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Death, not-death, and the rest: how a book changed my life 10 years ago

On this day 10 years ago, I had plans to visit a local amusement park with my sister and I was reluctant to go.

My hesitation wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy the attractions at the Darien Lake park with my sister; it was because I didn’t want to hear any spoilers.

I averted my eyes from any walls in the park because I didn’t want to see any graffiti that might read “[SO-AND-SO] DIES AT THE END.” And my sister, a fellow Potterhead, helped maintain a conversation all day so I wouldn’t accidentally overhear a spoiler while waiting in line for the rides.

That’s because this was only a few hours after the final book of my favorite series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was released, and we hadn’t had time to read it yet.

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The seventh and final Harry Potter book was released on July 21, 2007.

DOES HARRY POTTER DIE?

Harry Potter was the first franchise in my life for which I had developed fan theories. I turned over the number of possibilities for my fictional heroes’ fates, studied other fans’ ideas online, and discussed with my sister, friends, and even readers who hadn’t caught up yet what might happen. What are the other Horcruxes, and where would Harry find them? What are the “Deathly Hallows” and what is their significance? And, most pressingly, who will die?

There was no question that death would be a main theme in the last book of the series. Perhaps surprisingly for a children’s series, each book progressively explored death and how it affects the living. And with “death” blatantly featured in the title of the seventh book, readers knew that the Second Wizarding War would take the imaginary lives of our beloved characters. What we wondered was the number of deaths and who exactly would die — most pressingly, if Harry Potter would die.

The Harry Potter series is certainly a classic good-versus-evil archetype. I never questioned that the “good guys” would win. But we usually consider “death” as “losing.” In Deathly Hallows, accepting death as a natural part of life is a major theme. At 17 years old, I considered the strong possibility that Harry Potter — a hero, friend, and inspiration in my mind — might die. And I also knew that he could still triumph if he did.

In the time I waited for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I turned over what it would mean to me if Harry or my other favorite characters did die. When I finally read the book, I learned that there was a complimentary theme to accepting death: living a life with love, purpose, and courage means that death can’t be considered a defeat.

Since the 10 years that I finished the Harry Potter series for the first time, I have had to confront mortality in the real world. Friends, family, and celebrities I idolized have passed away. Nothing has been more beneficial in my grieving process than reflecting on the lessons I learned from the seventh Harry Potter book.

The author commented on her decision for Harry’s fate in a 2007 TV documentary called “J.K. Rowling — A Year in the Life.” (The next paragraph has a Hallows spoiler, if you are still waiting in line for your library’s copy.)

“It’s much harder to rebuild than to destroy,” Rowling says in the TV special. “In some ways, it would have been a neater ending to kill him, but I felt it would have been a betrayal because I wanted my hero … to do what I think is the most noble thing. So, he came back from war and he tried to build a better world.”

All these years later, Harry’s choices are still an inspiration for my goals in life. When I was younger, I was exactly like Hermione when we first meet her. I was a pretentious overachiever who wanted everyone to know how great a student I was because I was insecure. Back then, I thought my life would be defined by obvious achievements like graduation from a prestigious university or a high-paying job. By the end of the series, I wanted (and still want) to define my life by my friendships, my empathy, and my desire to make the world a better place.

I may not be in a position to save the world like Harry Potter, but I am in a position to befriend people from all walks of life, fight for the disenfranchised, broaden my perspectives, and step up when I have an opportunity to give back.

AFTER THE FINAL CHAPTER

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In the rush to stock bookstores, many copies contained printing errors. My copy of Deathly Hallows had fading text during the climactic confrontation.

Yes, these books have thrilling adventures and clean, logical rules in the otherwise chaotic world of magic. Of course, Rowling’s whimsical imagination paired with research into real-world mythology is incomparable. And conveniently for me, the increasing tonal maturity in each book matched the age I was when I read each of them.

Yet what affected me the most, especially with the last book, was that the rest of the world loved them.

In Deathly Hallows, the characters’ capacity to love helps vanquish evil. This could have easily been a romantic love story in which Harry alone fights for love; instead, dozens of heroes in the books choose compassion and forgiveness and are ultimately rewarded.

If these books sold as well as they did, that must mean they resonated with millions of other people in the same ways they resonated with me. And that must mean there are millions of other readers who are inspired to consider empathy and fight injustice.

So despite any social or political differences, there are often Potterheads hiding on both sides of a conflict. We’re all looking to be as understanding as Dumbledore or brave as Harry, even if we disagree on how to get there.

Maybe we’re just hoping a little magic will help.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2017 in Blog

 

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The ultimate guide to surviving long flight days

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Seeing my tour friends post about their international flights on Facebook gives me a bite from the travel bug.

 

On one of my many travel days, I was finding my seat on a plane for a connecting flight. A man sheepishly asked me if I minded giving up my aisle seat for a middle seat so that he could sit next to his wife.

I told him, “Sure, no problem. This is a short flight anyway.”

The man on the other side of me sputtered, “Short flight?! It’s four hours!”

I guess my perspective had shifted because I had just come from a 14-hour flight, two hours of standing in customs and luggage recheck lines, and a connecting flight before that. And I still had another flight scheduled after that one.

Traveling to other countries is a wonderful gift for which I’m grateful. However, the length of intercontinental flights can be overwhelming. Once you consider the uncomfortable proximity of strangers, sitting in an airplane seat for 14 hours becomes much more unsettling than sitting on your couch for the same amount of time binging on Netflix.

To alleviate some of the stress, I’ve assembled the ultimate guide to surviving especially long flights.

THE DAY BEFORE:

Sort out your carry-ons CAREFULLY. This depends on how you need to distribute your luggage weight between your checked bags and your carry-ons, but the less you have to lug around on long travel days, the easier your life will be.

Also, look out for anything that might flag scanners at the airport. Besides the banned items, agents have searched my backpack because of a purse within my backpack, a tangled mess of charging cables, a coin purse, batteries, and aggressive-looking keychains. And once the person searching your carry-on gets to the bottom of the last pocket, they rarely place everything back neatly.

The most notable exception was in Japan, when the security agent asked me permission to remove every item from my backpack, one at a time. Then he asked me if it was okay to place item back in. While I appreciated how thoroughly polite he was, it was a tedious process during a limited layover time.

Pick your favorite outfit for travel day. Waiting in hours of lines and not lying down for a day or more can make people feel less than their best. At least it’ll help if you’re in

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It couldn’t hurt to bring an extra sweater if the airport is chilly.

an outfit that makes you look good. And be sure to find an outfit that allows for bloating, feet swelling, and seat belts digging into your waist.

Oh, and wear socks. Nobody wants a barefoot passenger traipsing through the security line.

Pack a small change of clothes and toiletries. I stick with a fresh pair of underwear, socks, a toothbrush, travel-sized toothpaste, a hairbrush and some deodorant. Then, I duck into a bathroom before standing in a long line or waiting for my transportation from the airport to the hotel. Taking time to freshen up reduces my crankiness.

Get a good night’s sleep . . . or don’t. For most passengers, sleeping on a plane is difficult. Your neck is strained even with an airplane pillow, you can’t curl up, and you have to sleep semi-vertically. Cutting back on sleep the night before might help you pass out on a long plane ride. For me, since I can rarely sleep at all on planes, I’d rather have one last full night of sleep before acknowledging I’m not going to sleep the next day. Plus, standing in long immigration and security lines while groggy can lead to accidentally leaving a suitcase behind or heading to the wrong terminal.

THE MORNING OF:

Charge all of your appliances. I recommend investing in a battery-powered charger for your appliances, too.

Download your entertainment to your devices. Most airplanes have dozens of movies and television shows available on the back of the seat in front of you on international flights. Still, I recommend non-visual entertainment when your eyes are tired of the strain. Podcasts, music, and audiobooks are great for resting your eyes.

Shower. This isn’t meant to condescend to your hygiene; what I mean is to shower as close to your departure time as possible. I normally prefer to shower at night, but when it may be 36 hours before I see a private bathroom again, you can bet I’ll be showering within an hour of when I leave for the airport.

Bring an empty water bottle. In most North American airports, you can refill it once you get past security and save yourself $4. If you’re in a country that doesn’t have a water fountain in the airport, you can at least ask a flight attendant for two cups of water on the plane to fill it so you don’t dehydrate on the long plane ride.

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This plane’s oxygen masks accidentally fell out during boarding and caused an hour delay on my flight. Just be patient!

AT THE AIRPORT:

Give yourself plenty of time to get there. Yes, I know, you want to spend as little time as possible at your home airport, but you have to allow for traffic and long security lines. You never know if delays, a power outage, or some other emergency has caused backup at your first airport.

Take anti-motion sickness precautions. Not everyone is as cursed with motion sickness as I am, but in case you do run into awful turbulence, come prepared. I take motion sickness pills, but it’s important to note those take a full hour to be effective, so I plan accordingly. I also stock up on everything with ginger, which is a natural anti-nausea spice — ginger drops, ginger chews, candied ginger, ginger tea bags, and ginger ale once I’m on the plane. It’s better to prepare for motion sickness before you hit turbulence than to experience nausea and wait for these remedies to kick in.

Download your airline’s app. I have found the airline’s apps to usually be the first with flight updates, before the monitors at the airport or the email notifications. Also, when you’re flying internationally, research your airline’s alliance and ask if you can transfer your frequent flyer miles to your domestic airline.

Hold back the sass. There’s something about airports that brings out the worst in people. Flight delays cause people to snap at employees at the check-in desk; power-tripping TSA agents condescend to passengers in the security line; passengers elbow each other and merge to the front of the line to board the plane like it’s the Hunger Games and roll their eyes if they lose.

You have your ticket, so you will have a seat. You gave yourself time to get through the airport. If you miss your connection, you can reschedule to a different flight and get home eventually. Just relax and don’t feed into the competitive energy in airports. I find that when employees are snippy with me, it’s because they’ve already spent four hours straight dealing with other snippy passengers. Once I relax and recognize treat travel day as a low-stress situation, the effect is contagious.

And finally, enjoy! Look at long travel days as opportunities, not a chore. A long plane ride is a chance to catch up on all the Academy Award nominations from that year or read that book you’ve been meaning to finish. Killing time at a layover means I indulge in an expensive coffee treat that I don’t normally buy anymore. And waiting in line at immigration or baggage claim is usually no worse than 30 minutes of your time, which can be spent people-watching passengers from different cultures.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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7 ways living on the road has changed me

Maldives

Traveling can be hard work, but moments like this in the Maldives are worth it.

 

In just over a week, I’ll mark my five-year anniversary since I wrote this post journaling the start of my ice show career. That’s five years that I’ve been living out of two 50-pound suitcases (or less), working across five different continents and 43 US states. Now, I barely resemble the person I was when I graduated university. Most of my personal growth has come from traveling, performing in live shows, living with a tour family, and simple aging into my late 20s.

Yet I can’t ignore the ways in which living on the road makes me different from my friends who have settled down. And hopefully, any roadie or fellow performer who reads this list can relate.

1) There’s no such thing as “home.” Before my parents moved about two years ago, going back to the house where I grew up felt like visiting a museum of a life I used to live. Then when my parents moved, I realized I was living in a home that they’ve built

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Home is where . . . the sangria is (like in Spain, pictured here).

without me, not a place where I can nestle in. Whenever I get off the road and find my new place is where I’ll find my “home.”

But can a place really feel like “home” if my tour family isn’t there to share it with me?

2) I barely have any souvenirs that aren’t photographs. With a weight limit of 100 pounds for 8 months (or more!) at a time, I just can’t afford the space for a Starbucks or Hard Rock mug from every city I visit. Plus, once I bring it to my parents’ place, I don’t want to live under the clutter of all of those souvenirs. For a while I tried to collect keychains from places that influenced me, but they’re much less durable than I thought and I now travel the fragments in the pockets of my backpack.

3) I have no idea how to do a cosmetic “day look” anymore. There’s my “travel day” look, which is some moisturizer, glasses so I can squeeze in a 10-minute nap here and there, and French braids so I can rest my hair against a headrest and so I can hide the drool that seeps in when my head droops at a 45-degree angle.

As a show girl, I have a “neutral” makeup look, which I create with this train of thought: “Well, minimum I need two layers of foundation. Then just a dab of mascara, which of course needs some thick eyeliner underneath. No, a bit more than that — gotta make up for all the natural lashes I’ve ripped out wearing fake eyelashes during shows. Maybe just a bit of bronzer all over my face and neck just so I look well-rested. And of course I can’t go out without contouring my cheeks. Same goes for filling in my eyebrows. May as well add in a smidge of blush and eyeshadow. Does ‘ruby red’ look like I’m not wearing any lipstick at all?”

On the other hand, when it comes to my hair, most people are used to seeing me with a sweaty ponytail fresh from a wig cap, so a freshly shampooed look is fancy on me.

4) I don’t eat at restaurants on special occasions anymore. I used to consider going to Olive Garden on my birthday was a treat, or that ordering pizza meant I was having a significant party. Since I don’t have a kitchen on the road, most of my meals during the week are at restaurants, be they Subway, a cafe, or a local sit-down restaurant. Now when I want to celebrate my birthday, anniversaries, or family get-togethers, I prefer

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Sometimes donuts, like these from Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut, are my breakfast.

home-cooked meals or potlucks if they’re available.

(Since I do eat at so many restaurants, I’ve been sharing my experiences by reviewing restaurants across North America. You can check out some of my reviews at tourbites.wordpress.com.)

5) My fashion choices are repetitive. I was never fashion-forward, but before I joined tour I could put together 20 different T-shirt-and-jeans combinations before doing a load of laundry. Now, I rely on six different shirts that I like the best and only a handful of skirts or dresses. There’s not much variety in my wardrobe, and even when I visit home I keep most of my clothes tucked away or else I donate them.

6) I’m addicted to candles. Keeping one scent that I enjoy everywhere I go helps me create a familiar space. I have air fresheners and sprays that create artificial scents for each season, but my favorite method is traveling one extra large candle that I can slowly burn every city. That way, I know that when I smell “pink sands,” I’m smelling whatever I can call home that week.

7) I’m more outgoing. Before tour, “going out” was a whole ordeal for which I had to mentally and physically prepare myself. On tour, we’ll come back from work at 9:30 pm and we’ll have to race to make it to a restaurant or a bar before it closes its kitchen so we can have dinner. That means little to no time to have a shower, and certainly no time to wash and style my hair. Well, I’m already at a bar, may as well have a drink with my meal. And a dozen of my coworkers are here at the bar too because this is the only place to eat within walking distance. Just like that, I’ve “gone out.” Even if I wanted to stay in that night, hearing everyone bouncing around hotel rooms like a college dorm keeps me awake until 1 am anyway, so I may as well join them.

There’s nothing wrong with being a homebody or embracing introversion. Once I hang up my skates, I’ll probably do both. Yet my life on the road is a lifestyle that makes the years fly by, and adapting to it is the only way I’ve survived most of my 20s with this job.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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How to live out of a suitcase

My backpack on travel day is overstuffed. Most of the time, this isn’t an issue during security screenings because I’m careful about the items I cram in there.

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All of my belongings for 2/3 of a year.

One time, a TSA officer smirked and said, “Gee, you must be new to traveling” with as much condescension as he could drip onto me.

I wanted to sass back and say, “Actually, I’ve been to dozens of countries in the past two years alone.” Instead, I swallowed and pointedly said, “No, I’m not.”

Judgmental passengers might say that an overstuffed backpack suggests a lack of organization. What they don’t know is that for someone who won’t see home for eight months at a time, I actually pack quite light. The last time they moved apartments probably consisted of a truck full of boxes. The last time I moved residences was last week and I only have two suitcases and one backpack to make that happen.

So how do I make that happen? I’ve compiled what I’ve learned since I’ve traded furniture for suitcases. I have a few cheats, as you’ll see, but I’ll mostly stick to travel tips I’ve learned for myself or from my traveling colleagues.

Only pack for 10 days

Packing for an eight-month tour can seem daunting. However, I soon realized that packing for a month-long contract and a full year are basically the same. Toiletries, dishes, shoes — these are all items that I’ll reuse daily for months. What does change is the clothing I wear each day. I know that I do laundry once a week, so I really don’t need to pack eight months of outfits. Instead, I need to pack for one week of clothes, plus a few days in case I don’t make it to a washing machine that week.

Tourists who only have a two-week vacation probably don’t want to spend time searching for a laundromat when they can be sightseeing. But for people who live on the road all year, frequent laundry days are the way to go. The money you’d spend at a laundromat — if you don’t have any complimentary washers and dryers in a hotel or Airbnb — is significantly less than what you’d pay than if you had weekly overweight fees at an airport.

For a year-long contract, I know I need to pack for multiple seasons. But instead of 10 separate sweaters, I know I can wear a sweater over my springtime T-shirt and wear that sweater more than once. As for shoes, I pack four pairs: running shoes, walkable daily shoes, flip-flops, and nude or black high heels that go with everything. (For winter, I’ll throw in boots, as well.)

If you don’t want to sacrifice your unique fashion identity, you do have other choices. I like to utilize light accessories like scarves to bring variety to my outfit. Depending on your budget, you can also shop throughout the tour and mail other items back home. However, if you still depend on clothing variety, you can prioritize clothing in your suitcase by using my other tips.

Distribute and redistribute 

While it would make sense to keep all of the same category in each bag, it’s better to organize your luggage to balance your weight. For example, many of my coworkers put all of their clothes in one bag and toiletries, dishes, and miscellaneous other items in the other. However, my shoes, jeans, and sweatshirts are some of my heaviest items, so I’ll rearrange those items into my smaller suitcase to ensure that my larger one doesn’t became too heavy. On some tours, I’ve traveled with only one suitcase and one carry-on. In that case, I’ll put all of my shoes and dishes (except knives) in my carry-on so that I don’t hit the 50-pound maximum in my large suitcase.

Nobody wants to be caught behind that person in the airport who has to rearrange their luggage at the check-in counter at the airport because they weighed their suitcase at 60 pounds. To avoid that, I used to travel a luggage scale; now, I can determine if a bag is close to 50 simply by lifting it with one arm and judging how it feels. However, I still place my heaviest items at the top of my suitcase and place a rolled-up tote bag in my carry-on backpack. If my suitcase is too heavy, I know that I can quickly take out my heaviest item from the top and use the tote bag as my second personal item on an airplane.

Research what’s available to purchase

You don’t need to be fully stocked at the beginning of the year. I don’t need to have my yearly toothpaste supply available before the tour starts; I know I can buy that anywhere. This year, I also needed a new winter coat, but I knew that buying one before leaving from Myrtle Beach would be unnecessary. Instead, I waited until November to buy from the northeast so that I wouldn’t have to travel it during the summer and autumn months.

But sometimes, you do need to come prepared. When I was in Europe, I ran out of dental floss. That’s easy enough to find in a drugstore back home, so I figured it wouldn’t be difficult. Unfortunately, I was in a country where English wasn’t the primary language, and when I spent several minutes searching the shelves in vain, I tried to ask a store employee for help. This is when I learned that the pantomime for dental floss is not universal. I gestured by making two fists at an angle near my slack-jawed mouth and waving them in unison, pretending that I was sliding a string of floss near my front teeth. This was met with a baffled expression and awkward laughter. I never did find floss the rest of that tour.

The takeaway for that story is that for any toiletry that is difficult to describe or apparently rare, I’ll bring extra. And if you have a favorite brand of deodorant, it’s worth bringing. But if you can research if your travel destinations carry decent shampoos ahead of time, you don’t need to travel a whole drugstore in one suitcase.

Anticipate complimentary items

I haven’t bought toilet paper in years. Could you picture how much space that would take in my suitcase? I’m simply accustomed to harder toilet paper. I couldn’t imagine switching to a softer variety now.

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Complimentary soap, lotion, and cups make my packing list lighter.

Again, everyone’s priorities are different. I could cut out some weight if I used shampoo and conditioner from hotels, but I prefer traveling my own to maintain my long hair. But depending on  where you’re staying while you’re living out of a suitcase, your accommodations will likely provide towels, bedding, and soap. That cuts out several items from your packing list. And if you stay at a hotel with a breakfast and/or manager’s reception, you’ll cut back on your food budget, as well.

Be selective with your souvenirs

Two-foot metallic replicas of Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower may look pretty on your mantel back home, but they’re not doing your suitcase any favors for the rest of the year. I learned early that not every place I visit needs a large souvenir. For me, photos are much more memorable.

Some of my coworkers purchased Starbucks tumblers or Hard Rock mugs from every country. Soon enough, they had to slow down their collections by only purchasing those souvenirs in major cities or countries that they really enjoyed.

Personally, I prefer a keychain or magnet collection. Every store at a tourist trap sells them, so they’re not hard to find, and traveling 20 keychains in my backpack is going to be an easier time than the 20 tumblers lining a suitcase.

Buy only as much food as you need

At the start of tour each year, we jump into 12-hour rehearsal days. There’s rarely any time for proper grocery shopping. So, I come to tour with enough granola bars and cans of tuna to sustain me for a couple days before I have a break. But after that, I’m careful with the amount of food that I travel.

If I have a mini-fridge in the hotel for the week, I buy enough food for a week. I usually split my food with my roommate, and sometimes we split larger meals four ways with our friends so that we don’t waste anything. If I know we’ll travel in a bus for a few weeks, I’ll travel a tote bag of spices. If it’s a flight day, we throw our spices in a trunk that travels with our show equipment.

However, if there isn’t a fridge available, we simply eat out most of the time. This is expensive, but it’s a budget tradeoff. What I’m not paying in Internet and cable packages, gas, or rent by living on the road goes toward my hefty food budget. But I try to cut back on food waste by being mindful of exactly how much I eat in a week and sticking to that plan.

Make room for homemaking items

Most of my tips recommend ways to cut down the weight of your suitcase. However, in order to actually live out of a suitcase, it’s important to find ways to improve your quality of life.

Candles and scents give your room a personal touch. If I can’t be home for the holidays, it’s nice to at least smell pine trees and Christmas cookies in my hotel. And if it’s summer back home but I’m in a climate with winter, a beach scent brightens my mood.

And while I live in hotel rooms, I can visually trick myself to think it’s my own space. A pillowcase in my favorite color brightens my bed and makes the pillow feel like it’s my own, even though it’s not. In any case, whenever I have my own place, I will never decorate the beds and walls in off-white. I have stayed in too many hotels for that to happen.

Tiny homes may be trendy now, but backpacking and living out of a suitcase are the original mobile home. You can make a lifestyle out of traveling without the bare minimum of backpacking. By prioritizing what I use on tour and making sure I bring items that make it feel like home, I’ve comfortably lived out of a suitcase for several years.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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Ethics of Social Media Marketing

I don’t need to tell you that our media model has changed. You already knew that. Gone are the days when our only exposure for businesses was top-down, advertisers-to-customers in the media or eventual word-of-mouth. Now, companies are experimenting with how they fit in to omnipresent social media.

This is a step in the right direction. With social media, customers finally have a chance to communicate with businesses or share their thoughts about those companies to their network. It’s good for businesses, too, because when users voluntarily use social media to share positive experiences with a company, the company benefits from the publicity without any real sacrifice from the customers. Any negative publicity is, at least, informative.

And there can be some seriously negative publicity. Back in 2012, McDonald’s promoted #McDStories on Twitter, hoping that the positive experiences users had with the fast food chain would trend. Instead, stories of food poisoning, failing food safety standards, and unpleasant service dominated the hashtag’s feed. Though this was not the first time McDonald’s has met negative publicity, it was a reminder for McDonald’s PR team about the flaws in their company and what they need to improve.

In another attempt at jumping on the hashtag bandwagon, BillCosby.com tweeted a link to a meme generator of Cosby’s smiling face and encouraged the use of #CosbyMeme. This tweet came soon after his rape allegations and one can assume that this was a desperate attempt at resurrecting the public’s positive image of the entertainer. Instead, people used the meme for black comedy jokes that reminded us of the allegations against him.

There are a couple lessons to learn here. One is that the success of hashtags is dependent on the quality of your product. If you ask social media users to use your hashtag, you’re testing public perception of your brand. Either users can genuinely share their happiness with your company, or they can harp on the flaws. The other lesson to learn is that hashtag contests have a lower success rate. Rather than using #ExampleCompanyContest, I’d simply encourage users to use #ExampleCompany to share their experiences. That way, they’d feel less like they were doing the work of the PR team and more like they have ownership of their feelings of the company by sharing genuine experiences with their network.

As these practices evolve, it’s our responsibility to recognize unethical behavior in social media marketing. This can mean any number of choices, but in this article, I’ll define “unethical” as dishonesty, lack of accountability, greed, and compromising integrity and character.

DISHONESTY

One social media campaign that can excite consumers is gamification, or the process of adding game elements (such as earning points, advancing levels, and competition). Creating a game in which users can win prizes naturally creates exposure and a reason for users to come back. The precursors to this are the McDonald’s Monopoly and Tim Hortons “roll up the rim” contests. In the social media landscape, this can be selecting random commenters on their Facebook page or games in the apps. w33-zg-dnl4-rami-al-zayat

The unethical approach is to make these contests misleading. “Spam your friends for a chance to win!” when there’s little chance to win is obnoxious to the friends in the customers’ network. This is a hindrance to both the consumer, who took the time to enter the contest, and the aforementioned network. A better idea is to offer a tangible reward. Apps like Panera Bread who offer rewards for multiple visits entices customers to come back. And to take the concept of gamification to a more literal direction, the “Starbucks for Life” game encourages customers to purchase several times a month. Even when they don’t win many prizes, the feeling of leveling up in the game gives users a sense of accomplishment.

TRANSPARENCY

Another example of dishonest marketing is the lack of transparency. In 2006, a PR firm for Wal-Mart sponsored two travelers to write “Wal-Marting Across America,” a blog series in which the couple parked their RVs in Wal-Marts across the country and interviewed employees on their favorite parts of working for the retailer. The problem was that “Wal-Marting Across America” neglected to disclose its sponsor and came across as a genuine experience. The PR firm could have avoided this problem simply by stating it was a paid campaign. And if it had been an actual, unpaid testimonial from those bloggers, there would have been nothing immoral about publicizing it. That would have been a similar case to Jared Fogle’s publicized weight loss from eating Subway — before his unrelated scandal.

Where we lack transparency the most is in online reviews. Yelp, Google Maps, and Amazon reviews for restaurants, companies, and products give an opportunity for everyone to share their opinions. Unfortunately, this includes owners of the companies themselves. And too often small-business owners or paid PR teams have posted glowing reviews for their own companies. I’ve even seen recruiters looking for users on reddit, a social and news aggregator, to pose as users to positively promote their product.

As a consumer, I have a right to share a link to merchandise that I like on reddit. But where can we draw the line legally for the business to hire people to promote their merchandise just like I did? All we have to rely on are our standards. Not being transparent is infuriating to customers who feel deceived. All that would rectify that would be to say, “Here is our company, here’s what we offer, and here’s why we think you would like it.” On top of that, users have a chance to chime in and say, “I’m interested in your idea, but I’d only buy it if you improved these elements.”

GREED

Within the past year, many businesses have scrambled to ride the coattails of Pokémon Go’s success. Companies shamelessly ask Pokémon Go users to tag themselves at locations where they have caught Pokémon near their business, or else share screenshots of Pokémon with their merchandise in the background.

But the most obvious case of mooching off Pokémon Go is the process of setting up PokéStops or Gyms at their businesses’ locations. At the beginning of the app’s release, Pokémon Go users could submit a request for a real-world location for other users to meet up. Companies flooded Pokémon Go with requests to make their locations a hotspot to bring in business.

Unlike my other examples, I can’t offer a more ethical alternative to the Pokémon Go phenomenon. This is simply a case of greed and manipulation.

The best social media presence is based on genuine interactions with consumers. PR teams are not only responsible for their clients’ exposure but also maintaining consistent relationships with consumers and allowing consumers benefits for those interactions. That way, we avoid the greed of advertisement spam and instead create an environment where everyone benefits.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2017 in Blog

 

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How to live without language

I’m really good at the Chicken Dance.

This is a variation of the “I don’t wanna be a chicken, I don’t wanna be a duck” fad dance that kids learn in school when the Macarena is too complicated for them.

For me, the Chicken Dance takes place in restaurants when I’m overseas. When the menu is written in a language I don’t understand, or if I’m in a country where I’m unfamiliar with popular cuisine, I resort to the Chicken Dance. But instead of the aforementioned lyrics, my song usually goes, “Do you have chicken? Chick-en? Like this?” And, if the poor waiter still can’t help me, then I shamelessly tuck my hands into my armpits and flap my elbows.

Luckily, I’ll usually eat chicken no matter how it’s served, so it’s my go-to in foreign

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General Tso’s chicken in Beijing, China — pretty different to how I know it in the States.

restaurants. That’s why “chicken” is one of the first words I learn in a new language, right after “hello,” “thank you,” and “bathroom.” Now, if I could come up with a recognizable Pizza Dance, I’d always be happy with my meal.

Conversely, my “not spicy” gesture had a much lower success rate in Asia than my Chicken Dance. This gesture — in which I shook my head and fanned my tongue — may have been lost in translation, or it may be because their interpretation of “mild” spice is equivalent to my “medium to hot.”

I know that traveling internationally for the past five years has been an enormous privilege. But in addition to that, it has made me realize just how much privilege I have had growing up in a country where I speak the most popular language and look like the majority of people.

Living and working in countries where I don’t fit in is a wake-up call. I would sometimes be in areas where I would be the only one on the street with fair skin and blue eyes. Most locals would be accommodating to me. Store clerks, waiters, security guards, even pedestrians have helped me if I looked lost or like I didn’t know how to say what I needed. If they couldn’t use a translator on their phone, they’d point to helpful suggestions or call someone who might know five English words for me. And if they still couldn’t help me, their eyes seemed genuinely apologetic.

I’ve also had experiences that weren’t as helpful. Without speaking a word of the local language besides “hello,” I’ve attempted to ask where my hotel is or how I can buy sunscreen and the local would become visibly frustrated. One older woman in Brazil became aggressively agitated at me when I tried to explain to her in English that I didn’t speak Portuguese. After a while I deduced she was asking me to open the door for her, but even after I did so she continued ranting despite my clear inability to understand it.

I certainly don’t blame them. Here I am, a foreigner entering a country without respectfully learning the language, and expecting services without being able to communicate what they are.

I can’t help this situation. Because I travel to most of these places for work, I don’t have time to study more phrases or learn more of their manners. This is especially difficult for places where I spend as little as four days before it’s on to the next country.

Yet if I can’t change the circumstances, I can do more to be a better communicator.

Having a conversation in different languages is an effective exercise in body language. If I want to say “gracias” or “arigatou gozaimasu” or “merci,” it’s more effective if I smile to show my appreciation. And when I make a request, I realize now how important it is to make eye contact when I can’t address the person granting my request.

These seem like basic ideas, but I needed to strip away the crutch of language to recognize how little I employed them. This also made me realize why people I know unintentionally seem disingenuous.

That said, not being able to fully communicate is tiring. Sometimes I work on a different continent for months at a time and the only linguistic conversations I have are backstage with my coworkers. How can I truly enjoy meeting locals from overseas if I can’t ask them to share their stories?

Being a foreigner is a humbling experience. Still, it does get easier. Learning how to address people with a smile is important. And if I enter a building, I open a door for others or offer to help carry their purchases; being a kinder person establishes a more positive connection with everyone around me, even when I don’t need a service back from them.

Finally, while the gesticulations make for great filler in a conversation, they don’t need to be as extreme as my Chicken Dance. But resorting to a goofy way to place my order usually cracks a smile on the server’s face, which shows that I’m non-threatening and am grateful for their patience.

So when the Pizza Dance becomes the next dance craze, you’ll have me to thank for that.

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Blog, travel

 

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Highlights from Argentina and Chile

Call me clichéd, but Paris is one of my favorite cities. I love its preservation of Parisian history, but I like its cultural edge in a contemporary world even more.

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The Casa Rosada Presidential Palace is one of the most iconic buildings in Buenos Aires.

When I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I was floored to see how much BA’s art and culture reminded me of Paris. It was only after I excitedly told my friends about the similarity between the two cities that I learned BA’s nickname is “the Paris of South America.”

Okay, so I wasn’t the first to make that comparison. Maybe my travel thoughts are clichéd.

REMARKABLE ARCHITECTURE

People compare the Argentinian capital to Paris because of the cutting-edge fashion, the cafés lining every street corner, and the architectural similarities. There’s an obvious aesthetic parallel here; many of the buildings were influenced by 18th-century European styles. But just as Parisian architecture represents diverse styles from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, Buenos Aires is also eclectic. In fact, the same building may have art deco, art nouveau, and neoclassical styles incorporated into it.

I’m only a casual fan of design, but even a layman like me felt swept away by the architectural majesty on every street corner.

One of my favorite artistic destinations was more beautiful on the inside. El Ateneo Grand Splendid is a bookstore that was converted from a theater. Stepping onto the balcony and looking down at the levels of bookshelves, I felt like Belle from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The only disappointment was that I couldn’t find any books in English to buy for myself.

A less sophisticated construction in Buenos Aires — yet equally compelling artistically — is La Boca neighborhood. Here, splashy primary colors consume the humble infrastructure. Not one building was uniform in color; red, canary yellow, pastel blue, and

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La Boca was a hodgepodge of splash colors and bohemian murals.

sea foam green paint alternated between the walls, with no discernible pattern. On walls, artists painted caricatures of people such as a pot-bellied man offering a leggy, big-bosomed woman a flower.

At first, La Boca felt like a lively celebration of bohemian art. After a few hours, though, the festivity eventually slowed. The tackiness shouting from every overpriced souvenir magnet sold in the shops began to wear on me. Even so, the unabashed gaiety of bright colors and cartoon paintings is a welcome respite from the polished cosmopolitan buildings downtown.

But the most breathtaking sights in Buenos Aires for me were in La Recoleta cemetery. This cemetery hosts above-ground tombs for wealthy and notable Argentinians, such as former presidents and cultural icons. I walked through rows of mausoleums and saw baroque, neo-gothic, and art nouveau structures. The experience was more immersive than the cemeteries that I know with tombstones and below-ground graves, and it felt surreal.

The most famous tomb was Eva Perón’s. Though the grave is unspectacular compared to many of the others in La Recoleta, it’s by far the most visited one. Evita was a champion of the little man in Argentina during the mid-20th century. Though she passed away at age 33 of cancer, her legacy is still present in the culture. Everything I saw in Argentina — from enormous murals downtown, to a live tango show, to our walking tour guide — paid homage to the icon. Though I was only in Argentina for a month, I felt honored to have visited her tomb, as well.

Most of the time on tour, I only have about a week to spend in a city. This time, I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Buenos Aires. In that time, BA easily became one of my top ten favorite cities in the world. I was spellbound by the way Buenos Aires embraced its 18th- and 19th-century European influences while savoring lively, modern-day Latin American culture. Even though I spent most of this blog post gushing about the architecture, the cafes, live music, and dancing made Buenos Aires a romantic experience for me.

CHILEAN MEMORIES

After a tough 3-week work schedule in BA, I had ten days off before starting work again in Santiago, Chile. I split that week and a half break between a few days revisiting a few of my favorite parts of BA and exploring new sites in Santiago.

I was happy to find the Chilean capital was equally as engrossing as Buenos Aires. Although there was less of a hodgepodge of cultural elements, Santiago has plenty of historical monuments and museums presented in clean, neoclassical buildings downtown. At one point, I hit four museums in one day by simply walking around downtown for several hours.

The most poignant museum for me was the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. This human rights museum explored the dictatorial coup in the 1970s that displaced thousands of victims. Though I barely knew anything about Augusto Pinochet’s military regime, the museum provided enough context for me to delve into the stories of the victims.

A museum like this struggles because finding concrete objects from a period when the regime kept their activity secret is hard. However, the objects that the curators could recover — such as museums from orphaned children, torture devices used by the regime, and small trinkets that prisoners kept for themselves — were enough to evoke a response from me. I hadn’t been that emotionally invested in a museum since the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum about the atomic bombing in World War II.

Outside of the museums, I found the natural beauty in Santiago exciting. In the center of Santiago I hiked up the Santa Lucía Hill.  Its history is fascinating; originally it was used as a fort and an ammunition depot before it was transformed into an elaborate park with

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The Santa Lucía Hill was an escalating park overlooking Santiago, Chile.

fountains and statues during the 19th century.

The layout of the hill kept surprising me. Because of the ascending walkways, I would stop at a monument and think it was the main area. Just a bit more hiking, though, and I’d find a different open area of fountains and statues, where young couples competed for available love-seat benches in what must have been the make-out point of the city. Eventually, I reached the top of the hill, where an all-encompassing view of Santiago brought dozens of tourists elbow-to-elbow for a chance to recreate an iconic photo. And really, what great city doesn’t have a wonderful lookout point?

As beautiful as the hiking in Santa Lucía was, though, my favorite part of Chile was skiing in the Andes mountains. I’m from upstate New York, so I’ve grown up skiing. I’m used to skiing on hardened, icy snow with trees bordering all of the trails, so I can’t see much from the top of the mountain. At the Valle Nevado ski resort in Santiago, though, everything was different. The snow was a soft, fluffy powder, so I was amazed at how responsive my skis’ edges were cutting into the mountain. And more surprisingly to me, there were barely any trees. The unblocked views I had while skiing down the mountain made the experience feel surreal, as if I was floating on a cloud next to the cliffs.

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My trip to Valle Nevado in the Andes mountains was perhaps my favorite skiing experience ever.

FINAL THOUGHTS FROM SOUTH AMERICA

Before I had a chance to travel with my job, I hadn’t put too much thought into visiting South America. Like I admitted before, some of my travel opinions are tied up in clichés; I was more interested in western Europe and Asia tours because they had more famous cities.

However, I met coworkers who would fawn over South America and cited it as their favorite tour. I’m now lucky enough to have traveled to Argentina, Chile, and Brazil. (For my highlights from Brazil, check out this blog post.)

I found some of the most impressive natural wonder in South America, including Iguazu Falls and the Andes mountains. And I was blown away by the cultural spirits of these countries, from the splashy neighborhood of La Boca and the sophistication of the Recoleta district in Buenos Aires to the bohemian feel of Brazil.

Sometimes, the cities I find on tour aren’t what I expect — and sometimes, I don’t have any expectations. But most of my time in South America surpassed my expectations because these cities were so multifaceted and exciting.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in Blog, travel

 

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