#StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Traveling internationally since the age of six, Karyn Planett designed her studies and career to continue on the journey. After three years at Long Beach State College, she sailed aboard Chapman University's Semester-At-Sea ship for two semesters (8 months) completing her first of many trips around the world. Karyn also attended the International College of Copenhagen for their summer student exchange program to the former USSR and 5 other Eastern Block countries, going behind the "Iron Curtain" as an American in 1969. After graduating from Chapman in 1970, Karyn moved to San Francisco and quickly launched a career in the travel industry, first as a tour director taking groups to dozens of countries as well as around the world by private jet. She was then hired by Royal Viking Line to travel the world, inspecting luxury adventure travel and designing tours for the cruise line. When Crystal Cruises came into existence 25 years ago, she became a freelance writer for them creating destination articles published daily on their ships. She still writes for them and has authored approximately 750 such pieces. Meanwhile, she honed her photography skills and has published a number of coffee table books as well as her most recent book, How to Capture Your Travel Stories in Words and Pictures, a collaboration with her husband, Geoff Thompson, who retired from his position as Worldwide Creative Director for one of the world's largest advertising agencies. This couple also lived aboard the residential ship The World for 13 years and sailed to hundreds of destinations including Antarctica, the Russian Arctic, the White Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and even successfully sailed the Northwest Passage between Alaska and the Atlantic. Her adventures include completing the last 7 miles of the Shackleton Trek in South Georgia, swimming across the Equator in the Atlantic in 15,000 deep water, and doing several Polar Plunges in freezing seas. The couple sailed on the Semester-At-Sea ship Summer 2011 as mentors, where she taught Travel Writing and Travel Photography. Shoreside, they live on a cattle ranch in Monterey County, California. Her family consists of one son, daughter-in-law, and two grandsons whom she's taken abroad before the age of 5. The legacy lives on. Find her online at http://planett-traveler.com/

 Karyn Planett: #StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

What motivated your decision to go abroad? 

Well, my first trip to Europe was when I was only six, so I just tagged along for four months in my little sundresses and patent-leather MaryJanes. But, my Mother was shocked when I asked to go back through Versailles for the second time. Most kids would have been toured-out, but not I. 

How/why did you choose where to go?

My first on-my-own trip was when I was 20, and I went back to Europe starting in Lisbon and ending in Amsterdam. It was a "Europe On $5 a Day" trip with a 3-month Eurail Pass in hand. I usually went wherever the overnight train went so I could sleep on the train to save money. Lots of students did this, so it was a bit of a party. I also went to Germany to visit relatives who served me schnitzel and potato pancakes. The next year, I sailed with Chapman University's Semester-At-Sea program for two semesters (8 months in total) all around the world. That was the start of my 21 years at sea.

What was your experience like? 

I felt I'd taken flight. I was mesmerized by the languages and cultures and history and the foreign students I met who were so eager to learn about America and our music and movies and dances. 

Mongolia. Karyn Planett: #StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

What is your favorite memory?

My favorite memory of my student/Europe trip, if I had to choose one, would probably be New Year's Eve in Innsbruck. I was at a "disco" at midnight and started to sing Auld Lang Syne and everyone else stood up and hummed and danced the Viennese Waltz. Then, we went out in the snow to find a chimneysweep to give him money, thus ensuring good luck for the coming year. Everything was so different. My favorite memory from Semester-At-Sea (and there are trillions) was dancing on the beach in Senegal to the Beatles with a group of really young kids who knew all the lyrics but had no idea what the words meant. Music was a type of universal medicine that healed the world's ills and all misunderstanding and divisiveness and cultural schisms. But, there are so many more stories to tell, like the one about a little girl in Bombay ... dirt poor, dressed in tatters, barefoot, who shadowed me for an entire day. Then, when I had to go back to the ship, she gave me her only possession .. a little bobby pin .. then was swallowed up by the chaos of night. I kept it for a long long time.

What were some challenges you observed?

The challenges I observed, I am sad to say, had to do with children working in pretty difficult conditions. An example, not counting so much of India and Africa, was young kids in Lisbon breaking up rocks and placing them in that glorious mosaic pattern we foreigners love. This signature landmark of one of my most favorite cities on earth came at a huge cost for many young kids. Other challenges I remember had to do with staying in touch with home. In those days, we'd go to the American Express office in a given city and hope that letters from home were waiting for us. Calling home wasn't really an option.  

What skills did you develop from your experience? 

I committed to learning languages. I also focused my studies on geography and the world. I knew I wasn't going to stop until I had seen as much of this glorious world as possible and visited as many countries as possible and been immersed in as many cultures as possible. I also quickly learned that, as someone once said, we need to "throw off the familiar folds of home" and travel the world. I honed my life skills to do just that.

Karyn Planett: #StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

Do you feel changed from your experience abroad? 

I feel this change was always underway because I traveled internationally so young. One story I can tell of a journey that changed me so much was my trip to Russia in 1969. America was deep in the "Cold War" with the Evil Empire and I spent a summer behind the "Iron Curtain" on a student exchange visiting the USSR, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany. I was in Moscow, in Red Square, when the US astronauts landed on the moon for the first time. We all sat in Red Square all night long and sang songs that had the word "moon" in the lyrics. Then, as we drove all across the countryside, peasants with so little to give would give us fruit and water and cheese and point to the moon and say, "Amerikanka, Amerikanka." This enormous world felt so small and we all seemed to be one, not divided by borders or ideology or politics or leaders. I never stopped feeling that way. 

Has your experience helped you get to where you are today? 

Absolutely. I knew I had to orchestrate a career that kept me exploring every square inch of this planet (excuse the pun). I became a tour director as one of my first jobs and started leading groups all over the world. First Hong Kong, then Israel, London / Costa del Sol, the Yucatan, around the world by private jet and so on. Then I landed the very best dream job in the universe. I was hired by a major cruise line to travel all over the world inspecting luxury adventure travel and ultimately designing shoreside tours, overlands, and up to 10-day long extensions for the beginning and end of exotic cruises. All along the way, I photographed and wrote and remembered and drank in every second of every day in every location. That led me to my 25-year stint at Crystal Cruises writing their destination articles that run daily aboard their ships. I think I've written somewhere between 700 and 800. And, I published coffee table books of my photos. All that led to the culmination of my extraordinary journey aboard The World, a residential ship that was my home for 13 years. I sailed to all the continents as well as Antarctica and the Arctic. I swam across the Equator between Brazil and Africa in 15,000 feet deep water and jumped in the frigid polar seas. It's been sheer magic, each and every day.

Cuba.  Karyn Planett: #StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

What advice would you share with other students who are thinking of going abroad?

I cannot say that anyone should take on huge financial debt. What I can say is students should try for scholarships or grants or somehow present their vision to local organizations who might be willing to give them some funding. And work hard. If you want to go, forgo a cute new outfit and an expensive dinner out. Set aside money as best you can, because the life experiences are incalculable. Finally, if you are one of this world's young ambassadors, go to all the resources you can think of (businesses, churches, community leaders) and ask them to listen to your vision of what an international education could do for you and what you can do for and how you can represent your country or state or community or school upon your return.

How has international education impacted or influenced your cultural identity?

I'm viewed as someone who's really seen the world. Someone quoted me one time, and said "The last time I was in (fill in the blank) ......."  I've had the good fortune to return to destinations again and again and see the evolution of the country or city. I am American. I am an American with an eye far beyond my home town, far beyond my country, far beyond all those borders. I'm interested in international politics, all faiths, many languages, and lots of different cuisines.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

I once heard that some American kids thought Chernobyl was Cher's full name. We, as the ones who've come before, must open the eyes of young people who (to use such a tired phrase) are the face of the future. And the future is international. I will talk till I'm blue in the face encouraging parents to take their kids NOW and not worry if they're too little to remember their trip abroad. They are not. Something will smack them between the eyes and they'll carry it with them forever like my visit to Versailles or singing Silent Night with kids who sang it in their languages because it was the only song we all knew. Get up, get out, get going. Then photograph and write for the joy of those who haven't had the chance yet to hop aboard the magic carpet ride.

Karyn Planett: #StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages

#StudyAbroadBecause you'll learn from a thousand teachers and smile in a hundred languages 



All photos courtesy and copyright Karyn Planett