MIR Spotlight: Devin Connolly
(Devin Connolly has been with MIR for years, starting in the Seattle office and eventually moving overseas where she has led memorable tours and visited exotic countries, from Mongolia and Iran to Central Asia and Azerbaijan.)
HELEN: There are often defining moments in our lives that change us forever. What sparked your love for travel?
DEVIN: It was a middle-school trip to Russia in 1993. One of the teachers at my school had spent her Peace Corps stint in the Soviet Union and now that Russia was open to tourists again, she wanted to take a group of kids there. The teacher set up an after school Russian club, which of course I joined (true to form) and she began preparing us for a spring break trip to Russia and Lithuania. We learned a bit of Russian to prepare us for the trip, as well as some Russian songs to sing at an assembly during our visit to a school in St. Petersburg, and at the end of March, off we went to Russia!
To be completely honest, a lot of that trip was lost on me at the time; at the age of 13, I didn’t grasp the greater significance of finally getting to peek behind the Iron Curtain, but something definitely took hold on that trip because as soon as I returned, I knew that I wanted to devote as much time as possible to learning Russian and studying as much as possible about Russian history and culture.
When I got to university, I immediately declared Russian language and literature as my major, and I spent two long stints in St. Petersburg as part of my studies. I’ve had many fleeting interests in my life, but Russia is definitely a permanent obsession!
DEVIN: My best foreign language is Russian, though I spoke Spanish in my youth and could easily get it back if I had the chance to use it regularly again. I am also learning Farsi and I have a basic command of “restaurant Georgian.” I can read Georgian – not an easy feat – and it is the language that is my current top priority.
DEVIN: I’ve led tours to the South Caucasus, Iran, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, across Central Asia, Mongolia, and, of course, Russia. I am most often in the South Caucasus, which is an area I have come to call my “professional homeland,” but I also have quite a soft spot for Iran, which is a country I think more Americans should visit. Iran is full of friendly and hospitable people who are genuinely touched that foreigners, and especially Americans, would choose to visit their country.
DEVIN: Clients say that my love of travel and foreign cultures is obvious, and that this passion shines through in my work. I am also known for my singing – I don’t always sing on tours, but in certain monasteries, I have been known to sing some Latin chants or parts of the liturgy in Old Church Slavonic if the acoustics are especially good.
DEVIN: I’ve never considered myself to be especially rigid or judgmental, but travel has taught me a sense of tolerance and open-mindedness that helps me relate to others as I encounter new people and customs on my tours.
I always try to remember that the mores and surroundings I am used to are not objectively “right” in any way, and conversely, when I see people in other countries doing things differently, it certainly doesn’t make their actions “wrong.” This is an extremely basic travel lesson, but it’s one of which I am constantly aware.
(Top photo credit: Devin Connolly – Far from her hometown of Edmonds, Washington, Devin Connolly is in Narenjestan, Iran)
PUBLISHED: September 5, 2014