January 13, 2014

Speaker Announcement: Rita Golden Gelman — A Female Nomad
Category: 2014 Event, Speaker Announcements

Rita Golden Gelman

How would you classify a lifestyle that involves rarely knowing where you’ll be in six months, moving through the world without a plan, and watching for serendipitous opportunities?

Rita Golden Gelman is a self-styled anthropologist, a participant-observer with a heavy emphasis on participant. At age 48, on the verge of a divorce, Rita began her existence as a modern-day nomad. She has spent the last 28 years connecting around the world, learning how to be at home wherever she is –– a thatched hut, a gilded palace, a godly ceremony, a den of black magic.

Her advice to those who want to live a nomadic life: “Take risks, trust, and go with the flow. Planning limits you to what you already know. Serendipity lets you experience things you never knew about.”

Rita’s memoir, Tales of a Female Nomad, Living Large in the World, chronicles her journey. In 1987 she sold all her possessions and became a citizen of the world.

Wherever Rita lives, sometimes for months, sometimes for years, she writes about the countries, cultures, and people she visits. She still has few possessions and no permanent home. She travels to learn the language, the songs, the dances, the ceremonies, the cooking and the way of life of the people. She doesn’t teach unless she is asked; mostly, she says, she learns by making friends, living with families and sharing their lives.

“My travels have taught me something very important: there is no right and wrong way to ‘do’ life,” Rita says. “The options are infinite.”

Rita has written more than 70 children’s books and two adult travel books. She speaks to colleges, to nonprofit organizations, and to schools from elementary through high school about her life, her books and another topic dear to her heart: the Gap Year. That’s the year after high school and before entering college or starting a job.

Rita says, “Education in today’s global economy must include crossing borders and learning about other cultures. Students learn to respect otherness; and the student, the country and the world all benefit.”

Rita is working with the American Gap Association, a new organization in Portland that is certifying programs and educating the country and educational institutions about the many ways to do a Gap Year.

“I believe that getting young people out of the U.S. and interacting in other cultures is a key to creating responsible leaders for the future,” Rita says.

The American Gap Association suggests students defer college for a year so “they can immerse themselves in other cultures and discover our common humanity.” Ultimately, Rita hopes the organization will help to make educational experiences abroad a cultural norm in the United States through scholarships and extensive marketing.

“The Gapper comes home with a new self-image, a respect for ‘otherness,’ and an understanding that we humans, are indeed the same, whatever our language, look, or customs,” Rita writes in her blog. “College and life become much more meaningful.”

When Rita first heard this year’s TEDxConcordiaUPortland (now known as TEDxMtHood) theme of Pulse, life, learning and excitement came to mind. “(It’s) that special feeling when something you are participating in makes your heart pound,” Rita says.

What quickens Rita’s pulse? “Crossing borders (cultural, racial, age, national, professional, economic), connecting with strangers, learning about and participating in the many ways to live on this earth. They all reinforce the oneness of humanity,” she says.

We are delighted Rita has chosen to spend May 3 with us and await hearing her tales as a self-styled anthropologist and citizen of the world. If she could harness the pulse and energy of 700 TEDxConcordiaUPortland (now known as TEDxMtHood) attendees, she would want them all to have the opportunity to live with families in the developing world.

Lisa Anderson

Lisa Anderson is a Hawthorne-based storyteller, adventure lover and a dress-up queen. She’s one of several storytellers who will be sharing write-ups, interviews, and perspectives on the many extraordinary people from our surrounding community.