Thursday, May 19, 2011

HI-Chicago Staff Spotlight: Kimberly Turner

Kimberly, the Assistant General Manager at HI-Chicago, has lived abroad for a total of six years and has traveled to countless countries. She shares with us her favorite travel spots, lessons learned while living internationally, and where to find eternal spring.

How long have you been with the hostel?
About 5 years and 4 months. I was initially drawn to HI because I was a big traveler and have always stayed at hostels whenever I had the opportunity. So I love hostels, but in particular I really connected to HI’s mission. The opportunity to work here presented itself and I was intrigued and lucky enough to get the position that I now work in.

What do you do as the AGM?
I extinguish fires (laughs)…no, I’m the complaint department (laughs again)…okay, I coordinate between different departments – front desk, maintenance, housekeeping. I organize scheduling, I balance the books. I assist where needed.

What’s the best part of your job?
It’s the people that I work with. I like the excitement that the staff shares in promoting the mission and the enthusiasm for travel. Everyone on our staff constantly wants to be on vacation! I also love the interaction with the travelers, as well as witnessing the exchanges between travelers, seeing people from different backgrounds interact and make connections.

Can you tell me about your international background?After studying Linguistics in college, I went to Ecuador and spent a year teaching in Guayaquil and traveling. After that, I lived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates for 5 years and taught over there as well. Whenever I had time off, I traveled throughout the region.

What did you like about living in Dubai?
I really liked the experience of learning about the cultures. Before that I wasn’t familiar at all with Arab culture, let alone the Emirati, and it was a good opportunity to learn and understand. I also made some lifelong friends, and I traveled extensively with them to see their countries. I visited Jordan, Lebanon, India, Pakistan, Oman, Thailand, Kenya. I think I really loved seeing completely opposite cultures from where I grew up, in Middle America.

You mention a lot about learning…what lessons did you bring back from your time abroad that you still use today?
People often pick up this learning piece of “we’re all the same.” I learned that we essentially are all the same...we want to take care of our families, enjoy life, be able to live it to the fullest, be able to support and sustain ourselves and the ones we care about. Whether we live in a mud hut or a palace, it’s all relative. It’s easier to have acceptance of all people once you realize that we all want the same things out of life.

I also really came to understand the huge sphere of influence that the US has on the whole world. That’s something that I thought I understood before then, but didn’t really understand until I had some perspective from the outside.

Do you feel that you were treated a certain way because you were an American citizen?
Yes…in Ecuador I stood out because I look so different than your typical Ecuadorian, so there was more a sense of curiosity than anything else. In the Emirates, I didn’t necessarily feel like I was treated differently because of the way that I looked, because the ex-pat community is very large there. But I did feel like sometimes I received good treatment for my American passport, especially in the workplace.

You’ve done a lot of travel - where are you favorite places?
I’d say my favorites are Morocco, Jordan, and Guatemala. In Jordan, I was staying with a friend’s family, and the level of hospitality was just above and beyond. It was a first-time experience for me, being treated like that. In Morocco I loved the constant sights of the market and watching the everyday life there…it was so basic and in a lot of ways ancient, but flickered with this sense of modernity. There would be these old houses, mud streets, a donkey in the alley, and paralleled with that would be a big cable satellite. Oh, and the colors there are amazing! And Guatemala, it’s just a really easy and peaceful place to travel. The weather is wonderful. I think they refer to it as the eternal springtime.

What’s your favorite neighborhood in Chicago to spend time in?
Probably Bucktown/Wicker Park. I’m can walk there from where I live in Ukrainian Village, and I love the convenience of what it has to offer. There’s so much to do and always so many people out and about. I’m a huge fan of Coast, a BYOB sushi restaurant on Damen.

What piece of advice do you have for those wanting to pursue an international career, either locally or abroad?
I’d say just always remember to keep an open mind. Even when you think you know where someone is coming from, you cannot assume, just like they can’t assume to understand your background. Don’t judge or make assumptions about others until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

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