Elsa Kraus, a 21-year-old junior psychology and women’s studies double major, has been traveling her whole life. Her parents, who met while in the Peace Corps, began planning the trip to Antarctica about a year ago as a 50th birthday celebration for her father, Alan Kraus.

The family embarked on the trip Dec. 17 and returned Jan. 1. The cruise began in Tierra Del Fuego, or Land of Fire, the southernmost tip of Argentina, via Ushuaia, the city they embarked from and the name of the ship on which they sailed. They participated on a ten-day trip around tourist-accessible regions of Antarctica. Because much of Antarctica is devoted to research, Kraus said, there is a limited range for tourists to travel. Seventy-one people of 26 different nationalities partook in the trip, providing a culturallyenriching experience.

“[My parents] wanted to raise their children [with a] high value for travel and other cultures, valuing connections with other people,” said Kraus. “We’ve done a lot of traveling in the United States and also went back to Ecuador, which is where my parents were stationed with the Peace Corps.”

Indeed, travel is of utmost importance to the Kraus clan. “We all…have the same values. We may have different cultures, but we’re all the same,” said Kraus’s mother Emily Kraus. “We wanted our children to know that and have that experience young and be open to everybody and just be accepting.”

The family participated in hikes, whale-watching, bird-watching, and boating around in zodiacs while on the trip. Kraus said her best memory of the trip was her 21st birthday, which her family celebrated by ordering champagne for the whole boat and toasting.

“People stood up from all these different countries and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me, and that interconnectedness came out this one time,” Kraus said.

“It really was a touching moment in the sense that this is why you travel. It’s an extreme trip so you definitely felt like no one else in the world is going to be able to experience this exact trip ever again.”

Heavily involved
The summer after her junior year of high school, Kraus worked in an orphanage in Ghana, Africa through the American Field Service program.

“I’m really into orphanage work, so a lot of my studies have been driven by this dream of getting back and working in orphanages and changing that super corrupt system,” said Kraus. “The cycle of poverty that is abroad has always been a huge interest of mine.”

Kraus said India is next on her list of places she’d like to go, but feels guilty about wanting to travel so much.

“There’s so much that needs to be done here before you can spend time elsewhere,” she said. “There are people here to meet and help.”

Kraus’s passion for helping others has showed through in her involvement in the UW-Eau Claire College Feminists. As co-president, Kraus has pushed the group to participate in hands-on activities in the community. A capstone project she’s working on is Ms. Adventure Girls, a program that teaches at-risk middle school girls at Delong Middle School about the four core values of the College Feminists: wellness, teamwork, self-esteem and leadership.

“Getting out and doing these things is really the direction College Fems is going in,” said Kraus.

Co-president of College Feminists, along with Kraus, senior Crystal Kazik agrees, saying, “I think that the purpose of College Feminists … is spreading equality and fair treatment and justice for not just women, but every marginalized group.”

Kazik, a women’s studies major along with Kraus, has worked closely with her for the past two years. “She brings a lot of spirit and personality to the group,” said Kazik, “Elsa is always one to support others and keep ideas going.”

Kazik added that Kraus has a great sense of humor and “really is one of those people you won’t forget upon graduating.”

Travel closer to home
Kraus is also heavily involved in the Civil Rights Pilgrimages offered here at UW-Eau Claire. She participated on the winter 2010 trip and is helping to research and coordinate this year’s spring break trip.

“[The Pilgrimage is an] awesome opportunity to travel cheaply and take advantage of the travel experiences in college that are offered to you,” said Kraus. “It’s all about social justice and community work.”

Kraus has been working on the trip since last spring, building on to research that has been worked on since 2008. This semester the trip will focus on the interplay between feminism, sexism and racism in the South. She is helping to coordinate the first leg of the Pilgrimage in Atlanta, Montgomery, Ala., and Birmingham, Ala.

“I love travel, it’s something that I like to spend my money on,” said Kraus. “If it’s camping up north in the U.P. or going down south on the Civil Rights Pilgrimage here, you have to get out there and do it or you’re going to miss out on a lot of meeting people.”