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W’International infects alum with travel bug

Of all his travels to exotic locations during his Wingate years, Kevin Logan ’15’s favorite was his W’International experience in Brazil. It’s not every day you get to enjoy the biggest party in the world.

“It was just the folks from Wingate and 2.7 million of our closest friends,” he says.

Alum Kevin Logan enjoys Rio de Janeiro

It was also Logan’s first taste of travel outside of North America, and it whet his appetite in a big way. In just a year and a half, he would log about 43,000 miles in the air with Wingate University groups, doing the W’International stint in Brazil, joining the University choir on a mission trip/tour in South Africa, and learning about Maori literature firsthand in New Zealand with an upper-level English class.

Those experiences were so memorable that, as he’s detailing the various groups’ exploits, vignettes that for many people would be a lifetime highlight come belatedly to him almost as afterthoughts. There was the time he was bitten by a lion in South Africa (true story), the “water slap” bungee jump in New Zealand, and the tour of a favela in Rio de Janeiro.

Like naming your favorite child, Logan hems and haws when asked which of these is his favorite. But being in Rio to ring in 2014, he says, was something special.

“Everyone wears white. It’s traditional, like a fresh start for the new year,” he says. “You go down to the beach. They have fireworks on barges down there. Right after New Year’s, it’s traditional for everyone to go into the ocean for seven waves – it’s good luck.”

Logan grew up traveling every summer with his parents, but most of it was visits to Disney, beach trips and the odd Caribbean cruise. Going overseas for the first time, to Brazil with W’International, sparked something in him. Since he graduated he’s visited Belize and Cuba, and he’s now planning trips to Peru and France.

“I consider experiences and perspectives to add to my wealth as a human being,” Logan says. “You may have to pay for the travel, which hurts your bank account, but you gain all of these experiences you get to look back on the rest of your life.”

New perspectives

Maybe it’s the memory of the hustle and bustle of a Rio favela that drives Logan’s desire to travel. Walking through one of Brazil’s famous shanty towns has certainly stuck with him.

“Brazil is shaped like a bowl,” he says. “If this was in America, all the poor people would live in the basin of the bowl, and all the rich people would live on the hillside with the good view. In Rio it’s flipped, so all the rich people live in high rises in the basin, and then the poor people live on the hillside.”

The Wingate group went to the favela for a drum lesson – the academic part of their W’International program related to Brazilian music – and they walked with a guide, since there are few street signs in these makeshift villages.

Logan recalls not just the stunning views out over the Atlantic Ocean but also the hum of life all around him.

“It was bustling with activity,” he says. “You’d see kids playing soccer on a primitive small court where they’d rigged up some PVC pipe to make goals. And then you’d turn and you’d see an artist making paintings on the steps. I have one of those paintings hanging in my room. And then you’d turn and see a shop owner selling juice and beer to people, and then you’d see feral cats and see kids running around. There’s power lines everywhere. Everyone is extremely happy.”

Alum Kevin Logan getting a "kiss" from an elephant in South Africa

Contrast that with the scene in Alexandra, a township in South Africa, where Logan’s Wingate choir group never dared get out of the bus.

“It’s a slum,” he says. “It’s bad off. The thing that stood out to me most as we were touring around was you’d see all this poverty, and then you’d see humongous advertisements, like the sides of buildings painted, advertising the lottery.”

Logan, who works in marketing with Atrium Health in Charlotte, says spending time with such a wide range of people during his University travel experiences has influenced the work he does.

“We have people who are from all walks of life, even just at Atrium Health,” he says. “We have people who are making twelve-fifty an hour, and we have people making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, who are co-workers. When I’m building messaging, when I’m doing my job, I have to think about both of those people as audience members. Seeing different international perspectives has allowed me to consider more widely varying domestic perspectives.

“When you’re traveling, you try to put yourself in other people’s shoes. That’s people’s general summary of empathy, but it’s more than walking a mile in their shoes. It’s trying to connect with them in a way that you know what it’s like to walk a lifetime in their soul. And that sticks with you longer than the 10-day trip you’ve had.”

Lion fangs and water slaps

The trip Logan took to South Africa in May of 2014 was multifaceted. It was part mission trip, with students spending time with orphans and delivering supplies to them, and part academic exercise. The Wingate choir sang with South African choirs in order to get audio and video recordings of traditional South African songs. Students later created sheet music for the songs – the first time most of the music had been written down.

Alum Kevin Logan hangs out with lions in South Africa

Then there was the more typical tourist part. Students went on an adventure in a game preserve in which they were able to mingle with and ride elephants, and afterward the guide asked if they wanted to see the lions. One at a time, they went into a miles-wide enclosure with three juvenile lions – which, thankfully, had just been fed.

“He said, ‘Just let them walk around you, the way a housecat would,’” Logan says, “‘but remain confident, because if they sense fear, they will attack you.’”

Logan quickly became pretty comfortable around them, so the guide suggested that Logan have his picture taken “hugging” one of the lions. As Logan was letting go, the lion playfully placed his open mouth on Logan’s thigh. “I instinctively pushed the lion away. My hand goes into his mouth a little bit and I felt his canine tooth, which was like two inches long,” Logan says. “The guide was like, ‘He just thinks you’re playing. He’s playing with you.’ What’s cooler than being bitten by a lion and living to tell the tale?”

Maybe going dune surfing, watching a traditional Haka dance, or eating Maori food cooked in the ground – all activities Logan got to do in New Zealand. He also did a “water slap” bungee jump, in which the bungee operators make all the necessary calculations so that at the lowest point of the jump, the jumper can reach out and slap the water before being sprung back up toward the platform.

Alum Kevin Logan kicks up his heels in New Zealand

“My eyeballs about popped out of my head, because I was screaming at the absolute top of my lungs,” Logan says. “You go down, you’re still screaming – I haven’t taken a breath at this point. My eyes were red for about two days.”

Logan, who waited tables and did other jobs throughout college, used some of his savings for the New Zealand trip. But the Brazil W’International experience was only about $800 for food, airfare and lodging, and to afford the South Africa trip he raised money through his church back home in Boone and received a generous donation from a Wingate alum.

He urges students to do whatever it takes to travel as much as possible during their Wingate years.

“When an opportunity presents itself, take it,” he says. “If you’re worried about the money, just try to make it work. Whatever community you have, leverage them, because it will be worth it for you and for them to see you get to have these experiences that 99 percent of people don’t get to have.”