Category Archives: Lisa Ellen Niver

Waking Up

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

My father, who is also a Penn grad and the reason I traveled from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for college, often says, “Sleep? I can always sleep when I am dead, there is so much to do.” I recently realized that this quote actually comes from Benjamin Franklin! He said, “There will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead, life is for living. So wake up and perform.”

Our wedding.

This year, George and I are traveling in South East Asia exploring, wandering, and waking up! This is not a year of sleeping through the same life or same job. We have been away from America for nearly three months so far. We are currently in Bangkok discovering how to acquire a visa to spend my birthday in Myanmar.

George and I met online, but we really clicked because of Myanmar and the Schwedagon Pagoda. When I mentioned to him that it was my favorite place, he was intrigued. He had to meet a fellow traveler who loved the temples and culture of Burma. And now, nearly six years after we first met, we will be there together for my 45th birthday.

Please join in my birthday celebration by donating to the Jewish World Watch Solar Cooker Project for Darfur refugees. In the 45 days before I turn 45, I am searching for 45 people to donate so that 45 families will have solar cookers and more safety in their daily lives. Together, we can help many families leave their refugee camp in search of firewood and fuel, without fearing harm.

In Mongolia.

After a long journey full of peril from Darfur in Sudan, people arrive at the camps in Chad, traumatized after losing homes, family members, and any concept of safety into a bureaucratic jungle with only tarps for creating a new shelter. Having given up my home by choice this year to travel with my husband, I hope to help others feel cared for no matter where they rest their head. Please use this link to donate . Note that your donation is in honor of me and JWW will keep track of the money we raise together. Thank you for making a difference today. More information here.

I hope that in the new school year and the Jewish year and for my 45th year, that you will not “stand idly by” or sleep your year away. Listen to Ben Franklin and wake up, perform, and participate!

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Alumna Abroad

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, C’89

During my years at Penn, I meandered the liberal arts curriculum. I took classes in all different disciplines. My dad, who went to Penn Dental, told me, “There is always time to specialize. Learn about a lot of different things. If you are a biochem major and then go to Medical School your world will be narrower. Use this time to expand your world.” He did not realize at the time how many continents my travels would include.

My husband, George and I, left July 2012 for our second year journey in South East Asia. In 2008, we left for a year, unsure about what would happen. Over the next eleven months, we visited twelve countries. I came home sixty pounds lighter and engaged!

In June 2010, I started our blog, WeSaidGoTravel, on our way to a summer in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. Well-intentioned friends cautioned, “If you only post once a week, you will never get anywhere.” I said, “I am nowhere now,” and started the blog anyway. At the end of July 2012, our site was listed in the TOP 25 Travel Blogs on! In early August, we joined Empire Ave. We were a top 15 Fledgling and are now a top 15 Greenhorn. Are you on the AVE? Send me your ticker!
Our site is growing, by leaps and bounds with over 175,000 views since mid June 2012.

So far, our trip this year has been great. We are busy in Gili Meno, Lombok, Indonesia snorkeling with turtles, and watching dolphins jump and spin at sunset. The Penn motto, “We will find a way or we will make one,” has become our call to arms.

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Words to Live By

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

During my years at Penn, I remember learning the University motto of “We will find a way or we will make one.” I have adopted this many times as my personal mantra to make life work out. If I just keep saying it, I will figure it out. Many other quotes have helped me in my personal journeys and at over 100 countries by the count of Traveler’s Century Club I have been on a quite a few adventures!

I believe that I must as Ralph Waldo Emerson says: “Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.” I want my life to be full and to realize my dreams and to be all that I can be in my own way.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I also like what Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about living a good life: “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you also have an obligation to be one.” I have often been accused of being an individual and finding my own way, just like the Penn Motto tells me to!

Eleanor Roosevelt

 I am a traveler and we will be leaving again very soon. As Robert Frost says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I… I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Being willing to take a risk has led me to amazing places.

Young Robert Frost

I went on one more blind date and met George five and a half years ago. He is now my husband, travel partner, and soul mate. What if I had not been willing to go? He asked me to travel with him for a year and during that sojourn in South East Asia, we got engaged underwater. What if I said no? Taking the leap has led me to wonderful discoveries!

As one of my favorite writers, James Michener, says, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today, because if you enjoy it today you can do it again tomorrow!” I love this idea. Fill your life with the things you enjoy and as Sonny states in Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end; if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.”

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Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the Penn motto of “We will find a way or we will make one.” My husband George and I have worked hard to create our own path as a couple and as travelers. We love to find others who also have a serious case of wanderlust (defined by as a “strong, innate desire to rove or travel about”).  Recently, I met Christine Maxfield another Penn grad (2004) who is, like me, inspired about travel, wanderlust, and all thing Frankly Penn!

Here is just a sampling of her adventures from from her recent post on our blog:

Starting on January 1, 2011, I took my first step off a plane and into a solo round-the-world adventure that included 19 countries on six continents. My work exchange led me to instruct HIV/AIDS orphans in Kenya, become a desert guide with the Bedouin tribe in Jordan, teach English to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal, mend fences on an aboriginal cattle station in Australia, shuck oysters on a black-pearl farm in French Polynesia, save baby sea turtles in Guatemala, play music with children in Romania, and herd a thousand sheep as a nomadic shepherd in Austria. Oh, and I can now finally say that I’ve been on an African safari and have also stood in the shadow of pyramids…

Christine with children in Africa.

You can read more of this post at We Said Go Travel.


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I Did It

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS’89

My senior year at Penn, I took one of my best classes ever. It was full figure sculpture. I loved working with clay, and I remember the classes like they were yesterday and not 23 years ago. I remember the instructor saying, “Move around the room, See it from a new angle.” His perspective helped me find the places to work on my sculpture and myself. As a college student, I found his advice brilliant and I still do. I am constantly working on myself and remembering his word. It was his influence, and the influence of many other Penn faculty members that set me on the path I am today. Their encouragement allowed me to take chances in my life that I might not have had the confidence to face otherwise.

For example, I have to say it feels great to walk into the supermarket, pick up a magazine, and find your own photo. I never thought it would happen to me, but this month, I am in the magazine, First for Women. I had a photo shoot with a stylist, hair, and make up team and a duo of incredible photographers. My story is about my near sixty-pound weight loss and my journey into love, self-acceptance, and finding a life partner.

When I was 39, I lost my travel job, moved home, and thought my adventures and opportunities were over. Instead, I found love, a travel partner and a soul mate (my husband), and weight loss while spending a year in South East Asia. Of these things, love has been the best adventure of all.

Believe that your dreams can come true. It happened for me and it can happen to you and Penn helped to make it happen for me!

During the photo shoot.

The final product!


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Always Something New to Learn

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

Last weekend at the Jet Set Extra Social Travel Conference, I learned about a new social networking platform new: Pinterest. Johnny Jet, who has a show on the Travel Channel,  said it is the latest thing in social media “Don’t miss out!” he warned.

So, this week, I jumped in with both feet and started pinning! Somehow,  I am up to eighteen boards featuring travel, science, education, books and Jewish holidays. And of course, I made a board for all my Frankly Penn posts. YOu can view it here.

Feel free to click on and follow me on Pinterest. It is rapidly growing and actually really fun to pin things up! Happy searching!

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Celebrate Early and Often

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS ’89

We went on a family cruise to celebrate many happy occasions! Imagine my surprise one night that not only do we get to hear the famous comedian, Yakov Smirnoff, but also that he talks about his Masters degree in psychology from PENN! Of the six adults in our family, we hold four degrees from Penn!

My sister and I saw him upstairs after the show and ran up to him and sang, “Hurrah, Hurrah, Pennsylvania, Hurrah for the Red and the Blue!” We said, “We went to Penn too!” Unfortunately, he did not know the song but he said, “It was great for two young women to serenade him after his show!”

I have to agree with the website description of his show: Yakov’s comedy focuses on the dynamics between men and women, the happiness that can be found inside oneself, and a celebration of the spirit of life. He shares a vision of the world where laughter truly is the best medicine…”

Some memorable moments: He talks about first moving to America and ordering a hamburger: The waitress says: “How do you like it?” He says, “I haven’t eaten it yet!”

A man offers to set him up on a blind date: He says, “I don’t look that bad!”

A lady of the evening says: “$300 for a one night stand.” He says: “I can get the whole bedroom set for $300!”

He talks about the kindness of strangers when he and his family were new in America and about how we all need love and compassion for each other. I highly recommend his show, and his humor.

George Rajna, Jeffrey Bernstein (BA Penn 1990), Koby Bernstein (future Penn grad), Judi Niver, Yakov Smirnoff (MA Penn), Lisa Ellen Niver (BA Penn 1989), Susan Niver Bernstein (BA Penn 1991), Frank Niver (Penn Dental).

Penn People really are EVERYWHERE! Read more about it here.

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You Can Do It!

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS’89

Reading Atul Gawande’s Better reminded me of several New Year’s resolutions I have and the challenge I face in trying to keep them.  He advises that “the core requirements for success are diligence, to do right, and ingenuity.”

His five suggestions for how one might make a difference are:

  1. Ask an unscripted question.
  2. Don’t complain.
  3. Count something” “if you count something interesting, you will learn something interesting.”
  4. Write something:  “you should not underestimate the effect of your contribution, however modest.”
  5. Change: “So find something new to try, something to change. Count how often you succeed and how often you fail. Write about it. Ask people what they think. See if you can keep the conversation going.”

I do think this is a great plan to create the change you want to see in this world. I hope you will make a resolution to adopt one or more of his ideas for how to make a difference and share it with someone!

As inspiration, here is my resolution for 2012:

  1. To find a literary agent for our book about our story of meeting online.
  2. To get a new job.
  3. To travel to Asia for one year.
  4. To get engaged underwater.
  5. To lose sixty pounds (and keeping it off for at least two years).

Often, I wonder who would be interested in our personal story about finding love after the age of 39 or the dramas of online dating when you don’t realize you are more than thirty or fifty pounds overweight.  Sometimes, I think no one will read our blog or our stories or come to our travel events.  But, at our last event, we had over one hundred people attend, so maybe someone is listening…

In an effort to connect, I looked on QuakerNet to find Penn alumni with knowledge of books and publishing. I searched about 200 profiles and wrote to about 18 alums. I have had many long encouraging phone conversations with several. With their permission, I am publicly thanking them here for their willingness to support an unknown alumna!

I give you these words from Ralph Waldo Emerson to inspire you to live a better life, starting January 1, 2012 and continuing throughout your life:  “Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

If you’d like to read my blog, you can view it here. I was also recently awarded the title of “Most Enthusiastic Alumni Blogger” by Penn Alumni Relations for my writing for Frankly Penn. Feel free to contact me at and share your own New Year’s resolutions! Or list them below in the comments…

Here are just a few people I’d like to thank for helping me out over the last year

Some helpful Penn Alums I would like to recognize:

Dennis Drabelle

Barbara Magalnick

Joel Goodman  

Please check out the 55th international conference on “The Positive Power of Humor and Creativity” that will take place on June 1-3, 2012 on Lake George in upstate New York– honoring Gabby Giffords with the “Survive AND Thrive” Award.

I wish you all the courage to make your dreams come true in 2012.

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Glee Club Sets Sail

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS’89

One of my favorite things about campus life at Penn was all the incredible student performances. I loved to see  performances by Counterparts, Mask and Whig, and the Glee Club. Not being musical myself, I am still convinced in my importance on the theater team because without an audience– it is only a dress rehearsal!! Now that I am long gone from campus life, I still love live performances and being connected to Penn and my friends.

The Original Glee Club members, circa 1915

Recently, a fellow alum put me in touch with the current Glee Club members who are celebrating their 150th Anniversary. And now, they will be performing on the Celebrity Cruises ship, the Summit, this summer in Bermuda.

Always wanted to see Bermuda? Ready for live performances from your favorite Penn Group? Need an excuse to get away? The Glee Club wants to celebrate with you!

Don’t miss the boat. Join the Glee Club May 20, 2012 as they set sail from New York to Bermuda on the Summit. Feel free to contact me as soon as possible to reserve your room at


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Penn Club of LA is the Place to Be

Author: Lisa Ellen Niver, CAS’89

Join us in Los Angeles for awesome Penn Club events. Our Quaker spirit needs you!! There are over 9,000 Penn alumni in our vast city alone and we’re looking for you go join us.

President Melissa Wu, pictured here at our annual summer dinner on the beach at the Jonathan Club with TJ, Kevin, Lisa, George and Kiera.

The club is run by President Melissa Wu and a group of alumni leaders who are active, engaged, and fiercely loyal to Penn. Together, we support Penn’s interests and goals, acting as the primary alumni connection with the University, and engaging as many alumni as possible through social, networking, and educational activities.

You don’t even have to take my word for it. Recently, the club learned that it would receive the prestigious Alumni Award of Merit for its outstanding merits. To quote from the citation:  “For creative events, unstoppable energy, uncorked enthusiasm for all things Penn and, most of all, for not letting a 2,400-mile distance diminish its passion for the University, Penn Alumni is proud to present PennClubLA with the Alumni Club Award of Merit for 2011.”

In addition, the club regularly hosts fun and thought-provoking events for our members.  Recently, our club was part of the National Event, Meet Plan Go! to inspire career break travel. A sell-out crowd of over 100 participants gathered at India’s Oven to hear from a panel including Richard Bangs (PBS Adventure with a Purpose), Jennifer Leo (LA Times), and Lisa Napoli (KCRW).

Standing Room Only

Local leaders have noticed our efforts. I am proud to say that City Council member, Bill Rosendahl, recently honored me and my partner, George Rajna, along with our group, We Said Go Travel, for our leadership and community building with group and events alongside the Penn Club of LA.

The Certificate

Participating in Meet Plan Go for the first year, the Los Angeles meet-up was one of the biggest events of all seventeen cities. The October 18 event was the fourth event planned by my husband and me this year. I hope you will join us for our next club-affiliated event on November 29 at Century City’s X-Bar with the theme: Travel With Technology: “My Favorite Travel App.” App designers from Ship Mate and Studio Mini will be in attendance. For more information on all our events, visit or contact me directly.

You can also see what’s happening at the Penn Club of LA by going to

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