fallen journalists

I am not a Christian. I have read the Bible twice and have attended the services of several denominations and remain unconvinced. Despite this, any time I’m in London I go to an old church off of Fleet Street to pay my respects.

Fleet Street used to be the center of London’s journalism industry and St. Bride’s was the journalists’ church. The newspapers have since moved away to less expensive neighborhoods but St. Bride’s still maintains its connections to the journalistic profession.

At this point I would usually launch into my historical song-and-dance and tell you how St. Bride’s was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, how its steeple may have inspired the shape of wedding cakes, and how there’s a Roman building in the crypt. None of that makes me go there. I go there because to the left of the altar is a memorial to journalists killed in the line of duty. A few candles illuminate photos and cards and a list of names. Yesterday two more names were added.

Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik were killed yesterday in the besieged city of Homs, Syria, when the house they were staying in got shelled. They were both seasoned war correspondents. Colvin had lost the use of an eye while covering the Sri Lankan civil war in 2001. Both knew the dangers and both went to Syria anyway.

I was familiar with their work because I’ve been watching the carnage in Syria closely. I spent a wonderful month there back in 1994 enjoying Arab hospitality and seeing the country’s many historic sights. I was there when the dictator’s heir apparent Bassel al-Assad died in a car crash and the nation pretended to mourn. His younger brother Bashar now rules Syria and is ruthlessly suppressing his local version of the Arab Spring.

When I visited Hama, I learned how the al-Assad family leveled the city to quash resistance there back in 1982. Once the fighting started in 2011, I feared Hama would be leveled again. I was right about the massacre and wrong about the city. It’s Homs this time, or at least it’s Homs for the moment. Syria’s dictatorship would level every city it owns in order to stay in power.I never had the honor to meet Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik. From their work I bet they were like the war correspondents I actually have met, with a deep love of humanity and a firm commitment to the truth. It would be presumptuous of me to put my job on a level with theirs, but it has taught me the same valuable lesson–that the majority of people around the world are good. Lots of folks believe that, but I know it to be true. I’ve had it proven to me over and over again in places my friends think I’m crazy to visit. Somaliland. Kurdistan. Palestine. Iran.

And Syria. The fighting and oppression and state-sponsored terrorism that Colvin and Ochlik gave their lives to reveal to the world do not diminish my estimation of the Syrian people one iota. The majority of Syrians are good, just as the majority of all people are good. And if you disagree don’t argue with me, argue with Anne Frank, who wrote the same thing in her diary while hiding out from the Nazis.

The news is so often negative that it’s easy for us to develop a negative view of the world and its many peoples. It’s important to remember, though, that those who travel the world for a living don’t share that view. Their travels have taught them better.

So when I’m back in London next month, this agnostic is going to St. Bride’s Church, not for a dogma I don’t believe in, but for an idea I do.

Photo courtesy St. Bride’s.

Susan Boyle: The Global Ambassador of Good Will

If there ever was a Global Ambassador of Good Will, Susan Boyle, the woman who has wowed the world from her “Britain’s Got Talent” performance is it.

Ever since I saw the video, I’ve been enamored. First, there’s the song. Who hasn’t dreamed a dream of days gone by? The first time I saw “Les Miserables” I was living in Singapore. That musical seemed to seep into my pores. Hearing Susan Boyle sing reminded me of my first impressions, but more importantly, about what I think most world travelers know.

The world is filled with astounding people who surprise you when you have time to absorb the nuances of their lives. It might be the shopkeeper who puts fruit on a scale with a certain hand movement and a smile–or the way a woman sweeps a sidewalk in the early morning. It could be the way a group of school kids throw their arms around each other and tilt their heads back in laughter when they ask you your name. It could be that woman who could be age 40 to 80 who scoots over to make room for you to sit down on a bench. It’s hard to tell how old she is because her days are spent out in fields in the sun and wind. There’s something about the way she sits and how kind she behaves that is alluring.

Those people that attract us to them might be wearing threadbare clothes, have a tooth or two missing, and not have a decent pair of shoes, if any, but there is an essence about them that travel with us long after our taxi or bus has pulled away. When we go through our photos, we look for them–, and if we didn’t have our camera, wish that we had just in case the good feeling could be absorbed into a photograph so that we would have a prop to help us recall it at will.

Watching an inteview with Susan Boyle is a peek into a normal person’s life–the woman who might live in the house down the block or in the apartment on the third floor. She’s the one with the cat whose life seems to move through days like clockwork. If you stop by, she’ll invite you in for tea and you’ll feel comfortable and sane.

When we get busy about our days with billboards and TV commericals and the marketing of celebrity sameness, and stories about just what’s wrong, we can forget about what’s right. That a person like Susan Boyle can walk out on a stage, belt out a song with a triumphant lift of her arm during the high notes, and remind us just how great we can be. In today’s word, it’s also astounding that such a message can reach millions around the globe almost as soon as the magic begins. What better Global Ambassador of Goodwill is there?

Here’s a video I found with various shots of Susan Boyle in her world

And another one of her singing “Cry Me a River” that was published on a fundraising CD. Her performance wasn’t a fluke.

Discover Africa

Yesterday saw the launch of an amazing online image resource for anyone interested in traveling to Africa. (You can’t see it, but my right hand is waving frantically above my head right now as I’m typing with my left). plays host to some of the most breathtaking photos you will ever see of this most picturesque continent.

My simple search for “Morocco” came up with over one hundred images of places, people, and sights in this country. Then, of course, my mouse gravitated to “Surfing,” where my bottom lip promptly dropped to the floor as I laid my eyes upon some of the most vivid and captivating photos of the ocean and the sport that I have seen.
There are few words on this site, which is just as it should be as it lets the images speak for themselves. I could honestly spend hours sifting through thousands of photos taken all over Africa and need to come up for air. The site itself is extremely simple, clean, and user-friendly. It’s all about admiring the images — paying homage to the continent. Seriously, every one of the site’s images puts my amateur photos to shame.

To celebrate the launch of their site, is holding a cool African safari giveaway contest until April 21. Your entry in the contest can be in the form of an essay (on your blog), photo (on Flickr), or video (on YouTube), so long as you communicate your heartfelt desire to travel to Africa and go on a safari. The key to winning this contest is to generate as much buzz about Africa (and your entry) as possible. They know you’ve entered the contest by officially registering with the site and providing the link to your entry.

You’re going to have to beat my entry, though, which is forthcoming. Africa is my least traveled continent, and a destination I’ve so longed to go to. My sister thought I was a shoe-in to be on Survivor: Africa (I’m an enormous fan of the show and have applied five times!) and bought me an African cookbook five years ago, hoping I would make use of it as a castaway. Maybe one day I will finally get a callback and put it to use — or maybe I will actually win this contest and go on the trip/safari of a lifetime!

To beat me to the punch, you can enter the contest HERE. But beware: more competition = more motivation for me!

M&M’s Valentine’s Day Contest

Most would argue that red is the color of love and therefore the color for Valentine’s Day, but the M&M’s chocolate company begs to differ. While to most green is the color of envy, it is Ms. Green who will have you seeing some green ($1500 to be exact) — as well as experiencing two nights in quintessentially romantic Paris.

The only thing you have to do is visit the contest website and write a 150-word essay explaining why you and your sweetie need Ms. Green’s help to heat up your romance this Valentine’s Day. (No purchase necessary!). The sight adds, “Brevity is the soul of wit, darling,” so I’m guessing my essay, which went something like, “I would really like a holiday” is neither witty nor the kind of brevity they’re looking for.

According to the always long-winded contest rules, you must be 21 years or older to enter and live within the 50 United States. The top five essays will be selected based on the following criteria: Relevance, Creativity, and Style and Panache (???), and then judged one more time by a separate panel to select the winner. The prize includes two roundtrip ticket to Paris, a two-night stay in the city, and $1500 to spend on romantic dining and activities.

Seems rather straightforward, my friends. You must submit your essay by February 12, so think green (or red) and get to it!