This morning I had the chance to meet an inspiring person in an inspiring place: one of our very own – Emma Baker at Presuming Ed. Previous dealings with this cafe have been Maddy’s engagement party, watching Virunga with the team and an all-night party that the Journeys by Design team hosted two weeks ago. This is aside from the gallons of coffee we consume there on a day-to-day basis.
You may remember my mention of some significant change at JbD. Emma, who is now Angela’s right hand in all things marketing, joined two months ago. We sat in the garden. The weather was muggy, but it didn’t stop the birds, whose song was out in full force. We were intermittently interrupted by a female blackbird with a beak full of worms and settled in for the obligatory flat whites.
Emma’s story, which I felt was difficult to fully stitch together in my mind during our short meeting, largely involved telling of the travelling adventures over her lifetime. ‘My work background is in marketing, but I’ve always wanted to combine work with travelling, so it seemed a bit like fate that I ended up at JbD.’ A rare life circumstance that ends up linking the practical to the passionate.
Having grown up in the West Country in Somerset, Emma’s childhood sounded idyllic: ‘It was a typical rural childhood of running around fields. After college I took a year out and went travelling to Thailand, Laos, Australia and Bali. I had planned to go to a few other places, but came back to Thailand. The food was just amazing. People were so friendly. Apart from monsoon season, the weather was always sunny, which made it possible to be outside most of the time, so there was a very outdoorsy, community feel.’
Emma came to Brighton in 2001 and graduated from the University of Sussex in English literature – an almost incidental-sounding part of the story, brushed over, before more tales of travelling commenced.
‘So, after Uni I got onto the JET Programme and taught English in Japan. I didn’t even speak any Japanese before I left. We were just expected to learn while we were there. I was totally out in the sticks, but visited a few other places too. Tokyo was hectic, but interesting. It has a great energy. Everywhere you look there’s something bizarre that you’ve just never seen before. It was interesting to see somewhere as developed as the West, but completely different culturally. After that I decided to go back to Thailand to live for a bit and began working for the British Council School in Chiang Mai. I was there, on and off, for about ten years and also visited Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Nepal.’
In 2011, Emma decided, after having spent a large chunk of her life on the road, that it was time to come home. It didn’t last. The travelling bug had struck.
‘After I came back for Christmas, my sister and I decided to go to India for ten weeks. The south is a lot more chilled than most other parts of India. The food was great. Then we went to the north, which was almost a totally different country. Right next to Tibet, so there’s a lot of crossover in culture – apparently the Dalai Llama spends quite a bit of time there.’ She then regaled the classic tale of Delhi belly that every Westerner who’s ever travelled around India sympathetically and knowingly smiles about upon hearing.
After working in sales and marketing at a book publishers in Lewes and returning as an employee to coordinate the 20 strong marketing team at the University of Sussex, she got itchy feet again. ‘So then I went to South America, which had been on my list for a while. My Mum came out with me for the first few weeks and we went on this huge trek into a canyon. We both suffered from altitude sickness, but made it out with the help of some sure-footed mules.’
‘It was only near the end of the trip, on an island beach off the coast of Brazil, reading in the sun, sipping the juice from a coconut with a straw and a tiny umbrella, when I realised I am definitely a beach person.’
After four months travelling in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil, Emma returned to Brighton and joined Journeys by Design in May. Which just leaves me to say we wish her all the best in this challenging new role with us.