by Callie Silver

No one better embodies the spirit of a true Diva than Laura Vary, who spent her earliest years in Columbus, Ohio attending high school football games, crocheting, and enjoying the local ice cream.

Laura didn’t travel internationally until age sixteen—but since then, she has lost count of her trips to Paris and has managed to traverse some of the most obscure rainforests in the the southern hemisphere.

Despite advice to choose between her main interests, this Diva followed her instincts and double majored in biology and French at Vassar College. As the recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Grant to Madagascar,
Laura used her role as American ambassador to create ties with the Malagasy, while focusing her research on patterns of reproduction in the island’s flora.

Now a PhD candidate at the University of California, Irvine, Laura finds herself as at home in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes as she does in Noumea, capital of the former French colony of New Caledonia. And though Ohio remains a fundamental part of her identity, one thing’s for certain: this mademoiselle’s bon voyages are far from over.

What was the best decision you made in your life?

Going to Paris my junior year in college changed my life in so many positive ways at that particular time in my life. It really opened me up to further international travel.

What is your most memorable travel moment?

Once in Madagascar I had to negotiate my way back to Antananarivo (Tana), the capital, from a remote town to the west. I had to pull an Indiana Jones stunt by chasing the last taxi brousse (a long-distance bus) leaving for Tana, which entailed jumping off one high-speed taxi brousse onto another moving vehicle just as it took off.

What was the worst travel experience you had?

When I was sixteen, I was returning from Greece after my first trip abroad. The whole trip had been cursed, with nightmarish delays and transfers that kept interfering with the itinerary. On our return from Athens, I was obligated to spend twenty-seven hours straight in the Newark airport! At sixteen, I thought that was how all travel was. Then I travelled more and realized it was kind of a fluke.

What have you learned about yourself through traveling?

I’ve learned which small things facilitate adapting to new situations and cultures. Now I know what I need in order to adapt as I move to any new place, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Even a hot shower, a relative luxury in
Madagascar, helps me calm down after coming back from the field.

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

In essence, a best friend is an ideal travelling companion for me: someone who is easy going, capable of having interesting discussions wherever we are, and motivated to learn about different places.

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

The field trip to New Caledonia was a culmination of all my undergraduate research experience. For two years, my colleagues and I had worked towards this goal, and suddenly there we were, climbing up Mount
Dogny. It was hot and steamy, I was hypnotized by the amazing shadow patterns that the clouds were casting, and I could see the ocean. Finally, I made it to the top of the mountain and was overwhelmed by a spectacular sense of accomplishment.

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

I have a burgeoning interest in all of the southern hemisphere because it is culturally and environmentally dynamic. It would be fascinating to spend two years exploring the unbelievable deserts and unusual flora and fauna of Australia and New Zealand, then visiting the Andes and the Amazon, followed by stops in Patagonia, and then the desert in Chile.

Who is your hero?

My mom! She is such a strong, smart, and independent woman who never travelled abroad until she was forty, when she went to Europe with my dad. Since then, she’s travelled as much as feasibly possible. It’s remarkable how well she’s dealt with traveling; it’s so much easier when you’re younger because your ways aren’t set yet, but now she wants to see as much as she can, which I really respect.

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.

I could be a resource for Madagascar, but you can connect with women who have gone wherever you want to go and find out how they’ve managed the situation. I was so scared to go to Madagascar as a single woman, but it turned out to be open and safe because I found warm people who accepted me. Speak with women who have been where you want to go, and then go yourself.

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!

Frst, the bulk of my travel has been research oriented. However, even if you work in an office or are self employed, find conferences and ways you can travel depending on your passions. Second, if you really want to go somewhere, don’t take no for an answer. Being a woman should not restrict where you go.

* * * *

For more detailed accounts of Mademoiselle Vary’s tenure in Madagascar, check out her blog at