Interview with Blaine Zuver, founder of ArcticTropic: Delving into world culture through travel

ArcticTropic Founder Blaine Zuver in Chile

Recently, a reader, Linda Mills who is the senior vice provost for undergraduates in the Global Network University, NYU Abu Dhabi, posed a question in response to my post on Putting Learning into the Right Context for Children.  She asked, “How do we prepare the next generation for talking and working across traditional divides?”

My response is: invest in our future by teaching children to appreciate, learn from and have a positive impact on other cultures from an early age—as early as possible.  We can broaden their knowledge of the world through travel and cultural exchanges like the Thorn Tree project in Kenya as I mentioned in an earlier post.

While traveling through Miami during my daughter’s spring break, it seemed fitting to speak with other parents on the subject.  Saturday, I sat down with inveterate traveler Blaine Zuver, founder and director of ArcticTropic, his high-end adventure travel website and blog, to further discuss introducing children to different cultures through travel.  Some of his thoughts from our discussion are below.

CultureChild: Tell me about ArcticTropic and why you started the blog.

Blaine Zuver: ArcticTropic is an Adventure Travel portal.  The site links to adventure travel websites from around the world—more than 1,100 destinations in 117 countries—providing direct booking and advertising.  About a year after launch we decided to add a blog so that other travelers and I (as the blog’s director) could share our travel experiences.

ArcticTropic Blog quickly became the most popular part of the site and helps lead visitors into the other revenue-generating areas where trips are booked and ads are clicked.

CC: Why did you choose the name?

BZ: ArcticTropic encompasses all points of adventure travel from the arctics to the tropics and all points in between.

CC: You mentioned families are booking adventure travel.  What sorts of trips are they booking?

BZ: Children age six and up are ready for adventure travel, in increasing strenuousness, as they get older.  One of the easier (and very interesting) trips is a cruise to the Galapagos.  Nights are spent aboard comfortable ships, while days involve hiking and snorkeling to see the exotic wildlife.  Adventure travel does not mean just sports; travel to exotic locations like India, China or Morocco are very enlightening for kids.  Closer to the U.S., there are Mayan pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico, and many adventure sports in Costa Rica, which are safe areas for families.

CC: What sort of adventure travel have you booked with your own kids?

BZ: My older son, now 14, was traveling to exotic beaches in southern Brazil before he turned one.  Here, I drove my family through remote Indian villages, where we stayed in little bungalows.  I also took them on a driving trip from Mexico City to the coast, over dirt roads past active volcanoes, where we went horseback riding along the Pacific beaches.

This summer, here in the U.S., we will travel the deserts and mountains of California and Nevada—hiking, climbing, horseback riding and rafting.  In the summer of 2012, we plan to go horseback riding in Mongolia, where we will spend the night in yurts.  My sons will be 11 and 15 then. On the same trip we will visit China and Siberia.

CC: Is travel (adventure or non-adventure) a good way to teach kids about different cultures?

BZ: Yes, especially if the trip creates opportunity to be with and see how local people live.  A trip to the beaches of Cancun is very much like staying in the U.S.; there is not much interaction with locals except in a service capacity.

When in a city, take the metro, not just taxis.  Eat in local restaurants, not just famous five-star places.  When driving, try to take back roads rather than just the main highways.

CC: In your opinion, how do we prepare the next generation for talking and working across traditional divides?

America is a large and somewhat isolated country when it comes to perceptions of other cultures.  We are separated by large oceans and have a media that tends to generalize everything from an American point of view.  Travel, to other countries and becoming immersed in the local culture, even if only for a short time, opens a child’s mind up to a completely different world view that can be integrated with our own world.  These impressions will stay with the child for his or her lifetime.

Does art sharpen adults’ critical thinking skills?

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith would likely respond “yes.”

In their New York Times-bestselling social marketing book, Trust Agents, Chris Brogan writes that fine-art training changes the way that you see.  He references theories from another book, Betty Edwards’ Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, which says looking at things from a right-brain perspective—much in the way that artists look at paintings—can help you see life’s situations more deeply and in different light.

In other words, focusing on the fine details of a situation (down to the brushstrokes) and seeing it from different angles leads to creative problem-solving solutions rather than tunnel vision.

Chris Brogan essentially writes about integrating left-brain and right-brain thinking to come up with a richer perspective.  According to his blog, he uses MindNode mindmapping software for his project lists to “break out his thoughts in a non-linear way.”  He has also blogged about his redrawingexperience in 2010, a process he underwent to rethink his business objectives and reconsider how to maximize his time in order to provide more value to his readers.  He needed to determine how to manage roughly 600 e-mails per day; post to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr; make phone calls; and respond to comments on his blog—which took 15 hours a day, according to him.  He also needed to set aside time for writing and creating for clients.  He started the process by listing his priorities and grouped them into five categories or “buckets.”  If something came up that wasn’t in one these five filters, he delegated it.  Earlier this year, he went into “redrawing mode” again, further tightening his focus and eliminating distractions.

Whatever the scale of one’s projects, it makes sense to take a step back, reevaluate what is working and not working, map goals, refocus and repeat the process as needed.  I’m doing some redrawing and mind mapping (with a pencil and paper, but MindNode offers an app for this) for some work projects and this blog.  I find that combining the two exercises sharpens both my critical and creative thinking.

Meanwhile, I’m curious: what processes help bring you clarity on projects and foster your “out of the box” thinking?

A Parent’s Struggle With a Child’s iPad Addiction per David Pogue

Great post today from David Pogue: A Parent’s Struggle With a Child’s iPad Addiction

I‘m with David Pogue regarding “Moderation in all things.”  However, at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday, I’m with Oscar Wilde, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”  On weekends, I gladly hand over my iPad to my 7-year-old in exchange for an extra hour of sleep.

We follow a similar prescription to David’s—no electronics during the school week, before bed or at the table.  I also follow three others: our daughter has to ask before she can play on any gadget; if she doesn’t turn them off after the “ten minute warning,” she loses her “screen” privileges for a day (This sometimes involves counting, but I never get beyond two); and, usually, no gadgets during play dates.  That said our daughter is so busy on weekends with art classes, playing with friends, birthday parties, etc. that she hardly has time to play with her gadgets.

I’m a believer in teaching children the importance of balancing technology in their lives and how to use it responsibly—such as to enhance learning and creativity.  Thanks, David, for the cool creative app recommendations (PuppetPals and Cut the Rope).

What stirs your creative soul?

While walking through the MoMA’s painting and sculptural galleries is a visceral experience for me, it’s not so much for my seven-year-old—especially when she has an entirely different idea of how we should be spending a Saturday morning.

A source of inspiration for my effort to nurture my child’s creative development was seeing Julie Taymor speak about her artistic process at theRubin Museum of Art’s 2008 Brainwave Festival.  For those who aren’t familiar with her, Julie Taymor is a visionary director of film (FridaAcross the Universe) theater (The Lion KingSpiderman) and opera (The Magic Flute), lauded for her kaleidoscopic fusion of music, word and image.  The Brainwave Festival, now in its sixth year, pairs prominent scientists with equally important artists and educators.  I attended a discussion in which Julie Taymor discussed her creative process with neuroscientists Sandra Aamodt, Ph.D., and Sam Wang, Ph.D., authors of the book, Welcome to Your Brain.

Taymor made a lasting impression on me when she spoke about continuously thrusting herself into circumstances outside her typical environment through travel, and how those situations continue to influence her artistic vision today.Art and travel have always fueled my sense of wonderment and creative soul, but it hadn’t occurred to me that exposing my daughter to diverse experiences from an early age (at the time, she was 4) could help shape her creativity.  Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to expose my daughter to more culturally diverse experiences.  Hearing Sam Wang speak about the importance of active engagement being a vital part of a child’s cognitive growth offered further motivation.

I recently watched the symposium again online.  It is a bit esoteric at times, but it’s definitely worth seeing.  Meanwhile, I revisited MoMA with my daughter in tow and renewed hope to help her connect in her own way with art.  More about that to follow…