Behind the Postcards with Marcela Fernandez / by Chris Tyre

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Passport Please...
Name: Marcela Fernandez
Website: beonboard.org
Nationality: Colombia
Current Location: Colombia
Next Destination: Uruguay & Southern South America

Behind the Postcards is an interviews series I'm doing with nomadic souls from around the world sharing their story from going from "normal" to nomad. Today I'm talking to Marcela of a transformative travel and learning program called On Board. AND I'm excited to announce that she's offering a special promo for the Nomad+Camera community to save 30€ on an upcoming travel program! (Read on to find it!)

N+C: Hola Marcela! Qué tal? Thanks for doing the interview. Can you share with readers who you are?

MF: Hey! I am Marcela, originally from Colombia but a nomad by choice with over 50 countries visited. I am the founder of ON BOARD. We create learning journeys that connect travelers with local mentors. I firmly believe that the world is our classroom. My path is alternative education and I am also a flow consultant/speaker. 

N+C: Wow, 50 countries!! I'm assuming that there had to be at least one solo trip in the mix. Where was it and why that location?

MF: It was when I was 14 to learn and practice my English in Canada. It shaped me completely although I wasn’t intentionally doing it as a solo trip. But it was the first time I traveled and experienced it on my own. The first intentional one I did was to Strasbourg, France when I was studying abroad. I realize that my friends didn't want to travel there so I chose to go on my own for the first time. I was 18. 

N+C: What is your travelosophy?

MF: My travel philosophy is that we don't travel to escape from reality but to understand the reality of the countries that we visit.

We are not "colonizers" when traveling but we can create an impact when travel consciously. I believe this is the most authentic way of learning and that it is the best way to apply networking. 

I think it is today's modern rite of passage and that it is vital to use it in a way that shapes you and the world for the better. Today my philosophy is On Board’s vision. 

N+C: What inspired you to start On Board?

MF: I pursue an alternative education path after trying 3 different universities in 3 different cities. I started a documentary about alternative education projects and later on I realized that the program I really wanted to be in didn’t exist, so I decided to create On Board with the ideas I had been collecting over the years. 

What inspired me was the thought that one person traveling around the world can't really do much, but a group of people sharing their talents and learning could really make an impact. 

The desire to invite people to discover countries through the eyes of the local people and by doing so, help the local economy, really inspired me.

N+C: I’ve learned so much from traveling. It’s definitely different than a traditional classroom education. I’m a huge advocate of studying abroad for high school and university students. I did it myself and it was truly an eye-opening experience. What’s the advantage of On Board over a semester long study abroad program through a university?

MF: I would say that the main difference is that with On Board people do it because they are intentionally looking, seeking for something and they want a space for inspiration in their life. They want to learn about the country itself and its people in a broader way than learning something related to their profession or just doing it for credits or grades.

Many times when studying abroad, international students hang out with international students and don't really get to connect with the local people. With On Board, we have both sides of it. You connect with the people you’re traveling with, who are from all over the world, and you connect with the country you’re in: It's history, gastronomy, context, and specially, the entrepreneurship ecosystem.

A main advantage is that you really travel around the country instead of staying in one city and that the investment is less, but much more intense and enriching.

N+C: In On Board’s manifesto, it reads, Be a traveler, not a tourist. What’s the difference between a traveler and a tourist?

MF: In our opinion, a traveler has a certain mindset and openness to live a diverse range of experiences and connect with local people instead of collecting pictures or checking places off a list. 

We believe the transformation happens when a tourist discovers a new way of traveling, and then becomes a traveler. After the experiences, we hope the traveler then becomes an ambassador of the country that they visited. 

The traveler seeks for deeper meaning while traveling.

N+C: I read in your On Board bio that you’ve learned 6 languages. That’s incredible! I’m struggling to learn Spanish, which would only be my second language. I’m picturing you with earphones on just listening to constant podcasts. But seriously, what’s your trick for learning languages?

MF: My trick is mainly the desire to communicate and understand people's reality and context through their language. 

My school was almost bilingual so that helped for English. Then the last two years they introduced French but I result never took it seriously until I went to study abroad in France.

I lived in Italy for a year and I never took a class of Italian. However, I was surrounded by amazing friends that slowly taught me Italian. Similar story with Portuguese, but I have never lived in Portugal. Portuguese literature, its romanticism, and beautiful fado songs made me want to learn more so I traveled there for a month willing to learn Portuguese.

German is my current language but it has been super hard. It’s been more than two years and I still feel I a beginner.

The trick is to really want to learn and to dedicate some time to actually being in a country that speaks that language. Then at that destination, make friends with people who you can practice, read, and listen with once in a while to keep your ears and vocabulary fine-tuned.

N+C: Do you have any packing tips for travelers that feel like 2 suitcases aren’t enough?

There are laundry machines everywhere haha! Worst-case scenario, you can always buy clothes!

N+C: Is there a city or country that you’ve been to that was totally different than you’d thought it would be?

I don't really create many expectations before traveling so I’m always surprised. With On Board, I actually end up knowing a lot about the country beforehand. It creates a great anticipation so upon landing, I almost feel like I been there before. 

Salud! The On Board gang traveling Central America.

Salud! The On Board gang traveling Central America.

N+C: Lastly, On Board is headed to Portugal in June, a place high on my bucket list. For readers considering jumping ON BOARD, what are the top three things they can look forward to?

MF: We would love to have you and your readers, followers, and tribe ON BOARD with us. It would be amazing to actually live an experience together with the Nomad + Camera community. We have a special discount for you! Readers save 30€ by using promo code NOMADONBOARD valid on all upcoming 2016 journeys.

The main things to look forward to are…

1. Trying delicious food prepared with and by locals and discovering landscapes that will make you wonder where in the world you are. Portugal is a box of surprises when it comes to stories, legends, and nature. 

2. We will connect with more than 20 different mentors, communities, entrepreneurs, and ambassadors of Portugal that will share their country’s vision so we can understand and connect with their reality. 

3. An incredible learning journey and an itinerary that will make you wake up super excited every day because new experiences awaiting you. You will be traveling with an amazing group of people, all with projects, ideas, anecdotes that will enrich one another in our shared learning sessions. And lastly, of course, you have the opportunity to pitch you ideas and brainstorm with our global community of travel learners.

N+C: Portugal sounds so amazing right now. Thanks so much Marcela! What an incredible, enriching opportunity to gain a deep insight on where you are. I agree 100% that education and travel go hand in hand. Readers, be sure to check out On Board and make sure to use NOMADONBOARD to save 30 EUROS on an upcoming excursion! Well, safe travels Marcela. Hope our nomadic paths cross again sometime soon!

All photos courtesy of Marcela Fernandez.