Many of us keep Sunday nights to ourselves. The end of two days away from the storm, the final few fours pre-bed we have before Monday-to-Friday evaporates as it does, over and over again for 52 weeks a year. Read a book, watch HBO. Stay out and have another drink. You better get it in now, because tomorrow belongs to the office.
Our weeks begin on Sunday nights. But for Natalia Anja, last Sunday was the beginning of a new life.
“Oh my gosh, I was so nervous all day,” she said, four days later. “It was such a nerve-wracking day. I think I just felt nauseous.”
On February 15, from 9 to 9:30 p.m., the Vancouver photographer and 188 other contestants were standing by on Global Degree’s website, awaiting to see which of them would win a four-year trip around the world.
Expenses? Check, mostly. Accommodations and flights are covered, while food and the extra amenities won’t be. Your own international undergrad degree? Check, for sure.
And when the program’s hosts Mike Graziano and Alex Hennessy – who helm Global Degree’s YouTube channel – finally got around to unveiling their winner, it was Natalia Anja’s name in that little, Oscar-ish envelope.
“It’s still so surreal,” the 27-year-old said Thursday. “I feel really grateful, so excited, and actually surprisingly not nervous… I know that I’ll be in good hands.”
Anja will quest to become the youngest female to visit all 193 countries in the United Nations. She’ll be with Global Degree for four years – they start Season 2 in Asia, leaving probably next week for Tokyo, Japan. Then, it’ll be Europe, or somewhere else… the itinerary is set in mechanical pencil, with a fittingly fluid travel timeline for a company that prides itself on adventuring by a seat-of-your-pants ethic.
Anja said she’s comfortable travelling with Graziano and Hennessy – she obviously hasn’t had much time to know them well, but says she’s learned enough about them through their Internet presence and their on-camera attitude.
“I think with social media, you can kind of tell what a person is like nowadays, and we have some mutual friends in common,” Anja said, noting that all three of them live in Vancouver, which makes things easier. “I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about them.
“I am now super excited to go traveling with them, because they seem awesome.”
Anja was born in Poland and has been raised in Canada, basically her entire life. She graduated the marketing management program at BCIT, moved to Italy for a little while and spent some time in Los Angeles.
She fell in love with photography in Italy, started practicing, and then parlayed that into a gig with The Buried Life. She’s been working as a freelance portrait photographer in Vancouver – under her own company Natalia Anja Photography – for two years.
But when Global Degree’s application came along, she hopped at the chance to put her passport where her passion was.
“I think photography had a big part in (why I won),” she said. “Honestly, I’m still confused as to why I’ve won, because so many of the girls were just so awesome.”
Hennessy has a videography background and, like Anja, was doing commercial freelance work before beginning his own Global Degree program last year.
She hopes she can lend her eye and shutter finger to the boys’ already well-developed production.
“I think they were looking for somebody who can do video and photography, as well,” she said. “And I have a really good support system that were really great in helping getting my votes up and stuff.”
After four years, she hopes she’ll have her own little portfolio of amazing snaps from around the world, and says her initial goal is to get at least one greta photo from every country she visits, 193 of them in five years.
(Graziano and Hennessy already visited South and Central America last year, so Anja will have to do that after her time with Global Degree is finished, making this a five-year project.)
“I don’t like routines,” she said. “For me, traveling around the world really excites me… I’m really excited to challenge myself and just grow as a photographer.
“I feel like it will be an investment, and I see this as an opportunity.”
Throughout the contest’s running, Graziano and Hennessy often said they wanted to add a woman to their group, to challenge stereotypes surrounding females and traveling – that it’s too dangerous, perhaps, for a woman to travel alone or even in a group, in some parts of the world.
(While they visited Argentina in 2014, Hennessy was robbed at gunpoint while on a motorcycle tour of Buenos Aires, but said after he hoped one dangerous didn’t negatively effect anyone’s perception of the country or its people. (You could easily get robbed in Vancouver too, of course, even in Yaletown.) The video of the robbery went viral, as the boys documented on their YouTube channel.)
Although her background is rather international, Anja says she hasn’t travelled very much – and she, too, would like to beat back against any fears she may have as a woman in a new country, in a new corner of the globe.
“After having conversations with girls, I think there’s a lot of fear with women and traveling alone,” she said. “Everyone says, ‘Well, you can’t go alone. You’re a woman. You can’t go to this place or that place.’
“I’d love to see what it’s like to travel as a woman. I’d like to go alone too (after Global Degree), to experience that.”
Anja, Graziano, and Hennessy will fly from Vancouver to Tokyo to start their trip, and will move around Asia from there – Anja thinks South Korea and Mongolia may follow Japan.
“On my bucket list, I have places I want to see – I’ve really wanted to go to Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia. Those are the places most people go to, so you get excited about that.
“They’re all so different. Reading about every place, I don’t know what I’m most excited about now.”