Travel

TED—the Catalyst for Growth by Shivang Patel

Over the month (and since my last blogpost), I have spent time in more than a dozen cities. Currently, I am enjoying the bright sun and blue waters of the Aegean.

Over these weeks while sitting on beaches, on top of mountains, and everywhere in between I have had lots of time to reflect on this journey, the last few formative years of my life, and life in general. As expected, this trip has allowed me to be very introspective. 


Throughout my time in college, I was very involved with the TED and TEDx community. It was indeed a keystone of not only my time at Ohio State, but also in my growth and development as a person. The process of organizing a TEDx event is taxing and can seem endless especially if you are a part of a team for multiple years. As TEDx organizers we look at the impact and influence our talks and events can have on our communities and those individuals that are a part of it, but often don’t consider how TED/TEDx has affected us. I didn’t (and think many don’t) build in time for reflection, more than just how to improve the event/experience the next time around. Through lots of introspection and also conversation with fellow TEDx organizers I have met up with on this trip, I have realized that because of TED/TEDx my life is on a completely different trajectory than I thought it would be going (and for the better). In many aspects of my life I cannot think of what it would be like without TEDx, but the most impactful has been in terms of relationships. There are many experiences during college that help shape a person during these formative years, and for me TED/TEDx was indeed THE catalyst for my personal growth.

As a child I wasn’t the greatest at making friends, to which my mother could probably attest. I had wonderful and long-lasting friendships as a child, but there were only a handful. I was not anti-social, but I think I was bad at expressing my emotions and just felt out of place at times. I’ve always been energetic, but when it came to non-familial relationships I would clam up. Throughout the subsequent years I did get better with building relationships naturally as one does with age and did create many friendships, but I still did not allow myself to really be open and vulnerable. Being vulnerable is a skill I have learned during college; one that has allowed me to be the very social and extroverted person I think I am now.

At the beginning of my sophomore year at Ohio State University, I was attending a mandatory information session for a new program called STEP that was intended to enrich sophomores’ academic careers. To be honest, I had signed up for the program because it offered $2,000 to be used in basically any way I wanted. In this particular session, which was about leadership, the program had brought in a panel of student leaders, staff, and professors to discuss different aspects of leadership. One of those panelists was Dr. Amy Barnes, a professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology, who teaches undergraduate and graduate students about leadership studies. The moderator of this panel had mentioned that Amy was the faculty advisor for TEDx at Ohio State, and as someone who loved watching TED Talks this piqued my interest. After the event, I uncharacteristically went up to Amy to ask how to get involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity. At the time I did not know how significant that one conversation would be, or how Amy would be the most influential staff member I met at Ohio State. That day, and TED, started a chain of dominos that is continuing to this day.

Over the next several months I became increasingly involved with TEDxOhioStateUniversity, and really loved the work I was doing as well as the people with whom I was working. I had felt that I had found my home, my niche, at this university of 60,000 students. TEDx helped me find a purpose at Ohio State outside of academia, and it continued being a part of my growth as a student and as a young adult. In the second half of my sophomore year, I was surprisingly given the opportunity to go to the TEDActive 2014 in the beautiful British Columbia. I had no idea what to expect but was excited. 

Throughout that week I had terrific experiences and watched amazing TED Talks, but the most profound aspect of going to TEDActive that year (and then again the following year) was the relationships I had been able to make and the ability to make them. TED created an environment that allowed one to flourish and meet so many interesting and genuine people from all over the US and the world. At TEDActive one could go up to a random person from the other side of the world and have a two-hour long conversation about each other’s deepest thoughts and feelings. I had never been in such an open and kind environment where every individual was willing to share and be vulnerable. TED allowed me to create relationships with inspirational people from all over the world at that conference. Many of these are still intact to this day.


An example of this is when I went to Stockholm a few weeks ago. I had met Dick Lundgren of TEDxStockholm for a brief 10 minutes on the last day of TEDActive 2014, and decided to hit him up while I was in his city not knowing what to expect. Not only did he meet up with me, but he also gave me a personal tour of Stockholm in his car, took me out to dinner, and introduced me to another TEDx organizer. It was so unexpected, but so delightful. And to top it off, he gave me a small but super neat gift from his design company, Men at Work.

Another example of the how great TEDx relationships have been was when I was visiting Vienna. After posting on Instagram about how excited I was to explore the city, TEDxVilnus organizer and general badass Ruta Kruliauskaite put me in touch with her sister, Eglė. Although I had never met her, Eglė invited me to hang out with her friends and I had a wonderful evening and felt like I was out with friends I had known for years. That is the power of the global TEDx community.

TED has allowed me to not only grow the number of relationships I have with people all over the country and the world, but also the ability to build relationships very quickly. It gave me the confidence to strike up conversation and build relationships with a complete stranger and not feel hesitant. An example of this was when I was in Budapest. I happened to be at book signing for Canadian astronaut and former ISS commander, Chris Hadfield. While waiting in line, I struck up conversation with this Croat who was living in Budapest. After conversing for a while I found out he was super passionate about olive oil and owned a shop in the city. He invited me to come do a tasting, so the next day I did just that. For an hour, this super passionate and complete stranger let me taste a dozen distinct and delicious extra virgin olive oils, taught me about how it's produced, and he even gave me the contact info of a producer whose farm I'm going to visit when in Croatia next month.


TED has immensely changed my life, and I would never look back. I owe much gratitude to TED, to my TEDx friends all over the world, to Amy Barnes, and to all those with whom I created relationships at Ohio State. I truly feel like I have come into myself as an individual over the past couple years with TED being the catalyst.

If you made it this far reading this post, thank you for reading and allowing me to share my thoughts on something about which I am very passionate. 

Copenhagen: City of the Old and New by Shivang Patel

Copenhagen was founded as a small harbor city a millennium ago. The city's name in Danish is København roughly translating to "Merchant's Harbor." Through the ages it has grown and developed in various ways, becoming an important cultural, economical, and political city for not only Denmark, but also for Scandinavia. Because of Copenhagen's long, long history one can see traces of said history throughout the city—something I as an American found slightly enchanting because the relative infantile history of the United States doesn't showcase remnants of centuries past throughout our cities.

frederikskirke

Copenhagen is now a very cosmopolitan city in addition to being a metropolis. I knew it was a large city with much history, but until I walked around I didn't realize how diverse it is. There are people of every color and creed throughout Copenhagen and it’s neighborhoods. Whenever there is an influx of immigrants in an area, they tend to bring their respective cultures with them. And food is a huge part of culture. I’ve always said that you can get to know a people through their food. All over Copenhagen, one can find different cuisine—Thai, Moroccan, Turkish, Indian, Chinese, Italian, German, etc. This magnitude of diversity is similar to what I’ve seen in New York City. 

Speaking of food, the Nordic countries aren’t particularly known globally for their cuisine, but Danish food, and more generally Nordic food, has been really stepping it up. One can attribute this to the New Nordic food movement and specifically René Redzepi’s world-famous Noma. There has been a trend to eat more local and real food throughout much of the Western world, and that and restaurants like Noma, I think, are a couple of reasons why Nordic food is being elevated in Copenhagen. This is not only true of Michelin star restaurants, but also of street food. A great example of this is Copenhagen Street Food—a warehouse on Papirøen (Paper Island) that has been transformed to a market with dozens of street food vendors. Located close to the aforementioned Noma and the popular tourist area, Nyhavn, Copenhagen Street Food provides one with a taste of not only delicious Danish foods like smørrebrød, but also local craft beer and tastes from all over the world due to the rich diversity of the city. One can grab some food, a pint of beer, sit by the harbor, and listen to live music with friends. This place was definitely my favorite in the city.

Balancing the old and the new, and successfully, is the anthem of Copenhagen. This is not only seen with food, but also with other aspects of culture, specifically music. There are lots of clubs and underground venues where one can go and listen to the latest European electronic music like deep house. Copenhagen, being a major European city, also has a vibrant classical music scene with more historic art forms like opera. Right by Copenhagen Street Food and across the water from Amalienborg, a Danish royal palace, is The Copenhagen Opera House (Operaen). The Operaen allows this older art form to thrive nowadays, but the building itself is actually of modern architecture—an interesting example of Copenhagen’s balancing act in terms of its architecture.

Operaen

Throughout the city, there a balanced combination of new and old architecture. Much of the modern architecture is seen along the harbors as there is more land there that can be developed, but modern and post-modern architecture can be seen throughout the city. There is also lots of historical architecture all over the city. One can see examples of Gothic, Baroque, Rocco, and Neoclassical buildings, which feels like stepping back into time. The important thing is that Copenhagen has been able to balance the old and new and have them co-exist beautifully, unlike other European cities I’ve seen thus far e.g. Malmö.

My final note on Copenhagen’s balancing act is in terms of health. Personal and environmental. All over the city, there are many efforts to be as green as possible. Whether that be the extensive recycling or the many electricity-generating windmills along the harbors. Danes also bike quite a bit, reducing pollution. But these super-fashionable bunch make up for their reduction in automobile emissions by smoking out the wazoo. Practically everywhere one will people smoking cigarettes. And it’s not just the older generations who grew up seeing the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel, but it is also younger people. I saw my peers, 20-somethings, and even younger people smoking. One could tell by the way that some of the kids popped a cigarette in between their lips and let it droop that smoking was the “cool thing to do.” Smoking, I don't think, is banned public places like how it is back home. For being so green (especially in Christiania) and progressive, Danes really do love their cigarettes. 

Other notes: transportation in Copenhagen is great. A third of the residents commute to work via bicycle, so there are bikes everywhere. The city has done a good job of making sure there are separate automobile, bicycle, and pedestrian lanes throughout much of the city. One can also rent bicycles easily. I used Bycyklen, and it was easy to sign up. I also used their great bus/metro system. It’s the best and most convenient way to get around the entire greater Copenhagen area. I was able to get a 72-hour unlimited-use pass at the airport (you can get it at many of the metro stations) for 200 Danish kroner (~$30 USD).

Overall, I absolutely loved Copenhagen. Like the rest of Scandinavia the prices for things are slightly inflated than one sees in the United States, but the city has so, so much to offer for whatever kind of adventure one is seeking. Copenhagen is a dynamic cosmopolitan, and I’m excited to see how it has grown and evolved the next time I have the opportunity to visit.

copenhagen_skyline

Inspired by Iceland by Shivang Patel

Of the eight days I spent in Iceland, five were spent driving around the entire island. While driving through the Icelandic wilderness, I thought I had been transported to a new planet. Everything looked slightly out of this world. The plants were different; the animals were different. The ground itself looked Martian. There was constantly a cold Atlantic breeze nearly everywhere you went, and in this wind there was a slight yet unmistakable smell of sulfur.

Rolling hills and valleys are common in much of the world, but throughout much of Iceland one can see an undulating ground on an otherwise flat area. It wasn't until I drove around areas in which there was no grass but only grey moss that I realized that this undulating ground were lava fields that throughout the centuries had become the perfect bed on which small mosses and grasses grew. It literally looked like there were ripples on the ground. Driving around the island is truly the best way to see this awe-inspiring country. Doing it with a friend or two would have been a blast, but since I am traveling on my own exploring Iceland by myself allowed me to really slow down and take in the sights and sounds nature had to offer. While traversing this vast volcanic island, I saw so many diverse vistas and topographies. Each day felt like I was transplanted to another part of the world.

One the first day I saw amazing sceneries as I trekked around the popular Golden Circle visiting sites like Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Haukadalur, where there were geysers, hotsprings, and fumaroles. On the second day I saw the beautiful black sand beaches on the very southern coast of Iceland. Then while driving to southeast Iceland I stopped by Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake, for a couple of hours and the sight of beautiful blue and white glaciers took my breath away. It is truly a site everyone should visit if in Iceland. Luckily for me I caught the curiosity of seals while walking along the lake, and was able to capture them on my camera.  Day three consisted of traversing through the twisting and turing roads of eastern Iceland trailed with incredible gorgeous fjord after fjord. Hidden in each fjord were a couple of small towns. The fourth day was spent traveling through northeastern Iceland where I saw volcanic fields, trekked to the base of snow-capped mountains, and drove through the clouds before stopping in the Capital of North Iceland—Akureyri. My last day, I drove through west Iceland where in addition to seeing more incredible nature and the billionth (but still impressive) waterfall, I climbed the caldera of an extinct volcano—something I never thought I would do. Goal for next time in Iceland is to get close to an active volcano.

After being in the Icelandic wilderness for what like an eternity I returned to Reykjavík, where I started my time in Iceland. Reykjavík is a vibrant city that is expanding to keep up with it's growing economy and the explosion of tourists one can see flooding the streets. There any many museums, activities, and restaurants throughout the city—enough to accommodate all 120,000 residents and the 1,000,000 tourists that go through Reykjavík every year. Reykjavík also has quite a bit of construction. All the new buildings incorporate glass and have very modern architecture, contrasting most of the other buildings in city that are made out of concrete, have sharp lines and bright colors. All the geometric houses sharply contract the grey and green roundness of the earth one sees in the rest of Iceland. Maybe symbolizing man's will against the constancy of mother nature.

In Iceland, I felt like I had seen and experienced the heart of nature—a feeling "Father of the National Parks" John Muir expressed. Muir said, "When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world," and after seeing the beauty of Iceland I truly believe that. I have never really been an outdoors-y person, and have always loved the hustle and bustle of cities. This small adventure into the Icelandic wilderness, however, has changed my perception on nature and the outdoors. As much as we value our great cosmopolitan cities, there should be equal reverence of our great outdoors. Inspired by Iceland, I want to visit the vast beauty that the U.S. National Park Service has to offer. I think a new life goal of mine is to visit all 59 national parks before I'm 50.

Traveling Cheaply by Shivang Patel

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to see the world and travel after I finished my undergraduate studies. I have a few friends who have done something similar, and know many more who have told me that traveling is something I will never regret. The more and more I thought about it, the more certain I became that I wanted to travel. Never in my life will I have several months where I can travel without any cares.

This is my tentative travel itinerary: 

Now that I had made up my mind, the big question looming around was being able to afford traveling for so long. Traveling for four months is not a cheap affair. Firstly, I had a job with which I was able to save up quite a bit of money. For anyone who is in college wanting to travel afterwards, having a job and saving that money is a must in my opinion.

Secondly, whenever I have spent my money I have used it very conscientiously—making it work for me. This began with using the right credit cards at the right time. Why use a credit card or debit card if it's not rewarding you for using it. That's why I seldom use cash. I've had a credit cards since I was 18 (something I recommend, but you have to pay off your statement in full each month),  so I was able to get a premium credit card—the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

With this card, if you spend $4,000 in three months you can earn 50,000 points worth $625. This is a very large amount, but I was able to get the 50,000 bonus points because I paid utilities at my apartment, used my card to pay rent and all my other expenses, and was able to get my parents to use the card for their expenses and pay me back. This way $4,000 over the course of three months was a very plausible goal. With this card, I can earn 2X the points on all food and travel purchases.

A couple months later, I got Chase's Freedom card, which allowed me to earn 5X points on various categories that change every quarter. 

In addition to using these two cards, I used Chase's "Shop through Chase" service. By using this service instead of going to a store to make the same purchase I would have made anyway, I was able to earn 2X-25X points. An example of when I used this service was when I needed to buy a travel bag. I went with the Osprey Porter 46, but instead of buying it from REI or even Osprey's store, I found that I earned 8X points if I bought the same bag through Chase via backcountry.com.

Through meticulous shopping, spending, and saving, I was able to accumulate a massive amount of points that have allowed to pay for a huge portion of my trip for free.

Other methods of saving money: staying in hostels (Hostelworld is great), couch-surfing, and using discount airlines such as RyanAir and EasyJet.

I am also fortunate to have parents who are chipping in. In total my trip is costing me approximately $4,500 USD—money that I am sure will be well spent.