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There is a bridge that needs to be built between scientists and the community. One difficulty scientists face is their research reaching communities.
That’s why I’m so excited to bring you this interview with Susanna Shankar, a content creator pursuing an MSc to inspire people to think critically about their decisions to save the planet.
Susanna lives abroad in Munich, Germany, works full-time as a freelancer, and is studying for an MSc in Biodiversity, Wildlife and Ecosystem Health. With her diverse background (in the digital space, and now pursuing her MSc), Susanna’s goal is to make the science behind saving the planet easy-to-read and accessible.
This is the perfect interview to read if you are…
- Interested in sustainability or regenerative travel,
- In academia or science, and curious about how to share your science with the world, or
- Curious about the blank canvas that comes with moving abroad.
You just launched a new company! Let’s start by talking about what you do and how you got started.
Yes, I did! I just launched a company called Curiosity Saves, which encompasses two websites: Curiosity Saves Travel and Curiosity Saves the Planet. My goal for Curiosity Saves is to provide easy-to-read educational content about sustainable travel and our environment, sparking people’s curiosity to explore these topics more deeply.
I hope to bridge the gap between environmental science and the general public while featuring a diverse perspective from around the world, allowing people to think critically about their decisions so we can come together to save travel and the planet.
I’ve been a travel blogger for quite some time, and I found myself gravitating toward sustainable and regenerative travel. I wanted to make sure the content I created was accurate, helpful, practical, and supportive. To do this, I decided to go back to school and pursue an MSc degree in Biodiversity, Wildlife, and Ecosystem health.
When I first applied to the program, I was nervous about getting accepted into a science program after finishing underground with a communication degree from the University of Alaska. But, after talking to the program director, she said, “Science needs effective communicators, now more than ever, and your skills would be a wonderful asset.” It was at that moment that I knew I had something unique to bring to the table.
“After talking to the program director, she said, ‘Science needs effective communicators, now more than ever, and your skills would be a wonderful asset.’”
I was filled with a drive to share what I was learning with my audience and gained the confidence to rebrand my travel blog and launch a new venture.
Marketing doesn’t always come naturally to those in academia and science. What advice would you give to someone in academia or science whose goal is to make their research more available?
Science writing is a big topic right now. There is a push in the academic community to focus on marketing and science communication to get information out there that the public needs to know. But, as you mentioned often marketing and communication doesn’t come naturally to those in academia. My top tips are:
- Take a science communication course. There are dozens of courses you can take that offer a primer on how to communicate science to a mass audience. The University of Edinburgh offers an online certificate and MSc programs in scientific communication. Udemy and Coursera also have some online courses. These are great ways to boost your communication skills.
- Pitch your latest research to a news organization and let the experts do the work. Major media outlets are always interested in publishing news stories on scientific findings and scientists. If you email editors at The Guardian, New York Times, Grist, or a local paper they would love to pick your brain about your research and turn it into digestible content. I’m also open to contributors on my site Curiosity Saves the Planet. I would be happy to work with you to effectively communicate your research, field work, NGO or other.
- Throw scientific principles out the window. I know this sounds a bit extreme, but scientists are often caged by the scientific principles of journal writing. But, in order to communicate your research you need to be ok using bullet points, simplifying concepts, focusing on the big picture, and focus on scientific consensus (rather than what is contested and why).
Can you talk about any challenges you face when it comes to managing a website or growing your visibility online?
Imposter syndrome, for sure, especially now that I am defining myself as an expert in sustainable travel and venturing into the realm of science communication.
“I’ve tried to focus on the notion that what I am doing needs to be done and I have something unique to offer.”
There are different ways to make money from blogs and websites like Curiosity Saves. If you don’t mind sharing, how do you plan to monetize Curiosity Saves?
One of my priorities with Curiosity Saves is to put ethics and values before profit. It can be really hard to make money this way, if I am being honest. Thankfully there are more and more companies out there with high ethical standards making affiliate and partnership options more readily available.
I previously monetized my travel blog through ad revenue and affiliate links for products I find to have a high ethical value. I plan to continue to monetize through ads and affiliates with sustainable products on Curiosity Saves Travel. I might also look at selling branding reusable water bottles or tote bags.
I’ve sort of decided that I won’t monetize Curiosity Saves the Planet in the same way and may rely on donations, Patreon, and eventually I hope to venture into the realm of public speaking engagements, running sustainable group trips, or creating meaningful partnerships with larger ethical companies.
You are an advocate for ethical, sustainable travelling. Why is sustainable living and travel important to you?
“This sounds cliche, but growing up in Alaska, I literally watched glaciers melt before my eyes.”
Most Alaskans grow up relying on subsistence living in some way, whether that is fishing, hunting, foraging for food.
We know not to take too much as we need the resources to renew for next year. It was scary seeing access to those resources dwindle and the climate change putting the environment and sustainability at the forefront of my mind.
I worked in the tourism industry in Alaska for some time. Alaska suffers from mass over-tourism four months out of the year when cruise ships arrive. As hectic and sometimes awful as those four months are for some small coastal towns, it is how many people make their money.
That opened my eyes to the power of travel, the positive and the negative.
“Travel can be an incredibly transformative experience when conducted ethically, but it can be harmful when conducted haphazardly.”
I don’t think we should ever stop traveling, as we can learn so much from cultural exchange and seeing nature worldwide. Still, travelers need to take it upon ourselves to ensure that we and our destinations are better because of travel, not worse.
What has it been like moving to Germany? How did you adjust to the transition? Were you already freelancing before you moved to Germany?
I have German heritage, and I joke that I was meant to live in Germany. So much about their culture and lifestyle, such as their work-life balance, just makes sense to me.
It wasn’t all perfect, though. The first month was amazing and full of exciting new experiences. The next three months, the gravity of my move set in, and they were some of the hardest I ever faced.
“I had just quit my job, sold my car, left all my friends and family in the US, and I wasn’t sure I had the ability and skills to start over. I felt like I was mourning the death of my independence in a way that I couldn’t quite describe.”
Things picked up after that, as I started to learn the ropes of life in Germany, and I realized that this was my chance to paint a blank canvas. I could create the lifestyle I always wanted.
In the US, I was working at a decent paying job with great benefits. With that came a minimum of 50 hours a week, working through holidays, and guilt when I asked for vacation. I felt trapped and unhappy.
When I decided to quit that life and move to Germany, I looked at my options to be a freelancer. There were many forms and legalities to get through, but once I was set up and officially working on my website as a business owner, my life has improved tremendously. I can now say I’m doing what I love in a country that supports a healthy work-life balance.
What has it been like living abroad during a pandemic?
I acknowledge I say this from a place of privilege, but I’ve felt relatively safe, more so than I would back home most likely. I have excellent health care and a support system here in Germany. Generally, people wear masks and follow the rules. Before this year, I was always traveling, and it’s been somewhat pleasant to slow down, explore Munich, and have the time to focus on my business and my education.
But, being away from home is hard. My husband has family in Australia, and I have family in Alaska. We have no idea when we will be able to see them again. So, there’s that underlying stress and sadness of being so far away from family during a difficult time.
What have some of your favorite memories or lessons been whilst living abroad?
“I love how humbling it is to see different cultures in action, and there’s no one right way to do things. That mentality has helped me take risks and try new things to grow as a person and a business owner.”
I think my favorite lesson is that there are entire countries that approach and do things inherently different from your home country. Coming from a small town, you often think there is only one way of doing things, and that is the best way.
I love how humbling it is to see different cultures in action, and there’s no one right way to do things. That mentality has helped me take risks and try new things to grow as a person and a business owner.
How can someone who is interested in sustainable living or ethical travel get started? Why is it important and what advice would you give to them?
“Sustainability is the ability to exist constantly and continuously. It should honestly be the baseline for all travel at this point.”
We should never seek out travel if we are damaging our destination beyond its ability to maintain its population and environment. The goal of travel shouldn’t be to explore the world for our gain selfishly but to explore to better ourselves and the places we visit curiously.
But I totally get it can be hard to get started or know where to look. Some of the first things I can tell you is not to get caught up in all the buzz words. It’s ok to ask questions, start somewhere, and learn as you go.
If you make a conscious effort to be a better traveler than you were on your last trip, you are off to a great start. One of the most powerful tools you have is the power of research. Rather than booking any old tour or hotel, take the time to look at their about page:
- Do they employ locals?
- Do they give back to the community?
- Are they locally owned, have an environmental policy or have certifications?
Trust your gut and look to support companies striving to make their communities and environment a better place.
Related Reading: How to Prevent the Negative Impact of Tourism Leakage (Curiosity Saves Travel)
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in living abroad?
I’ve always been an advocate to take the leap and make changes if something you can control about your life is making you unhappy. So, I think my first piece of advice is to follow your dreams. Otherwise, you will be left wondering “what if.”
But, I understand picking up and moving abroad is more challenging than just deciding to do it. So, my practical piece of advice is to start researching what you’ll need to move now and make progress toward daily or weekly goals.
For example, in Germany, you would likely need to get degrees certified, maybe a certified background check, or save a certain amount of money. These are things you would need to get from your home state or country, and you can start the process now if you know what you need.
If you’re looking at trying to move with the support of an international company, apply to jobs in your home country and then put in for a transfer. Or, if you want to be an independent remote worker, research what you’ll need to make that happen. You can join Facebook groups ahead of time to ask questions to ex-pats as well.
When I applied for my first German visa, I had a binder full of documents and paperwork to give me the best chance at securing a visa. If you are making progress toward your goal, you’ll feel more motivated to move and less stressed when you reach your destination.
Connect with Susanna Shankar
Susanna grew up in small-town Alaska with a deep appreciation for living a life filled with outdoor play. She landed in Munich, Germany, where she works as a full-time freelancer and content creator.
When she’s not engaging in mindful travel, outdoor adventures, or working on an MSc in ecology, she enjoys cozying up on the couch with her cat and husband, playing video games, and getting to level 99 in life.