World Traveler Bethany Hanlon ’07 on Her Memoir, ‘Toilet Paper for Peanuts’
Some may call it, simply, chance, the way that Bethany Hanlon ’07 discovered Arcadia University, but in her travel memoir, Toilet Paper for Peanuts, she defines the moment she decided on a collegiate path as a “serendipitous coincidence.”
As Hanlon relays in her 474-page memoir, her journey at Arcadia began at a local Panera Bread restaurant, where she picked up a flyer featuring a group of students standing in front of the iconic Big Ben in London. The fine print described Arcadia’s Preview Program, which sends first-year and new transfer students abroad for spring break. Coming from a family of travel enthusiasts where “global awareness seemed to be a sort of measuring stick,” the flyer whet her adventurous appetite almost immediately. No sooner had she applied and received a scholarship from Arcadia than her fate was sealed.
Hanlon, who currently resides in North Carolina and works as a staff member for Teach for America, confesses that Toilet Paper for Peanuts, aptly titled after a unique exchange (a roll of toilet paper for a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts) that took place at the summit of Volcán Acatenango, would never have been written if it were not for the experiences she had through Arcadia. In fact, it was not until Hanlon was asked to describe her time overseas during the Honors Breakfast in her senior year, that an inkling for the book even took shape.
“I had no idea where to start,” Hanlon said, recalling the initial intimidation of drafting her speech for the Honors Breakfast. “My mom suggested that I tell the toilet paper story, so I did. At her continued suggestion, I even carried a toilet paper prop with me to the podium when I told the story. After my speech, a father of one of the accepted high school students came up to me, handed me his business card and told me if I had any other stories like that one, that I should write a book. In the summer of 2011, while doing sunrise yoga at the foothills of the Himalayas, I decided to teach for one more year before moving back to New Jersey with my parents to write the book.”
Hanlon’s memoir spans the entire length of her academic career at Arcadia, intimately depicting her time studying abroad in witty, unrestrained detail. She opens with the grandeur of London’s castles and cobblestone, followed by a series of action-packed adventures in the majestic environment of Costa Rica–from zip-lining through the cloud forest of Monteverde, encountering a menacing 6-foot alligator, to pulling an all-nighter to watch sea turtles lay their eggs at 4 a.m., and surfing the country’s coastline until dusk.
“My experiences through Preview and Arcadia’s group travel programs have definitely molded me into the traveler and person I am today,” said Hanlon, whose quest for backpacking independence was later realized in the summer of 2005, when she was awarded the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship for Women in Global Leadership at Arcadia University. “The scholarship allowed me to pick a country and a project, and so I chose to spend six weeks teaching English in an orphanage in Guatemala where I met this adorable little kid named Jesús. He reappears throughout my memoir leading up to my senior year.”
Hanlon’s tireless thirst for adventure never waned during her time in Central America. On the weekends, she would pack up her travel bag and take multiple excursions with a few of the other volunteers from the orphanage. One such excursion included an overnight hike on a dormant volcano. “I was itching for independence and I got that in Guatemala. By the time I came home, I was ready for more organized travel, which Arcadia expertly provided during my semester abroad in Spain.”
Hanlon, whose passion for education led her to teach for five years with Teach for America, plans to teach history in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District this fall. “I still have enough energy to be on the frontlines in the classroom,” said Hanlon, who credits her Arcadia professor, Dr. Joan Thompson, now retired, and Community Service Coordinator Cindy Rubino, with preparing her for her post-graduate journey with Teach for America. “Of course, while I do have that yearning to put down roots, I’ll never stop traveling.”
Hanlon’s advice to prospective and current students interested in studying abroad:
“Before you go, do some research and learn what to expect. It is impossible not to compare things to what you already know, but try to see what’s unique about the place. Let yourself change in the experience. Even just traveling for a week or a few days, you will feel different. Keep a journal, or two. After four years at Arcadia, I had eleven hand-written journals. It is amazing to read those stories later on. There are so many more opportunities now for Arcadia students and each one will give you the chance to explore and challenge you to grow as a world citizen.”
Toilet Paper for Peanuts, which was self-published in April of this year, is now available for purchase on Amazon.com. Hanlon welcomes those interested in learning more to visit her website: www.toiletpaperforpeanuts.com.
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