UCLan Ecotourism graduate, Asaf Leshem, has worked his way across the globe to become a tour guide in Berlin.
At a young age, growing up in northern Israel, Asaf helped his travel agent parents with their work and has continued to be employed in tourism as an adult, firstly in Poland and then in Beijing.
Asaf then moved to New Zealand, where he studied at a hotel management school. He chose ecotourism from the curriculum as his third year module and decided that he wanted to learn more about this area. After one year at the college, Asaf transferred to UCLan to study an ecotourism-focussed course.
Following graduation in 2006, Asaf conducted some consultation research in Ethiopia before moving in 2007 to Berlin, where his grandfather was originally from. In 2010, he went on to complete a master’s course in Integrated Natural Resource Management at Humboldt University, Berlin, and was successful in gaining a role as a tour guide in the city.
Talking about his decision to be a tour guide, Asaf said: “My love for travelling, researching and telling stories made it natural for me to start working as a guide”.
Asaf’s role involves guiding tours around Berlin’s tourist highlights, including; the city’s Jewish heritage, the areas affected by the Cold War, the neighbouring city of Potsdam and the memorial site for the former Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Asaf has also experience of guiding in the German cities of Dresden and Hamburg.
In October 2014, Asaf became a PhD candidate at UCLan’s Institute for Dark Tourism Research where he studies how tour guides interpret the dark chapters of Berlin's history. Asaf is currently studying as a part-time student at UCLan whilst also currently still working full-time as a tour guide in Berlin.
Recently, in addition to the usual tours he conducts, Asaf has started his own one-person guiding service called Cycling Berlin Brandenburg, where he conducts guided cycling tours around Berlin and the federal state of Brandenburg. Together with a friend, who is also a UCLan graduate, Asaf has been working on developing a cycling tour of the Berlin Wall trail that will enable people to cycle the path where the Berlin Wall once stood, spanning a length of approximately 160km (100 miles).
In addition to his tour guide work, Asaf also works as a Social Scientist at a company based in Potsdam called Social Science Works and he is also part of the management committee of the Berlin Guides Association where he volunteers to manage and maintain a community of professional guides in Berlin. As part of this role, Asaf and his colleagues create partnerships with local tourism attractions and museums and go on educational tours to ensure they’re up to speed with all that is happening in Berlin’s tourist industry.
Reflecting on his time studying at UCLan, Asaf stated: “There was always something inspiring about my fellow students and my teachers. They made me love ecology and evolution so much. Both my supervisors inspired me with the subject matter of ecotourism, and taught me to be inquisitive and analytical. The atmosphere was always one of creativity and original research.”
He added: “I was always fortunate to have respectful and encouraging lecturers and supervisors. The teaching quality is high and that makes me always motivated to improve myself. My degree also taught me how to learn, observe, ask the right questions and how to be a good scientist.”
Asaf was particularly proud that his final thesis of his degree won him first prize in his department and since then, he has published several small online and conference articles, scientific blogs with Social Science Works and currently has two articles and a book chapter in the pipeline based on his dark tourism research.
When asked if he has any advice for prospective students and graduates, Asaf said: “Choose a course that will combine two or more topics you find attractive. Don’t be afraid of learning new things, study what you don’t know.”