The first time you left the country. What made you leave?
It was 1985. My grandmother died, she was 95 years old, and my grandfather had bought two burial plots in Haifa, Israel. I was the only one with a valid passport, so I took her to Israel.

Wow, was it just you? Was that a bizarre experience?
A little odd, but important because my grandparents felt very attached to Israel.  It was a quick trip; just about four days. The cemetery overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.

Did you see anything while you were there?
I saw Jerusalem, but then I went back when my grandfather died three years later.

Did you do the same thing?
I did the same thing. Except in this particular case, there was a small problem. You know how sometimes they lose your luggage? Well, they lost my grandfather. We found him the next day. It turns out the burial society had picked him up and forgot to tell us. So we eventually found him and were able to take him to the cemetery to be buried.

Do you have the travel bug?
Actually, I don’t have a travel bug. There’s a lot of interesting things that I get involved with and they just happen to be in different countries.  For example, my work in Africa started when a graduate student I was working with suggested a social development project in South Africa.

Would you have gone [to Africa] at all if Julien (aforementioned graduate student) hadn’t brought you there?
No. Julien wanted to do some social development work for a friend he had in South Africa who said, “Hey are you interested in doing some social development work,” and I said, “Okay, why not; I like building things.”

Did you have to plan a lot and talk to a lot of people to be able to do that?
No. His friend had an NGO there in South Africa, called IMBEWU.  We worked with them and wrote a grant that was funded by the Kellogg Foundation to create a positive youth development program.

What happened after that?
Well, one of the things we got out of that was in the spring of 2009. In my spring study abroad group, we asked “Does anybody feel like going to South Africa?” and I had six Virginia Tech students say, “Yeah we’d be interested in going this summer.” So we arranged a program for them in South Africa in the summer of 2009 and they spent a month in Port Elizabeth working in the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Was that the first group you took to South Africa?

When I was abroad I wish I went to South Africa. 
Well now that you’re traveled, none of it seems intimidating.

Have you been to every continent?
No. I haven’t been to Asia or Australia yet.

Are you going to go?
Actually, I’d rather just explore Africa right now.

Have you had any unusual or unexpected experiences while traveling?
About two years ago, when we were visiting Ethiopia and we were working with the Catholic Church in the Northern Region called Tigray, the Father who was showing us around wanted to give us an understanding of all the different villages. He was insistent on us going to visit Eritrea, a small country that is currently at war with Ethiopia. It was formerly part of Ethiopia. What he insisted was that we go into Eritrea. So, he gave his identification card to the soldier that was on the Ethiopian side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) and he said to us, “Go ahead and walk into the DMZ just to see what it’s like.” The DMZ is a strip of land between the two warring countries.

So it’s like a neutral zone? 
Let’s just say it’s a buffer between two countries.

And it’s not occupied by one country or another?
Right. He was insistent that we walk in there. You could see the soldiers in the distance. All they needed was a scope, we basically had bull’s eyes on our foreheads. That was kind of a strange experience.

Changing topics a bit; what country is closest to your heart and why?
Jerusalem — any city in Israel really — but Jerusalem. All the civilizations of the world pass through there and they left remnants. If you go to the old city you can see the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottomans, and everybody walking through Jerusalem is utterly fascinating. And I know you haven’t been there, but the three major religions are based in Jerusalem.  The Bible describes Ancient Jerusalem and the excavations are finding remarkable sites, such as the city of David.

We love food at Virginia Tech. What was a memorable meal that you have had abroad?
I was with my twins. We went to Zermatt [Switzerland] and we had honestly the best meal we’ve ever had. It was four courses and the kids were about eight years old and so they basically slept through two of the courses. But, it was fantastic seafood and desserts and things like that. We had two different types of seafood, and we had a chocolate pastry covered in chocolate ice cream and some syrup. You can’t go wrong with chocolate.

So, where to next?
I have two next trips, not just one next trip. I go to New York for a few days, then back to Blacksburg. Then we go to Delaware for a couple days for Passover with the family. And then from Delaware to Rwanda, Rwanda to Milan, back to Lugano, back to here.

Okay, wow. Well then, if you could give any advice to someone about to travel, what would it be?
What I would say is, travel the road that’s less traveled because there are so many interesting things. Don’t plan every moment, just enjoy what happens.