March 30, 2010

UNC Charlotte's Stop the Traffik Hosts 21st Century Emancipator: Aaron Cohen

Originally posted on CLTBlog on 3/26/10, this is a guest post by Jessica Green about an upcoming event at UNC Charlotte.

Human trafficking, the purchasing and selling of people against their will, is currently the fastest growing international crime and second largest source of illegal income in the world. According to the International Labour Organization, 2-4 million men, women, and children are trafficked across borders and within their own country every year and more than one person is trafficked across borders every minute. Not only is this a rampant international crime, but it rears its ugly head in Charlotte as well. In October of 2009, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents launched a focus on human trafficking, smuggling, and exploitation in Charlotte after the breakup of an immigrant sex ring in April 2009.

Stop the Traffik, a student organization chapter at UNC Charlotte, is sponsoring proclaimed 21st century emancipator,

Aaron Cohen…

Where: UNC Charlotte’s Student Union – Room 340 G,H, & I
When: Thursday, April 8th
Time: 7pm
Cost: FREE (with student ID); $5 (non-students)

A previous rock and roll star from band, Jane’s Addiction, Cohen has dedicated his life to covertly rescuing slaves from Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. He travels abroad, pretends to be a sex tourist, and rescues men, women, and children as young as eight from bondage and forced protitution. Cohen is also founder of the Abolish Slavery Coalition and author of “Slave Hunter: One Man’s Worldwide Quest to End Human Trafficking.” Join us to learn more about the realities of human trafficking in our world and the city of Charlotte, as well as how you can take part in unlocking freedom.
*Co-Sponsored by UNC Charlotte Student Government Association and Office of International Programs; and the World Affairs Council of Charlotte.

Check out Stop the Traffik UNC Charlotte’s blog or follow them on Twitter.

March 27, 2010

Remarkable Women: Ikhlas Brais

We just finished recognizing the achievements of 42 UNC Charlotte faculty, staff and students at a lovely event with guest speaker Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan. We had women from Pakistan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan, Russia, India, Zimbabwe and many other countries as well as men from around the world. While our event highlighted those who are part of the UNC Charlotte community, several events in the Charlotte area also celebrated international women. And indeed, remarkable women exist around the world - some we are fortunate enough to meet through class, work and common interests and others live outside our 'eight degrees of separation' in Charlotte and beyond.

The guest blog below highlights a remarkable woman from the Charlotte community - originally from Jordan, written by a remarkable student.

Guest blogger: Natasha Williams

Age: 45
Favorite color: Doesn’t have a favorite color. She likes all colors.
Favorite Food: She likes any Middle Eastern food, and she loves desserts
Embarrassing moment no one knows about: When I was really young I was eating at a Mexican restaurant and a cockroach crawled into my pants. I screamed so loud.
Hobby: Likes to exercise and take pictures.
Random thing most people don’t know: She bites her nails really badly and that’s why she wore acrylic nails her entire life.

While “Sweet Dreams” techno mix plays in the background of the flawlessly cleaned two-story home, Ikhlas “Kelly” Brais scurries around to find something else to clean. She reaches for a neatly folded rag lying on the counter to wipe the already-spotless stainless steel dishwasher. It may appear clean to the casual observer, but Brais sees beyond the shine to notice a few drops of water.
She interrupts her cleaning spree to place cheddar flavored Chex Mix and pistachios on the counter and check her BlackBerry. The one-hundred percent Jordanian businesswoman manages to cook and clean in her purple sweater dress and black leggings, purple eye shadow, well-managed hair and a matching tourmaline earring and necklace set. She does it all without breaking a sweat.

The Jordan native works hard to provide for her family and beat all odds. Brais comes from humble beginnings. “I am one of nine children,” said Brais. “We lived off one income and we built our own home. We lived comfortably, but we still had to watch what we did. We couldn’t do too much.”

Brais never neglects her wifely and motherly duties for work. “Work is time consuming, but I always find time for my family,” she said. “I am a very organized person and I try to make time for everything.” Brais’ daughter, Sayde, admires her mother’s work ethic.

“A lot of people wouldn’t know by just looking at her, but she is one of the hardest working individuals. I have to say that I admire this quality in her more than anything,” she said. “My family and I have been through many struggles, yet she has never let those difficulties defeat her spirit. She continues to fight for the well-being of her family.”

Brais moved to California at 15 years old and found it a bit difficult to adjust. She never felt like she fit in with the people or the language. She never spent time perfecting Arabic in Jordan, but instantly had to improve her ability to speak English in the US.

She knows how to read and write both Arabic and English, but sometimes finds it difficult to verbalize her feelings. She said she feels like the movie “Lost in Translation.”

Brais somehow manages the language barrier enough to own businesses and sell houses with partner of two years, Phyllis Salerno, at the real estate company Wilkinson & Associates Real Estate.

She started her first business when she was 25 years old, and she did it without a traditional high school education. She completed high school via mail. Brais attempted completing high school twice. The first time she was forced to leave.

“I loved school,” said Brais. “The first time I was forced to leave. When I met Joe, I just wanted to spend as much time as possible with him, so I finished my education at home,” said Brais.

Joe said it was love at first sight with Brais. The first time he saw Brais he told his salesman he was going to marry her. Six months later they were married.

Joe brags about his wonderful wife and how they met. “I owned a juice company in California, and I was introducing the juice to her brother’s store,” he said. “After I saw her I kept coming back. I got eggs and a certain movie every time. I didn’t even watch the movie.”

Communication and loyalty keeps the 22-year-long marriage alive and well. “I kick her ass every once and a while to keep the relationship fresh,” Joe said, jokingly. “No, we communicate and don’t try to hide things, and we don’t let anyone come between us.”

Brais does it all for the well-being of her family. So, don’t be surprised to see the energetic, Jordanian woman looking flawless in a sweater dress while cleaning her two-story home, cooking and conducting business on her BlackBerry all at the same time. She does it all with a language barrier and an at-home education.

March 19, 2010

Be informed.

UNC Charlotte has several opportunities to broaden its international perspective in the next few weeks. In order to highlight and add some depth to these intiatives, here is some recent news on the areas and topics that will be coming soon. These events are open to faculty, staff and students.

International Women's Day - March 25, 3:30-5:00 PM in Student Union 340 G-I
Reception, recognition ceremony and special remarks by Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan

Though this day will take the time to honor the achievements of women around the world and at UNC Charlotte, there is still much to be done. In a recent article The Economist shed light on a rising number of girls who do not make it to achieve their full potential due to social, political, cultural and other factors.

"Imagine you are one half of a young couple expecting your first child in a fast-growing, poor country. You are part of the new middle class; your income is rising; you want a small family. But traditional mores hold sway around you, most important is the preference for sons over daughters..." Read more.

International Film Series: What a Wonderful World - March 30, 4:00-6:00 PM in CHHS 281
Set in Morocco, this is a film of romance, intrigue, cybercrime, murder and a tangled web of acquaintance. In French and Arabic with English subtitles.

Of a less dramatic nature, is this story looking at social trends in Morocco as young families balance the responsibilities that come with two working parents. Read more.

One source for a variety of topics and content related to Morocco is

International Speaker Series: Executive Director of Doctors without Borders
"From Haiti to Afghanistan: On the Frontlines of Humanitarian Crises"
April 1, 3:30-4:30 PM, Atkins Library, the Dale Halton Reading Room

Sophie DeLaunay leads the U.S. division of Doctors without Borders/Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) after over ten years working in places such as China and Rwanda. Recent events in Haiti and Chile have highlighted the importance of these organizations in emergency response situations.

In an article from their website, MSF quotes Pierre Garrigou, a MSF logistician in Argentina, speaking to the devastation suffered in Chile after the massive earthquake: "Inland, in the areas far from the coast, there were lots of destroyed buildings, lots of rubble. Yet on the coast, earth tremors were compounded by a tsunami, which really devastated everything. While your home may collapse as a result of the earthquake, you may still be able to rescue something amongst the rubble; yet on coastal areas houses were literally swallowed by the tide." Read more.

For more information on these programs or for special accomodations, contact

March 8, 2010

A Day to Celebrate - International Women's Day, March 8

Happy Spring Break UNC Charlotte!

But today is about much more than that - today is International Women's Day. Women around the world will be honored in their homes, businesses and countries. It is an opportunity to remember those who have gone before and opened doors for this generation and to recognize those who continue to do so. It's a chance to celebrate the different perspectives, skills and ideas that women contribute to the world.

UNC Charlotte will be celebrating this day on Thursday, March 25 from 3:30-5:00 PM in the Student Union rom 340 G-I. We will have a reception, hear remarks by Ambassador Linda Tarr-Whelan and recognize UNC Charlotte women who have been nominated by their colleagues, friends and peers. The celebration is open to faculty, staff and students. This year we celebrate 5 years of recognizing women on-campus - and this year will mark the honoring of at least 100 women at UNC Charlotte. What a beautiful tradition and heritage.

If there is a UNC Charlotte woman you would like to nominate to receive recognition at the ceremony, check to make sure she meets the nomination criteria and fill out a form. Details are located on our website.

March 5, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 9 & 10

No introduction is needed at this point. Here are Ron's final two pieces of advice for a complete experience in Europe.

9) What to do
• This is the great question. A lot of people had guidebooks that pinpointed the best spots—although the most touristy ones—in the city. I’m not against these, but I never used one. My strategy was to ask other travelers, the receptionist at the hostel, and sometimes consult the Internet on where to go. If you can manage to get your hands on a local, ask him.

• Rent a bike! There is no better way to explore a city than on a bike. The bigger cities rent bikes for a dollar per 24 hours, and there are numerous “bike stations” around the city, so returning it to the same place you rented it is not a problem. Getting out and getting lost—safely, in the day—is great way to run into stuff you would not normally see and get a good workout at the same time. When I was in Paris, a few people and I road to the infamous Moulin Rouge show on bikes while most other people had Mercedes. It was an interesting experience.

Moulin Rouge from a bike

• Take half-day, days trips! This will allow you to go further into the heart of the country to towns not normally visited by tourists. In addition, many historical sites are found right outside the city and going there would be a pleasurable experience. For example, in Krakow I went about an hour away to these Salt Mines, and walked down a staircase 800feet into the ground. The possibilities are endless so being flexible in what you’ll do in a city—or outside the city—is priceless.

• Make sure to get emails, facebooks, numbers, etc. from the people you meet. You will find that a lot will invite you to their country and be more than willing to let you stay with them. Of course, offer them the same option. The guy who showed me around Krakow invited me to his hometown, Nante, in western France. On my way back to Spain, I stopped there and had free housing, cheap food, and an unforgettable experience of how he lives.

10) More countries and less cities vs. Less countries and more cities
• There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Spending less time in the cities of a country will allow you to travel to a wider array of different countries. However, this will be at the sacrifice of not completely delving into and immersing yourself in the lives of the locals. Going to more cities in a country allows you to see what the country is all about in all forms at the sacrifice of not seeing as many countries as possible. The choice is yours, and of course how much time you have to travel will be a factor in what you do. I personally chose to spend a lot more time getting to know a country and less time on having the “lets go to as many countries as I can” mentality. I’m not saying that hitting a lot of cities in one country is a requirement, because it depends on the country. In Spain, I hit a good five cities but in Austria I only went to Vienna—I did take a day trip to Bratislava however. But going to more cities than countries allows you to break the culture barrier a lot easier in that country and really see how people live and interact on a scale different than that of the “as many countries as I can” mentality. It seemed to me that just scratching the surface of a country and moving on will restrict you from getting to know the intimate parts of a country.

Standing next to a guard in Prague, Czech Republic

Your next step, if you haven't already, is to sign-up for a general advising session in the Office of Education Abroad (CHHS 256). Save the date for the April 7 Study Abroad Fair where you can browse through options for your study abroad experience. And check out Radio Free Charlotte at 3:00 PM each Wednesday for more conversations about creating a dynamic study abroad experience as part of your college education.
If you've already studied abroad and would like to share your experience here, contact We'd certainly love to have a similar "Top Ten" list for other regions of the world.

Happy Spring Break!

March 4, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 7 & 8

Coming towards the end of the list - Ron offers some more challenging advice for making the most of an experience abroad.

7) Dump your boyfriend/girlfriend
• I wasn’t in a relationship when I was travelling so I can’t really comment on this. However, many people who were tied up told me they wish they had broken up with their partner before they started travelling. Maybe because they felt restricted? I’m not sure, but thought I would pass this advice on to you anyway.

8) How to meet people
• This is the key to having lots of fun and enjoying your academically charged, culturally bound, and international oriented trip. Going back to “”, staying at the right hostel will permit you to meet people either through the numerous activities put on by the hostel or simply by cooking dinner in the kitchen. Hostels also have common lounges for the main purpose of relaxing with other people. Maybe before you head to the Eifel Tower, the Louvre, the Coliseum, etc., spend some time in the common lounge and see if anybody wants to join.

• Lots of hostels have bars where many of the people congregate at night. Even if you don’t drink, it’s a good place to start a conversation—if someone doesn’t start one with you first.

• Don’t be afraid to explore the city alone. Many people are interested in Americans and their way of life. Going to a cafĂ© in the morning or afternoon is a great place to meet other travelers or locals who would be more than happy to practice there English and show you around. I personally met someone in Spain like this, and that night his family was cooking me dinner.

Not exactly the kind of company Ron's talking about, but a memorable moment nonetheless in Venice, Italy.

In Rome, Italy for Christmas

Would love your comments on these tips - today's or any of the earlier ones mentioned - do you agree/disagree? Have something to add? Tomorrow brings the final two tips.

March 3, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 5 & 6

Tips 1-4 are on earlier posts. Ron continues his advice today with Tips 5 & 6.

5) What to bring
• Besides the necessities such as toiletries and clothes (discussed above under “How to pack”), there are other important items I would bring.

i. Laptop- not all hostels have Internet, and some only have wifi.

ii. Copies of your passport/visa- always good to have copies in case you need to reference something on your Passport. It’s much better to loose a copy.

iii. Space- Yes. You will be buying souvenirs and gifts.

iv. Backpack and small suitcase- Backpack for the laptop and other non-clothes items, suitcase for everything else. Your suitcase should be as small as possible!

v. Cell phone- always good in case of emergencies and jotting down new friends’ numbers.

vi. Two pairs of shoes and sandals (optional)- I always carried sneakers for walking in the day, shoes for dressing up and sandals for hot weather. It seems like a lot but its not: the sandals—since they’re thin—can go in the backpack, one pair of shoes in the bag and the other you’ll be wearing.

6) Saving money
• As talked about under “”, picking a hostel with a higher customer rating—although sometimes a bit more expensive—can actually save you money. The next expensive part of travelling is food. This was especially cost heavy for me because I eat a lot more than the average Joe. However, even I saved lots of money. It’s nice to eat out every once in awhile, but costs do add up. So, why not go to the grocery store? Food is usually cheap and you get a lot of it for your buck. Going back to the customer ratings of hostels, the best ones usually have kitchens that allow you to cook what you want. DO IT! Not only is this another great way to meet people, but cooking your own food from the grocery store will cost next to nothing! Let me sight a personal experience: As I turned on the stove, a French girl approached me asking what I was cooking, I replied, “cheeseburgers.” After her snarky remark about how American my food was—it was actually pretty funny—she asked if she could eat my food with me. In return, she provided and cooked some good French cuisine the next day.

A huge paella dish for everyone at the hostel

• Beware of tourist traps. I’ve been to countless gift shops in Europe where one has a gift for 5 dollars and the shop next door has the same one for 15. My advice would be to get gifts on the last day you have in the city. This will give you a chance to pop in and out of different gift shops and narrow down the stores that have the cheapest prices.

• Take advantage of what your hostel has to offer. Many have free or almost free tours of the city, bar crawls, free or discounted museum passes, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask people where they went and what their opinion was on it.

Think you're doing ok so far? Check back tomorrow for tips 7 & 8 - see if you can handle #7.

March 2, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 3 & 4

For tips 1 & 2, check out yesterday's post. Here are two more from senior Ron Iacone to consider:

3) How to pack

Pack lightly. I hate to be blunt, but packing lightly will save you a lot of stress in the long run. Bring a few pairs of jeans, a bit more shirts (t-shirts, dress and regular), underwear and lots—LOTS—of socks. The reason for the latter is that it’s not as comfortable in wearing socks for two or three days in a row. Ah, speaking about the last point, wearing jeans or shirts for multiple days in a row—if they stay cleanish of course—is the best strategy. Some hostels have washers and dryers and some don’t. Going to the dry cleaners—as I had to a bunch of times—is not the cheapest thing. Also, bring clothes for warm and cold weather. You don’t know where you’ll be in a few days, and sometimes in Europe a 2-hour train ride will put you on the coast from the mountains, or vice versa.

4) How to plan
I’ve heard all the stories about the best way to plan. Some like to have every hostel, train and plane booked before they even step foot on Europe. Some like to plan a good two or three weeks in advance and have everything booked. Both methods are big mistakes. The best way to plan is around two to five days ahead while you’re at the hostel. Let me sight a few personal experiences to support my assertion. I was finishing my trip in Lisbon and planned on going to southern Spain before I made my way north to France. An Australian came up to me asked if I had ever been to Lagos, a small beach town in southern Portugal. I told him no, of course, because I didn’t even know it existed! He started telling me how him and his friends were going there, about the cliff walks, sandy beaches and the warm weather (it was winter when I was in Lisbon). Right then and there, completely out of the blue, I decided to hop on a train and join them. To this day I still talk to those same Australians (thanks facebook!) and will never forget the people—there were around twelve countries represented at the hostel—that helped me maximize my experience.

From Lisbon: a cannon and view of the city

Another similar story played out the same way in Poland. Again, my trip was coming to an end before I planned on heading to the Czech Republic. I spent three days in Krakow and felt I saw everything I needed to see. On my last day, I met Graftieaux, a Frenchman who had previously lived in Krakow. He had a lot of pride and insisted I stay another day or two so he can give me a tour—one that that locals would go on—of Krakow. Long story short, he showed me off-the-map places, bars, restaurants and a cool walk through the Jewish District that I would have never known about beforehand. He even took me to an empty terrace where the view of the castle was impeccable. Now to the point: Would meeting people from almost a dozen countries hanging out on the back porch of the Lagos hostel drinking a beer and going on cliff walks been possible if I had my travel itinerary already booked? Would not having the flexibility to stay an extra two days in Krakow been worth not seeing Krakow from the point of view as a local? The answer to both questions is, NO. I can’t stress enough the importance of not planning too far ahead.

Check back tomorrow for tips 5 & 6.

March 1, 2010

Ten Tips on Traveling Europe Efficiently: 1 & 2

Student Profile:
Ron Iacone is a senior at UNC Charlotte double-majoring in Political Science and Spanish. He spent a fall semester in Santander, Spain and the following spring semester in Madrid. During the two months in between semesters he traveled extensively. At the end of his time in Madrid, he lived in Granada for one month. In the next week he'll share his stories and advice on how to make the most of time spent abroad in Europe.

Before I give out advice on how to travel in the most cost effective and efficient way possible while maximizing you’re experience as a broke college student, let me give you a brief background on me. I spent an academic year abroad in Spain living one semester in Santander and the other in Madrid. I was motivated to split up my schooling between these cities for two primary reasons. The first is simple, I wanted to experience life in a small, yet intimate city such as Santander and then move to the “New York City” of Spain—Madrid—where life is a lot different. The second reason, which was just as equally appealing, was the two-month break I had between semesters. Yes, I had two months before I started school in Madrid to do anything I wanted. And to be honest, these were two months of nothing but partying; not in the sense of keg stands and liquor luges, but more as an eye opening, culturally bound, academically fueled, internationally charged and intellectually motivated kind of a party. Get it? On that note, maximizing you’re experience to the fullest and being able to use as many adjectives as I did to describe mine requires knowing certain techniques, tips and strategies to travelling Europe effectively. Moreover, mentally preparing yourself is an enormous factor in making the best of your adventure. While both are important, the rest of this article will focus more on the former than the latter. What follows are a list of tips I learned, experienced and implemented on my journey through Europe:

A view of Santander from the cliffs

1) Eurail Pass
This is a true goldmine. Imagine slowly rocking to sleep as you hear the soft sound of train tracks. Imagine being able to stretch out your feet or even have a bed to sleep on. With great thanks to the Schengen agreement, backpackers can go almost anywhere in Europe by train without the hassle of customs and long lines . A Eurail pass enables the holder to do just that for free (after you pay for the pass of course). There are a variety of Eurail passes offered such as the Global Pass, which enables you to go to more than a dozen countries, or some where your are limited to three countries. Depending on which option you pick will correlate with how much time you want to spend travelling. Trains are almost never full, so getting a seat at your desired time is pretty easy. I have found great use for the pass in traveling long distances in or across countries.

This website will be your best friend. It is by far the best one out there for booking hostels. All you do is type in your destination and the hostels available will come up. Even better, the website allows you to organize the hostels that do come up into categories, i.e., location, availability, name, price or rating. What I say next is the most important tip in booking the best hostel: Organize your search results by rating. It follows that the hostels with the best customer ratings are the ones that are the most fun, have the best locations, best prices for what you get, and a lot more. For example, I booked a hostel in Seville that was more expensive than the rest but had a 98% customer rating. I later found out that the hostel offered free dinner and breakfast, free tours, maps, and a lot of themed festivities during the week. This will save you money and at the same time be an extraordinary experience.

Check back tomorrow for Tips 3 & 4.