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'Appreciate cultural differences': 2 women start travel club for Bloomington-Normal teen girls

Two women pose for a photo in front of a ceramic-lined bench and a row of trees.
Blo/No Teen Girls Travel Club co-founders Jessica Nicholas (left) and Monica Estabrook pose for a photo at Parc Güell in Barcelona, Spain, during the trip they led in March.

Two world travelers from Bloomington-Normal are sharing their love of seeing the world with the next generation.

Educator and immigration advocate Jessica Nicholas and fine arts teacher Monica Estabrook are close friends and colleagues. They recently formed the Blo/No Teen Girls Travel Club after leading their first group of teenagers through Paris and Barcelona last March.

“We had a very fulfilling experience with that and we wanted to continue to be able to take students abroad and help provide the opportunity for kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to travel overseas,” Nicholas said.

The club’s first trip is planned for June 4-11, 2024, in Italy. The trip costs $4,878 and teen girls who are interested must be 14-19 at the time of the trip. They also must attend the two mandatory trip meetings and at least three cultural meetings.

“If you already have a background, a scaffold of information, then you have context to hang your experiences onto,” Nicholas said. “And we want this to be a community. We don’t want people to just sign up and then show up at the airport. We want it to be a community of people who travel together well.”

Nicholas noted that one of the reasons for limiting the club to teen girls only is the two advisors on the trip are female, allowing for room checks for girls, but not boys.

They also want to teach young girls about safety and the different cultural expectations for young women when traveling abroad.

While traveling, Nicholas recalled hearing men make suggestive comments or gestures toward her, being followed, and learning how things like direct eye contact can mean different things to other cultures.

“The experience of travel is different if you are a girl or a woman,” Nicholas said. “There are a lot of gender expectations here and abroad that people have to contend with, both boys and girls have to contend with, but it is a very different experience if you are a group of women who are traveling versus a mixed-gender group or a group of men.”

Nicholas said if the Italy 2024 trip is successful, the club wants to do annual trips to other places like Costa Rica and Japan.

The club drives to empower women while broadening their horizons and showing them the world.

“I would hope that they would gain a larger perspective on the world and on history and on their place in it and also a respect for and an appreciation for cultural differences,” Nicholas said.

Megan Spoerlein is a reporting intern at WGLT. She started in 2023. Megan is also studying journalism at Illinois State University.
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