Presenting: Mary Jane Mikuriya – Servas Traveller and Committed Local Volunteer in San Francisco – Travel Education

When I first met Mary Jane at the recent Canadian-US Servas Conference in Vancouver, her youthful radiance struck me. I thought she might be in her early fifties, and then she revealed that she is 70! No wonder – here is a woman who exudes optimism, who always has a smile on her face. As a long-term member of Servas in the United States, Mary Jane has travelled the world, and by being a host she has brought the world into her home – in fact in almost 30 years she has opened her home to around 300 travellers from all over the world.Starting with her childhood during WWII, growing up with a mother from Austria-Hungary and a father from Japan, Mary Jane’s intercultural sensitivities got sharpened very early, and her commitment to social justice started when she was very young. Today she is involved in a whole range of causes in San Francisco and her time and dedication are making a difference – Mary Jane builds peace one person at a time. Here is a dynamic woman with a truly interesting story:1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what is your profession, where do you live now?I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. My parents were college educated but were looked down upon by the locals as foreigners. My father was prevented from becoming a citizen due to the federal 1924 Asian Exclusion Act until the early 1950 when the law was changed.Mary JaneMy mother lost her citizenship because in the 1920s when my parents were married, a woman who married a foreign man would loose her citizenship, no matter if she was a birth right citizen or a naturalized one. This was not the case for men. Thus, my mother was naturalized twice. This law was eventually changed in the 1930s. Citizenship and human rights became an important issues in my life.As a first generation American, with a mother from Austria-Hungary and a father from Japan, you can imagine the stares we received as a mixed race family with a 5′ 10″ Caucasian mother and a 5′ 6″ Asian dad. You can’t imagine how we were treated growing up during W.W.II with a German speaking mother and a Japanese speaking father.As a child, I was familiar with discrimination in society. When a very blue black Kenyan and a Japanese American from the Relocation Camps could not find a place to rent in the Philadelphia-Trenton area, they came to live with us. And there were others that stayed with us over the years, but that was before the 1964 Civil Right Act disallowed discrimination.Although I wanted to be an engineer like my dad, I realized after my second year in college that this would not be possible. In the 1950 women were not considered for engineering jobs. So when the Russians launched Sputnik, the United States launched a recruitment drive for math and science majors to become teachers.That is how I was recruited into the education profession where I have worked for over 35 years. I had many roles related to education in public and private schools, at the university level and with the US Department of Education — teaching, educational program evaluation, gender equity/civil rights/ de-segregation-integration, grant writing, budgeting and administration. Today, I am retired, but still work part time as a Title I math tutor to enable low achieving children to become successful in their regular classrooms.I live in San Francisco which has a rich history of civil right activism and provides many opportunities to support peace and social justice issues. My life is enriched by my many volunteer activities.2 You have been a Servas member for many years now. How did you hear about this organization and what was your first travel experience like?As a teacher you have a large block of time to travel in the summer. One summer, I visited Denmark and had the opportunity to have home hospitality though the Meet the Danes arranged by the Danish tourist bureau. I was impressed by the experience and all during my sabbatical trip round the world, I kept searching for home hospitality opportunities.It was not until 1977, when a cousin from Austria visited me here in San Francisco, told me how she was traveling around the US for 3 months with 5 others and visiting Americans using Servas. I was delighted to discover such an organization existed and joined Servas immediately — first as a host and then as a traveler.My first travel experience with Servas was as a host. Because I have a history of having people stay in my home, having Servas visitors came easy. It is only a two night stay and a good conversation. Being a host brings the travel experience into your home. My first visitors were a couple from Denmark, who helped me better understand what Servas represents. Because Servas was started in Denmark under the name Peace Builders and later changed to the Esperanto word Servas to serve, I realized that the purpose of the organization was to build peace one person at a time. That was for me!I have had over 300 Servas visitors in my 28 years in Servas and have learned so much from their questions about who I am, what I believe, what the USA is or is not, and how much more there is to learn. There are many ways to travel and see other places. One of the best ways to travel is through the open wide ranging conversations with a travelers whether it be in their home or mine.3. Please tell us a few stories about some of the international visitors that have stayed at your home or travellers you connected with, and tell us how some of these experiences have opened your eyes..The Russian Connection:
One of my visitors was a teacher in Russia and wanted to see inside a San Francisco public school. I arranged for him to visit a second grade class. The students enthusiastically welcomed him. He pulled up a bill out of his wallet and showed it to the class. He asked the class who the man was. Many hands went up and he discovered that they all thought the person to be Abraham Lincoln, because he was on money and had a beard. But, no it was Lenin who was also famous but in Russia. And where is Russia? Here on the map was Russia and here is San Francisco. I came away with a conscious awaking about my cultural lens. As I look at different situations as I travel, I may not perceive them correctly. I need to reflect, discuss what I think I perceive and ask for clarification.
Discovering antique quilts at Esprit, of all places:
A Servas visitor from Australia, was an artist who wanted to see the wall hangings at Esprit, a women’s clothes designer and distributor. I said I did not think they had quilts but would call to see if we could visit them. Much to my surprise, the company headquarters was filled with antique quilts, the company provided a catalogue of their quilts which could be purchased and there were open visiting hours. No, there was no publicity about this display and the company preferred word of mouth. When we visited, I did not know as we walked through the large brick walled building whether to look at the fabulous quilts or at how the company headquarters was organized. I realized that these quilts were made by women and were such designs as white on white squares that would be seen at the Museum of Modern Art a hundred or so years later. I realized that my visitor had shown me part of San Francisco that I was completely unaware of, but thanks to her I learned about them. When the company was sold, the quilts were donated to a museum for all to see.Learning about Tajikistan:
One of my most recent Servas visitors was from Tajikistan. I must say I did not know anything about this country or even where the country was on the map. So I went to the World Fact Book developed by the CIA. Yes, the CIA which offers very current country specific information freely on line. I learned that it was in Central Asia and formerly part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union left, there was no structure of government. Tajikistan was destabilized by civil war which has resulted in tremendous personal losses, economic crisis, deep poverty and other social problems. Tajikistan had the lowest per capita GDP of all the 15 former Soviet Republics. Muborak, my guest said that many have left Tajikistan for safety and economic reasons and they send money home. For those that remain, the economy is very poor–the teachers receive $2 per month, the physicians $5 per month and the public servants do not always receive their government pay checks. Under these conditions, bad things are happening.

What Is A Home Based Travel Agent? – Travel Education

Many people are unclear about the travel industry. Travel agents are often thought to be the same as real estate agents. Becoming a travel agent or more specifically a home based travel agent is an exciting career change or retirement option. Some people do it full time while many do it as a part time business.A travel agent books travel for customers and is paid by suppliers a commission on the booking. For bookings that suppliers do not pay a commission on, a travel agent also can charge the client a service fee for his/her time. An example is if you were to book a hotel for a client, the hotel would then send a check to the agency after the client checked out. Most hotels pay 10% of the price of the hotel before taxes and fees. A $100 per night hotel reservation would mean $10 a night for the travel agent who made the booking. This hotel would cost the same whether the customer uses a travel agent or books through the hotel directly. In many cases the travel agent can get a better price. It costs the customer nothing to use the travel agent unless the travel agent charges service fees.Can anyone do this? In order to work with suppliers, you must have an account set up with the supplier. Most require an agency to hold an IATAN, CLIA or ARC number. IATAN stands for International Airlines Travel Agent Network. CLIA stands for Cruise Lines International Association. ARC stands for Airline Reporting Corporation. Each of these memberships requires different things including sales, money in the bank, experience or training in the industry, and membership fees. Many will require Errors and Omissions insurance of $1,000,000 or more.For the average travel agent, membership is not a possibility with some organizations so the agent will team up with an agency and work as an independent agent or outside agent. There are also advantages of working with an agency because most travel agents cannot make enough in sales with a particular supplier to obtain higher commission levels and bonuses. Working with an agency with many agents can increase the commission percentages the agent gets because of the joint sales of all the agents at the agency. Support is also a very important aspect of being a successful agent. Agents who do not work with others tend to feel more isolated and have to learn to do it all solo. Since no agent can have the experience of being everywhere in the world or staying at every hotel or resort, having others that you can get advice from is really helpful.The future of travel agencies is always questioned. The truth is the industry has changed in many ways. Some changes were for the better, some for the worse. Many airlines have cut commissions for travel agents. However, there are many other suppliers who are paying travel agents more than they were ten years ago. Cruises used to be booked by only the rich and now people in every income book cruises. Each year more and more people go on cruises. Most people say they want to go on a cruise at least once and many who go on their first come home to want to book another.You can earn commission on many travel reservations.
Hotels

Rental Cars

Tour Packages

Cruises

Some airline tickets

International airline tickets

Travel insurance

Ground transportation including limos

Attraction tickets

Train tickets

People all need travel arrangements at some point in time. Those who take road trips need hotel reservations. Those who need to travel for business need airline tickets, rental cars, and hotel reservations. Families want to experience vacations with their loved ones. People visit family and relatives. Most people who win money say they are going to spend it to take a nice vacation. Newly married couples go on honeymoons. You are not selling something that is hard to sell. People contact you for help, you are not calling them or approaching them trying to sell them something they don’t want.Educating the public is the main thing any travel agent must do. Most people put travel agents into the same category as real estate agents. They believe it costs additional to use a travel agent. This is untrue. In many cases a travel agent can get a better price than the general public through the suppliers who work only with travel agents. Many people do not know all the options for booking a vacation. A good travel agent does. Once people are educated on how a travel agent gets paid, they are more willing to work with travel agents. If a person knows that if he or she let you book a hotel and it will cost the same price regardless, she or he will work with you. It is important to let people know how you can help them save time and money on their travel arrangements.So how do you get into the industry? Many people think they must go to school or become certified. This is not true. You can get into the industry and begin training. I don’t recommend anyone spend thousands on a travel school until he or she knows this is a career that he or she will really want to pursue. The truth is you do not have to spend thousands to get trained. There are many courses free to travel agents from suppliers. There are also organizations such as ICTA (Institute of Certified Travel Agents) who offer courses as you get more years experience in the industry. CLIA also offers courses. There are some agencies that will offer training. Even if you decide this is a career you would like to pursue, you do not need to spend thousands to become an educated and competent travel agent. There are many courses you can take with suppliers and organizations to get a better education in travel. I truly believe a hands’ on approach is the best way to become a better travel agent. Learning to work with suppliers and how to find the information your clients need is an important part of becoming a good travel agent.How can you find an agency to work with? There are a few organizations dedicated to independent travel agents. NACTA and OSSN are the top organizations. NACTA stands for National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents. OSSN stands for Outside Sales Support Network. You can also search online for home-based travel agent programs. I would never recommend anyone spending a lot of money to start this business. It is key to first try and see if it is something you would really want to do and get training before you invest too much money into it. Get involved in the industry first and see if it is really a career that is best for you.Jennifer Dugan CTAOwner of Dugan’s TravelsTravel agent since 1993[http://www.duganstravels.com]Copyright 2004 Jennifer Dugan