Where are they now?

From taking dreamy tour pics to landing her dream job at Nat Geo

“This is only the beginning.” That’s what former EF traveler Murugi T. would say if she could go back and speak with her 18-year-old self, right before heading on an EF tour to Spain.

It’s a fitting answer for someone who, in the nine years since, has shaped her life and career around exploring the world and connecting with the people she meets along the way.

Today, Murugi is an editor and producer at National Geographic. She’s also a film photographer, a jetsetter who’s traveled to several countries, and an advocate for informed consent in photography. Looking back, she can trace all of these accolades to her first EF Spain tour, when she was still relatively new to travel and had never before shot on film. So, to ask a classic travel question: How exactly did Murugi get from point A to (her very cool) point B? Keep reading to see how Murugi’s EF tour inspired her next steps, ultimately helping her reach the place—and become the person—she is today.

Exploring the world through a new lens

Even before tour, Murugi was passionate about photography. She came prepared with her digital camera, but when a fellow traveler let her borrow his film camera, she instantly fell in love. “With digital, you can do what’s called ‘spray and pray,’ meaning you can take as many pictures as possible,” she explains. “But film requires a lot more patience. You have to know the settings, you have to slow down.” This extra layer of care forced Murugi to be more mindful of her surroundings, which led to more meaningful memories and even better photos.

Of course, when it came to snapping quality pictures, it didn’t hurt that Spain itself was simply breathtaking. Everywhere Murugi looked, she could imagine the composition of the perfect photograph before even raising the camera to her eye. “I feel like I was finally able to see photos after that tour,” she says.

Photos taken by Murugi during her EF tour to Spain

The most surprising twist in Murugi’s growth wasn’t her developing artist’s eye, or even the switch from digital to film, but rather, her newfound favorite subject matter. She was used to shooting landscapes—and again, the country didn’t disappoint—but as the tour went on, Murugi found herself looking closer at people instead of places. That included the fellow travelers she bonded with on tour, but even more so, the locals she saw along the way.  “I wanted to show the people living their daily lives—with their permission, of course.”

Murugi’s Tour Director taught her how to ask, “Can I take your picture?” in Spanish, and with that one phrase, Murugi started talking with strangers she saw on the street or in local shops. Her goal was to get the perfect shot, but as an unexpected bonus, these small interactions helped her form a deeper connection to the culture all around her.

Plus, as she pushed herself to step outside of her comfort zone and approach new people, she noticed herself developing a new sense of confidence and self-assurance. This personal development continued to grow throughout tour—and looking back from where she is today, Murugi knows it also inspired her to say “yes” to the many new adventures that came her way long after the Spain trip ended.

My travel experience with EF happened during a very formative year of my life. My interest in telling people’s stories solidified during that trip.

Murugi T.

Portraits taken by Murugi during her various travels after her first EF tour

Honing her eye for adventure 

After refining her photography skills on tour, Murugi felt even more enthusiastic about continuing to pursue her art. She went on to film school, and when she graduated, she decided to treat herself to the best celebratory present she could imagine: a 30-day whirlwind tour with our sister company, EF Ultimate Break. “Words can’t describe that trip,” she gushes. “The photos I took there are some of my best photos to this day.”

From there, she earned the “crazy awesome opportunity” to work a media job at the Olympics in Brazil (where, yes, she was starstruck while eating in the same cafeteria as Michael Phelps and seeing Simone Biles and Usain Bolt break world records).

Each trip abroad helped Murugi dive into a completely different experience and only made her want to see more of the world. This hunger eventually led to any explorer’s dream job: a career at National Geographic, where travel is a consistent part of her role and responsibilities.

“I work with a lot of content from around the world,” Murugi explains. Having familiarity with different places, as well as an innate excitement and willingness to immerse herself in different cultures, makes a huge difference in her day-to-day. In fact, in one full-circle moment, Murugi even got to work on a Nat Geo show called Genius: Picasso, that took place in Spain. As Murugi says, “I was like, ‘Oh my god. I’ve been there, I’ve been there, I’ve been there.’”

Focusing in on the future: What are Murugi’s next steps? 

If you think Murugi’s had her fill of adventures and is ready to stay put, you haven’t been paying attention. Even with her full-time job, she still spends her free time connecting with new people and finding even more new ways to tell their stories. Currently, she’s working as the director of photography on her own film focusing on how the tobacco industry impacts the Black community. When we spoke for this article, she was just getting back from filming it in San Francisco.

And of course, her personal and professional travels continue to take her to places much farther away than the Golden State. At this point, she’s been on trips to over 20 countries, many of which she’s planned with the express purpose of photographing strangers. Every time she sets out to take these portraits, she remembers her first Tour Director’s mini Spanish lesson and makes sure to learn a few key phrases in the local language.

Murugi’s go-to question is still, “Can I take your picture?” But now that she works in the film industry and knows how easy it is for photographers to exploit their subjects, she feels even more passionate about informed consent. That’s why, in addition to asking for permission, she always tells people where the photo is going and how she plans to use it.

Murugi says this rule should apply to every photographer, whether they’re a professional shooting for a world-famous magazine or a high school student on an EF tour. “Students should be able to say a few sentences like, ‘I’m a photography student, and I want to take a picture of you because of your beautiful dress, and I’d like to put it on my Instagram account,’” she explains. “Or, if the students don’t know the language, I’d encourage them to ask their Tour Director for help in starting the conversation.”

And speaking of new conversations, we can’t wait to check in with Murugi in another few years. Because each one of her (many) adventures has helped inspire even more, we have no doubt that she’ll continue to explore even more incredible places, all while meeting even more amazing people. So, we’ll leave you off here, in the middle of Murugi’s story. Or, as she might counter, being the true storyteller she is: This is only the beginning.

In EF’s “Where are they now?” series, we connect with former student travelers to learn all the ways their tour helped them grow in the moment and leave on the path to so much more.

Sarah Bennett McLaughlin

Sarah is a senior copywriter at EF Education First. When she isn’t writing, you can find her browsing through bookshops, trying to cook, or going to improv class (which is basically just an excuse for adults to play make-believe).

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