By Jessica Hergert
Getting a view of elephants and lions in Africa, navigating on bicycles in Amsterdam and dog sledding in Alaska were just a few things Walter Chang experienced on his backpacking journey, he told a packed audience in the Cavalla Room on Nov. 9.
Every year, the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department (LLC) at Rider hosts a fall colloquium that features a guest speaker or a culturally-enriching activity, according to Chair of the LLC Department Daria Cohen.
This year was unique because the LLC partnered with the Shared Read program, the Baccalaureate Honors Program (BHP), the Center for International Education and the Liberal Arts and Sciences Department to host Chang’s presentation.
“We were eager to have Walter come to Rider because we wanted students to hear about the first-hand travel experiences of someone not much older than the average undergraduate,” Cohen said.
Chang spent three years traveling to more than 60 countries, immersing himself in the culture of each.
From the experience, Chang was able to publish a crowd-funded book titled, “We Call this Home: Images and Impressions from Backpacking Around the World.”
Chang began the presentation by showing a short film he made, portraying a glimpse of the wonders he saw backpacking. The film showed the different terrains, weather conditions and people he met while abroad.
A New York University graduate with a degree in film and television, Chang said at the beginning of his presentation, “It all started in 2008…” when the stock market crashed and jobs were hard to come by.
He feared moving back in with his parents and not being able to do what he loved.
While living in New York City, he was hired at a company where he was working 60-80 hours a week.
Chang says that “complacency set in,” and that he was “living in the greatest city but not enjoying it.”
He had never heard of backpacking before but decided that traveling would allow him to “get back into what he was passionate about.”
Aside from the once-in-a-lifetime experience the trip would give him, Chang expressed he had another goal: to be the number one result when he searched for his own name on Google.
Chang sold everything he owned, slept on the office couch where he worked and showered at the local gym in order to save up the money to go abroad.
When asked about what he packed for the trip, Chang said, “Take everything you think you’ll need and cut it in half.”
Armed with his backpack and camera, Chang set out to see the world.
He spent roughly two weeks to a month in each country before he felt he should move on to recapture the excitement a new country provided.
Through his breathtaking photos, Chang described some of his favorite memories abroad, even including some humorous, bizarre and even scary moments.
He highlighted New Zealand as having some of the most amazing landscapes that he described as being “like you’re in a screensaver.”
He ate a variety of foods that seem bizarre to Americans but are common in the particular country he was in, such as guinea pig, pigeon and Balut, a fertilized duck embryo.
He also told a myriad of different stories that caused the audience to gasp, bewildered by the cultures Chang experienced.
While traveling through Africa, Chang recounted numerous instances when animals, including elephants, lions, hippos and baboons, came right into his campsite.
In India, one of the few countries he claims to have actually gotten “culture shock” in, he explains that the people bathe in a river, where other members of the community are disposing of their deceased loved one’s ashes upstream.
From hiking the Everest base camp, to navigating through thousands of bicycles in Amsterdam, to traditional dog sledding in Alaska, it seemed Chang had stories from every part of the globe.
The question for Chang on everybody’s mind was which country was his favorite to visit, to which he responded, “Brazil, Myanmar and Zimbabwe.”
“Traveling is about cultivating your creativity,” Chang said as he discussed more stories.
Although the experiences he had were amazing, Chang said that the people he met made the greatest impressions.
He moved the audience by sharing how a man from Brazil had inspired Chang to crowd-fund his book about his travels and how a woman he met in Belarus is now his fianceé.
Chang is now back in the states; he says backpacking is behind him, although he is still “always trying to do something new.”
Cohen believed Chang’s story was impactful and inspirational to the students.
“The challenges and rewards of world travel yield not only knowledge of other cultures, but also a greater awareness of one’s own culture and oneself,” she said. “Exploring the world promotes tolerance, sensitivity to cultural differences, intellectual curiosity and international engagement.”
She said that Chang’s story was important because it tied all of the elements of global awareness together.
With his growing success, Chang is proud to say that he is now, in fact, the first picture that comes up when he Googles his name.
Chang’s short film is available at wecallthishome.com, as well as links to purchase his stunning book of photography.
Printed in the 11/16/16 edition.