NU student blogged along seven-country itinerary

JuJu Kim

This summer, Sam McAleese completed the trip of a lifetime.

“The world is entirely too big for its own good, in that there is such a wealth of experience waiting out there for anyone that has the opportunity (in my case, the blessing) to go explore it,” McAleese wrote in his final blog post after visiting national parks in seven different countries in 90 days.

McAleese, the 2009 winner of the Circumnavigator Travel-Study Grant, spent his summer traveling and studying how involving local people helps to maintain national parks around the world. The Weinberg senior and former DAILY photographer is the eighth winner of the $9,000 grant, sponsored by Northwestern and the Chicago chapter of the Circumnavigators Club.

During his trip, McAleese visited seven countries on several continents including Peru, Tanzania, Australia and Vietnam. At each site, he interviewed local citizens and park officials as well as tourists to gather information relating to his area of research. Now back at NU, McAleese is required by the grant to write a paper with a minimum of 50 “thesis quality” pages and to present his findings to the Chicago chapter in February, said Carol Narup, vice president of the Chicago chapter and second vice president of the International Circumnavigators Club Foundation

“I was trying to look at and see what kind of models (of national parks) around the world were successful … and try and export the good models to different places,” McAleese said.

Throughout the summer he published his findings, travel experiences and photos in a blog titled “Over the Edge of the World.” The blog was a requirement for the grant and also helped him maintain contact with the Office of the Provost at NU and the Circumnavigators Club during his trip.

Ron Braeutigam, associate provost for undergraduate education, said his office corresponds through e-mail with grant winners like McAleese during their travels in order to facilitate blog posting and other logistical issues.

For Narup, communication from the grant winner was closely linked to safety.”He has to keep in touch with us so we know he’s okay,” she said.

Despite administrative concerns, McAleese said the only problem he encountered during his travels was the theft of his rental cell phone in Peru on the second day of his trip. Since he had his phone from home, he was still able to communicate with family and friends.

“There were a few times with flights getting canceled and (missing) connections, but I can’t remember a single day where I was unhappy,” he said. “Even when the phone got stolen … I just let it go and (moved) on.”

When recounting his trip, McAleese focused on the positive memories, such as meeting a member of Greenpeace and scientists from the University of Oxford at a Cape Farewell program in Peru. Cape Farewell is an organization that encourages scientists and artists to collaborate in order to publicize climate change through art.

“(I’ve gained) an appreciation for different cultures and what they have to offer,” McAleese said. “Because you go to a place like Australia and there’s a lot of similarities to American culture, and everywhere you go there’s Starbucks or there’s KFC or something. But at the same time they all have their own unique culture, and their food is different and just the way they live their lives is very different.”

Other trip highlights included diving in Malaysia, snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef and going on safari in the Serengeti.

“The best experiences I had were where I got in contact with somebody,” McAleese said. “I got to meet them and become really good friends with them.”

He also said he got to see “some of the problems of day-to-day living,” which broadened his perspective of the world.

Above all, McAleese said he was inspired by his experiences.

“It’s really an empowering feeling … it’s a very inspiring trip,” he said. “It makes you want to go out and make a positive change in the world.”[email protected]