Stephanie Elizondo Griest, age 26, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BJ in journalism and a BA in post-Soviet studies from the University of Texas at Austin. A Chicana from South Texas, she has written for dozens of publications including the New York Times and the Washington Post, has studied in Moscow and taught journalism in Beijing on a Henry Luce Scholarship. She speaks Russian, Mandarin and Spanish and is currently writing a book about her travels across the communist bloc.
At age 17, Stephanie Elizondo Griest received a piece of advice at a journalism convention that changed her life. When she asked an esteemed foreign correspondent for career tips, he said: "Learn Russian." Having grown up in South Texas, Stephanie had never even met a real Russian -- but it sounded like a good idea. So she signed up for classes. Four years later, she ventured to Moscow as an exchange student and caught her first glimpse behind the "Iron Curtain." She was amazed to meet a populace with such a keen sense of hospitality, they dismissed a history of mutually assured destruction to share their homes and stories with her.
Russia impacted Stephanie's life in two fundamental ways. First, it instilled in her an insatiable curiosity about the rest of the so-called "Evil Empire." What was life really like in the communist bloc? Her quest to find out took her to a dozen communist and post-communist nations, including Viet Nam, Uzbekistan, Mongolia and Cuba. To better understand the role of the media under such a governing system, she worked at the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, China Daily, on a Henry Luce Scholarship. She is currently writing a book about the dynamic people, places and ideas she encountered along the way.
Russia also ignited Stephanie's passion to give voice to those who traditionally haven't had one. Over the years, this has inspired in-depth looks at scorned members of a religious cult; gay clergy members; victims of hate crimes; abandoned youth; female war veterans, punk rockers and magicians; and male belly dancers for media ranging from the Associated Press to the New York Times. Stephanie plans to uphold her commitment to documenting people who have been overlooked or misunderstood while on this Trek -- in particular, the plight of migrant workers from Mexico. As a third generation Mexican American, she is eager to shed light on their daily struggles.
When she isn't on the road or writing about it, Stephanie enjoys hiking, biking, and cooking big meals for lots of people (she got lots of practice while living in a vegetarian housing co-operative in college). Another fervor in her life is Middle Eastern dance, which she discovered on a trip to Egypt. She has studied it for four years and loves to perform -- preferably to live music outdoors, with her friends.
Stephanie believes that ignorance is at the root of most evil, and that education is a potent antidote. She is convinced that one person truly can make a profound impact on the life and well-being of others. She sees it happen every day.