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Hotseat - Laura Bijnsdorp

810_hotseatNot many people are under 25 and have grown up in St. Maarten, lived in a rural community in Tanzania, completed a Master's in Media and Digital Culture, sailed on a yacht doing circumnavigation, stood on the edge of an active volcanic crater and swum with sharks and manta rays. Laura Bijnsdorp has done it all and more. She recently returned from spending two years sailing with a crew of similar adventurous young adults and is now looking for her next challenge.

Where were you born? Where did you go to school?

I was the first of my family to be born in St. Maarten. My parents are Dutch and after a stint in Dubai they wanted to continue living and working in a warm climate. I was born once they had settled in the Caribbean. Both my parents were well into their teaching contracts. I am told I attended Jolly Dwarfs as my first school. I don't recall much! However, I loved Sister Magda and Milton Peters College in St. Peters.

What was it like growing up in St. Maarten?

I'm really glad my parents made the decision to settle here. I've grown up with a wonderfully free ethos that has been infused with nationalities and cultures from all over the world. Racism was not a factor as I grew up. We all just got along and spent most of our time on the beach. I was first confronted with racism when I went to university in Holland.

What did you do after high school?

I moved to Utrecht and started my degree in Media and Digital Studies. While preparing for my Master's I did two sabbaticals in Tanzania and Chile. I learned how to live an extremely simple rural life in a Tanzanian village and to develop a program to capture their vanishing culture. I also spent time developing a curriculum for film production workshops in Chile. I was motivated to use digital media to enhance people's lives. My thesis explored the value of "edutainment" to tackle social and cultural issues in emerging cultures.

How did you decide to sail round the world?

In September 2012, I had finished my studies and wanted to travel for a few months. Some friends were planning a round the world trip. The boat was in Honduras and although I had no sailing experience, they asked if I wanted to join them. What an opportunity! I put all plans on hold and went sailing. We left St. Maarten in June 2013. Since then, I have seen some of the most amazing sights our planet can offer.

What have you discovered about yourself?

I'm actually quite impatient. Sailing is a very slow means of transport. The classic child's question "Are we there yet?" took on a new meaning.

What was the hardest part of sailing?

Trying to keep my mind alert and focused on nothingness for days on end. I'd read anything I could lay my hands on. Usually, it was a book a day.

What was your scariest moment?

At anchor near Darwin Island and about to jump into a sea "shower" when I looked into the water and it was full of sharks circling the boat. My "shower" seemed a lot less urgent.

What was your most memorable experience?

Hiking in the Pacific Islands through a Jurassic Park moon-like landscape to reach the inside of the volcano crater and watch the spewing red lava fly up into the air and come back to earth a few metres from where we were standing.

What do you feel you've learnt?

People make a place. Too often we rush past everyone: the guy at the bar, the woman on the corner table. Everyone has a story with the potential to amaze or inspire us.

Do you have any pet peeves?

I do: People, who talk about doing things and never getting it together; it takes a lot of hard work to make a dream a reality. Excuses are the worst thing in the world.

Returning after two years; what strikes you about St. Maarten?

It's not a new thought but it hits you when you've been away. I get really mad that I'm a first generation St. Maartener and my heritage has been raped. The salt pond was a primary force in our heritage. Now it's a garbage dump no one can live near. My contemporaries and I don't know our cultural roots. Schools don't teach it. How can we be expected to take care of things and build a future if we have no knowledge about them?

What's next?

I really want earn enough money to re-join the boat in Brazil as it completes its circumnavigation. I miss life on board.

If you could invite three famous people (dead or alive) for dinner, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

1) I would invite Isabel Allende. I have read almost all her books. I think she would appreciate tasting some local Creole cuisine, so I'd take her to Grand Case where we would sample dishes such as salt fish fritters, journey cakes, fried plantain, conch stew and a shot-glass of Ti-Punch as dessert.

2) Quentin Tarantino; so we could talk about grind house cinema all night long. I would prepare the shrimp & mango spring rolls and green beef curry I learned to make in Thailand.

3) Aimee Mullins. I admire people who overcome difficult odds and also raise discussion. Her views on identity and beauty are super interesting. I would serve her my chicken mushroom risotto and enjoy a glass of good red wine with her.