Meet Ember Hood – Book Collector, Francophile, and Travel Essentials Employee

by Nancy Bestor

unnamed-1The first time Ember Hood flew on an airplane was when she relocated – for nine months – to spend her junior year of college abroad in France. Born in Northern California and raised all over Oregon, Ember wanted to “get out of dodge”, and as an English major and French minor attending Ashland’s Southern Oregon University, she knew that France would be a great place to do just that. At 22 years old, Ember had already taken French for four years in high school, and two years in college, but wanted to improve her French language skills.

“I was totally unprepared to live abroad. I didn’t know anything but that I probably needed some sort of plug adaptor,” Ember said. She took two suitcases, one big one and one carry on, and off she went to Poitiers, 200 miles southwest of Paris, to study at the University of Poitiers. For the first month, Ember lived with a host family – one woman and her two daughters, but after the month long homestay, she rented a room “from a sweet-but-crazy woman” in a house that overlooked a river. (We’ll have to get the scoop on that story at a later date!)


One thing Ember quickly learned is that she was allergic to French mosquitos (who may or may not have said, “Bonjour,” as they bit her). Ember attended University classes in the foreign language education program, with students from all over the world who were also studying French. In music class, the students listened to French songs and read their lyrics, and in literature they read French novels – which Ember admits she was so excited to bring back to the U.S. with her after the nine month exchange that she willingly left many pairs of shoes behind to fit more books into her suitcases.

unnamed-2Some of Ember’s fondest memories of her time in France revolve around food (of course they do, because French food is fantastic!). She ate lots of good cheese and remembers that all French wine she drank was good – and cheap too. Ember took one trip to the Dordogne region with other international students, who were served a traditional meal with food from the region, including duck, foie gras and more. The woman who ran the international program took the students on a walk through the tiny town of their Dordogne hostel, and just down the road was an abandoned little castle in the middle of nowhere. “There are castles lying around everywhere in France,” Ember said. “It’s amazing how old everything is, and I was even more amazed that people spray paint graffiti on these ancient buildings.”


Ember’s advice to someone considering study abroad in another country, or even moving to another country is to just go – don’t worry about it. “I felt super brave after living in France for nine months. I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t (really) speak the language. If I could do it, anyone can.”

Meet Hula-Hooper-Extraordinaire and Travel Essentials’ Employee Lauren Skinner

by Ember Hood

photoBorn in California, Lauren has spent most of her life on the West Coast of the United States – growing up in Tacoma, Washington, for many years before moving to Portland, Oregon. When it came time for college, she chose Southern Oregon University in Ashland because she has family in the area and loves the small town feel and abundant culture of the Rogue Valley. In her spare time, Lauren likes to hula-hoop, and she has one trusty travel hoop that she’s taken with her on trips to both Mexico and Canada.

A lover of language, Lauren studied Spanish in high school, and took her first international trip to Costa Rica when she did a six-month study abroad program. She was placed with a great family, who she has gone back to visit several times since.

In college, Lauren took some French classes, but she decided she wanted to do something different – so, she found a study abroad program in Thailand. She loved being immersed in a completely new culture, and a language she didn’t speak at all. “The Thai language is really beautiful, and so different from ours, it seems almost alien,” she said wistfully. “And the Thai people are so friendly – they always smile and make eye contact. Not like Americans.”

Over the course of her four-month study, she got to take a few trips within the country, visiting rural rice farming villages in northern Thailand’s Mae Chaem district, and beautiful ancient ruins and temples in Sukhothai and Ayutthaya – where she saw the biggest golden reclining Buddha statue she could have ever imagined.

The final trip her group took was to a Lisu village, up in the mountains. The village’s livelihood comes from growing diverse crops – coffee, tomatoes, sugar cane and string beans, and everything in between. On Lauren’slauren1 twentieth birthday, her group hiked up to visit the fields of fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes, where they were promised lunch. But out amongst the crops, away from any structures or kitchens, Lauren wasn’t sure how that would be accomplished. To everyone’s delight, their hosts lay down palm leaves and proceeded to prepare a feast of raw salsas and fresh beans, with fresh sugar cane to chew on, too.

Since most of Lauren’s travels have taken her to Central America and the Far East, she plans to see Europe next. “Spain, because I speak the language,” she told me. “But also France. Rural France, as well as Paris.” And, she added, “I’ll have to take my hula-hoop, too!”