By Magdalena Knapp, Editor
“I got run over by a baby elephant, and wow, even a baby elephant is huge and powerful! […] But it was fun!” Whether she gets run over by a baby elephant in Thailand, detained at the Israelian border, invited by an American Jew in Jerusalem to join Shabbat dinner in a tiny room full of people, or snuck out from a Jewish hostel in Jerusalem to join a three-people Palestinian tour of Bethlehem and discuss political tensions – Professor Capron has done it all.
Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, India, Israel, Mexico, Peru, Machu Picchu, Puerto Rico, Canada, Vancouver, Thailand, Jordan and more – the list is endless. There is hardly any place in the world that she has not stepped on and somewhat explored yet. Aurélie Capron is who I would consider a real Marco Polo. No destination is too far away, too dangerous, or too hidden; she wants to explore them all.
Aurélie Capron is the Spanish and meditation teacher at McKendree University. She was originally born in France, but left the country of love to travel the world and then settle down in the country of boundless opportunities – America. “I love McKendree!” she says. “I like teaching and I like that I can work closely with my students as the instructor/student ratio is generally small. It feels like a community here.” Professor Capron has taught at McKendree for eight years and still loves it, but every now and then her wanderlust takes her to the most stunning places in the world. I had the pleasure to talk to her about some of her most incredible experiences, and I would like to share them with you.
One of her favorite voyages took her to India. “You have to be prepared as a woman to travel through India. It is a beautiful place but western women need to be attentive and learn and understand the culture if they want to travel there alone safely and respectfully.” If you travel through India you have to know how to dress and how to interact with the opposite sex, you have to get a sense of their culture, and avoid risky situations. She finds it wiser for a woman not to travel alone at night in a bus or a train. One time she was on her own in a compartment full of men in the train for five hours during the day time – nothing happened, but she knew she stood out. “Every country has its own culture, and you have to adapt to it” explains Aurélie. The reason for her travel to India was because of the marriage of two friends – this is what happens when you travel a lot: you make friends all over the world!
She also went to Jordan on her own because she wanted to visit an old friend who taught at an international school in Amman. After visiting this beautiful country with her friend, Aurélie headed to Jerusalem in Israel through the entry point for tourists and Palestinians. She could feel the tension. There was a crowd of Palestinian people trying to cross the border, get a hold of a police officer, or to re-enter the Israeli border, but without success. After six hours of waiting she finally got picked out of the crowd and was allowed to pass the border. She could pass the border because she was a tourist, but the Palestinians were not as lucky as her and still had to wait there for hours, hoping to be allowed to cross the border at some point. Once she arrived in Jerusalem, she made an “Ultra-Orthodox Tour” and spent a lot of time with an ultra-orthodox woman who talked about her religion, her life, and her opinions on the conflict with Palestinians. At night she snuck out of her hostel to explore more of Israel and its flair at night. She also went on a tour with a Palestinian through Bethlehem. “It was interesting to have the opportunity to talk to Orthodox Jews as well as Palestinians and hear and discuss each side of their story,” explains Aurélie Capron. She also met an American Jew in Jerusalem. She says, “Can you believe that?” He was one of the many American Jews who moved and settled in Israel. He invited her to a Shabbat dinner on a Friday night to meet with other American settlers. The room where they had dinner was tiny and crowded. “I think that if there would have been a fire we would have all died, because the room was packed!” says Capron, giggling a little bit. “I wish I would have had more time in Israel, it is an awesome place. I did not have time to visit Tel Aviv. But my experiences in Jerusalem and Bethlehem were rich with learning experiences!”
I was shocked when I heard that Aurèlie Capron makes most of her trips alone, but there is a good reason for it: she wants to meet the local people and experience the place she visits as authentically as possible. Aurélie wants to merge with the culture and to get lost in the traditions of the country she is visiting. She does not stay in hotels very often; she prefers hostels – “It is cheaper and you can meet many more people from all over the world”.
One of Aurélie Capron’s favorite places is Mexico. “The people are just so nice there, they are even more welcoming that Americans!” she says while laughing. She traveled for four months through the country of ‘Mi casa es su casa’ and worked there as an English teacher. During her time in Mexico she could not resist visiting also Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, two other stunning places.
Aurélie plans all of her trips very carefully and for months in advance, but there are some things you cannot plan. She had to cancel her trip to Cambodia, because she discovered that the airline she was going to fly with from Bangkok got a very bad reputation and she felt it was not safe enough. Safety is rule number one for Aurélie. She is comfortable with travelling alone, but her parents worry sometimes. When she is travelling she texts her parents every once in a while to show them she is still alive. “One time, when I traveled to Jordan, my phone crashed.” She wanted to contact her parents to tell them everything was going well, but obviously she could not. Even the internet café was no help at all, because Yahoo did not let her sign into her email account. Finally, she met someone at the hotel she stayed at and he helped her to contact her parents and she could finally calm down her worried dad. Jordan shares borders with Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and in 2015 when she went to Jordan, the tourist population had decreased by 80% because of the conflicts.
Professor Capron does not only want to see new places, she wants to live them and try out new things. This is why she visited a sanctuary for elephants, while she was in Thailand. India and Thailand are both known for its tourist elephant rides that most often lead to elephant abuse. Aurélie Capron wanted to get to know elephants better in the most respectful way possible. She spent a day at a sanctuary for elephants, where she was paired with one of them and learned how to feed, wash and how to interact with her elephant. She even had the opportunity to learn how to climb on her bare back for a short ride. The elephant’s name was Sunflower and her baby followed them around. They became ‘friends’ when Sunflower accidentally ran her over. “Elephants are very majestic and strong animals, but the babies are also very clumsy,” explains Aurélie laughing. “I felt blessed to spend some time with elephants, and get to know them better.” She tells me that if someone wants to do the same, they have to look for a sanctuary with a good reputation to avoid giving money to places that could still be abusive and advertise themselves as ‘sanctuary’, and it is usually not that cheap.
Besides trips to other continents, Professor Capron also loves to go on domestic trips. In January 2017, she went to Sedona in Arizona to hike for five days, and during the past summer she spent some time exploring the wonderful New England from Portland, Maine to Mystic in Connecticut and then up to upstate New York.
Aurélie Capron has many plans for the future. She wants to visit more places such as Bali, Japan and South Korea. The trips and the experiences she makes are unique, and she wants to share this with her students. Over the summer she will go on a trip to Cuba with some McKendree students. I wish her all of the best for her future trips, and hope that she will explore even more hidden and unique places!