This month I had the opportunity to get to know Amanda Shields, Adventure and Travel photographer, and what drives Amanda’s creative work. Amanda’s stories of travel shine through both her writing and her photographs. Just take a look at her answer when I asked about her favorite places and you will get a taste for the long list of stunning experiences she has achieved.
Her soaring passion is tempered by a warm and down-to-earth sense of humor and appreciation for the simple pleasures of travel right alongside the spectacular ones. Amanda practices genuine appreciation for making the most out of the opportunities in front of her, even when those opportunities might appear as obstacles at first. Her artistic philosophy is one of breaking down barriers between cultures by highlighting the transcendence of both common shared experiences as well as awe-inspiring wonders. (Don’t worry, she explains that much more elegantly in her own words, stories, and photographs, so read on!)
After the article, be sure to check out Amanda’s work at:
Website with links to Amanda’s blog, published travel articles and travel galleries: http://shieldsphotos.zenfolio.com/
Now, without any further jabbering, I’m so pleased to share Amanda’s words and images with you…
MilspoFAN: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Amanda: I’m Amanda! I was born and raised in Chesapeake, VA. My dad is a Marine (retired), my grandfather was Navy, and my sister is a Coastie; pretty much every generation dating back to the Civil War someone in my family has been in the military. I wanted so badly to go into the Air Force, but migraines medically disqualified me from the military. So it’s of no surprise I accidently ended up with a Sailor! My husband Chris and I have known each other since about the 6th grade! Crazy, I know…I have this photo of my 8th grade birthday party and he was there! Looking back, he’s sort of always been there. We didn’t start dating until many years after high school. He was already in the military and stationed in San Diego, CA. His family still lived in Virginia, so he came back to visit post-deployment and we ended up running into each other again through a mutual friend. We immediately hit it off and the rest is history! We did the long-distance thing for a while and were married in April 2011 and I moved out to California to be with him! I’m a Hufflepuff, he’s a Slytherin…we make it work! 😉
I spent the next year in San Diego and loved every minute of it!! He was deployed or underway for well over half of it, so I found independence and a great support system out there. I grew roots very quickly and it was extremely difficult to leave. But we were headed to Napoli, Italia! Italy was the greatest adventure of my life. We spent almost 4 years there, then the Navy sent us right back home to Norfolk, VA where we are now.
MilspoFAN: You have described yourself as an “Unsuccessfully Repatriated Expat”. Can you tell us a little more about that feeling and the story behind it?
Amanda: Well, you come back “home” and expect (hope?) to be able to pick right back up where you left off, but you can’t. Life has moved on. You’ve changed. Living in another country was the most eye-opening experience of my life. It challenged every value and belief I had. …every belief about our society, about my country, my religion…everything. It turned my world upside down in the best way possible.
It was difficult at times. REALLY difficult. My first outing was to a mall…on a Sunday. It was so busy and I was really hungry and just wanted to eat something. I could speak the language quite a bit already. I had been studying hard since the moment we found out we were going to Italy. But it wasn’t until that moment that I realized they are going to speak back to me and it’s probably going to be kind of fast and I’m not going to understand them and they’re going to look at me in disgust, become impatient and I’m going to put a black mark on the reputation of every American there forever. (It was a lot of pressure) I burst into tears. I think that was my first “culture-shock” moment. And ya’ know what? NONE of that happened. I ordered my food in Italian and then my worst nightmare came true. I didn’t understand the questions she asked me, but I guess the look of abject horror came over my face and she was so incredibly patient with me. She slowed down and together we figured it out and it was far less painful than I had made it out to be in my head. And to this day I am still forever grateful to that young girl behind the cash register.
There were lots of times where I missed the conveniences of the United States. When I just wanted to get from point A to point B without getting lost, or my car stuck on the teeny tiny roads between two stone walls unable to turn around, or when the electricity went out for the 5,643rd time that month. These things happened a lot. But then sometimes, the most precious encounters and adventures would happen to make it all worth it! The skipper in the boat going into the Blue Grotto serenaded us, some retired guys just riding around on a bus would strike up a conversation and both parties learned so much about each other’s country! You could be out and about in the city and stumble upon a Punch and Judy puppet show, a band in the streets, or even a Nutella Festival! You might be given a bottle of wine by a restaurant chef on your birthday, go to a Christmas market in a castle or experience the craziest of crazy firework displays that lasts for 2 hours on New Year’s Eve. You just never know in Naples!
Seeing your country from the outside-in was a staggering experience. There’s an excerpt from a poem called, “Diaspora Blues” by Ijeoma Umebinyuo, that says
“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”
I can’t think of a better way to sum it up. Even after being back in the U.S. for 2 years now, I still don’t really feel like I fit in anywhere anymore. I’m just a different person.
MilspoFAN: Tell us more about your tagline, “Breaking Barriers through Travel,” and why that is important to you.
Amanda: Traveling broke down “walls” in my own mind and I have learned that hate comes from a place of fear and lack of knowledge and understanding. Not everyone is able (or willing) to travel to another country and have these experiences. Humans love what they know and if I can use my art to bridge the gap that divides us and bring just a small piece of that into the lives and homes of Americans, I’ll feel like I’ve made a small difference. To me, it’s more than making pretty pictures, it’s about showing the world that we’re all not so different and in the aspects where we are different, there’s strength in that if you allow it to bring you together instead of tear you apart. I’m sure all of this sounds very naïve and “wishful thinking,” but I truly believe that.
And it’s not just about taking photos to bring those moments home either. It’s about being present in a different culture and immersing yourself in it. When you go to a different country, you are an ambassador for yours. That ideology stuck with me. I want citizens in that country to see an American who appreciates their culture, just as much as I want Americans to see and appreciate the culture of that country. I can’t count the number of times I was told how well I spoke Italian and how rare it was to see an American willing/able to speak it. Or when an American would try an exotic dish and surprise the locals because “Americans won’t usually eat these things.” I want to work to break down stereotypes and preconceived notions on both sides of the fence.
MilspoFAN: You’ve done a great deal of traveling and living around the world, whether for work, pleasure, or PCS-ing as a military spouse. What advice can you give to other military spouses about how to quickly connect with other artists and locals in each new location?
Amanda: Thanks to technology nowadays, you can get so much information before you even get to your new duty station. Find local Facebook groups for expats, military spouses or maybe a Command/Unit group you can join and ask questions. I also adore Meetup.com. You can find a group there for anything you could possibly be interested in…hobbies, religion, language, sports, anything! It’s a great way to get out and meet new people who share your same interests or lifestyle. Another fantastic program is COMPASS! It’s a spouse-to-spouse mentoring program that introduces you to all aspects of military life over the course of 3 days. So if you’re new to military life, take the class! If you’re quite experienced navigating the murky waters of the military…volunteer! Another spouse recommended it and I am still good friends with several spouses I met through my COMPASS class in San Diego. The course gave me so much helpful, practical advice that I definitely used. We received our official orders to Naples, Italy while my husband was still deployed in Bahrain. I was still in San Diego and he wouldn’t be back until a week or two before we officially left California, so most of the logistics of the move fell to me. I certainly utilized what I learned in COMPASS to prepare for all of our PCS’s since then.
Also, any sort of volunteering for something you’re passionate about is another way to meet new, like-minded folks. I volunteer for Dogs on Deployment which finds foster homes for pets of military members if they’re deploying or moving or have anything come up in their life where they are in need of temporary shelter for their pets. It’s a wonderful organization through which I have met some amazing people while supporting our military members and their pets.
MilspoFAN: What has been your favorite places to photograph, to live, and to visit?
Amanda: Ummm…everywhere? HA!
I think I have sort of reinvented myself at every new duty station. I have picked up a new hobby/interest, worked in different settings, so there’s something special about each one that leaves its mark on your heart. My favorite city in the world to visit is probably Prague, Czech Republic. Its beauty and history are hard to beat. I don’t think I could pick just one 2nd place. I loved Florence, Venice, the Island of Capri, all of Ireland, Ravello, Positano, just to name a few. I visited about 10 countries in the 3+ years I lived in Europe and I could tell you something I loved about every single one!
I really enjoyed photographing Venice. Venetian architecture is so unique with a blend of Byzantine and Islamic influences. Everywhere you turn is picturesque. I woke up before sunrise on New Year’s Eve to head down to St. Mark’s Square in attempts to catch the sunrise. It ended up being way too cloudy and overcast to see a sunrise, but as soon as I walked out of my hotel room, I was greeted with snow flurries! It was biting cold down by the water and my fingers were numb through my gloves, but the photos I took that blue morning are still some of my favorite!
I loved Munich, Germany! Biking through the English Gardens and watching the surfers in the river, and of course, the beer. My dream destination since I was young was to visit Neuschwanstein Castle just outside of Munich and I finally got to see it! I literally cried when I got my first glimpse of it out of the bus window. We passed a clearing in the trees and there it was, sitting up on the hill. Then I cried again when we walked in and more when we saw the breathtaking chapel inside. Lots of happy tears that day! After seeing my dream castle, my mission was complete. Anything we saw or did after that was just icing on the cake.
The ancient city of Matera, Italy was like nothing I had ever seen before. It’s where Passion of the Christ was filmed and it really looks like a town straight out of Biblical times. We stayed in a cave hotel!! And everything from churches to homes were built in the rocks! But remember what I said earlier about getting lost? We had a…”hard time” getting to our hotel (to put it lightly). Haha! Near Naples, there was an ancient Colosseum called Capua, sort of like the famous one in Rome, but smaller and better preserved. It’s where the famous gladiator Spartacus fought. I took photos there all the time!
And not just in Europe! My husband’s family lives in a rural area of western Pennsylvania and it is paradise! Full of family farms, parks and covered bridges and the most beautiful autumn season I’ve ever experienced! If I could live there, I would. And Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia is one of my favorite places that I visit all the time! I’m a history buff and it’s such a photogenic place, so it’s a win-win for me.
As a photographer, I am dedicated to being able to take photos wherever I go…even underwater. While in Italy, I earned my SCUBA certification, but that meant I needed a slightly different way to take photos, so I bought a small underwater camera! We explored the sunken city of Baia just off the coast of Pozzuoli, Italy which has been turned into an underwater archaeological park. It was incredible! Statues, mosaic floors, even some parts of walls still stand. They’ve even put plaques down there you can read to know what you’re looking at. I think that might have been my favorite just because not very many people get to see that part of Naples, so it was special.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Amanda: Short-term – Next month, my friend and I will be making a cross-country road-trip that I’m super excited about! Towards the end of the year, my husband and I are planning a trip to Florida. We’re nerds and we have yet to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Haha! I know, I know…what kind of fans must we be?!
My husband will be up for new orders at the end of the year and we’ll be PCS-ing some time next summer/fall. Where to? …we have absolutely no idea. It’s whatever is available when it’s time to choose. Who knows? I’ve learned to not stress about that until the time comes. So I have about 6 more months until we have to worry about that! 😉 One thing at a time.
I’m currently attending college, majoring in Anthropology. I’d like to minor in Archaeology, but we’ll see where we end up with the upcoming PCS. Until then, I’m going to keep practicing my craft, both digital and film, and taking photos of everything…with an overwhelming percentage of those being of my dogs! 😉
Can’t get enough of Amanda’s work? Check her out at:
Website with links to Amanda’s blog, published travel articles and travel galleries: http://shieldsphotos.zenfolio.com/
Amanda, it has been such a treat to get to know you. I wish you all the best and I am sure that I speak for all the MilspoFAN readers when I say that I look forward to following your ongoing adventures.
MilspoFANs, do you have a question or comment for Amanda? An anecdote or thought that your deeply relate to as an artist or art enthusiast? Please share your comments here or over at Facebook on our Group or Page.