Many of us fantasize about visiting distant and exotic places, but one member of Lawyers Mutual’s Client Services team is actually living that dream.
Samantha Cruff, marketing communications coordinator, recently returned from a visit to South Korea and Japan. She’s getting ready for a springtime jaunt to Italy. And she has her sights set on trips to Middle Earth and Westeros (keep reading, you’ll understand).
She says the travel seed was planted by a childhood love of reading – one book in particular made a big impression – and an encounter with mummies at the World’s Fair. And she finds that globe-trotting strengthens her job skills in surprising ways.
Following is an interview with our resident World Traveler:
What is your position at Lawyers Mutual and how long have you been there?
I am currently the Marketing Communications Coordinator. I started at Lawyers Mutual in December 2000, so I am currently on my 20th year of employment. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long (and that I’m that old).
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up on 25 acres in a ‘holler’ outside of Bristol, Tennessee. Almost everyone there lived on the same property that their grandparents did, us included. It was almost unheard of to move away. I was fortunate to be a good student, so I went to Governor’s School. I applied for both the School for the Sciences and the School for International Studies. I was accepted to both but made the fateful decision to attend the School for International Studies. While there, I spent four weeks studying Chinese – language and culture. I can still sing “It’s a Small World” in Chinese.
After high school, I pursued a degree in political science with a focus in international relations. I studied Japanese for two and a half years while there and obtained a minor in it. I’m rusty in my listening comprehension, though, so I can’t hold a conversation.
Where does your love of travel come from?
I developed a strong appreciation for the rest of the world through reading. My most read book growing up was Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. Myths, legends, and stories of medieval knights were my jam.
A huge factor in my really wanting to see the world, though, was the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was my first true exposure to the various cultures of the world. I distinctly remember Peruvian mummies, the splendor of the China exhibit, and a dancing Heinz ketchup bottle that gave away pickle pins. (I was young at the time, okay?)
Some favorite books and movies?
As mentioned before, I love the science fiction and fantasy genre. While I most likely will never make it to outer space, I hope to one day travel to Middle Earth (Lord of the Rings) and Westeros (Game of Thrones). It’s much easier to do that now that these books have been converted to movies and TV shows, with physical locations in New Zealand, Ireland, etc.
My latest obsession is The Witcher, so I am excited to discover more places to travel to discover that world as well.
Where have you been?
My first journey out of the US wasn’t very far. I went to Winnipeg, Canada with my sister to visit a friend of hers. In the summer – of course – like a sane person. While there, we went to a Ukrainian festival in a nearby town and an International Festival in Winnipeg proper. I saw the world in Canadian.
Other than a Caribbean cruise, I honestly didn’t travel much until recently. A former Lawyers Mutual coworker, Bethany, who is a good friend, loves to travel and started inviting me along on some of her trips with her sister. We’ve gone to India, Mexico, and London and Paris.
I recently also started traveling with a friend I met at the gym. Suffering together created a close bond for a group of us. We took my most adventurous trip to date: South Korea and Japan. We’re planning a tour of Italy for later this spring.
My next big adventure will be with both friends, to Southeast Asia. We’re still working on details, but right now we’re planning on visiting Thailand, Bali, Cambodia, and hopefully a handful of other places over three weeks in the fall.
Memorable sights and experiences?
Visiting the Buddhist temples in Japan was breathtaking. They have amazing gardens that are the most peaceful, stunning places I’ve ever seen. Having grown up in a rural setting, this is exactly the type of place I would like to live my life.
What do you most enjoy doing in other countries?
The castles and temples are the biggest draws for me. These are the places where the culture and history of a location displays its uniqueness.
Because I want to see as much as I can, I often eat street food so that I’m not slowed down by a meal during the day. This means I’ve eaten some unique things (that I have no idea what it was, but it tasted good).
How do you travel?
It depends! You want to spend as much time sightseeing as possible. Take the most convenient route to places. In most of my travels, this involved their highly developed train system. Sometimes if we schedule a tour, we’re on a bus or a boat depending on the location. We’ve occasionally taken taxis when needed.
We spend a surprising amount of time on foot walking from place to place. It seems we were always walking up hills and/or stairs. So many stairs. Calves of steel.
Some travel tips?
- Find the right travel companion(s). Trips are much smoother and more fun if you’re on the same page as to what you’re doing and where you want to eat.
- Plan ahead. If you have what you want to see planned out for the day, you can map it out and make more efficient use of your time. Don’t be rigid about it, though, because sometimes things need to change for circumstances out of your control.
- Do the thing furthest away first and work your way back. Especially if you’re doing a lot of walking that day. Your feet will thank you.
First thing you do when you get back home?
Sleep! Laundry! Laundry in my sleep!
Has your globetrotting made you better at your job?
Traveling and experiencing the world gives you far more insight into how different histories really effect the human experience. For example, the more I learned about Shinto religion in visiting the shrines in Japan, the more I understood Japanese culture as a whole. Learning to be more empathetic towards those who have vastly different life experiences would be a great asset for everyone. And I do wish we could find a way to incorporate the bidet system here. Nothing beats heated toilet seats!