The Definition Of A Culture Hound

The Definition Of A Culture Hound

An intro on adventure enthusiasts.
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If you've been keeping up with my articles so far, you know that 1) I love to travel; 2) I love to eat; and 3) I am always down for an adventure. So, I thought I'd shed some light on my nickname (a name I'm sure most of you embody too): Culture Hound.

Before I do this, though, you need some background on me.

I’m your average 21-year-old hot mess of a college student, hailing from the greatest city on earth (if you didn’t catch that, I’m from New York City), with a serious case of wanderlust. It all began at the age of 5, when my dad picked me up one day (divorced parents, y'know?) and said, “Pick anywhere in the world you want to go and we will go right now.” I said Paris (if you asked me today, I would probably not choose Paris — too many cooler places to visit), and off we went. From then on, I traversed Europe with him and our entourage of a crazy uncle (everyone has one), a nanny, and whoever was my father’s current girlfriend at the time. We were a motley crew, to say the least.

Traveling was something I shared with my dad and, after he died, was something that I needed to continue to keep his memory alive. Since then, I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, I have lived on farms in rural South Africa and in Tuscany, I have surfed in Brazil, I have biked all of New Zealand, I have studied abroad in Rome, I have escaped arrest in countless European countries with just a backpack, I have survived an overnight train from Florence to Vienna, I have crashed an ATV on a Greek Island, I have lived and worked in Phnom Penh, D.C., New York, and Houston — and I'm still alive. Shocking, I know.

Now let me get back to what this article is really about.

A Culture Hound can be defined as someone who is constantly in awe of his/her surroundings and seeks to soak up every aspect of any culture he/she comes into contact with. If you break down the phrase, a hound is an aggressive dog, one that, in this case, will pursue culture relentlessly. That’s me. People will say that my best and subsequently worst quality is my hunger for life; 99.9 percent of the time, I will never say no. I'm interesting, adaptable, and hungry — hungry for stories, hungry for answers, and hungry for adventures. And I am relentless in pursuing that hunger. My thirst for life is insatiable. I am always down for a new adventure.

When people ask me what I want to do with my life, I tell them honestly that I just want to learn. Since I was a little girl I have been obsessed with learning, always trying to soak up information to relay to mostly uninterested family and friends, who would often respond with the usual “mhmm,” “oh really?” and “that’s crazy!”

This love of gathering and imparting information has evolved. As I matured, my passion for learning and my hunger for life grew. When a subject captured my attention, I became totally consumed by it, immersing myself in current topics ranging from North Korea to GMOs and agribusiness, and from Mexican politics to the history of cacio e pepe (a Roman pasta dish).

My Culture Hound tendencies also include finding the best things each city has to offer and then telling everyone I know about them: best foods, restaurants, bars, clubs, museums, neighborhoods — you get it. Whenever I arrive in a new place, I walk for hours to orient myself (my feet have literally bled from this), and then I start reading up on places and talking to locals.

When I was in Rome I was lucky enough to live with a Roman student who introduced me to all of her friends, some of whom I am still friends with. Silvia, the roommate, was a springboard. I also always find a compadre. After two weeks in Rome I met Amanda, the compadre, and my traveling, eating, exploring, man-finding, and drinking buddy. The two of us were unstoppable. There were no hesitations, no inhibitions, no uncertainties. Amanda and I were addicted to having a good time and to being as "Roman" as possible.

Unfortunately, this often reckless and impulsive behavior has gotten me into my fair share of trouble. Let's take the most recent example of this. In honor of the 10-year anniversary of my dad's death, my best friend and I decided that we needed to do something "life affirming." First she suggested sky-diving, which I vetoed, and then we settled on paragliding. Have you heard of paragliding? It's when you literally jump off the side of a cliff, attached to another human being and a parachute, and pray to God you catch some wind and float down. For some strange reason, we thought that this was safer than sky-diving. The best friend went off just fine. And I crashed — attached to a 200-plus-pound man — and landed on rocks and trees and next to a hornets nest. Suffice to say, I spent the next eight days in the hospital with 10 fractures and a bed pan.

Culture Hounds may never learn their lesson. But you can always count on us to have a good time.

(Shout-out to Elisabeth for giving me this nickname; she is my art mutt.)

Cover Image Credit: me

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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Snow Hinton Park Is A Blast, If You Can Get Over Your Fear Of Heights

Sometimes you need a little adventure to spice up your day, which led my friends and me to take a quick side trip to Snow Hinton to tackle the giant rope course. Here's a recap of our experience.

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Last week, my friends and I decided to take a quick trip to Snow Hinton Park. "What's Snow Hinton Park?" you might be saying, "I've never heard of that park before!" I bet you at least know what it's known for. Have you ever seen the mountainous, red climbing structure along McFarland that seems to be plaguing people's snap stories? Well, Snow Hinton is where to find it!

My friends — Sydney, Alexis, Eva and Jacob — and I just finished eating lunch, and, on our way to Walmart, we saw the iconic structure, and Sydney interjected that we should take a quick stop there. As I've never been before, either, I agreed, and we took a sharp left towards the park instead of continuing straight down McFarland. As we walked towards the ropes, Jacob and Eva, who'd been there before, started to back off; they weren't up for the challenge a second time.

Syd and Alexis walked towards the structure as I took off running. As soon as I reached the structure, I reached for the highest rope I could, did a pullover, and hung upside down, my hair a couple feet from touching the ground. Sydney and Alexis took a more cautious approach, starting from the ground up, and carefully planning each step, as I scaled the structure with ease, tearing up the red rope with each step. I got to the top in less than five minutes, doing acrobatic moves while holding onto the ropes along the way. I was being so extra, that Syd shouted at me, "Stop it! I don't want to have to get a new roommate this semester!"

Once I finally reached the top, I felt like a king, towering over two stories above Tuscaloosa. I waved down at Syd and Alexis, as they finally got halfway up the ropes. Going down the giant, silver spiral slide was one of the most satisfying things in the world, sealing the fact that I made it to the top of the mountain; a fun reward for a slightly terrifying journey. As Sydney and Alexis were almost to the top, I scaled it again and encouraged them to continue climbing. Once we were all were finally at the top, we waved to Jacob and Eva, who were seated on a bench nearby, to signify our success. We wrapped it up by going down the slide, but I guess Sydney wanted to leave a piece of herself on the mountain because she managed to lose her phone before she hit the ground at the bottom.

I'm glad I finally got to experience the rope tower at Snow Hinton, as it's really fun if you're athletic or looking for a challenge, especially when you have friends to conquer it with you. While the height of it may seem scary, getting to the top is satisfying because, you did it, you managed to get past a possible fear of heights (or fear of falling, in my case), and are at the top of the world, or the top of Tuscaloosa, at least.

Me casually flipping upside down about 15 feet off the groundAlexis Whitfield

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