Category: Student Experience

Title: How One SFS Senior Went Around the World in 90 Days

Before coming to Georgetown, Emily Hardy (SFS’23) had never traveled extensively, let alone by herself.

Now as she prepares to walk the stage at commencement, Hardy can say she’s quite literally traveled around the world — all in 90 days.

Emily Hardy somewhere in Morocco holding the Circumnavigators Club flag.
Emily Hardy (SFS’23) conducted research around the world through the Circumnavigator Grant offered by the School of Foreign Service.

Hardy is part of an elite group of circumnavigators. The rules Hardy had to follow were not for the faint of heart: She had to travel in one direction to at least six countries and three continents. Her travels had to exceed the distance of the Earth’s equator — all 24,900 miles. And she had to do it all in just three months.

For Hardy, that was a challenge waiting to be accepted — and a challenge uniquely suited for the then-junior who in many ways had been preparing for an international adventure throughout her time at Georgetown.

Preparing to Circumnavigate the World

An international politics major, Hardy has been engrossed in global affairs ever since her high school social studies teacher inspired her to start thinking about engaging with the world through diplomacy. She decided to attend Georgetown instead of a university in her native Canada for its Washington, DC, location and proximity to policymakers.

“You get to be at the heart of so many political things and thinkers [at Georgetown],” Hardy said. “That’s why I picked DC in the end.”

In her four years on the Hilltop, Hardy has led the Georgetown International Relations Club, organized academic programming on foreign policy and competed on Georgetown’s top-ranked Model United Nations team. She also worked with multiple professors studying global issues. She even traveled to Paris this spring with Claire Standley, an associate research professor in the Center for Global Health Science and Security, to help present on animal health emergencies at the World Organization of Animal Health.

Hardy stands on the sidewalk with all of her backpacking gear.
Hardy prepares to leave for her three-month journey from Washington, DC with all of her backpacking gear.

So when Hardy first discovered the opportunity to travel the world to conduct research during her junior year, it was a natural fit.

Hardy’s globe-trotting adventure was made possible by the School of Foreign Service (SFS)’s Circumnavigator Grant, a grant that gives one SFS junior the chance to conduct an around-the-world research project on an international issue.

After seeing a call for applications in the weekly SFS announcement emails, Hardy knew she had to apply.

“Although I could not have imagined myself taking a trip around the world before coming to Georgetown, I always hungered to see different places, immerse myself in different cultures and gain a truly international educational experience,” Hardy said. “I think it was this urge that compelled me to apply for the grant.”

Getting the call that she won the grant while eating at the Georgetown neighborhood restaurant Mai Thai, she knew that she was in for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Kicking off in DC in the summer of 2022, Hardy traveled from Morocco to France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Singapore, Thailand and finally to her home in Canada.

A world map showing where Emily Hardy traveled in order starting in Washington, DC and ending in Vancouver, Canada.
Hardy circumnavigated the world and traveled over 25,000 miles, starting in Washington, DC, and ending in Vancouver, Canada.

In the lead-up to her departure, Hardy had a lot to learn and prepare for. With $9,500 in her grant to travel for three months, she knew she’d have to stick to hostels and travel light.

“I was outrageously underprepared. No one should have let me go,” Hardy joked. 

For the entire journey, Hardy had to live out of her backpacking gear. Her only possessions: Five outfits, two pairs of shoes, her laptop, a journal and some other basic necessities.

“I had to buy a new pair of sneakers because I quite literally walked holes into my sneakers,” Hardy said. “It was wild, truly.”

Conducting Global Research

Hardy stands at the Hassan II Mosque in Morocco.
The first stop on Hardy’s travels was Morocco, where she toured the Hassan II Mosque, the largest functioning mosque in Africa.

Hardy’s research project examined the variables affecting why certain countries have not signed the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, a multilateral treaty signed in 1990 that today only has 58 signatories.

Hardy first got interested in this topic when she learned that the agreement was the least ratified UN human rights convention. To better understand the phenomena, Hardy examined factors such as the migration patterns and ruling political ideologies in non-signatory states.

In designing her research project, Hardy traveled to non-signatory states and Morocco, the only country on her itinerary that signed the multilateral agreement.

Staying in hostels and moving from place to place on a weekly basis, Hardy often found herself in local cafes to conduct her everyday research while also taking the time to identify subjects for in-person interviews and sites to visit to enrich her research.

Hardy stands on a grassy lawn with flagpoles lining the lawn leading up to the UN building in Geneva.
Hardy visits the United Nations in Geneva, where she observed a session of the Human Rights Council for her research project.

Hardy’s research took her from memorials in Germany to cultural sites in Thailand. In Geneva, she observed a session of the Human Rights Council run by Michelle Bachelet — then-United Nations high commissioner for human rights — who was leading investigations into possible human rights abuses around the world.

Hardy noted how visiting these different sites enhanced her research by giving her a richer understanding of cultures.

“You can technically talk to anyone over Zoom now, but the real reason why travel is necessary for the grant is because you’re present in different spaces,” Hardy said. “It was really cool to just have so many different experiences and to realize how different corners of the world are. I think we can get really wrapped up in the belief that there’s only one way to do things. But there’s not. Every cultural context has different ways of doing things.”

Her research project also allowed her to connect with local leaders on the ground in every country to interview, including various diplomats-in-training and Bob Rae, the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations.

The Challenges and Lessons From Solo Travel

Backpacking around the world did not come without its challenges, particularly in being alone for three months.

Hardy encountered her most challenging experience while trekking alone in the wilderness in Thailand, where she was cut off from the outside world without a functioning cell phone.

“I was at this gorgeous waterfall in the middle of Thailand, and I quite literally, out of random chance, got hit by a falling tree,” Hardy recalled with humor.

Yet despite going solo for three months in foreign countries, Hardy appreciates how the individual time allowed her to be in more tune with her own thoughts and emotions.

“Like on campus or when you’re constantly on your phone, we’re constantly seeking distractions from our psyche and our thoughts,” Hardy said.  “And I just would have nothing to do but sit there and journal.”

She also appreciated how brief connections with strangers have left a lasting impression on her. On her first night in Paris, Hardy visited the Eiffel Tower with two young women she’d never met before.

“It was just surreal to see the Eiffel Tower light up at night with these strangers that I’d never met,” Hardy said. “I’ve never seen them since. I have no way of contacting them.”

But that’s all okay for Hardy.

“The big thing I learned was that you don’t need people to be in your life forever for them to have an impact on you,” Hardy said. “People can be temporary and yet impactful.”

Looking Ahead as a Carnegie Junior Fellow

Just a few years ago, Hardy never would have guessed that her education would center on global politics. Today, her world revolves around international affairs and trying to drive change in the world.

“I think that’s the fundamental purpose of education,” Hardy said. “Refining the things that you believe are important in the world and coming up with tools, strategies and methods to bring those visions into reality.”

Hardy will only add to her global credentials in the year to come. In September, she will join the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a James C. Gaither Junior Fellow, a competitive one-year program in which junior fellows conduct research alongside Carnegie scholars on important foreign policy issues. At Carnegie, Hardy will study the intersection between climate change, technology and international affairs.

Hardy credits Georgetown and the Circumnavigator Grant for making her a more thoughtful researcher and observer of international politics, enabling her to see countries adversely affected by climate change. Her experience gave her a first-hand glimpse into what she will research at Carnegie and how climate change impacts national security.

“It’s something that very few people can say they’ve done, right? Like spending three months alone, quite literally backpacking around the world in a circle. It’s such a unique experience that I could not have gotten anywhere else but Georgetown.”

Emily Hardy

The soon-to-be graduate is particularly interested in how governments can partner with the private sector and technology to build innovative solutions to solve the climate crisis.

“Climate change is the hot topic of our generation. It’s the existential issue,” Hardy said. “I feel like I will give my life to it in some way, shape or form.”

While Hardy dreams of one day inspiring the next generation of global leaders as a professor, her world tour taught her there’s no need to rush to figure everything out.

“I really grew to accept change and discomfort and experience these incredibly high highs and incredibly low lows,” Hardy said. “Like one second you’re swimming in a gorgeous waterfall in Thailand. The next second you’re getting hit by a tree. There’s just incredible variety in your experience, and the Circumnavigator made me more comfortable with living with change and uncertainty, which is not something that I could have said before I came to Georgetown.”

As for whether she’d do it all again, Hardy has no regrets.

“It’s something that very few people can say they’ve done, right? Like spending three months alone, quite literally backpacking around the world in a circle,” Hardy said. “It’s such a unique experience that I could not have gotten anywhere else but Georgetown.”