Monday, August 7, 2017

Travel Tips From Serena Guen (LS '13) Founder and CEO of SUITCASE Magazine and Co-Founder of the #CookForSyria Movement

What did you study at NYU?

Liberal Arts, with two years abroad in Paris.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time at NYU?

Graduating from the Yankees stadium was pretty cool. Also seeing a purple Empire State Building. Made me feel very proud!

How has your educational experience at NYU shaped what you do now?

NYU has an enormous community and alumni network, all of which offer so much opportunity for their students, from reaching out for internships to alumni lectures, I felt that the world was opening up to me. Coming from an English school education, NYU offered me a more diverse alternative where I could study lots of subjects of interest and keep my options open, without narrowing my outlook too early.

However, without a doubt the most important opportunity NYU granted me was the chance to live in cities spanning the globe. It was in Paris that I began to consolidate a word document ‘city guide’ I shared with my friends and they shared with theirs. I did the same in New York to an equally receptive audience. It was in doing this that I discovered a demand for authentic travel curated by locals.


You started SUITCASE magazine while attending NYU.  Can you share how that idea came about, and what drew you to create this magazine?

Travel is so exciting – it can be medicine for the soul, a form of education and so many other things. I started SUITCASE Magazine as I felt that travel media had lost touch with what travel really means and its readers. Media outlets were just telling the same stories, using the same stock imagery and not representing cultures properly – cluttering editorials with headlines like ‘top relaxation destination’ and ‘ultimate travel bucket list’, reducing cultures and experiences to a mere ‘Top 10’ list. I wanted to make travel exciting and beautiful again and teach people about the world in a way that they wouldn’t even realise that they were learning.

What is your favorite travel destination(s)?

In December I travelled to Salzburg in Austria. It’s the perfect romantic winter break.

Can you share what a typical work day is like for you at SUITCASE?
I often start my day with yoga, to reflect on my goals for the day. I then come into our offices, usually to a few morning meetings and ideas from my vibrant team. With a bit of green tea and a good breakfast  in me, I then face my emails… After work I try to keep up to date with what’s going on in London – exhibitions, supper clubs, charity events.

You are also part of UNICEF’s NextGeneration London and co-founded the #CookForSyria movement with the goal or raising money for UNICEF’s Syria Relief fund.  What motivated you to become involved with UNICEF, and also to co-found #CookForSyria?

I co-founded #CookForSyria with food instagrammer Clerkenwell Boy, in defiance of an increasingly de-humanized humanitarian crisis, where more than 8 million children's lives are in danger, yet governments are pre-occupied with the economics. 50% of all Syrian refugees are children and boys as young as 7 are being recruited to fight. The risk of losing a generation grows with everyday that the situation deteriorates. A risk that #CookForSyria seeks to eliminate, through the rich cultural heritage inherent in Syrian cuisine. The initiative harnesses the power of cooking to bring people together, whilst reminding us of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Do you have a favorite Syrian recipe you like to make or meal you love to eat?

I love Muhammara, a Levantine dip made with red peppers, chilli, walnuts and garlic. But really anything that I can get my hands on which is gluten-free!

How do you balance the work you do as Founder and CEO of SUITCASE with the work you do with UNICEF?

I have a fantastic team around me, who I really rely on. The SUITCASE team is my biggest asset; they are dynamic, energetic and innovative – keeping me on my toes.

Do you have any advice for alumni looking to launch their own media platform or business?

Engage an audience before you launch something. When we started SUITCASE we did a guerilla advertising campaign, getting 100 people that I knew or friends knew to put their Facebook cover photo as our logo, and direct them to like our page. Having an audience anticipating our launch was instrumental to initial sales and collaborations, and having a following  meant that other businesses who we wanted to collaborate with took us seriously at the start.

Do you have one travel tip you can share, or a bit of valuable advice you have learned about travelling?

Pack light! The last thing you want in summer heat is to be lugging around a heavy bag. If it is a getaway for just a few days, bring an outfit for each day. If you’re headed off for longer bring clothes that are of the same palette, so you can mix and match tops and bottoms for variety. If it’s a summer escape to the heat, how much more than a bikini could you possibly need!

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