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Meet our staff - Pia Funch

18-Dec-2017

Pia has lived in eleven different countries, speaks five languages, has a Masters in Tourism, and worked for the United Nations before coming to Pinetrees. We still watch her chatting to our guests – choose a topic in any language - and think ‘how did she end up here?’. She could run the world, but instead, she came to Lord Howe Island with her French partner, Jim (yes, sorry, she’s taken). And the best part? She’s here to stay. When guests say “isn’t it lovely that these backpackers come to work for you” (with just a slightly condescending tone), we call Pia over, introduce them, and walk away. We don’t hear the word ‘backpacker’ again.

Hotel owners dream of people like Pia – she can sing, dance, climb mountains, crack jokes and motivate everyone around her. Need someone to work on their day off? Call Pia. Need someone to sort out a situation? Call Pia. Need someone to do the physical work of two people? Call Pia. Need to know whether you should read the latest Pullitzer or Booker winner? Call Pia. Need someone to write beautiful prose (in English)? Call Pia. Do you get the idea? Pia will own an ecotourism empire someday, but for now, she’s one of us.

Earlier this year, Pia was one of five Pinetrees staff girls (the guys haven’t succeeded yet) to climb all seven peaks on Lord Howe in one day. That’s 2,400 vertical metres (or two thirds of the vertical of Mt Everest). They’d finished with Mt Gower by 8am, and were drinking champagne at 4pm.

At the mature age of 31, Pia has done more in her life that most people could ever dream. Let her story inspire your next great adventure…..

Where are you from?
I was born in Denmark to an Argentine/Paraguayan mother and a Danish father. I’ve always felt funny when asked that question because I was raised in a mix of cultures, which have impacted my sense of where I’m from. And now that I call Australia my home, I’m adding a new lifestyle and way of thinking. Ideally, I would love to say that I’m a citizen of the world, but ‘Denmark’ is the easiest answer.

Where did you go to high school?
I went to high school in Greve - a small town near Copenhagen.

What did you do for fun as a teenager?
When I became a teenager, we had just settled in Denmark after living abroad almost my whole life. Fun for me in this period was simply to be with my friends. I was a boring teenager. I spent a lot of time in my room reading books and listening to CDs. I also spent time on a horse farm where I volunteered to look after the horses so that I could ride three times a week.

Where did you go to university and what did you study?
I studied Bachelor of Social Science (in International Development Studies and Public administration) in Denmark with an exchange semester in Spain. I then completed a Masters in Tourism.

What did you do in your spare time at university?
Does anyone have spare time at university? I spent most of my days studying and working part-time. While studying in Spain, my roommate from London became my best friend and still is to this day. When the exchange semester finished, her flat in London became my weekend getaway and I went whenever I could. Back then, I didn’t prioritise an active lifestyle the way I do now. As a city girl, I was always on the go and the cold winters and indoor gyms didn’t inspire me. I didn’t have a giant natural swimming pool and mountains in my backyard. My life is very different now. I miss my family and my friends dearly, but I’ve also found time to be me. For the first time in my life, I know what that feels like. I love spending my spare time climbing a mountain by myself.

List the countries you’ve travelled to
France, Mexico, Algeria, Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Pakistan, Colombia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain and Gibraltar, Switzerland, Ireland, England, Slovenia, South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, Vietnam, Thailand, Greece, Turkey, Tunisia, the Netherlands, Australia. Germany, Norway and Sweden don’t really count. They’re just silly neighbours.

Which countries have you lived in for longer than 6 months?
Denmark was always my base. Growing up, I lived in Colombia, Argentina, Turkey, Mexico, Chile, Algeria and Pakistan with my family due to my father’s job. We lived a year in each country. I later moved to Spain, then France and now I live on Lord Howe Island in Australia.

What languages do you speak?
Danish, Spanish, English and a little French. I learned a fair bit of German in high school but now it sounds much better in my head than what I’m actually trying to say. I wish I could speak Brazilian Portuguese. I tend to laugh along when Lara (our chef) says something in Portuguese and I understand the context. I get so exited!

Tell a story about an unforgettable travel adventure you’ve had
Once in Mozambique, I saw a family of dolphins in a sea full of bioluminescent plankton. It made the dolphins look like they were glowing in the dark! I was the only one there to capture the moment and I spent ten minutes completely mesmerised by this incredible sight. I will never forget it. The experience changed my life to forever have a special kind of love for the ocean and its marine life.

Also, in my younger years, I spent a lot of time in South America with my family. My mum’s brother lives in Bariloche, a beautiful mountainous area in Argentina close to the border with Chile. We were in Chile at the time so we decided to pay them a visit by taking a bus across the Andes mountains. Suddenly, the bus stopped in the middle of the incredible scenery and the driver called me up to the front so that I could see the puma that was standing in the middle of the road looking at us. I went on and on talking about pumas after that so when we went home my mum got me a kitten. Since then, cats have always formed part of our family.

Finally, Jim (my partner) and I decided to explore Vietnam from south to north on a scooter and a motorbike. The northern part of the country is rural and mountainous with little villages and small roads so we made sure we knew where to go before sunset. However, as we were driving further north towards the border with China, the road started to turn into gravel road and all of a sudden it was completely gone! The road shown on Google maps wasn’t there anymore and we couldn’t find any other road on our paper map. The sun was starting to set, we had no food and sadly, we realised that we would have to turn back and drive in the dark. Luckily, we met a friendly young local who spoke a bit of English. He invited us for dinner at his house with his family and found us a place to stay. It was such a memorable trip!

Tell a story about a funny situation you’ve had while travelling
Once, I volunteered as a deck hand to help a friend sail a 53-foot catamaran from Tanzania to South Africa. The boat was old and didn’t have a nice bathroom. It was just a tiny cabin with a curtain right behind the captain’s seat so there wasn’t much privacy. The actual toilet was a hole in the boat, so everything went straight down into the water. To avoid unfortunate surprises, we tried to not go to the toilet when anchored. One time, we anchored close to a beautiful island and everyone but me went to explore it, so I had a well-deserved private toilet moment. Next thing I know, I heard something close to the boat, and to my horror, I saw two snorkelers swimming right next to, well, you can probably guess. Instead of exploring the island that day, I spent the afternoon hiding in the cabin.

What other jobs have you had?
I’ve been working since I was 12 years old. I’ve worked in libraries, supermarkets, bakeries, shops, translation agencies, restaurants, catering companies, and lifeguarding at the local public swimming pool. I spent four years on and off working as a sales supervisor in Copenhagen Airport, which I really enjoyed. One of my dreams was to one day work for the UN. That dream came true when I got an internship and a job opportunity at the UN World Tourism Organization in Madrid. I had the time of my life but I also realised that 9 hours seated in front of a computer every day wasn’t for me. I needed a hands-on job with less bureaucracy. So I changed my path. I’ve worked in a rainforest lodge in Costa Rica and a wilderness lodge in Tasmania, which were amazing experiences. I’ve also been involved in volunteering with a few local development projects in Tanzania and Paraguay.

What got you interested in hospitality?
My father once said to me “why do you want to spend money on travelling the world when you can get yourself a career where you can earn money to travel”? That thought became the start of my journey.

I was always interested in getting involved with development projects abroad but during my years at university I discovered the world of tourism and started to focus on the idea of working with sustainable development and conservation through tourism. That got me into hospitality. I believe that travellers can make a huge positive impact in fostering a sustainable tomorrow. I wanted to learn more about ecotourism and found out that there are many incredible lodges all over the world where people are given the chance to experience the beauty of nature and local communities, but with care and respect for their surroundings. I wanted to be part of this. And now I live and work in a wonderful place in one of the most beautiful and pristine places in the world - away from phones, computers and plastic.

What’s your perfect job?
I think it’s interesting to think of a perfect job being related to one’s own definition of success. I have always thought of the perfect job as one where I can unfold my full potential and be able to contribute with something positive to the world. But now I also know that success in my daily life is just as important. I don’t want a perfect job if it means having to live in a dirty city and not be near nature.

I’d like to learn more about destination management and project management. I’m always keen on learning more about sustainable tourism and marketing. I’d just love to convince people to travel to places like Lord Howe Island. I would also like to show people how wonderful life can be (which I actually already get to do here at Pinetrees Lodge). Also, let’s face it: I’d love a job where I have the chance to swim with dolphins! (I can do that here too). What I have right now is perfect for me.

How do you spend your spare time?
Climbing the mountains on the island, going to the beach, swimming, having BBQs, going snorkelling with Jim (my partner), having an Aperol Spritz with my friends at sunset, trail running, reading books, having fun, enjoying the simple things, and most all, loving life!

Tell me three things that other people find interesting about you?
Sometimes people find it weird that I’ve grown up in all these countries. In Denmark people think that I’m always travelling around. Even after living in Australia for three years (two in Tasmania and one on Lord Howe Island), they still think I constantly travel everywhere else too. People who I’ve met for the first time often like to talk about Copenhagen and the Danish way of living. I think that people who know me on Lord Howe are more interested in how much I love to dance. I can’t listen to a good song without making a few moves! It’s the Latina in me. It makes people laugh so I guess that’s not a bad thing.

What have you done (even something really small…..) for humanity?
Every incredible memory I’ve had in my life has been related to travelling, experiencing the kindness of strangers, and being excited about nature. That’s why I believe that travelling is so good for the soul. Through travel we can build cultural bridges and learn to care about the environment. So I guess that’s what I’ve learned in life through my own travels - to be open-minded and kind to people regardless of their culture, language, colour or religion. In a volatile world with dickhead presidents and misplaced hatred, we need to act together.

“The way people treat you is their karma. The way you react is yours.”

Meet our staff - Denis Corcoran

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