Bridging Gaps through World Travel

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The Student Travel Empowers Minds series highlights educators who travel abroad and dedicate their careers to bridging the gap between their classrooms and the world in which their students live in. Our hope is to inspire students and other educators to expand their mindset on having a global education and understanding the benefits of travel.

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"Shifting behavior towards the people who may be different than you, is the first step towards bridging gaps. It’s a mindset that becomes intrinsic and natural in one’s daily life."

This month, meet Barbara Lang!

Barbara Lang is a public speaker and courtesy advocate who currently speaks on what she calls living A Hospitality Mindset™ - an approach to living life that produces positive moments between ourselves and others. Her TEDxCornellU talk A Hospitality Mindset: Changing the World, One Day at a Time explains her perspective that has been deeply influenced by her work in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Barbara is also a food entrepreneurship consultant with over 30 years of experience in hospitality and higher education. She is now in her second year as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at her alma mater, Cornell University’s Hotel School, where she graduated in 1978 and has enjoyed a career taking her in directions she never would have imagined possible. She says, “I never wanted to look back on my life with regret and say ‘I wish I had…’”. As such, Barbara’s journey has varied from working at the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming to co-opening an authentic Mexican restaurant in Ithaca, New York. She even spent four months right after college learning the trade of a schooner chef aboard a 95-foot two-masted windjammer. 

Shortly after her time in Wyoming, Barbara moved to St. Helena, California where she started a bread baking business to help introduce herself to her new community. Ventures such as this paved the way for her recognition as an expert in food entrepreneurship and resulted in invitations for her to speak at hundreds of events, conferences, and symposia across the country. “Without intention, I became an educator that used entertainment as a means to get audiences engaged”. Barbara's career eventually led her back to Ithaca, New York where she taught as a lecturer in Cornell’s food and beverage department. Her work was so well received by the University that she was given the freedom to research and create programs that would benefit students as well as the larger food and beverage industry. 

Ten years ago; however, Barbara's life changed drastically when she was diagnosed with Stage 3-C colon cancer. In her words, “What felt like the absolute worst thing to happen, turned out to create an opportunity that has led me to doing my best work today”. Barbara’s resolve remained firm. Her resilience in the face of this adversity is admirable and points to the passion that has allowed her to continue pushing the boundaries in her career. After retiring from Cornell, she joined the Semester-at-Sea program (where she was shipmates with WellTraveled co-founder Charles Winslow) and traveled to Cambodia to visit one of her former students. Barbara’s first time in Cambodia had such a remarkable impact on her life that she and her husband have continued their visits for the past six years, at times staying up to three or four months. Their work with the EGBOK Mission focuses on equipping underserved, Cambodian young adults with education, job training, and employment opportunities in the country’s booming hospitality industry. 

Aside from her time in Cambodia, Barbara has traveled to 30 different countries and met extraordinary people from around the world. “People who have invited us into their communities and homes and to family celebrations – those moments are the most meaningful and memorable”. When asked how her experience benefited her as an educator and entrepreneur, Barbara replied, “Everyone is the same. Everyone wants to be treated with dignity, respect, and appreciation. However, how those qualities are delivered are very culturally driven”. Whether she is teaching life skills to formerly incarcerated men in New York City or helping college students interested in volunteering abroad, Barbara continues her work of “building authentic communities that yield lifelong relationships” through her own living of A Hospitality Mindset™.

Snapshots from Barbara's travels and her work around the world.

Q & A

Why is it important for students to be exposed to other cultures and the idea of global travel?
“It is hard to imagine the sheer role of luck many of us have had in our lives re: access to education, opportunity and resources. When you meet people with whom you genuinely connect, it is a wonderful, moving, fulfilling and sometimes humbling experience. When you see wonderful people who are motivated and determined, but don’t have opportunity due to lack of education or resources, it changes you. It makes you think how one can share one’s luck and access to resources. Emotions and actions of empathy, appreciation and gratitude become life-changing. A person can see the world differently and decide if they want to move through the world, and their lives, in a way that connects them to something that is bigger than themselves.”

What will a comprehensive cross-cultural and cross-curricular education look like in ten years?
“I would hope that students do less traveling in bubbles (that is, within packs of people similar to themselves) and more immersive in a community. I don’t like to say so 'people can be helpful' to others, because that makes it sound like one person is more superior to another. I like to say, 'how can I be useful' instead.  I also think students in the U.S. have a great deal they can learn from people visiting/studying in the US from other countries. All too often, American students lack the awareness of how difficult (and brave) it is for students from around the world to come to America for their education, often needing to learn a language that is not their own.”

What is one thing that you want to leave students with as it relates to bridging the gap between classroom learnings and the world that they live in?
“I would encourage students to think about how they choose to change their behavior due to the experience they have just had going abroad. If you go back to work/school 'the same as before' that shift in perspective and behavior becomes a missed opportunity and the travel fades into a vacation memory. A person doesn’t need to be saving babies (or the world) in grand gestures to make a difference. Shifting behavior towards the people who may be different than you, is the first step towards bridging gaps. It’s a mindset that becomes intrinsic and natural in one’s daily life.”

What is one thing that you want to leave educators with as it relates to developing the future global leaders of tomorrow?
“If people have stayed in one place and never traveled, they tend to stay within their comfort zone, seeking people who look and act just like them. It’s comfortable and safe. People who haven’t traveled, or ventured to engage with people unlike themselves, lose the opportunity to live and feel life to its fullest. How can a person lead in a truly global sense, if they haven’t had genuine engagements with a wide spectrum of people from various cultures?” 

What is one thing that you want to leave parents with as it relates to assisting their children in pursuing a well-rounded global education?
“Rather than encouraging children about 'what they want to do in life', consider having them think about 'who do they want to be in life'. Pursuing travel that embraces new communities and people (vs just visiting sites in group tours) can lead to these answers.”

Barbara, the WellTraveled team appreciates your dedication to sharing your education, opportunities, and resources with underserved youth across the country. We hope you continue to push the boundaries on what it means to get a global education!

If you know an educator who you would like to be featured in the next Student Travel Empowers Minds series, let us know. We would love to hear from you!

Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.

If you'd like more information about Barbara's work or would like to connect with her on a project, please visit her website