Category Archives: Lisa N.R.

My 25 Year Penn Reunion: Living an “As Is” life in a world that only wants “So Perfect!”

Author:  Lisa Niver Rajna, C’89

Wandering on Madison Ave in Manhattan last week, I noticed paparazzi everywhere. After asking, a woman told us, with tears in her eyes, that JLo was eating lunch. I would have missed her. She did not look “So Perfect” but she is stunning. As I left New York City for Philadelphia for my twenty-five year college reunion, I have been thinking about what have I done and what do I want for the next twenty-five years!

In a life filled with product placement where JLo is lifting her Coca-Cola glass so many times per hour on American Idol, our lives have been given a structure that we might not purchase if it were not so insidious.

In As Is by Rachel Michael Arends, the story is told through several narrators and Arends is able to share deep perspectives about how people with different lifestyles lock themselves into their own cage about money, sexuality, and professions of what they think that want and should own and should do.

Through Arends’ intriguing characters, we are able to wonder and wander. Is it a good choice to be an artist? Is it okay to defer your dream to care for your father? Most of the interactions and characters would have accepted the decisions of their friend or family member if they had only been told. Fear made nearly every character in this book withhold their personal truth.

Hiding themselves made them seem like a cheap imitation of what they could have brought to the table. Choosing to be courageous and wish for what they really wanted and reach out to receive it often only comes after tragedy and hardship but hopefully Rachel Michael Arends’ novel gives you the hope to share your story and live a life painted fully without regrets.

Early in the novel, Gwendolyn says: “On television it can look glamorous, and perhaps some people would love this lifestyle. But I don’t,” I wondered what didn’t she like? And who was she really?

Wandering the parade and picnic at the University of Pennsylvania, I thought what would life be like if we did not pretend. Gwendolyn believes that Armand “actually enjoys being So Perfect all the time,” it gave me pause to think about who do I know who resembles that remark and do they feel like Gwendolyn that “it just seems wrong, incongruous, and unnatural,” and more of a cage than a life.

There were many buttons to wear at Reunion: “I met my wife at Penn,” “<3 Penn,” and “Don’t worry, I don’t remember you either!” Maybe several alums felt like Gwendolyn: “I find it scary and unnerving when strangers approach me as if we’re old friends. I don’t like to worry about what I wear, if my hair and makeup look good enough (according to Armand they never do), what I say, or how I say it. I prefer to stay at home behind our high fences, inside our security system.”

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey

w/ Joyce Lim Twomey

 

She has been told by Trey, her producer, “I’m lucky to have this job, that anyone in her right mind would want it.” At an Ivy League institution, in marriage or in many other settings, we are sold that line about being lucky. I went to medical school because I was smart in science. Like Gwendolyn I felt, “I don’t want to let anyone down…[but] I’m beginning to fear that I’ll be trapped in this mansion forever.” We sometimes become embroiled in a labyrinth or career and we seem to be stuck. Breaking out of the mold and consciously taking a different path can be a struggle but isn’t the freedom, to be who we really are, worth it?

When we become lost from our selves, we often need someone like Gwendolyn’s sister, Megan, to ask us: “What’s your plan? Are you going back there?” We all want to have someone in our life that we can tell as Gwendolyn does, “You’re like an island of sanity in the craziest day I’ve ever had.” It is possible we have those people already if we would only be honest with them about how we feel and what we need. Most of us keep our wounds and concerns a secret only sharing what we think looks “So Perfect” to the constant measuring up on Instagram and Pinterest.

When one character with a cane walks on a floor above Gwendolyn with a sliding sound, she muses, “It’s strange to think of carrying your damage on the outside where everyone can see it.” What if we shared our fears and foibles on Facebook and not just our fairytales that come true? Carrie, a character who is a fan of Gwendolyn on television but becomes a true friend in the story, shares, “The biggest thing I’ve learned over the course of this year is that life is one big surprise after another, and maybe I should loosen up and try my best to roll with it.” As I walked the parade on Saturday standing in between the two wonderful women who were my college roommates, I realized that I am so lucky in both an “as is” and “so perfect” way to have walked this road surrounded by people who know what I look life in real life and want to be friends anyway! Whether there are tears of joy or sadness, they have always run to my side, whenever I am ready to share this rollercoaster of life.

Arends’ character, Armand, realizes that “As Is,” could be his “motto for acceptance. Not an excuse to settle necessarily, but a reminder that at a certain point, you just need to say, OK, enough is enough! I’m sick of chasing the dream of perfection and that’s not a failure.”

Gwendolyn does believe in fate, as she says, “You have to. I just saw a falling star out the window and I wished for you. When I looked up, there you were!” In some ways like the movies, we want to say, “I wished for you” and for the person to appear. What if you are really wishing for yourself to stand up, take up space and live your dreams? I wish for you that you are inspired to pause and think about your own parade and find a path that leads you to yourself and the fulfillment of your best dreams.

w/Barbara Yorke

w/Barbara Yorke

About the Author: Lisa Niver Rajna (CAS 1989) was honored to walk in graduation on May 19, 2014 with her classmates from twenty-five years ago! Learn more about her journeys at WeSaidGoTravel.com and ScienceisntScary.net.

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Filming Puerto Rico with #RBQuests

By: Lisa Niver Rajna

Recently my friend, David, told me, “Walk through the open doors.” It reminded me of the inspiration from the gate at the University of Pennsylvania: We will find a way or we will make one.

I spent last week in Puerto Rico filming with Richard Bangs and White Nile Media in conjunction with Orbtiz and the Puerto Rican Tourism Board. I enjoyed everything from kayaking at the Wyndham Grand Rio Mar to meeting golf greats and brothers, Jesus and Chi Chi Rodriguez as well as taming the “Beast,” which is the name of the highest zipline on the planet at Toro Verde.

chi chi golf st regis

Everyday had a highlight of a different kind as meeting people and hearing their stories was incredible. I loved working on the different video segments as we searched to elucidate adventure, family and LGBT travel. Meeting recently or nearly married couples for our romance segment was sweet and diving to 94 feet with sharks and eels was unforgettable.

richard juan lisa interview

Traveling has always been a part of my life. It was a treat to be part of this team and I cannot wait to see the ten video segments unfold in the hands of a professional editor. I plan to share them all with you as soon as possible and am so excited to see how they all turn out.

sunset dry forest puerto rico

I learned at the University of Pennsylvania that I could make things happen from founding a magazine for the College of Arts and Sciences with a few friends to doing medical research. I created a thesis that brought together ideas from several departments and figured out that even on sunny days in February a California girl needs a coat in Philadelphia. All of my experiences have shown me that when the door opens, you should walk through to the other side.

Thank you for all your support of my site, WeSaidGoTravel, my YouTube channel that just went over 190,000 views and this next journey. More details on my #RBQuests adventures, see the posts from last week: Old San Juan, Livin’ La Vida Loca, Meeting Sports Giants, and Adventures in Western Puerto Rico. Coming soon is the Go Pro underwater dive video as well as Go Pro video from the BEAST!

See more from Puerto Rico on our #RBQuests Tagboard at https://tagboard.com/RBQuests/161971.

toro verde lisa
Wyndham Grand Rio Mar2
Sunrise Wyndham Grand Rio Mar
Ramon Lisa Agua de coamo
Ramon Hooping Agua de coamo
Lisa and Juan Mr Gay World
Jose Enrique
Frank Ed dive boat Copamarina
Edward Copamarina
didrik richard dry forest

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“We will find a way or we will make one!”

Author: Lisa Niver Rajna, C’89

Do you ever wonder how you will make your dreams come true? I find inspiration from the gate at the University: We will find a way or we will make one. In December 2012 on the beach in India, I said I think we should have a contest on our website, We Said Go Travel. George said, “Great! Let’s start in January and end on February 14.” Immediately I had several objections. I could not possibly be ready so fast to run a writing contest.
We were in Konark, India at the Sand Art Festival near the UNESCO Sun Temple. I was musing that 30 years ago when the festival began, someone probably said: “Sand Art Festival! You must be nuts!” But here we were, thirty years later and it was a large festival with many international sand artists!

In January 2014, we began our fourth travel-writing contest. (Travel Writing Contest: http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/writing-contest)

Over the course of 2013, over five hundred writers from over fifty countries entered our contest. It was truly fantastic! I love all the stories and getting to email with people from all over our planet. We hope you will choose to join us by sharing a story or reading one from someone else! We did our first live announcement of the winners for our contest on google hangout on air.

WSGT gratitude 2013 google hangout (2)

Watch the hangout:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZF2DixFNiI

See the winners:

http://www.wesaidgotravel.com/gratitude-travel-writing-contest-winners-2013

We had some technical issues and had to link one judge in by skype but it worked. We found a way to make it work! I learned many life lessons at the University of Pennsylvania but the message from the gate always rings in my head: “We will find a way or we will make one!”

I remember the contest really took off when I wrote to our friend, Richard Bangs from the PBS Travel Show, “Adventure with Purpose,” who offered to be a judge.  Sometimes all you need to do is offer to participate: by joining in a contest, being the judge or simply showing up. I was honored in October 2013 to share our travel knowledge in a webinar for the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Travel. George and I talked about our journey for 27 days in Myanmar (Burma). We were invited to participate and we said YES!

http://pennalumni.adobeconnect.com/p3dzcr7cmmk/

I hope that you make your resolutions for 2014 come true by taking a first step! I would love to hear about your progress.

 

 

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Traveling in Sin: A True Tale of Transformation through Love and Travel

Author: Lisa Niver Rajna,  CAS’89

Next May, it will be my turn to celebrate 25 years since I graduated from Penn. I am still close with many of my friends from Ware College House. I count on them for so many things. I remember our days in the Quad especially during Hurricane Gloria. I had never been in a hurricane. I learned so many lessons in and out of the classroom. In part, it was my education at Penn that challenged me to take risks, and gave me the interest in journey to other countries.

I have truly taken the Penn motto “we will find a way or we will make one” to heart. After George found me online in 2007, we chose to quit our jobs and meander around Asia for a year from 2008-2009. During that time, I lost over fifty pounds, we got engaged underwater,  and we learned how to be a team.  When we returned home, we wrote a book together.  Last week,  I am happy to say that we published that book, Traveling in Sin.

The book is available on Amazon and was recently mentioned in Westside Today. In the article, Sommer said, that the book…”is a love story and travel memoir rolled in to a single, enjoyable book.” That love story started with my friends and experiences at Penn, where I was encouraged to pursue my curiosity to make discoveries around the globe.

You can learn more about the book and about our life together in the slideshow below.

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Penn Quakers Pounce and Reality TV Saves Lives

Author: Lisa Niver Rajna, CAS’89

Studying at the University of Pennsylvania, I learned fast and worked hard. As my studies focused on science and liberal arts, I never took a class in finance even though The Wharton School is renowned the world over for business. While watching Shark Tank on television, I feel that I am finally getting an education in economics.

Several of my favorite things (University of Pennsylvania and Shark Tank) came together when Ryan Frankel and Kunal Sarda appeared on Shark Tank to seek funding for their app, VerbalizeIt.

These Wharton School Grads bonded over their travel disasters and decided to make a difference. They have taken a lesson from Ben Franklin who said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Their medium for communication is a translation platform that “promotes cultural exploration and global trade while also creating employment opportunities for the vast network of multilingual individuals across the world.”

After Frankel was sick in China and unable to get medicine due to the significant language barrier, he knew travelers needed help. Together with Sarda, he created a reasonable priced service staffed with real people and crowdsourced for translation services. This multilingual platform not only provides assistance to individuals but now is also a full service translation solution for global businesses to communicate with international customers. VerbalizeIt can assist companies that want a fully multilingual call center or to translate a fifty page PowerPoint presentation. They can assist with translating video into multiple languages. They are ready to help any company be truly global!

As the planet continues to feel smaller due to globalization and increased access to travel opportunities, we have greater opportunities for misunderstanding. Frankel and Sarda survived their misfortunes and in creating VerbalizeIt are helping others enjoy their travels more and create connections through understanding. With their partnership with Rosetta Stone, they are raising money for Children International. It is possible to make money, do good and make a difference.

Frankel told me that being on Shark Tank “was a good experience as it forces you to answer questions and build your business in a way that you have to do anyway.” His advice to fellow Wharton students reminded me of the books, The Lean Start-Up and Running Lean. “Don’t test ideas in a vacuum. Don’t be afraid to put your idea out there and see what happens. Make sure what you are building is viable by making a Minimal viable product and get data from customers.”

Talking to Frankel, I realized how much he learned at the Wharton School of Business and how much he has to offer the world. I love that nearly twenty-five years after my own graduation from the University of Pennsylvania I am still learning from fellow Penn students and even from reality television!

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A Lifetime of Learning

Author: Lisa Niver Rajna, CAS ’89

berger.rI did not realize when I picked Penn (after being admitted early decision in December 1984), that class would still be in session in 2013 while traveling on a local bus in Nepal! During this trip, I read Contagious, Why Things Catch On, because as a traveler, teacher, and writer it sounded extremely compelling. I too wanted to learn how to “create contagious content!”

As Wharton marketing professor, Jonah Berger, explains in the book, “putting up a Facebook page or tweeting doesn’t mean anyone will notice or spread the word. 50% of YouTube videos have fewer than five hundred views. Only one-third of 1 percent get more than 1 million.” We actually have several videos over five hundred views and our We Said Go Travel YouTube channel, so that was good to learn. It is incredible to me that while on sabbatical in Asia, I can study with the award-winning Wharton “Iron Prof” and learn exactly the lessons I need next for my personal and professional life!

I also recently read  Made to Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath. Chip Heath was Berger’s graduate school mentor and while that book was helpful–Contagious’ “six key STEPPS” gave me new tools to propel my professional site to higher numbers and more views by using “the six principles of contagiousness: products or ideas that contain Social Currency and are Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valued and wrapped into Stories.”

As a writer, the final emphasis on stories is of particular interest to me. Berger says: “Stories are an important source of cultural learning that help us make sense of the world. Information travels under the guise of what seems like idle chatter.” I hope that sharing our journeys will inspire others and soon be more and more contagious encouraging all to participate in our global community of travelers and writers.

I recommend getting a copy of Professor Berger’s book so you can “build a Social currency-laden, Triggered, Emotional, Public, Practically Valuable Trojan Horse, but don’t forget to hide your message inside. Make sure your desired information is so embedded into the plot that people cannot tell the story without it.”

Reading this book, I realized that our recent Inspiration Travel Writing Contest had so much traction as we used triggers (the contest ended on Valentine’s Day), emotions, and financial incentives. I will put my learning to work and hope that our Independence Travel Writing Contest (running from May 11 to July 4, no entry fee, and an even more valuable prizes).

Thank you to the Penn community for my past and continuing education! It is phenomenal that nearly twenty-five years after graduation I can still learn from Penn Profs and in a new digital way. As our Penn motto states, “We will find a way or we will make one.” Thank you, Professor Berger, for new tools for building a contagious community.

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This Time of Year

Author: Lisa Niver Rajna, C’89

This time of year in 1984, I was accepted via early decision into the University of Pennsylvania. My acceptance was binding, and I would be leaving for a campus I had never seen. My father and I had visited quite a few universities on the East Coast on a Spring break trip from Los Angeles, and I disliked most of the places we saw. None of them seemed to be the right fit.

As a Penn alumnus from the 1960’s, my dad remembered the Penn campus as a city school. When I started looking at colleges, he did not think it would be the right place for me and so we didn’t schedule it on our campus tour.  But then, my parents were on the East Coast visiting friends and they suggested that Penn had changed significantly over the years. After that, my dad said, “For all the reasons you did not like those other schools, you will like Penn.” I trusted his opinion and took the leap to apply early. Just a few short months later, I got my acceptance letter. I remember feeling so amazed and excited.

I had nearly the same feeling after graduation when I opened the big envelope from Penn inviting me to join the University community, and then again, when I learned I would have an article published in National Geographic magazine.  As a reader and a traveler, I have always loved the magazine with the golden yellow square and now in a small way, I am a part of it. I believe that my experience at Penn helped to shape my adventurous side. From coming to campus sight unseen as a freshman and then having such a great four year experience both in and outside of the classroom, Penn taught me that taking risks could lead to unbelievable, life-changing discoveries, such as those I made in writing the article.   I hope you enjoy reading  about the Royal Cremation in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia as much as I enjoyed writing it.

The crowd at the cremation ceremony.

Travel writer Lisa Niver Rajna (Penn 1989) is spending the year in Southeast Asia with her husband (both of whom are members of the Traveler’s Century Club). Follow her adventures on their blog, wesaidgotravel.com, and on Twitter @wesaidgotravel.

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