Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

Kristina Leonardi was thrilled when we officially crowned her our Diva Visionary Award Winner for 2007. Each year, we look forward to this inspiring contest and its ability to bring wonderful women to the world’s attention. Women like Kristina Leonardi, founder of The Women’s Mosaic in New York, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring women to rise up and rock the world.

Kristina called
our contest a gift: “I feel such a strong connection with Tango Diva’s mission because I really believe that traveling and connecting with other people expands horizons and builds bridges that reverberate throughout…it’s a way of peacemaking.

“I have dedicated the last six years of my life to The Women’s Mosaic (www.thewomensmosaic.org), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that educates, inspires and motivates women to express their full potential in all areas of life. Through providing a variety of unique educational programs, TWM seeks to create positive social change on personal, local and global levels by helping women embrace who they are and what they can do with their lives. Their programs offer relaxed, stimulating, supportive environments that enable women to reach across borders and cultures, allowing them to recognize, refine and reactivate their individual and collective power and place in the world.

“I have done some extensive traveling in the past, but since starting the organization it has been challenging on all levels to get away anywhere, as I have poured my heart, soul and finances into the organization. I truly believe that uniting and empowering women is the only way to change the world and am sincerely and passionately doing my part to make that happen.”

Powerful words from this year’s Diva Visionary. We’re not worthy; we’re not worthy!

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1. What was the best decision you made in your life?

Probably the course of study and extra-curricular activities that I pursued in college, which set the stage for getting me to where I am right now. At the time, Boston University had the second largest international student population in the US – I did a lot of work with undergraduate and graduate students from all over the world and learned so much from my interactions with them. Although I had always been interested in and excelled at foreign languages and wanted to work for the UN, I hadn’t had the direct experience with people of other cultures until then, and it propelled me to change my major to International Relations.

I had always planned on studying abroad, but the decision to do the program that I chose (Sweet Briar Junior Year in Seville, Spain) was one of the best I made, believe it or not, because of the amazing Americans I met from other colleges and parts of the country, which opened my eyes and broadened my experience even more, giving me lifelong friends and future adventures both at home and abroad because of those connections.

2. What is your most memorable travel moment?

Oh, so many! Flying in a four-seater plane to get a close-up view of Angel Falls in Venezuela, having it rain the one day I was in the Sahara Desert, watching sea-turtles lay their eggs under the moonlight in Vero Beach, a romantic getaway in Puerta Vallarta, exploring Malta and its history…

But the best moments always involved interacting with the local people—meeting a Buddhist monk in Luang Prabang, Laos and being invited to the monastery to see how they lived, being the only woman in the car debating polygamy with three African men on a long ride on a highway in South Africa, and a bunch of experiences in China—having been asked to pose in several photos with random Chinese families I encountered at various sites, being invited to sit in the stall and hang out with a woman selling Peking duck at a market in Qingdao and making use of the ten sentences I know in Mandarin, and especially memorable was speaking to a man on the Bund in Shanghai where a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the curiosity of a six foot tall blonde American woman conversing, in Spanish, with a much shorter Chinese man.

3. What was the worst travel experience you had?

The first big trip I ever took by myself was to South Africa for the UN Conference on Racism—the local organizers made all the accommodations and when I arrived I found out that not only did I have to stay in a city one hour away from the conference site, but I had been booked in a ‘hotel’ that was basically used as a brothel…

4. What have you learned about yourself through traveling?

That I can pretty much relate to and connect with people no matter who they are or where they are from—I can speak the universal language of humanity. I realized that I am able to effortlessly have meaningful exchanges with complete strangers and be an ambassador of goodwill, understanding and friendship.

5. If you could choose your ultimate travel companion, living or dead,
real or imaginary, who would it be?

This was the most difficult question for me to answer…I’ll just be a goof and say a futuristic Albert Einstein who figures out time and space travel (not the NASA kind)…

6. What moment in your life did you feel the most alive?

Hmmm…that’s a more personal question…But here’s one answer for you: when I was in Alaska I was overwhelmed with how vast and remote it was, and especially how pure the air was—I truly felt like I was literally breathing for the first time and thought what the heck was I doing before this?

7. If money and time were no object, where on earth would you go?

Well, right now after having barely traveled since starting The Women’s Mosaic, I’m feeling a little claustrophobic on the island of Manhattan—so I am jonesing for some big beautiful nature, open space, with very few people, far, far away—that’s why I think New Zealand would be my choice. I’ve always wanted to go there. I think they have more sheep than humans, the geography just is stunningly gorgeous and diverse, the Maori culture is fascinating, and of course it helps that Lord of the Rings was filmed there….

8. Who is your hero?

This is a tough one…I would say Mahatma Gandhi, with Eleanor Roosevelt a close second. Gandhi can be a clichéd choice, but I sincerely believe that, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” is one of the most profound and true statements ever made. Besides his commitment to non-violence, what I really love and admire about Gandhi was his simplicity, modesty and ability to take on and kick out the greatest power in the world at that time by putting into practice and demonstrating spiritual wisdom, moral strength and universal principles.

I particularly connect with his work to unite Muslims and Hindus through his understanding of the brotherhood of humanity, and above all, his brilliant recognition and declaration that the empowerment of women was the key to not only saving India, but the world.

9. Name a place in the world that you know a lot about and would make
a great resource for our Divas. Tell us about it.

Having lived in New York City for about 15 years now, I would have to say here—and it’s funny because I forget sometimes that I live in one of, if not the greatest, most visited and celebrated cities in the world. I am actually within walking distance of Times Square, Radio City Music Hall, the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue, the Waldorf-Astoria, the United Nations and Central Park—places that have been immortalized and for which people come from every corner of the earth to visit.

NYC has changed quite a bit over the years that I’ve lived here, but I’m still proud to call it home and would be happy to be a resource for any Diva out there that has any questions about it!

10. And finally a word from our Featured Diva, you in your own words—give us a stirring, Diva-worthy battle cry for women everywhere to hear!

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It’s up to the women.” It really is up to the women to clean up the mess in this world that too much testosterone has made of it! Even with all the problems we have in this imperfect country, as American women we are so privileged and have opportunities and advantages that are incomparable to women in much of the rest of the world.

Going abroad should allow you to reflect on that and inspire you to use your life and the opportunities afforded you to the max—to truly realize your full potential, to be the best you you can be and to share your unique gifts and talents with the world in whatever big or small way that might look like.

When you are traveling abroad, be a messenger of peace and allow yourself to be an example of the best that humanity has to offer one another. That is how you change the world—one person, one experience at a time. Oh, and of course, be sure to have lots of fun along the way!

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