Friday, August 20, 2010

Biking the World: An Interview with a Really Cool Person

Another guest post by our fabulous-o intern, Kady :
My best friend from college was recently awarded the Watson Fellowship, a $25,000 grant that lets graduating college seniors travel the world for a year, studying their passion. Past winners have included "The Application of Hip-Hop in Holistic Healing," and "Folk Puppetry: Performance and Craft in Agrarian and Religious Calendars"; you really can do ANYTHING. My friend Ben is passionate about bicycles and so in June he set out on a cargo ship to Europe where he began his journey.

Ben will be exploring bicycle tourism in Europe, working with the Bicycle Empowerment Network in Africa to improve the quality of life in poor and rural areas, and traveling through China and Japan on his bike to better understand bicycle culture in Asia.

Ben was awesome enough to give me a quick interview about what he's seen so far and what he's excited to do in the future. You can follow his blog here and learn more about the Watson Fellowship here. It might be worth considering Watson eligibility when you're doing your college searches. $25,000 is a lot of money to do what you love!

So why bicycling?

Bikes have something to give everyone, which sounds cliche, but that is the beauty I see in bikes. In short, bikes are fun, and people manage to squeeze this life-giving sensation (fun) out of bikes in an incredible number of ways.

But in addition to just being awesome, bikes also are part of the answer to some of the biggest issues that face our generation's future. Global warming is the biggest mega-topic that comes to mind first, and bikes are The Way for us to cut down our dependency upon gas. Check out this website. 40% of urban trips in the us are 2 miles or less, and 90% of those are by cars. Check out the website and see how much of your average day is in this small of an area. It really is shocking, and if we work to make our communities bikeable we can reduce our need for gas. And make them fun to get around.

In addition, bikes provide mobility for literally billions of people in the world. After walking it is the most used form of transportation in the world. The ability to get where we need is really important, and for some people it can be life changing. In parts of Africa the ability to get to a school, hospital, market, or firewood or water quickly can be life-changing, if these people can be given a bike.

In short, to sum up a long ramble, the bike is a fun machine that can change the world. And really, what is cooler than that? Ice Cold.

When did you become interested in bikes/cycling?

I first fell in love with bikes while biking with my family, or doing fun rides through country fields after school for hours and hours upon end. It allowed me to explore my world, to get some peace of mind, and to have a little exercise tossed in.

Where have you been on your trip so far?

Man o' Man! I've been blowing through Europe, in already two months! Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, France, Austria. And I took a cargo ship across the Atlantic, which afforded a great experience and really good coffee.

Whats been your favorite part?

I suspect it won't answer your question, but really everything has been life-changing in sometimes small and sometimes profound ways, that a favorite is impossible.

No, really, what's the coolest thing you've seen?

One family I met in Ulm, Germany was biking from this enchanting medieval city to Vienna. They were –kid you not– planning on biking near a thousand kilometers, and what I found wonderful was that this trip included two children, ages 10 & 7, and all the necessities for camping. What struck me as exceptional by American standards proved commonplace amongst the passengers along the ‘Danueradweg’ bicycle trail. I’ve seen tons of families along the way, and seen equally as many social security recipients enjoying their time either along the river trail or in the shade of a bier garden.

Where are you going?

Isn't that the question we are all asking ourselves?

I am finishing up with Europe, and then I will be going to South Africa and Ghana. Around New Years I will be in Barcelona briefly, then I will take the Trans-Siberian railroad from Moscow to Mongolia, and from Mongolia to China. I'll be in China for four months, and then I'll take a ship to Japan, and then from Japan to America via cargo ship. I am doing the whole darn-tootin' trip without airplanes to travel around the world, like Magellan.

Tell me a little about the Watson application process.

The obstacle course is the hardest part. You MUST be good at ropes. Training for the American Gladiators was key to my earning this.

No, really the first step is making sure your college is eligible. Only 40 colleges are. The second step is coming up with a subject where the idea of studying it everyday for 365 days straight seems like a dream come true.

The hardest part then is writing the two essays. They're only 5 pages each, but they have to say a lot with not very many words. One describes the project itself, while the other (and the harder one to write) is a personal statement about why this project is YOU. If your school then chooses to nominate you (a school can nominate up to 4 per year), then you interview with the Watson folks, who are incredible people, and never again will you have a person so interested in hearing you ramble for an hour about your greatest passion. It is a challenging but also rewarding experience. Do it!

Do you have anything else to say to the people who might read this?

Listen up! The world is a book, and those who do not travel know but one page. I didn't say that -though I often take credit for doing so- but rather St. Augustine. Wanting to know as much about the world around you is the single best trait you can have, and it will help you do well in college, life, or wherever the road ahead in life will take you. Don't ever stop being curious about why and always be ready to ask someone, be it a teacher, friend, or one of those hot ladies behind the counter at the library.

If you are interested in finding some interesting ways of  finding money for college and life after you might try one of these books:

Finding the Money: The Complete Guide to Financial Aid for Students, Actors, Musicians and Artists by Preethi Burkholder

 Gardner's Guide to Finding Money for School Online by Christina Edwards


Rudy Saggerbones said...

Wow, this is really a well-written interview, and I am going to have to check this out! Bicycles seem a little lame to me, so hopefully I don't have to do that. LOL Thanks for making this fellowship known to me.


nico said...

Thanks for the post, Bicycles aren't for everyone- but luckily this fellowship is about finding what YOU are passionate about!

Cleveland said...

Actually, I HAVE heard of people basing their college search on whether or not the Watson Fellowship is available to their graduates. (The Watson is awarded for a year of post-baccalaureate global travel to pursue one's unique passion.) For a list of participating colleges, some of the nation's very best, see: