When it comes to learning how to be a travel writer, you can’t get much more hands-on than doing it on the road. And if that road happens to be in Nicaragua, says graduating master’s student Heather Clark, better still.
Clark, a veteran tour guide and former publications coordinator for the European Association for International Education, has spent upwards of six months a year for the past 16 years traveling the world. That’s in addition to completing two degrees here at UVic: a BA in Hispanic studies (with a professional writing minor) and an MFA in writing. Now she’s putting all that experience to work with her new company, Cross-Border Education, and a proposed travel-writing field school for UVic’s writing department.
“My five-year plan was to merge my two biggest passions—travel and education—by starting a business enabling universities to offer their students adventure-study abroad without the stress of the logistics,” Clark explains. “Part of that plan was to do my master’s degree so I can teach the courses and not only be the tour leader; I’ve now completed my master’s, and this is year five, so I’m launching the business. I’m very well versed on the internationalization plans of higher education, and this company I’ve created ticks every box.”
Born in Canada but raised in Holland, the Spanish-speaking Clark started backpacking at 18—with a trip to Kenya, among other places—before deciding to study in Canada at 21. After touring BC looking for a place to live, she came to Victoria and decided to stay. “I immediately felt at home here,” she says, “which is also why I came back for my master’s degree. UVic is more than a university—its vibe and welcoming atmosphere make it the perfect place to nurture my business and let it sprout.”
Proposed for summer 2018 (“and hopefully every year after that,” says writing chair David Leach), the 26-day field school would offer between 10 and 15 undergrads a 3-unit summer elective, with destinations including a coffee plantation, a cloud forest eco-lodge and a pair of isolated islands known for their pristine beaches and Creole people. “Nicaragua is one of those rare countries that isn’t over-developed yet, so they’d be getting a very authentic experience.”
Cost per student? “$7,000, all in,” says Clark. “That’s flights, food, tuition, accommodations, tips and optional excursions. It’s on par with other field schools on campus, and cheaper than what Continuing Studies offers for a shorter time. The structure’s already there—it’s literally an email away from happening.”
Up first, however, is an on-campus travel-writing elective in 2017—which Clark hopes to be teaching, given that her MFA manuscript is based on her experiences as a professional tour leader. “So much happens on these trips that people often say, ‘You should write a book about this.’ And what better way to do that than with expert guidance as a master’s student?”
A blend of memoir, personal essay and what she calls “straight-up travel writing,” Unpacked features adventures and anecdotes from 40 trips to nine countries over a five-year slice of Clark’s life. “The chapters range from safety and ethical travel to the sense of longing—and belonging—that long-term travelers often have.”
Learning to see the world through different eyes and then translate it to the page is one of Clark’s key goals for the field school. “But it’s not just about the writing, it’s the soft skills as well; I am who I am because I’ve been travelling for 16 years. What employer doesn’t look at your international experience, your ability to function as a team, your stress resistance? I have a two-page list of skills students can gain with the right guidance.”
Never one to sit still for long, Clark is off to Holland for two months immediately following convocation, then will be heading down to Central America to lead three more trips. “I like encouraging other people to really achieve their dreams,” she says. “It takes patience, but all your talents end up fitting in somewhere.”