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Pack lightly, travel passionately

Nicole Heker bikes.

A lot.

She bikes so much, in fact, that she’s racking up countries and continents. 

Nicole’s journey began 15 months ago in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Since then, she’s traveled through Laos, China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia so far, and she’s headed to Spain.

While sightseeing might be a great reason to make the grueling journey, Nicole’s motivation is to raise funds for a Nepali NGO she has been managing for the past three years, and to “unlearn the stories we have been told about who we are, what the world is like, and how (she) fits in within that framework.” In writing to her former Professor and CAS Department Head, Denise Solomon, Nicole says, “It has been a wild journey since leaving your Interpersonal Communication course in 2015. It almost feels like a lifetime ago!”

After graduating in 2015, CAS degree in hand, Nicole traveled to Thailand to teach English in a small village. She describes feeling isolated and alone, confronted with the concept of “culture shock” upon her arrival. As she settled in, she grew in confidence and built an English program in which she taught 350 Thai high school students while navigating daily life in a village where she shared neither the language or culture.

Nicole credits her education in CAS as significant in building that confidence.

A year later, Nicole was introduced to Happy Kids Center in Bhaktapur, Nepal, becoming the organization's management and bringing on foreign and Nepali staff, conducting needs-assessments and implementing projects that have had an incredible impact in the past three years.

Nicole stresses that significant in all her experiences and successes, has been all she learned through her degree in Communication Arts & Sciences. 

“Penn State’s CAS program has given me the tools and nuanced understanding of culture and communication to be able to go out into the world as a critical observer and apply myself more fully to the community that I serve in Bhaktapur, Nepal. With a very diverse and tight-knit staff, interpersonal skills were essential to surviving the year with my mental health intact!  Both Interpersonal Communication and Intercultural Communication have greatly influenced the decisions that I’ve made post-university and the way I engage with the diverse populations that I have encountered on this bike ride and of course with my NGO work in Nepal. It is without a doubt, that my research methods and organizational communication courses from Dr. Jon Nussbaum contributed to the success of Happy Kids Center.”

At last check, Nicole was in the Italian coastal town of Ancona.

Nicole writes, “The knowledge given to me about the role of communication in various settings has enabled me to be acutely sensitive to the day-to-day oral and nonverbal interactions with locals from every walk of life and has allowed me to negotiate conflict resolution in my organization, in my personal life, and interculturally. For these gifts, I cannot be more grateful. I will continue to use these skills and hopefully, grow them in the pursuit of a masters degree in the coming years.” 

Congratulations on your bold, brave adventure, Nicole. Let us know when you get to Spain!

(Photo credit: @Jeremyj0hn)