Photo By Nolan P. Schmidt
I hope this article finds you enjoying the sight of the immaculate northern prairies. As we say our warm farewells to this unprecedented year 2020, I wanted to have a reflective chat with someone radiant, adventurous and community-oriented. This is when I thought of the legendary, joyous and stellar lady LesleyAnne Buegel.
This is a very special opportunity for me to share my platform with Lady LesleyAnne because this fall marks my 10th year in the Fargo-Moorhead area and this wouldn’t have been possible without her esteemed father, Sir Buegel, who recruited me to attend college here. He has been a tremendous mentor since the day I landed in the area and his family has been welcoming many international students like myself for decades, allowing us to confidently make this area our home away from home.
Now back to Lady LesleyAnne, I wanted to finish this historical year 2020 in a ceremonial way with someone who has traveled the globe but who was born and raised here. LesleyAnne is a proud Moorhead Spud and under the PSEO program, she went to school at Concordia College. After high school, she boldly chose to attend the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, and then came back to make a lasting impact in the community.
Since the Christkindlmarkt 2019, she has been a great addition to our Folkways team and the Red River Valley is fortunate to have her back in our midst because the entire world is her comfort zone. She is fearless and welcomes any new adventures that will make her a better human being and our community friendlier to everyone.
To check out her art visit @lesleydidthat on Instagram To see her travel videos check out her YouTube channel, LesleyAnne Buegel Happy Holidays with your beloved ones & Umwaka Mushya Muhire (Happy New Year in kinyaRwanda) Until our humble paths cross again: Keep smiling at life and taking precious care of the beautiful human you see daily in the mirror! – Cyusa
Where do you call home?
This is often a difficult question for me. The short answer is my parents’ lovely and eclectic house in Moorhead, where I was raised and where I currently live. The long answer is inspired by a TED talk I once listened to, that asks the far more philosophical question, “Where are you a local?” I am a local in Moorhead, Minnesota, where I learned to bike and went to prom and first fell in love. I am a local in Fargo, North Dakota, where I got my wisdom teeth taken out and practiced gymnastics every day and waitressed at IHOP every weekend in high school.
I am a local in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I learned how to live on my own and got my first tattoos and graduated university. Although I live in Moorhead now, I don’t think of myself as any less of a local in the other two cities (admittedly, Fargo is only across the bridge, but you know what I’m getting at), and I would call all of them home.
Where did your passion for traveling come from?
My parents have and always will be my biggest inspiration. They met at a carnival celebrating Tết, the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, and never once stopped their passion for new experiences and new cultures once they had children. Instead of holding off on travel because they had kids, they worked tirelessly to bring us to new and exciting places, balancing a steady life at home with trips back to Vietnam to visit family with trips all around the states and the world. I always had the coolest souvenirs to pass around at show and-tell, but I wasn’t aware of how rare that actually was.
It just felt like a normal part of life to me. It took a while to realize how lucky I was to have a passport overflowing with stamps before most of my peers had ever left the country. I have never since taken it for granted, and am so thankful that my parents had the opportunities and capacity to take us with them. When I was making my college decision, I knew that my love of travel had finally outgrown its existence as a byproduct of my parents’ interests and plans, and the time had come for me to pick up the baton and climb those mountains by myself
How was it transitioning from high school in America to college in New Zealand?
Like many who leave the nest for the first time, my first weeks after moving out were lonely and filled with doubts. The first night I was there I remember feeling surprised too. I think a part of me didn’t actually believe I would make it that far (“that far” being 8,501 miles from Moorhead). Maybe I was surprised at the fact that being in a brand-new country could feel deeply happy and sad, when in my travels before I had only ever felt happiness, awe or wonder. Because I am a very emotional person, I took the absence of my family, friends and first love very hard. I had to reach inward and come to terms with letting go of those ties so I could make room for new experiences.
I started reaching out immediately to make new friends, and they helped me more than anything else to start to make Dunedin become a second (or third?) home. But the substantial distance from home was more than heartache and an inconvenient time difference, it was a blessing too. Knowing that you can’t just drive a few hours to have your dad check your engine light makes you a lot more self-sufficient, and I think the ability to establish yourself in a new place from a clean slate adds a lot of meaning and depth to your life.
Why should people care about places outside the Midwest?
There is so much more than the media’s 10-second highlight reel of a country or city. When I told some people here where I was going for college, they could only conjure images from Lord of the Rings. Some thought New Zealand was a colony of Australia. In Dunedin, many people told me they couldn’t wait to go to America because they wanted to go to a Walmart, Hollywood, a Las Vegas casino or to Disneyland. They often couldn’t conjure any other images of the country. This saddened me a lot. These extremely thin slices of America and New Zealand are representative of the countries only in globalized industries, from blockbuster movies, news headlines and megacorporations, from a made-up and skewed concept of a country that is so much more than a scenic movie set, or a world-class selection of sugar cereal.
I worry that people have traded the authenticity and education of experiencing a new world for the easily and quickly consumed Instagram version, even worse, that they are unaware of it happening. There is so much more beyond what a day, a week or even a month in a new place could show you. If you can get out there, get out there. If you can’t, educate yourself as a global citizen, read books about it, watch new sports, follow bloggers and try to digest local and indigenous films in addition to mainstream media platforms. The real lives of people and places are not done justice by the globalized version, the photoshopped pictures or headlines shouting glamorous or grotesque or whatever they say now to get your attention. The genuine experience of a new culture, experienced at your own pace, will help you discover the world we all live in, and the world inside of yourself you may not know yet.
How has COVID affected your career plans?
Like millions of people around the world, I was caught off guard by the pandemic that hit at the beginning of the year and had no idea the extent to which it would last and impact my life. I am very lucky to have my personal support network of family and friends, and my professional support network at Folkways and in the FM community that made starting full-time mid-pandemic so enjoyable and educational. With their unwavering support and opportunities for growth, I have found that wonderful and amazing friendships and careers can be forged even in the darkest of years.
What is your vision 2030? Where will you be and why?
In 2030, I’ll be on an expedition in Antarctica with my marine biologist friends studying the behavior of penguins, an English teacher in Japan fulfilling my childhood dream of living in a real-life Studio Ghibli movie, a traveling street artist using the Canadian railroad to go from coast to coast, selling pie in a mug from a cute little food truck I run with my best friend, a museum curator at MoMA hoping to get one of her own pieces in an exhibition one day, a simple olive farmer in Greece with crow’s feet permanently etched in my face, skydiving with my fearless sister. Your guess is as good as mine