UMaine student hopes to be a world traveler

Posted March 13, 2009, at 8:53 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:02 a.m.

ORONO, Maine — For the past nine years, David Merrill’s world has been whatever he can find in Newburgh and at the University of Maine, with a few side trips around Maine and to Quebec.

If everything goes his way, however, the UMaine senior’s world is about to get much, much bigger. Merrill, a 25-year-old sustainable agriculture major who has lived in Newburgh since 2000, has applied to be a World Traveler Intern, a program through STA Travel, one of the largest student travel programs in the world.

The World Traveler Intern program offers two winners the opportunity to spend this summer traveling while making video blogs about their experiences. And it’s free.

“It was kind of like, one click [on the program’s Web site] and I think I know what I’m going to focus my energy on for the next couple of months,” said Merrill, who is known to friends as Tavi, a Finnish variation of David.

This year’s trip includes stops in Fiji, Australia, India, eastern Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Russia and Scandinavia.

Merrill will find out Monday whether he has been selected to the final round of 10, from which two winners eventually will be picked.

In addition to filling out an application, potential interns had to make a video of about three minutes and post it to the World Traveler Intern Web site, which is linked to YouTube. A panel of judges will pick the finalists and winners, but the number of views each video gets will be a factor in the judging process.

Merrill said two other UMaine students, Anya Rose and Elizabeth Wright, also have applied for the program.

As of Friday there were 438 video applications. Merrill’s video had 1,711 views, which was on the low end of the videos.

While some of the applicants chose to use their video to advocate for themselves or give a tour of a city such as New Orleans, Merrill did something different. He documented a trip he took to Presque Isle, during which his friend Ryan Lockhart took him snowmobiling for the first time. In the video the two go snowmobiling in town, and even take a snowmobile trip to Al’s Diner in nearby Mars Hill.

Merrill said he had seen some of the other videos and wanted to do something really different by getting into the culture of a place rather than serving as a tour guide.

“I tried to play up in the video the aspect that [snowmobiling] is really part of life in The County,” he said. “I wanted to convey the message that, if I go someplace I want to get into, what’s the life like there, not just seeing the sights.”

Merrill had several reasons for applying for the internship. First, he recently became interested again in photography and video after volunteering during his teenage years at a cable television station in his hometown, Burlington, Mass. Second, Merrill had wanted to study abroad before his graduation but like most students didn’t have a lot of money to do it.

His interest in international travel was sparked while he served as resident assistant in UMaine’s Estabrook Hall from February 2007 to May 2008. The hall at the time housed a mix of international, nontraditional and graduate students.

“It really opened up this curiosity,” said Merrill, who managed the Black Bear Food Guild last summer. “It was like, I would love to see where they live.”

After Merrill launched his video he made a Facebook page and invited his contacts to click on the video. At first, Merrill checked the number of views all the time. Lately, however, he has stayed away from watching the counter.

In addition to making a video and filling out the application, another application requirement, according to the World Traveler Intern Web site, is that applicants have to “be awesome.”

What makes Merrill awesome, according to him? He will make friends with just about anyone, Merrill said, after giving his answer some thought, and he will try almost everything once.

What’s awesome about the project, Merrill has found, is the interest he has had from others. He already has filmed his final-round video in Boston in the hopes he’ll be among the top 10.

“My objective has been to create a community around it, to really have a base behind me so I’m not just getting hits on the video,” Merrill said. “The best part that’s come out of this is the feedback I’ve been getting from people. It’s given me even more drive. At first I was doubting I could get this. Enough people have said, we know you can do it. I feel like, I owe it to you guys.”

For more information on the World Traveler Intern program, go to www.worldtravelerintern.com

jbloch@bangordailynews.net

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