A Michigan Alumni Host’s Take on Travel

Four Michigan Alumni Travel hosts share their insights on traveling.
By Carrie Fediuk

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Read time: 6 minutes
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One of the hallmarks of the Michigan Alumni Travel program is to send faculty hosts on trips. They provide expertise and enrichment on each destination. With travel plans being postponed for most of this year, we reached out to a few former hosts and asked them why they like to travel, which trip they had selected for 2020, and the reasons they chose that destination. We hope their insight will keep your wanderlust alive as you stay home but start planning future trips.

Enjoy this Q&A with four Michigan Alumni Travel program faculty hosts.

Host #1: Sherrie Kossoudji, Associate Professor Emerita of Social Work

Michigan Alumni Trip: Journey through Vietnam

Q: Why did you select this destination?
A: We have such a complicated history with Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. While teaching in China, I attended a conference in Hanoi. Feeling trepidation because I am an American, I wondered if everyone would hate me. Instead, people waved and smiled and wanted to practice their English with me. Most of the people in Vietnam weren’t alive during the war and just wanted to show me their beautiful country. That experience reminds me to always be careful about one’s assumptions.

At the same time, visiting the historical sites of the Vietnam War was emotionally jarring. I chose the trip wanting to return and explore the country further with U-M alumni who would recognize alongside me our country’s fraught history with Vietnam. We would stand in the Hanoi Hilton, visit the infamous Cu Chi Tunnels, and confront a sad joint-past experience between our two countries together while engaging in the wonder of modern-day Vietnam.

Q: What is your favorite thing about this particular destination?
A: There is such beauty in Vietnam’s land and cities. But it also reveals the complicated history of this part of the world. For me, it is those serendipitous, but memorable, moments that pack the power of a travel experience.

I spent a few days in the old city in Hanoi, walking the crowded streets, taking photographs, and soaking up the amazing cacophony of people, food, history, and colors around me.

A shopkeeper and I hit it off while I was browsing her goods. We sat in her open-fronted shop, chatted, and had tea together. An hour or so passed, and we were still sitting and chatting. A little later a funeral procession passed by and she explained funeral traditions to me. She asked about life in the United States, and I tried to color in the TV version of how we live. After another hour or so, it started pouring rain, so we sipped more tea and watched the streets empty.

There was nothing, and yet everything, special about that afternoon as a stranger and I peacefully spent the day together. I will always remember it.

Q: Can you tell us some other interesting facts about this destination?
A: My work focuses on migration, refugee movements, immigration, and refugee policy. The Vietnam War (and its collapse) played a direct role in the creation and enactment of The Refugee Act of 1980 in the United States. This act brought the U.S. into the world community on humanitarian refugee acceptance. It drove our refugee policy until the past couple of years.

Q: What is your favorite thing about traveling?
I am a typical academic who is basically an introvert on the inside. Cocktail parties can be painful for me as I try to figure out how to socialize in polite society. But I love to meet and converse with strangers that I meet when I travel. Something about already being outside my box when I’m in another country frees me to just jump in and start asking questions of the people I meet. I have learned so much — and had such a good time — interacting with people who are not like me, and yet are like me.

Host #2: Richard Redding, Research Scientist, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, and Chief Research Officer, Ancient Egypt Research Associates

Michigan Alumni Trip: Egypt & the Eternal Nile

Q: Why did you select this destination?
A: I have done archaeological research in Egypt for 39 years. It is one way I can give back to the community that has supported me during that time.

Q: What is your favorite thing about this particular destination?
A: The archaeology: beautiful, but complex.

Q: Can you tell us some other interesting facts about this destination?
A: The Great Pyramid has eight sides. The greatest pyramid builder was Sneferu, Khufu’s father, who built three pyramids. The pyramids were not built by slaves.

Q: What is your favorite thing about traveling?
A: Experiencing something new every day.

Host #3: Larry Gant, Professor of Social Work, School of Social Work, and Professor of Art and Design, Stamps School of Art & Design

Michigan Alumni Trip: Cruise the Heart of Europe

Q: Why did you select this destination?
A: I absolutely love rivers and always have — they’re my favorite landscape. I wake up to the rivers, they quiet me, and are nearly ageless. They have seen so much. Civilizations grow, change, die, and renew with rivers. In my more recent work, I study the development and interplay of waterways with coastal and port cities. I look at the ways in which water serves as a referendum for social change, social reform, and social transformation. In many respects, for me, water is civilization — for better or worse. Europe is small enough that a lot of cultural changes over the course of a millennia can be seen, contemplated, and appreciated.

Q: What is your favorite thing about this particular destination?
A: There is a hard-won and continuously renewed respect between humans and nature, cities and water, and nutrition and glorious food and wine. They are all present in this travel experience, as the rivers wind through the places and spaces, complementing the various climates, culture, beauty, inelegance, sorrow, and laughter. There is a power in the ways that sound carries upon the surface of the water.

Q: Can you tell us some other interesting facts about this destination?
A: During the summer drought of 2018, the Spree river actually reversed flow in Berlin!

Q: What is your favorite thing about traveling?
A: Meeting old and new friends, seeing something delightful in nature, tasting a wonderful new food, the differences and similarities in peoples’ laughter and delight, wonderful music, and sitting down in plazas with good food, good people, and good drinks.

Host #4: Gabriella Scarlatta, Professor of French and Italian, Associate Dean of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters at UM-Dearborn

Michigan Alumni Trip: Tahiti and French Polynesia

Q: Why did you select this destination?
A: French Polynesia has been on my bucket list for a very long time. I have always wanted to visit Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Huahine, so this was the perfect trip. We were going to be on a luxurious sailboat, visit all of these islands, and do much more. French Polynesia has a rich cultural history of “East meets West,” and this trip included touring a number of wonderful sights: coral reefs, pear and vanilla farms, and maraes.

Q: What is your favorite thing about this particular destination?
A: I love the sea, and this destination is right at the heart of it: beautiful beaches, islands, small motus (reef inlets) as well as sharks, stingrays, and all different types of tropical fish. The itinerary included swimming with the sharks, snorkeling in a colorful coral garden, and enjoying the fantastic views of varied coasts while sailing. And the food all looked varied and healthy: delicious fish dishes, local fruits, vegetables, and desserts.

Q: Can you tell us some other interesting facts about this destination?
A:  For me, it is interesting that French is spoken on all the islands. I enjoy learning about how close the Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures are and their customs, so I was looking forward to experiencing the Francophone culture they share.

Q: What is your favorite thing about traveling?
A: I love seeing new places. Tahiti and French Polynesia are exotic, fascinating destinations. I also enjoy meeting new people and learning about their ways of life, and that would have included learning about my fellow travelers from the Alumni Association.

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