As Mission Arabica was developed, Chris, Adam, and I went searching for websites, blogs, entrepreneurs, and others we could learn from. While the three of us are driven, full of life, and adventurous, we needed to develop friendships along the way. Meet Megan Gebhart. Megan started her blog with one idea in mind: Learn from one person a week while enjoying a cup of coffee with them- 52 times for the year. She would then share her conversations, learnings, and ideas through each blog post of that weekly discussion. The vision grew and Megan’s blog blossomed, giving her opportunity more than she ever expected when she started the blog. Megan has been gracious with helpful ideas and advice through our journey of starting Mission Arabica. I have had the privilege the past few weeks of interviewing Megan via email and am excited to share her story of starting 52 Cups of Coffee, the opportunities it has opened for her, and how she’s traveled all over the world– including most recently, Laos. So, without further ado, let’s get to my talk with Megan!
52 Cups with Megan Gebhart
How did 52 cups get started? What inspired you to begin your journey?
I stumbled on a quote going into my senior year of college that stopped me in my tracks:
What you will be in five years depends on two things: the people you meet and the books you read.
I thought about the wonderful people I had met in the previous five years and how those relationships had shaped me. Itâ€™s true, the people that we meet change us and as I reflected, one connection particular connection stood out. In 2009, Brett Kopf, a fellow Michigan State student, sent me an email out of the blue saying the academic advisor we shared had given him my email address with the directive to reach out to me about a project I was working on. He invited me to get a cup of coffee and I agreed, never expecting it was a decision that would change my life.
You see, that simple cup of coffee was the start of an incredible friendship. The type that changes your lifeâ€™s trajectory because it introduces you to new ideas, opportunities and people. Together, Brett and I would create a new organization for Michigan State entrepreneurs, which became the foundation for the remainder of my college experience and much of what I do now.
As I was reflecting on that cup of coffee, my curiosity got the best of me: If one connection could change my life, what would a year of connection do?
I figured there was only one way to find out so going into my senior year of college, I launched 52 Cups of Coffee, my yearlong experiment in caffeine and conversation. Each week for a year I would have coffee with someone I wouldnâ€™t normally meet and write about their story and what I learned from it in the process at 52cups.com.
Did you envision 52 cups taking you around the world?
I had no idea that would happen! My plan was to talk to people in and and around Michigan, where I went to school, and Wyoming, where I frequently visited my parents. I figured I would talk to people just outside my network–friends of friends or folks around the university or community, using serendipity and social media to find them. But as the project progressed, something really amazing happened. Friends and readers were clearly compelled by this very simple, yet powerful, concept of connection and suddenly people I knew were giving me unsolicited suggestions and volunteering to make introductions to interesting people they knew.
Before I knew it, my small project had grown to conversations with people in 29 cities across 7 countries. It became an international project because so many people I met said, â€œtravel while youâ€™re youngâ€ so after graduation I decided to forego the job search and instead use my savings to take the project to Europe for five weeks–which ultimately turned into 14 months of nomadic living with eventual trips (and conversations) on six different continents.
Where have you traveled to?
All but one continent–just have to visit Africa to complete the seven. That includes 30 countries in all, which I can list for you if you’d like!Â
We have a specific mission to impact communities, specifically in Laos. Tell me about your trip to Laos…
My trip to Laos was truly amazing. We had heard wonderful things about the country but had no idea what to expect. Our original plan was to spend two days in Luang Prabang before visiting Vientiane for a few days. During our stay in Laos, we used Airbnb.com to find places to stay. We preferred using Airbnb because it allowed us to stay in the homes of locals, which led to the most authentic experience.
We arrived at 10 am to find our Airbnb host, Kham, waiting for us. She took us back to her home in the back of her pickup truck where an incredible meal was waiting. We spent the next two hours enjoying wonderful food and conversation as Kham and her family told us more about Luang Prabang and Laos. We decided that we needed to spend more than two days exploring Luang Prabang and ultimately had the most wonderful six days visiting waterfalls, riding elephants, taking boat tours along the Mekong, getting massages, visiting the many buddhist temples, shopping in the markets, eating wonderful food and meeting befriending locals.
We loved the smiles and the hospitality from everyone we met. Honestly, there were a few moments where the thought crossed my mind that I should just move to Laos and enjoy the sunshine and relaxed way of life. Read more at 52 Cups:Â http://www.52cups.com/post/83127871634/cup-10-kham-in-luang-prabang
What was your experience with the people? How were you treated? What did you learn while you were there?
Like I said, the people were wonderful, warm and welcoming. We ended up spending an entire Friday night playing card games with locals who invited us to their home to continue playing cards once the bar closed. They treated us like they had known us our entire lives! We were treated the same way anywhere we went. Everyone was smiling and happy to help make our experience memorable.
The biggest takeaway was to enjoy the simple moments in life. That happiness can be found anywhere: in a smile, in a good drink, a fantastic meal or new experience.
Did you drink coffee in Laos?Â If Yes, how was it?Â
Several times! It was good–not what I was used to in San Francisco, but that was to be expected. They weren’t as familiar with the idea of taking coffee to-go. It seemed like the culture was more inclined to drink in the store than take it to go. But Â we did enjoy finding a coffee shop and enjoying a cup of coffee outside watching the world go by.
Obviously I’m an Ohio State Buckeye, You’re a Spartan. We can both agree to stand together against the Wolverines?
Why Megan’s story should be a challenge to all of us!
I hope her story challenges you to do something once a week, such as getting a cup of coffee with someone new. Iâ€™ve now had the opportunity to follow Meganâ€™s blog for over a year. Iâ€™ve seen many people be challenged to go out and do something new every week because of Meganâ€™s own journey – Stretching themselves to develop and learn. For me personally, I now do one new thing, minimum, with coffee brewing a week. You’ll see a “Coffee 101” area coming to Mission Arabica that emphasizes the experiments and best brewing methods. Yet, even interviewing with Megan, I feel compelled to meet with more people over a simple cup of coffee, as a cup of “joe” can be the start of learning and developing further relationships. Megan is an inspiration to me, and the team here at Mission Arabica – Make sure to check out more of her story at 52cups.com and I can say without a doubt, my goal is to have a cup of coffee with Megan soon!