Mai on Global Friendships and Fashion Recycling

Zlatko Najdenovski
02 September, 2020

Meet Mai, who just finished school in Estonia, and is now a young artist leading an aspiring fashion-recycling business. She doesn’t stop there but also learned Korean by herself after being exposed to the Korean culture on her first trip to Seoul.

She has been coming back ever since, meanwhile creating an extensive network of global friends. Tribevibe talked to Mai to ask how she has coped with pandemic and how it has impacted the ways she travels and connects with her friends.

Tell me about yourself. How would you define yourself?

Mai: I'm Estonian. I define myself as a young adult and an artist and, overall, an odd person! I guess I do have a sense of belonging to several artist communities, and, of course, I am European. About the travel community, well… I go to Korea often, so I feel close to those people whom I visit, and they are sort of a travel community. If you ask about my likes and dislikes, my favourite musician is Korean singer Minseok from MeloMance, but in all honesty, I’m not a big fan of any drama or singer, but I still like Korean fried chicken and kimchi.

Anna: You said that you associate yourself with Estonia and Europe…

Do you think that people having the freedom to travel across Europe make nationality less important?

Do you feel that the experience of travelling to Korea, and embedding yourself in Korean culture, makes travelling more of a second nature to you?

Mai: First and foremost, I am Estonian, but I feel that the world has become a lot more connected. Culture-wise I am for sure mixed since I get so much influence from many other cultures (American, British, French, Korean and so on, depending on what I see on the Web). If travelling has become second nature to me? Yes, definitely! I went to Korea in 2016, and I ended up going there three years in a row, so yeah, it became a habit of mine.

Now, half of my friends are from the other side of the world, so it feels natural to me to feel like a truly global person. No matter if I go to Taiwan, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan, Canada, and the UK, and Latvia, I will have friends there, and that’s comforting. Although I sometimes lack the human closeness with them being so far away, having friends wherever I want to travel—and willing to travel to meet my friends—is amazing!

Anna: In a way, we are all mixed culturally, and globalisation of culture, amongst which lies arts exchange, also extends to the globalisation of travel.

Do you think that a global travel community is a future of what global friendships are today?

Mai: Now, travelling feels like part of life to me and something that I could not live without. I do think that globalisation of culture generally (including art and way of travelling) is a reality already today, and it will become even stronger in future, but I also hope that our cultures and traditional art won’t fully disappear, as it is partially already happening.

Do you feel that as a traveller, you can come back from your trips and value Estonian arts and overall culture more?

Mai: I always get homesick when away, but the minute I come back, I miss travelling again. Here, I keep seeing and valuing things we Estonians could take larger advantage of, such as plenty of non-urban areas and the silence. I tend to miss a little more city-like vibrance in Estonia and think of ways that I could become beneficial to my country with all my travel experience!

Tell me more about your travels! Where to was the most amazing trip that you have made? Why was it so awesome?

Mai: The trip that I enjoyed the most was my first trip to South Korea, where I kept going back multiple times, because I just loved the city and how alive it was! We would wake up in the morning, with people screaming outside, and an idol group would be performing in front of our building. It was just crazy; there was always something going on! That’s what I loved about South Korea, and Seoul, in specific, it made those trips to Korea the most amazing ones. Even though I missed my plane back, I still loved it! And thanks to that missing return flight I met you, too. So, when travelling, everything is connected, and it always works out well for me.

You are positive and adventurous! What experiences are you after when you are on your trip?

Mai: To be honest, I usually travel to meet friends. Whenever I go back (to Korea), or every time I go somewhere, I tend to have some friends there, no matter if it was online, like Instagram, where I met them, or offline. So, I am travelling to friends, and experiences depend on them.

What was the last experience you shared with your online friends?

You once told me you always go on dinners or lunches to get Korean fried chicken. Do you still do that?

Mai: I loved eating out in Korea; they have huge portions! In Estonia, however, it is a bit pricey. In Latvia, just a week ago, I got to hang out with one of my Korean friends, and we ended up having an outdoor lunch!

Do you think travel, just as art, is in crisis after people realise that discoveries can be made, and culture, like arts and music, can be exchanged by connecting with locals online, no matter where you are?

Even discovering another district in their city, or taking an online trip to a fashion museum, can be just as great travel experience.

Mai: I think that travel is not in crisis; in some countries, where economies live off travel services, the picture is grey, but when things go back to normal, people will start to travel again, because we are brainwashed into travel, so I think that won’t change.

How has pandemic impacted your travels?

Mai: Because of the pandemic, I went to my neighbouring country Latvia, and while usually, I would save up money for my trip to Asia, this time I chose to meet up with friends who are slightly closer than Korean ones. I just really needed to travel, I needed to get out of my country, and my home. Because of Covid-19, I felt stuck at home, and, you know, it must change!

Do you feel that people will travel more sustainably and be more mindful when the pandemic is over?

Mai: I would love to hope that sustainability and mindfulness would become and stay as a part of travelling. It is mind-wrenching how much Co2 aeroplanes release, but it is difficult, and I do not know how to make travel truly sustainable. I wish, and I have confidence that sustainable travel will be more and more available to everyone, but for now, it is up to the big guys.

Anna: So, you do not think that it is up to each individual? You are a fashion designer and an artist embodying an anti-consumerist brand utilising second-hand clothing…

Don’t you think that travel can be truly anti-consumerist?

Mai: Once again, I wish that in travel, we were not so brainwashed when seeing the content on Instagram and Pinterest, to travel and explore places that are far away. Instead, I wished people would aspire to re-discover their own culture, their own country, and value their hidden gems and beautiful places, just as much they do on Pinterest boards. In short—yes, sure, travel could be anti-consumerist, but it is a little bit complicated when it comes to virtual travel aspirations.

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When and what was the turning point for starting to travel differently, taking an anti-consumerist mindful approach?

Mai: I do not think I am fully mindful, as I am not financially stable to travel slow and be on the road full-time. I would say I am brainwashed into other cultures and am not approaching travel as mindfully. I am, however, switching my travel plans for a more sustainable, backcountry travel, thanks to Covid-19. I switched from taking a plane and flying across countries to meet up, to a simple video call, and from now on, if I had to choose to travel for a meeting, or meet over the video call, I would choose the latter. Again, it is thanks to the pandemic that changed my mindset and made me realise that flying is so unsustainable.

Anna: If the travel market where experiences are traded in exchange for money, was replaced by community exchanging experiences in itself, the travel world could become much more communal.

In your experience, how do you connect to locals while on the road?

Mai: Wherever I travel, people are very lovely! Of course, a true connection is hard. There is this a dilemma for locals to give at the same time the best impression yet the authentic experience of the local culture, and so the connections should be weighed against possible superficiality. Me myself being Estonian (usually regarded as cold), developing real connections takes time, but it depends on culture. For example, Koreans may even appear too lovely and nice to the Nordics, but it is normal for their culture. I realised it only from watching their TV shows and dramas.

What was the last time you hosted or welcomed another traveller to Estonia?

Has it been so that this exchange and global friendship, has lasted, and you both gave back to each other?

Mai: I am always up for showing around Estonia. I have been a tour guide for my online friends, and I do believe that it is important that locals are nice and helpful for travellers who want to explore Estonia. Also, I have hosted people and given a roof for them to stay overnight at our place. I am only 21, so I have not done much yet, but when going on a ride with my mom, we would pick up hitchhikers as well!

When you travel, how do you get a sense of belonging?

How does creating global friendships work out for you?

Mai: I get it through knowing the culture and language. I noticed that now, after being so embedded in Korean culture, it is more difficult to connect with non-Asians. For example, when I went to Riga, Latvia, just a few days ago, I realised the differences between the countries. (Note: Latvia and Estonia have been historically united for centuries and share the cultural background). I had a hard time understanding jokes my friends were making, as I ended up in a group of Latvians, and though they were multicultural, but knew Latvian, unlike myself, I felt a bit lacking in the cultural sense. On the contrary, going to Korea, where I know the language, even though it is much further away, I feel connected with locals. So, knowing the culture and understanding the language are the two most important things to create friendships and get a sense of belonging wherever you go.

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Please share with community one thing you have done that made a positive impact on others!

Mai: I did 200 sketches of my followers, for free on my Instagram – that’s a truly selfless service! And, I adopted a dog from a shelter. This is it!

Anna: I hope dog adaptation will inspire more people to do good 🙂 Thanks, Mai!

Mai: Thank you!

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