After graduating from Penn GSE, a travel blogger entertains and educates her friends and followers

September 13, 2022

La India Santos first traveled outside the U.S. at 14 years old, thanks to her passion for learning Spanish. She convinced her mom to send her on a solo trip to Costa Rica, where she stayed with a host family for a month. At 16, she went to the Dominican Republic to volunteer with the organization Amigos de las America. And once she started as an undergrad at Widener University, she flew to Honduras, Trinidad, Haiti, and beyond.

By the time she enrolled at Penn GSE in 2018, Santos knew her future would be about two things: education and travel. Her experience in the International Educational Development Program helped turn that vision into reality.  

"Penn GSE opened my eyes to the issues that go on all around us when we travel, and it helped me see what I can do about it," Santos said. "With these international education skills, I'm able to connect all dots when I go to a new place."

Santos has been to 25 countries across five continents. For her day job, which makes all her travel possible, she works from home (and abroad) in education technology sales. "I work directly with school administrators, districts, and teachers. I was a Spanish teacher after I graduated from GSE, so I want to continue to provide valuable resources for others who are still in the classroom."

However, Santos also runs a social media profile called Flying Phirst Klass, which encourages young people to travel to less popular destinations and connect with local cultures. Despite the name, she never flies first class. "I do a lot of budget travel, and I focus on sustainable ways of doing it." ("Phirst Klass" comes from her sorority days: it’s what they called her in Alpha Kappa Alpha.)

Sustainable travel considers pocketbook issues — “How can I afford to take regular trips?” — but it also looks at social, cultural, and environment factors. Santos tracks the emissions of the plane tickets she buys, and she advocates for longer-term travel, rather than a flurry of short trips. When she was in Kenya, for example, she visited the Maasai Mara, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world. After her tour she stayed with the local Maasai tribe for a few days. "We learned that they don’t receive any money from the tours unless they do the tours themselves," Santos said. Now when she books tours, she seeks out local tour operators rather than international companies or even the local government. "Even if the government has a tour agency, they could be taking away business from local people," she said. “I always try to go to the source."

To help these local vendors, Santos develops info packets with contacts of small businesses and tour guides and shares them with people interested in visiting the places she’s been.

Santos said that Penn GSE helped her understand how an outsider can responsibly take part in another country's affairs. "When I want to contribute to a local company, I can contribute without trying to be a savior," she said. 

She recounts traveling through Kenya and seeing familiar ideas scrawled onto the walls of a community center. “They were working on creating community initiatives, program planning, and data collection — similar to what I had studied in graduate school — to monitor and evaluate a new program they were implementing. Often people look at these countries and say, 'They don’t have this or that, they won’t make it without us, they need our help.’ In reality, they are doing research and developing projects on their own, and proving that they know what they’re doing.”

For her three-month international internship through Penn GSE, Santos went to New Delhi and worked with Sesame Workshop India, a non-profit behind “Sesame Street.”

Wherever she goes, she says her focus is always on empowering girls and advocating for gender equality.  

When asked about her dream vacation, Santos had to think for a minute. "Madagascar," she eventually said. "That one is a big unknown for me, and I love touring islands." 

You can find Santos on Instagram, her main social media profile, as well as TikTok, where she has 75,000 followers.