After traveling to six continents in three decades, Sandhya Rao knew it was time to share her experiences of the world and give others a glimpse into the uniqueness of the destinations she had toured. Her new book, “Circles of Light: Memoirs of My Travels Around the World from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific” encourages readers to endure their own journeys.
Rao and her family resided in India until she traveled to the U.S. to attain her doctorate degree in mass communication at Bowling Green State University. Since getting her degree in 1993, Rao has taught at Texas State as a professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication and honorary professor of International Studies.
Throughout her childhood, Rao aspired to travel like her father, who traveled to the U.S. to attend the University of California at Berkley on a full-ride scholarship.
Rao believes that her book should encourage readers to travel if they have an opportunity to, as it could entail an eye-opening experience.
“What I learned from my travels was that the world is so connected, and we have more commonalities than differences,” Rao said. “It’s a great learning process culturally and historically and meeting people to learn about their culture is a great learning experience — far more than what a textbook can teach. If we can keep our minds open when we travel, whether it’s far or near, we’ll all benefit a great deal.”
“Circles of Light: Memoirs of My Travels Around the World from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific” provides coverage and insight into every destination that Rao visited. As a freelance journalist, Rao wrote travel articles for the San Antonio Express-News, and it made her understand the importance of informing a general audience about traveling.
“You know, as a trained journalist, once a journalist, always a journalist, right?” Rao said. “So, whenever I’m doing anything, I look at something and say, ‘Hey, there’s a story here.’ Travel I have had a passion for from my childhood, so I wanted to share with the rest of the world whatever experiences I had because I know that everyone doesn’t get the same opportunities and I feel very blessed that I did.”
Rao spent a lot of time people-watching and jotting notes on hotel notepads and the backs of receipts during her trips around the world. Her observations culminated in her book which was published in November. One of its publishers is Tracy Barnett, a former travel editor for the Express-News and the Houston Chronicle, and the founder of “The Esperanza Project,” a travel magazine covering communities of color on the front lines of water and land conservation in the Americas.
She believes that Rao’s Indian heritage opens the readers’ eyes to a new perspective that allows the readers to delve into Indian subcontinents and ancient cultures and reflects on that with her travels.
“What I like most about the book is Sandy’s ability to make connections across cultures and across timelines, and also her profound caring for humanity,” Barnett said. “She is a deeply compassionate person, and she is just as interested in talking with the attendants on the cruise ship as she is the anthropologist that she meets at an archeological site. She finds both kinds of experiences equally enlightening and she draws the connections between everything that she witnesses on her journeys.”
The proceeds of the book will be donated to Be Educated, a non-profit grassroots organization that helps students around the world — mainly in India — by assisting them financially with textbooks and study materials.
Rao found her inspiration to donate to Be Educated by befriending Sanjay Kumar, one of the founders of Be Educated, during a presentation that Be Educated held in 2021 that reflected on how the organization helped students during COVID-19.
“When I looked at the [Be Educated] website and learned what good things they were doing, I was so impressed, and I wanted to participate and give back,” Rao said. “It’s also related to education, and I guess my whole career has been devoted to education. In my family, my father said that education is very important and to come up in life, it wasn’t about money, even though it’s good to have enough to lead a comfortable life, but education was it. That’s why I chose this organization.”
Be Educated started in 2005 with a program called “Education Through Library” in which low-cost libraries were opened in India, Pakistan and Nepal. Since then, it has helped more than 15,000 students around the world. Other programs include Future Girlz which focuses on educating female students and a COVID-19 Rehab program which assists children who were orphaned due to the pandemic or children to single mothers who have been affected financially due to the pandemic.
Kumar believes that Be Educated is rooted in a strong devotion to giving students an equal opportunity, and Rao’s support is a great contribution.
“The way we have it set up, the people who are with Be Educated don’t have a salary or anything like that, just because we all do it out of passion,” Kumar said. “It’s not all about money, but it is about helping the children. So that’s really why we appreciate her in that sense. It will be a big help.”
“Circles of Light: Memoirs of My Travels Around the World from the Arctic Circle to the South Pacific” is available on Amazon. To learn more about Be Educated, visit its website.