Q&A with Trip Leader Claire Bangser
Meet trip leader Claire Bangser, a filmmaker, photographer, and visual artist based in New Orleans. Her city-wide social media portrait project NOLAbeings has been featured in TIME and WIRED, and resulted in her being voted one of New Orleans Magazine‘s “People to Watch in 2014.”
What do you do when you’re not leading trips for National Geographic Student Expeditions?
I’m a freelance photographer and filmmaker. I also have my own “passion” project called NOLAbeings where I interview and photograph strangers on the street, and share these mini stories online with a growing following in New Orleans and beyond. Through that, I’ve been hired to do interview work for other publications too.
What has been your proudest achievement so far in your career?
Seeing my work featured in Nat Geo, or TIME, or Wired, or NPR is always a great feeling, but I think my proudest moments are the times where I’ve seen my work have a tangible impact on peoples’ lives. I get most excited when I hear that a film I made was used in City Hall to pass an initiative on affordable housing in New Orleans, or that a video I made helped an elementary school win a 20 thousand dollar playground (when all they had before was a dirt lot), or that a NOLAbeings interview I posted helped a bunch of women who moved to New Orleans late in life meet each other and start a lunch group. Those tangible moments are so, so rewarding.
You’ll be leading our Alps and Iceland expeditions this summer. What is your connection to these parts of the world?
I’ve been leading the Alps trip since it’s first year – 2014 – and I just love the region. Living in a flat city like New Orleans gives me such an appreciation for the wilderness and topography of the Alps, and in the summer we get to experience amazing floral diversity. I speak fluent French, so it’s also great to spend time in French speaking countries and encourage my students to practice their language skills! This year will be my very first trip to Iceland! It’s been on my bucket list for a long time.
What part of the Alps and Iceland trips are you most excited for students to experience this summer?
I think what makes these trips so cool is that each student comes away with their own favorite moment and experience. My goal is to create the space for everyone to be totally present and soak in each moment – while also exploring a new craft like film or photography.
What is your favorite local food in the Alps?
In the Alps I’d definitely say it’s the cheeeeeeeese!
What do you hope students take away with them after traveling with National Geographic?
I hope they’ll take away great friendships, a desire to continue traveling and exploring, and a newfound (or continued) love of storytelling and picture making. And, for the Alps students, a wheel of cheese.
What do you think is the best part of a National Geographic Student Expeditions trip?
The group dynamic we create on these trips is so wonderful. We work hard to establish a safe and loving environment where everyone is encouraged to be fully themselves. I think this gives students an opportunity to be free and accepted, and I love watching them thrive. It’s incredible the relationships we all form when we turn the phones off and are fully where we are.
Where is the first place you traveled that left a lasting impression on you?
I went to Morocco when I was 17 and it was my first time in a non-Western country. Until then, I had all the typical pre-conceived stereotypes of what “Africa” is like – what the media tells us about poverty and crime and war. When I went to Morocco, I had the opportunity to connect with people in such a human way. It was my ‘ah ha’ moment and the beginning of my love for studying and learning from cultures different from my own.
What are your hobbies, aside from traveling and sharing your insights with National Geographic Student Expeditions travelers?
I drink a lot of coffee – is that a hobby? Well, I am a singer and I play a few stringed instruments. I make handmade books and paintings. I garden a bit, and love to cook. And I’m also pretty into yoga and swimming.
What is the next destination on your travel wish list?
Iceland Can’t wait!
What item won’t you leave home without when traveling?
My ukelele, “Elkie Moonshadow”… I will explain the name if you come on one of my trips.
One fun fact about yourself?
I need to spend time upside-down every day, and I can’t watch people brush their teeth.