Spanish major travels half the world

by Jennifer Johnson,

Phoebe Keever ’07 broadens her perspective and helps others during service trips.

  • Phoebe Keever with temples in Myanmar

Here are a couple memorable stats about Phoebe Keever ’07: She’s 32 years old. And she’s traveled to 95 countries.

She’s camped in the Australian Outback, peered at hot lava in a Nicaraguan volcano and danced inside a fortress for a Serbian music festival. She’s driven 18,642 miles across Europe, spent a night in the mountains of Myanmar and taught English in South Korea.

This year, Keever wants to visit five more destinations: New Zealand, Hong Kong, China, Mongolia and Russia, just in time for the 2018 World Cup kickoff. Her ultimate goal? To travel to all 195 countries.

Keever, a substitute teacher in Portland, Oregon, enjoys traveling because it pushes her outside her comfort zone, broadens her perspective and enables her to serve others during service trips.

“As great as the Travel Channel may be,” she says, “there’s something about living abroad that television just can’t capture.”

Keever’s thirst for exploring began early. At age 15, with dreams of becoming a doctor in a developing country, she went to Costa Rica for two months for a study-abroad program. The experience drove her to seek a university that shared her values of service and travel — and Willamette and its International Education program fit the bill. She majored in Spanish and spent her junior year in Uruguay and Argentina.

Over the next decade, she says she spent so much time abroad that “being in a new country felt familiar.”

From her mental Rolodex, she can suggest locations based on themes — Spain for its culture, Plitvice Lakes in Croatia for its beauty — but her personal favorite is Puerto Rico for its beaches, language and music.

Keever has stayed in countries from a few days to a few years. She’s traveled with friends, in groups and with her dog, but also alone. Although careful about her personal safety, she doesn’t let such concerns regulate her visits. In 2013, she visited Egypt not long after the coup d’etat, but felt safe and found everyone hospitable. To top it off, she stayed in a four-star hotel for cheap.

How does she afford this lifestyle, anyway? Keever insists you don’t need to be rich to travel the world. She’s mastered the nomadic life by taking advantage of credit card deals, frequent flyer miles and work at hostels. The low cost of living in some countries helps, too. In southeast Asia, she survived on $20 a day, including lodging.

Teaching provides the flexibility she needs and also fulfills her desire for service, another reason she travels. In 2012, she volunteered for six months in Vietnam and Serbia to improve the lives of orphans through teaching and community work.

Her lifestyle might seem scary to some people, but even when she travels to distant lands, Keever never feels alone.

“There are like-minded people every step of the way,” she says. “I took a leap of faith and never gave up on myself, and now I live out Willamette’s motto.”

This article was originally published in the spring 2018 issue of Willamette magazine.

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