It’s not every day you have the chance to do yoga in a place where tarantulas rain from the sky. Then again, there is perhaps no better time to perform stress-reducing yoga poses than while surrounded by said eight-legged friends — not to mention snakes, mosquitoes and monkeys.
“Everyone is screaming at first,” explains Jimmie Munoz. “Then after that, you hear another thud and it’s no big deal … just another tarantula.”
It was Jimmie who first suggested yoga to his peers during a summer abroad trip to Ecuador, during which the group spent four days in the Amazon rainforest with no electricity or internet.
“I knew I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to be the only one,” he explains. “I figured the worst thing was that I would be the weird guy doing yoga. Lo and behold, several people said, ‘I love yoga!’ So we started a daily routine that ultimately helped us bond. I could have been stopped by this fear of being weird, but it turned out I was the guy who opened the door and we all walked through it. I learned that no one else is going to implement my ideas unless I do.”
It was the first of many key takeaways for Jimmie during the month-long experience, which immersed him in Ecuador’s diverse regions, from the Andes mountains, to the Amazon rainforest, to the Pacific Coast, all with the goal of understanding the complexity of sustainable development. It’s a lesson he had already been practicing as a student in ASU Online’s Master of Sustainability Leadership program, which inspired him to shift his focus from working in digital media to building a sustainable tourism business. But it was his travels in Ecuador that made him confident the career change would be worth it.
“It really drove home that it was what I wanted to dedicate my life to pursuing,” he says. “Our tour company engaged in responsible tourism in really interesting ways and gave me insight into the industry — the strengths as well as the challenges. Being on the participant side helped me understand all of the logistical issues and the importance of even small decisions, like deciding to have local fare instead of visiting a big chain for dinner.”
Jimmie’s business, PassportMX, was created as a way of promoting cultural exchanges for travelers coming to Mexico City, with the goal of addressing common misconceptions about the city and Mexico as a whole — misconceptions that Jimmie experienced firsthand.
“I was born in Phoenix and grew up there, but my family is from Mexico,” he says. “I didn’t know much other than what I was told, and when I came to Mexico City my expectations were completely blown away. It was more modern, more cultural. There is natural beauty all around the city in the mountains, with volcanic valleys and hot springs everywhere you go. There’s a lot more to it than the beach, tequila and drug cartels. I want to have people who may not understand that aspect of it experience it so that they can walk away with a different sentiment and appreciation for Mexico. It’s more than what we’re all told.”
For Jimmie, a three-week vacation destination turned into a permanent residence. He has since launched a successful bed-and-breakfast in Mexico City and is currently planning a 10-day tour excursion scheduled for May 2018. He’ll begin promotion for the tour when he returns to Phoenix later this year.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork as we get started,” he says. “But I don’t want to go anywhere else. Mexico captured my heart.”
He adds that his ability to pursue a master’s degree while living abroad is a testament to the flexibility of taking courses online.
“I see it as the way of the future,” he says. “Partly because of my previous work background, but it also feels like it’s going to become more second nature to just take a class online. With ASU having this robust online program, I feel like I’m part of the future, and that ASU is really pushing the envelope. I have a sense of pride being part of an online program that is not only making it easier for people to learn, but is also really committed to making education more accessible to more people. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s working its way to being more perfect.”
His biggest advice for any college-aged person? Get out of your comfort zone.
“If that means going to a university away from home, going on a study abroad experience or taking a semester online while living in a new place, do it,” he says. “Force yourself to get into these experiences that you would never have the opportunity to do at home — not because home is a terrible place, but because home is familiar, and we’re not challenged and pushed to our limits in familiar places. In Ecuador, I was challenged and learned so much about myself that helped me grow as a person.”
Learn more about ASU Online’s Master in Sustainability Leadership degree.