On December 9, MiLLENNiAL attended the White House Travel Blogger Summit in Washington D.C. Selected as one of the Top 100 Most Influential Digital Media Sites for millennials, we had the distinct privilege of speaking on the importance of Studying Abroad and Global Citizenship. From morning till night, 100 of us received a healthy array of activities as the White House National Security Council, Hostelling International and Turkish Airlines planned a full day in D.C.
Starting at 8:30am at the W Hotel, the White House hosted a beautiful breakfast to kick off the amazing day ahead. HyperActivate, a social media marketing firm, presented a new tweeting mosaic that allowed tweets to reach its maximum trending level throughout the day. After the presentation, the group of travel bloggers and digital media representatives quieted their conversations as we were ushered across the street to the White House East Wing. Two security checkpoints and one dog sniffing test later, we were finally on the iconic steps of the presidential residence and making our way into the festively decorated home.
Christmas at the White House
With 26 Christmas trees, a 300 pound white chocolate gingerbread house and countless 3D printed ornaments, the East Wing was nothing short of impressive. The official White House Christmas tree, displayed in the Blue Room, stood at 18 feet tall and was anchored to the ceiling. The tree was themed "America the Brave," which honored military troops for their courageous service. Many of the ornaments were Christmas cards from the children of military families.
Presidential portraits hung throughout the walls, gracing each room with historical significance. Bradley Halpern, Executive Director of GlobeMed, had interned at the White House and provided MiLLENNiAL with some fun facts along the tour. For instance, Abigail Adams saved George Washington's portrait during the War of 1812. Halpern tells us that while the original White House was burning, First Lady Adams, ran back into the house, rolled up George's very heavy canvas portrait, stuck it in her jacket, and ran out. It was the only thing saved from the fire. To commemorate her bravery, Abigail's First Lady portrait overlooks the painting she rescued.
As we made our way into the State Dining Room, Halpern told another interesting story - this time about Abraham Lincoln's portrait. Positioned over the mantel, it was the only painting in the room. This held significant historical meaning. Halpern explained that after Lincoln's assassination, his family kept the portrait for many years, that is until Franklin D. Roosevelt asked to have it donated back to the White House. The family agreed, under one condition, that it would be the only painting in the State Dining Room and would hang over John Adam's famous inscription:
"I pray Heaven to bestow the best of blessings on this House, and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
The Importance of Traveling Abroad
Exiting the White House from the visitor's foyer, the travel bloggers and digital media personnel headed to the National Press Club where Hostelling International planned a beautiful gourmet lunch. In the center of each table were modern Polaroid cameras available for us to snap. The conversation quickly turned to the topic of traveling abroad and we were briskly moved from the National Press Club to the Eisenhower Building, where our summit continued.
Chief of Staff Denis McDonough addressed the importance for study abroad programs and the need for cultural immersion and global understanding. Other panelists including travel host Samantha Brown, Millennial Trains Project founder Patrick Dowd, and Director of the Peace Corps Carrie Hessler-Radelet continued the dialogue on how to increase the number of students studying abroad. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs revealed that only 1.5 percent of the 20 million students enrolled in the 2012/13 school year could afford to go on these life-changing expeditions.
To help foster the growth of these programs and provide more financial resources, the White House National Security Council announced they would be spearheading a new office focused primarily on the important role studying abroad plays in understanding the global economy. Senior Producer of Free Road Entertainment and travel blogger for The Hostel Life, Mehdy Ghannad, says, "I am excited to help promote this initiative as well as see the next steps of action the administration takes to make studying abroad more affordable for students."
Robin Goldberg, Chief Experience Officer for Minerva, stressed the need to redefine the meaning of "studying abroad." She emphasized the importance of spending several semesters in different countries, "One semester should be in Berlin, while another in Mumbai." This policy seems almost too good to be true for most American universities, but Ms. Goldberg informs us, Minerva, a new university out of San Francisco, has positioned their students to spend seven out of the eight semesters in different countries.
But while the buzz from a room full of travel bloggers should have remained on topic, it dramatically switched to the exciting dinner soon to be hosted by Turkish Airlines at the Newseum. We quickly piled into the Baron Tour Buses waiting for us and headed for a 6-story museum on news history. What we were about to experience was more than any of us could ask for.
A Night to Remember
As we walked into the futuristic building, we were greeted by men and women dressed in traditional Turkish attire, flight attendants serving Turkish Delights, and the gleaming Turkish Airlines corporate staff. After a much-needed glass of wine, we were all escorted to the 6th floor of the building where an elegant dinner, catered by Wolfgang Puck, was prepared.
Turkish Air had designed custom boarding passes for us to find our tables. With destinations spanning from Lithuania to India, each table reflected a different country. The first appetizer was a delicious mushroom dumpling soup, followed by a holiday inspired salad then a decadently prepared fish. The meal was topped off with a regal molten chocolate wafer dessert.
Although the summit was coming to an end, the biggest surprise was just about to be revealed. Turkish Air gave the final speech and awarded each of us a roundtrip business class ticket to Istanbul. The room went nuts. A lot of us weren't sure if it was real and found ourselves asking, "Did she just say we are all going to Istanbul?" Crazy.
Behind the gracious hospitality, the summit was simply amazing. A convening of international minds to share perspective on their travel experiences and why others should see the world too. Doesn't get better than that. Thank you to everyone that made it out and to our lovely sponsors -- The White House National Security Council, Hostelling International, The W Hotel, The National Press Club, Travel Channel, the Newseum, Wolfgang Puck, and Turkish Airlines!
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