Monday, August 24, 2009

Martha Bowser-Kiener Interview

Martha Bowser-Kiener is Professor of French and Humanities at Parkland College, Champaign, Illinois. She also is traveler extraordinaire, having led numerous Study Abroad trips and either led or co-led Parkland Tours to England, Italy, Spain, Scotland, and many more fascinating places.

We asked her about her lifelong interest in travel and she graciously provided these juicy responses:

1. What got you interested in travel?

I was fortunate to start foreign language study in primary school. I’ll credit this early exposure to “Monsieur Zeff!” I was just fascinated by the fact that there are people in the world who live, eat, act, speak, look, etc. different(ly) than me.

2. What are your earliest memories of traveling? Did you travel as a child with your family?

Oh, yeah…the typical family vacation scene with 4 siblings in the back of the family station wagon prepared me well for today’s air travel in economy class (sardine can seating, soggy sandwiches…).

3. Do you like to read about travel? Who are your favorite travel writers? Travel magazines?

I love books by Alain de Bouton, Paul Theroux, and Robert Hennenga. They all deal with travel—as opposed to tourism. An important distinction.

4. Why do you travel?

There’s a certain amount of escapism involved; but I love adventure, meeting new people, having new cultural experiences--and the inevitable uncertainty of travel. I like feeling temporarily out of my element.

5. When you travel internationally, how do you handle language differences?

I have a gift for languages, which basically means I jump in there and communicate with people—on whatever level I can muster.

6. What kind of packer are you? Do you have your own “system” for what to take?

Haha! I’ve gotten such a reputation for being the “Travel Light” queen, I have a hard time living up to it sometimes!

7. Tell me about food when you travel. Are you a “foodie,” that is, do you enjoy trying new cuisines?

I am absolutely a foodie—and I have a cast iron stomach, so I’ll try most anything. Example: I once ate not one but THREE giant sea slugs at a dinner in Beijing.

8. Tell me about a favorite food experience while traveling.

(Well, that eliminates the sea slug story…) On my first long-term stay abroad (16 years old in Sweden), EVERYTHING seemed new, different, and delicious: Swedish meatballs, yoghurt on cereal, hard “tack,” huge bowls of iced prawns, rhubarb everything…

9. What place have you visited that you would go back to in a flash?

Probably easier to list ones I would prefer NOT return to; but I’d go back to Morocco and/or Turkey this afternoon, if I could!

10. Any travel disappointments? A place you thought you’d enjoy but didn’t live up to your expectations?

Not really. I’ve found value in every place I’ve been. I try to keep my expectations limited: I expect to have a good time and I always do.

11. What can you not live without when you travel?

The three things I double-check for when I’m leaving my driveway for a trip: (e-) ticket, passport and some form of money. I figure anything else can be purchased once I get there!

12. Where to next?

Turkey this afternoon?


  1. With apologies for the typo, in question #3, the author's last name is Hellenga, not Hennenga.

  2. Here's a lovey essay on "Tuscany" by Robert Hellenga: