ONCE A MONTH, MatadorU faculty members get together to spotlight one standout student from a pool of faculty- and student-nominated weekly selections.
MatadorU Travel Writing and Travel Photography student Ana Lenz was selected as our very first Student of the Month for 2014. We sat down with her recently to learn more about about her experience taking both the Writing and the Photography courses concurrently, and the unique set of challenges she faces as a student for whom English isn’t her native language.
Congrats on being our first MatadorU Student of the Month for 2014! Tell us about yourself!
I was born and raised in Mexico. I currently live in San Miguel Allende, a small city in Central Mexico.
I’ve always been interested in the many expressions of art and I knew I had to find a profession related to it. Writing, cinema, photography, and architecture were in my mind. In the end, I chose to study architecture, but I’ve never stopped writing and learning about cinema and photography.
Right now, I work at an architecture studio in San Miguel Allende. My work there allows me to take some time off whenever we finish a project. I invest that time in fulfilling one of my biggest sources of joy in life: travelling.
By now, I have collected enough travel stories, pictures, and practical information, so this year I’ll start my own travel blog. This is one of the reasons why I enrolled in MatadorU, I want to make a professional blog, with stories worth reading.
What kind of stories do you hope to share with the world?
I feel a huge curiosity about human beings. They absolutely fascinate me.
Last week, I went to The Harmandir Sahib — The “Golden Temple” — in Amritsar. It’s where Sikhs guard the Adi Granth, the Holy Scripture. I entered the Gurdwara, the place where the Adi Granth is guarded. Everyone is allowed in, no matter which religion, sex or race they are.
There was this man who saw me and invited me to sit next to him while he chanted. At first sight, one might think we have nothing in common, right? He is a Sikh, while I don’t belong to any religion. We were born and raised on opposite sides of the world. He is at least forty years older than me. We don’t even share a language. And yet, he invited me to sit next to him, shared his chant with me, and said: “Welcome.” Then, we looked in each other eyes and smiled. In that instant, I knew that despite being very different, we shared a common humanity. With that gesture, he called me a human being and I called him a human being.
Those ephemeral instants that happen when we travel are very moving to me and are the ones that make all the tiredness and problems of travelling worth it. Those are the kinds of stories I want to tell: stories of the humanity we all share.
On your profile, you mentioned an upcoming trip to India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Do you want to tell us a bit more about your trip?
That’s right! I’m actually answering this interview at a rooftop restaurant in Agra, with a very interesting view of the life on the streets and on the other rooftops: kids juggling with ropes, women washing clothes, men drinking hot chai, loud motorcycle horns, cows walking around, and monkeys climbing into the houses.
I felt a lot of curiosity about India: its history, cultures, religions, traditions and social structure. I had to come and see it with my own eyes.
I didn’t come to document something in particular, I just wanted to learn as much as possible. India is its own fascinating, complex and frustrating universe. So far I’ve learnt a lot.
You’re enrolled in both the writing and photography courses. What inspired you to enroll in both courses?
Writing and photography can be complementary subjects. You can create art with words as much as you can create art with light, or as in my profession, art with space. If a piece of travel writing is complemented with great photography, or viceversa, then it becomes more complete. I enrolled in both courses so one could complement the other.
They have both also enriched my daily life. Because of the Travel Writing course I’m more aware now of the little details that surround my routine. Life doesn’t pass me by so easily now. And because of the Travel Photography course, I’m more aware of light and space, which enriches my profession as an architect.
What’s been the most challenging part of your MatadorU experience so far? Do you have any favorite parts?
The most challenging part has been writing in a language that isn’t my native one. I have to spend time translating words and looking for words I don’t even know to finally get a result that just doesn’t sound as I wanted. The structure of both languages is very different, so not only I have to translate the words, but I also want to make sure those words make sense, and that can take many hours.
But the great part of this is that I’m improving my language skills a lot, so not only I’m learning about Travel Writing and Photography, but also English.
My favorite part has been the feedback with the MatadorU faculty. Their knowledge has improved my writing and photography skills in many ways and I’m very thankful to them.
As one of our MatadorU students for whom English isn’t your first language, do you have any advice for students who are in a similar situation?
MatadorU is definitely attainable for non-native English speakers. I think it just might take a bit more time for them to finish the course, but that’s it.
My advice for them is to read as many books, magazines, newspapers, etc. written in English as possible, and watch movies without subtitles to get used to the way people really talk.
If they struggle, I’ve found that the native English speakers in the MatadorU community are really cool people who are willing to assist each other, so you can ask for a little help and connect with them on the way.
Student of the Month honorees are selected based on not only the quality of their work, but the progress they’ve made throughout the course, the effort and enthusiasm they show during their MatadorU journey, and their willingness to support and help their fellow students. Check out MatadorU.com for more information about our travel writing, photography, and filmmaking courses, and to learn how you can join Ana in our community of travel journalists from around the world.