“Changes are coming” to the Miss America Organization

I now find it impossible to keep quiet on the recent core-shaking events pertaining to the Miss America Organization. As a Miss America follower for years who’s contemplated participating on many occasions, yet could never quite get on board with the program, keeping up with the email scandal and its repercussions have me more hopeful than ever for the organization and a necessary reconsideration of how the organization’s objectives are carried out.

As a brief recap, in the final days of 2017, emails exchanged between now former MAO CEO Sam Haskell and fellow colleagues containing degrading, lewd comments about past Miss Americas surfaced for the world to read. Haskell has since resigned, and the MAO board is now comprised of nearly all past Miss Americas; Miss A 1988, prominent news anchor and fellow Minnesotan, Gretchen Carlson, heads it as Chairwoman. This reorg is unquestionably the silver lining to the misfortune, which we can safely say was a blessing in disguise for MAO.

“I have so many great ideas for this organization,” Carlson shared in an interview yesterday with ABC News when asked if the swimsuit competition is outdated. “Changes are coming… Potentially big changes” await MAO and while divulging no details, Carlson’s leadership and commitment to empowering women promises a bigger, brighter future for the organization. The Miss America Organization is now a token to the bigger conversation in our nation, #MeToo, and holds uncapped potential to evolve into something greater, serve as something more.

My inner pageant fan girl is doing backflips in anticipation of the coming changes and what the modern Miss America and Miss America competition will look like in 2018 and beyond. Reconsideration of what the swimsuit competition looks like? Scorecard points redistribution? Prepared speeches? Maybe that’s just my wish list! The possibilities are endless, and I’m dying to know what the great Miss A minds conceive. I’ve never written off the organization, but it also hasn’t been a top-of-the-mind subject either. Needless to say, my fellow Minnesotan has me and the rest of the pageant world staying very tuned to see what’s next. It could be a game-changer for many—including me.

Abrazos,

Jeni

The #TravelEnjoyRespect Campaign—My Submission

Explore the world, share your travel knowledge, and teach others how to be respectful tourists.

Recently, I applied for the adventure of a lifetime with the 2017 International Year of Sustainable Tourism Development (IYSTD 2017) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The Traveller’s Competition sends one person on a month-long trip to 5 different destinations across the globe to practice and share how to be a sustainable, respectful tourist. The mission of this campaign closely aligns with my beliefs and future aspirations, not to mention nearly parallels a personal project that will launch beginning in March 2018. Check out their campaign video below! It leaves you feeling purposeful, impactful and an important part of the global community.

All the details aside, I want to share what I submitted for the contest. Our prompt was: “Share your experience on how you #TravelEnjoyRespect and explain why you should be selected to represent the global ‘responsible traveller.'”

My response:

“High in the Andes in the outskirts of Puno, hand-built adobe homes line the only road that runs through the village of Atuncolla. On our last day, we finished refurbishing the modest-by-US-standards school library and packed our bags, bidding farewell to thin mattresses, insects in our rooms, bathrooms that require manual flushing, hour-long walks to reach water and steep temperature changes in a day; despite that, my heart panged as I hugged a community goodbye that welcomed us into their homes, feeding us, teaching us their ways of life and sharing their stories before journeying to our next stop: Machu Picchu.

My trip to Peru taught me the importance of fully immersing yourself in a culture and stepping into another’s shoes. Respectful tourism is enjoying sightseeing balanced by taking the time to learn about your surroundings. “If you want to be educated and wise, you must open your heart, expand your mind, be accepting and ready to change.” This idea embodies my vision of a responsible traveler. From my many experiences abroad inputting this mentally, I’ve learned to share my stories, teach what I’ve experienced and feed the minds of the wanderlust that aim to do the same.”

The response strays far from perfection, but in writing it, memories of my first trip to South America flooded my mind. The lingering, limited brisk air I breathed while playing color tag in Spanish with some of the children in the village; the silence and serenity of Atuncolla that came with its remoteness; the warmth from the fire on my cheeks while our light-hearted hosts told folktales and stories I couldn’t yet understand.

All this to say, I realized if we don’t say yes to an adventure, be fully present in the moment and interact with those around us, we might miss out on what could become some of our greatest memories—the ones that leave deep-rooted impressions and evoke the rarest of emotions. Those are mine of Peru.

Travel often, enjoy the adventure, respect the culture.

Besos,

Jeni

The BEST Disney Park for the Wanderlust

As a worldly traveler, it comes at no surprise that Epcot is my favorite Disney park. In a figure eight-like shape with Future World toward the entrance, and, more importantly, World Showcase further in, Epcot is home to 11 international pavilions circling a lagoon. It’s known to some as the more “adult” and educational park at Disney.  Future World is home to Disney’s greenhouses, aquarium and futuristic attractions while World Showcase is, what I like to call, cloud nine. Allow me to enlighten you:

As you make your way around the Showcase, you are completely immersed in the cultures of each respective country. Starting from the left, you’ll adventure into Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, The American Adventure, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada. Everything from the Cast Members’ attire to the background music to the gastronomy and architecture submerses you in a microcosm of the country.

 

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Don’t believe that you’ll feel like you’re really there? Talk to a Cast Member in one of the pavilions. They’re from that country! You can imagine my giddiness upon discovering this and, since then, I’ve made friends in (and from) France, spoken Spanish, attempted Italian and struggled through some German with fellow Cast Members in World Showcase.

Fun fact: Disney works extensively and directly with each country in World Showcase to create the most authentic experience for guests.

And if you’re still not impressed with Epcot, visit in the fall and indulge in Epcot International Food & Wine Festival. Food and wine, people. From all over the world. It epitomizes my version of heaven.

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In addition to the endless festivals and the accompanying tasty treats in Epcot, the eclectic restaurants leave you with far too many options to only spend one day in the park. The Garden Grill is one of my favorites not just because Mickey, Pluto and Chip and Dale dine with you, but also endless brunch with Mickey waffles. Game over.FullSizeRender_4

For these reasons and many (MANY) more, Epcot has swept me off my feet and taken the number one spot on my Disney Parks list.

Besos,

Jeni