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Phoenix Forward magazine

Finding inspiration on “Roadtrip Nation”

Olivia Zanfardino

Olivia Zanfardino, a student in the business management program at University of Phoenix, quit her job, put her studies on hold and packed her bags last summer to take part in the PBS reality TV show “Roadtrip Nation.” For seven weeks, she traveled the country, interviewing everyone from an accountant who started a cold-pressed juice bar to an Internet entrepreneur who became a comedian to a politician who found his calling spinning poi.

Living in close quarters with the two men also chosen for the program, which will air in Fall 2014, didn’t pose many problems for Zanfardino during the trio’s cross-country journey. “We chose to be on ‘Roadtrip Nation,’ and since we knew what we were getting into, there was little room for argument,” notes the 29-year-old student from Chicago, who applied online to be on the show.

Rather, she viewed the experience as an opportunity to learn about people who are different from her, including her fellow road warriors. “Tele’jon [one of the other participants] is about 10 years younger than I am and comes from inner-city Los Angeles,” she says, adding that he asked interview questions about social justice and race that she wouldn’t have thought of on her own.

No matter what, push forward.

The trip went from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. and back. Of the 17 cities the group visited during the 9,210-mile journey, New Orleans and Detroit were Zanfardino’s favorites.

“I enjoyed New Orleans for its deep-rooted history of Southern tradition,” she says, “and I saw how the city was similar in certain ways to Detroit.” Both cities, she notes, were devastated by a crisis — Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and bankruptcy in Detroit — and they’re slowly recovering.

Zanfardino says she also found that people are resilient, too. In New York, she interviewed author Beverly Donofrio, who wrote “Riding in Cars With Boys,” and learned that Donofrio’s professor had rejected her master’s thesis and that she had almost quit writing. But Donofrio decided to keep at it, and her failed thesis eventually became the basis for the novel.

The common thread for everyone Zanfardino interviewed, she says, was, “No matter what, push forward. Eventually the goal you’re working toward will be something you can be proud of.”

That’s just what Zanfardino aims to do. “Before, I thought that moving around was a way to find out who I was and develop career skills,” she says. “Now I just want to find a workplace I can call home.” For the time being, she has settled in Pasadena, California.

Zanfardino also has a renewed interest in her education. “I’ve opened myself up to the idea of pursuing an MBA in management when I graduate in 2014,” she says. “The most inspiring interviews I had were with those people who thought of education as a lifelong pursuit — not just a piece of paper you’re supposed to have.”

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