Changing Lives Through Travel: Leesa Truesdell

Meet Leesa, a passionate advocate for helping others achieve their goals through travel and the mastermind behind Global Foodie Friends and Dreams Abroad. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Can you tell us what inspired you to start Dreams Abroad?

Dreams Abroad was born after my grandmother died while I was living abroad in Madrid, Spain. So, there’s very much a circle-of-life feel to its inception. I started writing for a company’s blog before I arrived in Spain in August 2016. During that time, I was not seeing where my posts went after I submitted them. It was as if I posted them to an abyss amongst hundreds of other expats. In addition, I didn’t feel as if my time and effort were being rewarded. Before I went home for Christmas, I had started a teacher interview series that would soon become what we now know as Dreams Abroad.

What was the biggest challenge and the biggest reward for you along the way?

The biggest challenge came from making the decision to move abroad while my grandma was ill. I overcame the feelings of guilt and it turned out to be a life-changing experience. Why? At first, realizing that my grandma had passed while I was thousands of miles away was difficult, paralyzing at times. It was heart wrenching and a complete shock but living abroad and overcoming some of my own personal shortcomings were what really needed to happen.

There is a whole other world out there and you are a very small part within it.

I hadn’t really lived and learned to appreciate the world and other cultures until my first internship in Medellin, Colombia in 2015. After that, I knew I needed to see and experience more to understand my shortsightedness and embrace new ideas. The biggest reward from living abroad in Spain was me learning to understand myself on a level that most people never fully challenge themselves to embrace; and, that there is a whole other world out there and you are a very small part within it.

“The only person you are destined to become is the one you decide to be.” I love this quote on your site. Travel is the best school of life. Can you give us examples of what Dreams Abroad meant for some of the teachers or students you worked with in terms of personal growth through travel? Or for yourself?

Thank you so much, Gaby! I thought about this quote and looked back on my time in Madrid and how I transformed myself through grief and culture. The meaning of this quote, to me, when I chose it was that everyone has a past, and that no matter what you felt like yesterday– when you wake up the next day– put on a smile and work towards being that person you have decided to be.

For me, I went to Spain to learn how to be a better Spanish speaker, I also wanted to create a website and become a better writer. As the days passed, the grief played on my heart strings but being able to interact with my students and then coming home each day to work on Dreams Abroad with the intent of making the site what it is today, this is what this means. 

Tell us about your food project Global Foodie Friends – a space for travelers to share food inspirations while experiencing cultures. What prompted you to create the community?

Global Foodie Friends (GFF) has been such an interesting surprise. I had come back from a trip to Mexico in April 2019. I decided to post a photo of Nopales on Twitter on a Friday as a Foodie Friday post. Then, from there I asked a few people to join and we started a small #FoodieFriday circle amongst our own group of followers but this lasted maybe until August 2019 or so. It was not every week and definitely did not have the GFF community that we have now.

My goal with Global Foodie Friends has and always will be to be inclusive to all so that we can learn about other cultures and how food connects people within their culture or through their travels. For example, our hosts each week usually bring a variety of perspectives that give the discussion a framework. From there, the hosts interact and engage with our community to create an absorbing dialogue where members learn and educate others.

Twitter is a great social media outlet for groups like Global Foodie Friends. It’s a very “social” social media source. The purpose of Global Foodie Friends is to connect people from different cultures through food and I believe we have accomplished this amongst our own team too.

My goal with Global Foodie Friends has and always will be to be inclusive to all so that we can learn how food connects people within their culture or through their travels.

We have a multicultural host committee that discusses and agrees upon our topics that we select each month and we also have a group of hosts that rotate depending on what topic is being discussed that week. We schedule our discussion to begin during the Australian Eastern Standard Time which is Thursday EST and it continues for 24 hours until Friday evening Pacific Standard Time PST.  October 4, 2020 will mark the one-year anniversary of Global Foodie Friends.

Why do you believe food plays such an important role in bridging intercultural gaps?

Food plays an important role in everyone’s lives, it is a common denominator and brings people together from across cultures; facilitating many of the important interactions of our lives. The space we have between us, whether it be in our own families or across cultures can be bridged because when food is on the table, we all have the chance to learn something from one another through this common denominator.

The impossible question: what’s your favorite cuisine and/or a country to travel for food?

This is really hard because I don’t have a favorite but if I had to choose a place to travel to right now for food it would be Italy. I enjoy cheese and wine and really savor them when they are paired together. Milan is one of my favorite cities because of the food, music, fashion, history and culture. I have been one time and that one time was the time I fell in love with a ball of cheese.

Food plays an important role in everyone’s lives, it is a common denominator and brings people together from across cultures; facilitating many of the important interactions of our lives.

Do you think, given the current climate of unrest, that food can and will play a part in understanding each other a little better and facilitating peace and tolerance?

In line with my comment above, about food being a common denominator, food offers the opportunity for us to communicate with each other. Beyond this opportunity to communicate it also provides the first glimpse or exposure to other cultures for many of us. Their love of Thai food may drive someone to visit Thailand and to truly experience the culture. This adventure and others like it hopefully create a greater appreciation of others and their cultures. While this kind of experience doesn’t happen for everyone if it happens for enough people it certainly adds understanding and respect to our world. And the more of that the better!

What’s next for Dreams Abroad and Global Foodie Friends? Do you have any exciting announcements or shameless plugs?

Dreams Abroad will be celebrating its fourth birthday in August. We weren’t technically a name until January 2017 but Leesa, our founder arrived in August 2016. Global Foodie Friends will celebrate its first anniversary in October and we continue to grow and have more and more fun. Come join us – won’t you? 

Photography: Leesa Truesdell

1 Comment

  • Matthew Hirtes
    Posted July 22, 2020

    What’s my favourite day of the week? It’s become Friday. All thanks to Leesa Truesdell, who set up #FoodieFriday for us gastronomes to salivate over each other’s photos and culinary experiences all around the world.
    Loved reading this interview. Talk about living a life less ordinary. Way to go, Leesa!

Leave a comment