Have Degree, Will Travel?

After ten years of traveling the world, John Zahara has seen more than most could dream of. Now living in his 50th country, John gave Kelsi Farrington an interview proving this student-come-teacher is showing no signs of slowing down his mission to travel any and every where

Equipped with a Canadian passport, his love for travel, and a ticket landing in Europe, university student John Zahara decided to kickstart his lifelong dream of traveling ten years ago. This is his story of traveling the globe from start to present.

John in his hometown, Nova Scotia

John Zahara recently celebrated his thirty-second birthday in China, the 50th country he has lived in. He has been a passenger on more than 130 international flights and has both lived and taught in the Arctic, Caribbean, Scotland, Middle East, and now Asia.

“If I had believed everything I read in newspapers or seen on the BBC then I probably would have never left my home in Nova Scotia which would have been a shame because the world has so much to offer.”

“Foreign cultures fascinated me,” so while studying History and Psychology in University, John saved up like any university student and in 2001 went backpacking for a month in Europe.

“I was hooked.”

A year later, John received a $7,000 scholarship which funded a five month trip back to Europe.

Ever since, he has hunted caribou in the Arctic, travelled through a Palestinian refugee camp, seen the Pyramids, woken up to a tank outside his hotel window in Moscow. He has stood on the Green Line in Beirut and drunk beer opposite a mosque in Istanbul.

He has taken a Buddha Air Flight around the Himalayas and Tibet (twice). Watched the Taj Mahal at sunrise and dolphins in the Arabian Sea. (And that’s just to name a few.)

But to John, none of these memorable travel experiences can ever top greeting his parents in Ireland in 2007. Growing up in Nova Scotia meant John relied on watching National Geographic alongside his dad and was told stories from his older brother (a retired UN doctor) to gain a broader view of the world.

“I have six brothers and sisters and my parents didn’t have money to travel,” said John.

After receiving his post-graduate degree in Education, John lived and worked in the Canadian Arctic for six months. This was the most challenging experience of his life but showed him what kind of person he really was if he could survive minus sixty degree weather in a town of 2,000. If he could hack that, then he could live anywhere.

When in the Arctic, John described through his Virtual Tourist blog:

The green lights looked as though they were dancing with each other, moving across the sky as though they were moving to a Latin rhythm number. The brightness of the lights shined as though they were meant by nature to guide the Inuit’s path across the frozen Earth. The freezing temperatures bit at my nose while my eyes strained to take in the views. Complete amazement.” 

J.Z. in the Canadian Arctic in 2003

Regardless of all of his astounding experiences John has had to come face-to-face with equally harrowing ones as well. He’s travelled through East Africa and witnessed a significant percentage of the population live in unimaginable circumstances and met people who didn’t ask him for money but for the clothes off of his back.

People suffer hardship on a daily basis and thousands die needlessly in places such as Darfur or in Northern Uganda. Travelling and experiencing the hardship of other people has put my own life into perspective and I have such a deep respect for the resilience of people around the globe.” (John’s blog). After experiencing these countries first hand, coming home to Canada with all its luxuries can be tough at times.

“No matter what happens in life (missing a car payment or having student loans),” John said, “things can always be worse”.

In 2010, John moved to China and will be embarking on yet another adventure, he will be moving to Central Africa in August 2011.

He explained travelling as a roller-coaster ride of emotions but a ride he’s been lucky enough to experience on numerous occasions and will continue on this journey for the rest of his life.

“I will continue to be humbled by the resilience and hospitality of people from around the world,” he said.

If you would like to read more of John’s work, you can visit his Virtual Tourist blog at: http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/99fbd/


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