TWINSBURG — If you’ve ever thought about traveling overseas, Stephanie Claytor has this advice: Do it.
"It helped me in my career," said Claytor, a Twinsburg native and a 2006 graduate of Twinsburg High School. "Those who don’t take advantage are missing out."
"Blacktrekking: My Journey Living in Latin America" is the recently published account of her travels to Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
As a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, she was sent to Bogota, Colombia, to teach English in 2010-11 after her graduation from Syracuse University. Previously, in 2008, she had been in the Dominican Republic on an overseas study program.
She said that under the Fulbright program, she had to do a side project. She initially thought of doing a video of her experiences — she studied broadcast communications, international relations and Spanish.
"I had tapes with information," she said. "I also had a blog when I was in Bogota, ‘The Bogota Update.’"
However, Claytor said she "found it hard to share my thoughts in a single conversation."
So, Claytor decided to write a book, and started writing in 2016, taking information from her journals and interviews. She also hired a consultant "to be my editor and assist me with publishing."
After a break in 2017 to plan her wedding, she went back to writing, revising and editing, and created a travel blog, www.blacktrekking.com.
"When I’m not working, I’m usually planning or taking my next trip," she says on the blog. "I fell in love with traveling when I was 10, during my first plane ride to California ... I often travel with my husband, or my mother. Sometimes, I’ll go on the occasional girl’s trip or solo trip. I love beaches, big cities, dance and anything related to black culture and history."
The blog entries include everything from "10 things I learned while visiting Japan," to "Fun things to do in Ghana," and "Tour Birmingham’s Civil Rights District."
It also includes tips on low-cost air fares and advice on booking hotels in out-of-the-way destinations.
She describes her book as "a coming-of-age story" about her experiences living abroad.
"From love and heartbreak, to violence, culture shock and exploration of racial identity," her blog says the book "details her time blossoming into an adult while living in the Dominican Republic and Colombia."
The book also includes "tips on how to stay safe while living abroad, as well as how to have a good time and maximize the experience."
She made the final revisions and published it in July.
"It was something I knew I wanted to do but I didn’t know anyone who had written a book," Claytor said. "I started compiling my journals, my tapes and my blog. I wrote the first format to look more like a diary, but with my news background, I thought that might be too much detail. So I revamped it to have chapters, and I included travel tips at the end. I committed to writing it in 2016. I’m the type of person who if I say I’m going to do something I’m going to do it."
There were several memorable moments during her travels, Claytor said.
"The one thing I was fascinated by was Samana," Claytor said. "That is a region in the Dominican Republic when I studied abroad there. I took trips every other weekend to the Dominican Republic, and I met an elderly woman there who knew all the history."
The elderly woman, Leticia Wilmore, told Claytor about her ancestors, who were freed slaves in Philadelphia in the 1820s. An 1824 annual report from the American Colonization Society reported there were 200,000 freed blacks they wanted to send back to Africa within 50 years.
"At that time, the Dominican Republic and Haiti were all one country," Claytor said. "The president of Haiti invited the freed slaves there."
Around 6,000 freed blacks took advantage of the offer, Claytor said. One of them had the last name of Mitchell, which was her mother’s maiden name, she added.
"I went back the following year to do a documentary on this for my honors thesis project," Claytor said. "It’s a chapter in my book. That story has always been special to me."
The biggest challenge in writing the book?
"The hardest part is getting past the fear and doubt," Claytor said. "It’s not as difficult as people may feel. Don’t get discouraged. It can be challenging to get people to buy and believe in your book. Writing takes many hours. Read other books of people they admire so they can get a feel on what ways to tell your story. I like the self-publishing route. You have to self hustle and really put your book out there, but you keep all the profit."
Claytor, who has lived in Tampa, Fla. for the past several years and works as a multimedia journalist for for Spectrum Bay News 9, said she hopes others will be encouraged by her experiences and by her book to travel.
"I hope they will be inspired to travel abroad and challenge themselves by living abroad," Claytor said. "I hope they will learn about the culture in the Dominican Republic. I hope it will make Americans more appreciative of what we have here.
"I hope it inspires more students to study abroad and apply the Fulbright program, especially students of color," she added. "In 2016 and 2017, only six percent of college students who went abroad were African American. As far as Amercan students in general, they are not enough of them taking advantage. With economy being so global, it is needed."
To order a copy of her book, visit www.blacktrekking.com/book. The book is also available on Amazon and in ebook form.
Reporter April Helms can be reached at 330-541-9423, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @AprilKHelms_RPC