“This is only the beginning.” That’s what former EF traveler Murugi T. would say to her 18-year-old self about having the opportunity to travel to Spain on an EF tour.
Understanding where she is now, 10 years later, it’s a fitting sentiment. Today, Murugi works as a digital producer at a consulting firm. She’s an award-winning (and Emmy-nominated!) visual storyteller and marketer who’s worked with brands like Google, PBS, NBC, and National Geographic. She’s also a film photographer, a jetsetter who’s traveled all over the world, and an advocate for informed consent in photography.
Murugi fully appreciates the path she’s on, and, looking back, understands that her EF tour gave her the confidence to take the first steps to where she is today. So, how exactly did Murugi get from point A to (her very cool) point B, and how can you provide your own students with the same opportunity to transform their futures? Keep reading to find out.
Exploring the world through a new lens
Even before her tour, Murugi was passionate about photography. She arrived in Spain 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, leading to more meaningful memories and even better photos. In fact, slowing down pushed her forward. “I feel like I was finally able to see photos after that tour,” she says.
But switching from digital to film wasn’t the only surprising twist in Murugi’s growth. She was used to shooting landscapes—and Spain didn’t disappoint—but she 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, Vera, 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.
Honing her eye for adventure
After refining her photography skills on tour, Murugi felt even more enthusiastic about continuing to pursue her art. She enrolled in film school, and when she graduated, decided to treat herself to the best 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.”
Next, 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. Later, that desire to see more of the world led her to a job at National Geographic, where travel was a consistent part of her role. And in her current job, she’s taken on even more creative control and responsibility. As a lead producer, she’s in charge of writing scripts, shooting and editing footage, and creating stories that will resonate with her audiences. At each point in her career, Murugi has worked with content from around the world. Her familiarity with different places, along with her innate excitement and willingness to immerse herself in different cultures, makes a huge difference in her day-to-day.
Focusing in on the future
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. She served as director of photography on a recently released film focusing on how the tobacco industry impacts the Black community.
And her personal and professional travels continue to take her all over the world. At this point, she’s been on trips to over 20 countries, often with the express purpose of photographing strangers. Every time she sets out to take these portraits, she remembers Vera’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 what’s next for the up-and-coming artist, we have no doubt that she’ll continue to explore more incredible places and meet 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.
Talk with one of our expert Tour Consultants today and learn how to give your students the opportunity to travel.