Thursday, May 30, 2019

We Did It! Our #30under30

Have you heard of the #30under30 challenge? The idea is to try and travel to 30 countries before the age of 30. M and I have each already been to 30 countries, but last year we realized we had been together long enough that we actually had a shot of making #30under30 together - in other words, going to 30 countries together as a couple before either of us turned 30 years old.

We didn't count transits or mere airport stops; we both had to go to the country with each other at the same time and spend a night (or spend a day if we were on a cruise ship spending the night at sea). It was so fun to try and see so many different places in such a short period of time. Let's just say we've taken a lot of international vacations in the past two years.

We recently wrapped up a trip to Benelux: Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. I didn't originally believe M when he said the word "Benelux" was a thing, but Google proved him right. These were the last three countries to push us to 30! I've sprinkled a few select photos from our Benelux vacation throughout this post so you can get an idea of some of the things we did. The countries were so close together and transportation was so convenient (we drove, but there were plenty of train options), that it's not only doable but truly enjoyable as a combined trip in our view.

Here's our total list of 30 countries we've traveled to together below, in order of when we went there.

  1. Trinidad & Tobago
  2. Jordan
  3. Jerusalem
  4. Italy
  5. Vatican City
  6. Switzerland
  7. Spain
  8. France
  9. Monaco
  10. Qatar
  11. Kenya
  12. South Africa
  13. Ethiopia
  14. United Arab Emirates
  15. Australia
  16. New Zealand
  17. Uganda
  18. Tanzania
  19. Slovakia
  20. Austria
  21. Czech Republic
  22. Hungary
  23. Germany
  24. Lesotho
  25. Eswatini
  26. Rwanda
  27. Burundi
  28. Luxembourg
  29. Belgium
  30. Netherlands

To be honest, it's pretty funny that we made this happen without ever visiting Canada or Mexico. We missed entire continents (looking at you, South America), too! Thankfully, there's still plenty of the world we have left to see, and we're excited to explore it together.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Doing KonMari Step 2: Books on Easy Mode

You may have seen my previous post about my efforts to apply the "KonMari Method" to my life before we make our upcoming overseas move after seeing "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" on Netflix. The first category I had to organize was clothes, and the second was books.

I'm just going to admit, this one was super easy. M and I got rid of almost all of our books before we moved to Kenya, so we simply didn't have that many. The first picture of this post - one shelf on a not-so-large bookshelf - was actually all we had to go through when I started tidying books. The majority of the books are either gifts from loved ones or written in languages that Kindle (or any e-reader I've found) doesn't support very well. Ultimately, I decided to part with some of them, including a stack of science fiction books with origins I couldn't recall and some church materials I'll donate to my friends here.

Going through these books did bring back a lot of happy memories, though. Seeing Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome reminded me of reading that book and discussing it extensively with my wonderful sister, debating morality and reliving my philosophy major days. I also rediscovered my signed copy of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, courtesy of my dear friend S (the one who visited in February). Then, uncovering my old Arabic notebook allowed me to share a good laugh with M over the absurdity of Arabic numbers, with their seemingly-arbitrary switch-offs when it comes to singular v. plural, masculine v. feminine, and which vocalizations (i.e., word endings) to use. I've been studying Arabic for years, and the numbers still blow my mind.

This was that same bookshelf when I was done tidying our books! It felt good to go through them and keep only the ones that continued to spark joy. I will add that M and I are both avid readers who are always reading at least one book at a time together, so this is totally possible even for bookworms! We've made it work by relying on our e-readers - in my case, Kindle, and in his case, his smartphone. As you can see below, I have almost 100 books on my Kindle and the list keeps growing. I've been reading almost exclusively on a screen for years now, and I enjoy not only the feel of it but also the features such as searching for key words, instantly looking things up in the dictionary, digitally highlighting my favorite quotes, and seeing what sentences have been commonly highlighted by other readers. If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it! (It just might help with tidying up, too.)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Before and After I Tried KonMari Step 1: Clothes

There's no better time to tidy up than when you're preparing for a major international move! I was feeling especially inspired after binge-watching "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo" on Netflix and learning all about the "KonMari Method" of cleaning and organizing. For those who haven't seen the show or read the book, KonMari emphasizes tidying by category instead of location. The first category, per this post's title, is clothes.

To organize clothes, Marie Kondo suggests taking all of your clothes no matter where they are in your house and putting them in one big pile so you can get a sense of how much you truly own. So I dutifully emptied my closet and drawers and wound up with the full pile pictured above. I didn't feel like I had a ton of stuff, but I did feel like I had more than I need.

Per the KonMari Method, I went through each item one by one and kept only the ones that still spark joy for me. The others I set aside to be let go, even if they had served me well in the past. The picture above is most of what was left over - this is the inside of my only clothing closet. I felt like I did a pretty good job!

In addition to the closet, I have three drawers of clothing items organized by function. Another one of Marie Kondo's suggestions I appreciated was to put things away so that you could easily see everything whenever possible. She has some very unique folding methods to achieve this effect with clothes. I can't really say I mastered the folding, but I tried my best and did succeed in making everything in all three of my drawers immediately visible when you open them! There are no hidden rows behind these clothes or layers underneath I have to dig through to find a specific item. I think I'm sold on this technique.

I do think the KonMari Method and the idea of only keeping things that continue to spark joy can be a healthy way to operate in an increasingly materialistic world where we're constantly encouraged to accumulate more and more. The shoes pictured above (which I will be giving away) are the perfect example, especially the beautiful silver pumps that I actually wore on my wedding day! They have sparked a lot of joy for me, but they were always a little too big and it's time for them (and for me) to move on to the next chapter. I can release them happily knowing that they'll go on to spark joy for someone else. Next step for next time - books!

Sunday, May 5, 2019

7 Tips for Your First Media Relations Job

Working in media relations or press affairs or whatever your industry calls it is very different from working in the media directly. There are a number of things I've learned over my first tour in Public Affairs (where I've spent over a month as U.S. Embassy Nairobi's acting Press Attaché - also known as Information Officer in the Foreign Service) that I thought I'd share. In no particular order, here are my top seven tips for your first media relations job:

  1. Nothing is more important than relationships. Relationships can make or break your success working with the press. Good relationships might mean a journalist contact WhatsApps you a photo of breaking news before it's been reported elsewhere or gives you a heads-up that they're working on a story that is very critical of you but they want to make sure they present your side of the issue, too. Bad relationships can lead to reporters avoiding your events or running with a story on your organization without even contacting you for comment.
  2. Tailor to the audience. Our audience is usually Kenyan, so you'd better bet we put distances in kilometers and amounts of money in Kenyan shillings. We want to make it as easy as possible to share our information and our talking points. We also work with our technical subject matter experts to condense things in a way that a layperson can understand.
  3. Visuals are king. Photos and videos are way better than press releases. I think I've seen more newspaper articles in Kenya written about our Tweets than our press releases.
  4. Keep things short. Really short. We keep our briefing handouts to one page, our press releases to a few paragraphs, and our videos to less than a minute whenever possible. Others can always reach out to you for more details.
  5. Not all members of the press play by the rules. Some individuals and media outlets have more professionalism and integrity than others. While you might be comfortable including some in off-the-record briefings, others may not be trustworthy enough. It's also easier to complain about a rogue reporter when they're part of an established media organization that wants to preserve the relationship with you - then you can contact the editor. With freelancers or bloggers, you might not have any recourse.
  6. You have something to offer, too. You can provide journalists with access to information, exclusive interviews, invitations to cover events, and a host of other things that their teams should value. You can pay for advertising, but you shouldn't have to pay for regular news coverage.
  7. Especially if you work for a large organization, it's worth the extra effort it takes to speak with one voice. We spend a lot of time jumping through bureaucratic hoops making sure we're using the same statistics and terminology, but it's absolutely worth it. Mixed messages from the same organization are confusing for everyone and can make you look incompetent.
  8. Most journalists are awesome. Like public servants, the vast majority of journalists I've met are motivated by a desire to give back to the people and by a belief in the importance of democratic institutions - where the Fourth Estate clearly plays a vital role. In a world of overloaded information, fake news, and other challenges, they're trying their best to make sense of issues of importance and interest so others can be informed. Although this might sometimes put our employers or industries in the ever-critical public eye, it's part of a larger, crucial mission any of us should find worth celebrating.

I hope this post was helpful for any new Public Diplomacy Officers out there or anyone else interested in media relations work. I've learned so much over my first tour, and I have to say working with the press is one of the most fun and exciting parts of my job!