Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Europe Trip

Bonjour mes amis! (That means, “Hello my friends!” in French)

I am back from Europe and slowly recovering sleep and my normal routine. It was an amazing trip, and there is so much to tell! I learned a lot, tried new things, met some great people, ate some great food, and took lots of pictures. I will do separate posts, in an effort to try and do justice to the millions of thoughts I have right now swimming through my head. First, let me tell you why I was in Paris, France in the first place, and give you some solid traveling advice.
I volunteer for a national non-profit organization that helps people with bleeding disorders. I myself am affected with von Willebrand disease, or VWD. What that means is, it just takes longer for my blood to clot than a normal person’s blood would. I don’t bleed faster, but I do bleed longer. I bruise more easily and am prone to getting bleeds. The type of VWD I have is a qualitative defect. Everyone has factors in their blood to help with clotting. These factors are numbered 1-13 (don’t quote me on that, this is all from memory and high school biology). Von Willebrand factor is a protein located on factor number 8 that helps with clotting. People with VWD either don’t have enough of it to help with clotting (quantitative), OR they do have enough of it, but it doesn’t function properly for clotting (qualitative). That would be me.
Now, having this chronic illness has made me want to help others affected with bleeding disorders. I have been volunteering since I was 18, and I love it. Volunteering in general is really great, as it changes your perspective on things and opens your eyes and your heart.  I have done a wide range of volunteer activities from fundraising to public speaking to education and advocacy, to planning and implementing youth programs and many things in between. Now, every 2 years, the World Federation of Hemophilia (WFH) hosts a global conference in a different country. This conference is open to attendees affected by bleeding disorders all over the world: patients, families, doctors, physical therapists, researchers, pharmaceutical companies, etc. This year we had over 5,300 attendees! Every 4 years out, at the conference, delegates from each country that is currently a member of the WFH vote on where the next conference will be hosted. There are many countries that apply for this privilege, and certain requirements must be met in order to qualify. This year, the vote was between Montreal, Québec, Canada and Miami, Florida, U.S. The National Hemophilia Foundation requested that I help them secure the bid to host the 2016 WFH congress in Miami, FL. So above all things, that was my primary objective. I will tell you about the result later!
I consider myself to be a pretty experienced traveler. Compared to most, that is. I have traveled a bit within the U.S., as well as outside, and I know that is not an opportunity a lot of people have. I would guess that most people in Wisconsin actually never leave it or go very far. I definitely feel very fortunate that way. This trip made me realize that there are 3 qualities I think that are essential to being a good traveler:
You have to be smart: By that I mean you should have done some homework about the place you are going to visit. I don’t mean read history books. You can if you want to, and if that’s your thing. I actually mean being sensitive to the culture and the people that live there. If you can learn the language, even if only a few key phrases, it will take you far. Manners always do, no matter what the language. People appreciate that you are trying to speak their language, rather than just trying to track someone down that speaks yours (that perpetuates the American stereotype also). Moreover, this will save you from potentially embarrassing social situations (faux pas). For example, a thumbs up here in the U.S. may mean “up yours” in another country.  Also, use your street smarts. Be aware of your surroundings at all times, and read everything you can: street signs, maps, etc. See what the locals are doing, and follow suit. Also, don’t break any laws doing stupid things you normally wouldn’t even do at home. Common sense will do you wonders.
You have to be brave: This one just means you have to be willing to take risks, but also know your own personal limits. Traveling itself can be a risk, even more so when you are by yourself. But imagine the experiences, the people you will meet, the things you will do, and the places you will see. Try a new food. Make a new friend. Do something you normally wouldn’t do. This one goes hand in hand with being smart. Ask for help if you need it.
Finally, be open minded: This means to not be judgmental of others. More than likely, you will observe things that differ from the way you do things back home. Take it with a grain of salt. You can learn to better appreciate your own home through what you encounter. This also means having a good sense of humor about things. Know that you may run into obstacles that may really be stressful like language barriers, missed flights, lost luggage, unexpected costs, etc. Take a deep breath, and just handle it with poise and humility, and you will be a better person for it.
My next post will be all about Paris…stay tuned!! J

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