Larae was born and raised in the high Chihuahan Desert along the US-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, where the Rocky Mountain chain thins and the trickling Rio Grande is a muddy reflecting pool with Mexican shantytowns on one side and US Interstate 10 on the other. Her grandfather migrated there from Syria in the 1920s, after stowing away in a cruise ship from Marseilles and spending time in Mexico teaching himself to speak Spanish before establishing a furniture company in El Paso in the 1940s.
Listening to grandparents speaking some Arabic in the house, lots of Spanish in the streets, and English everywhere else, language and words dominated Larae’s childhood. Hour after hour, her pencil filled long yellow legal notepads with scrawled handwriting that told ghost stories and fairy tales while her single mother worked long hours selling houses by day and working nights at a law firm.
After serving hard time on Franklin High School’s student newspaper staff and competing in speech events and Academic Decathlon, it was an obvious choice to obtain a BA in Journalism and Broadcasting at New Mexico State University (NMSU) some 30 miles down the road in Las Cruces. Commuting everyday by Honda Civic through dairy farms and pecan orchards, NMSU had a campus radio station, a newspaper, and its own NPR member station and PBS station. Larae worked for them all, as a rock DJ for KRUX 91.5 FM, a reporter for the RoundUp, a classical music announcer for KRWG 90.7 FM, and as an anchor, weather correspondent, reporter, and editor for News 22 on PBS.
To combine her major courses in public relations and news writing, she treated her elective coursework like a buffet. Choose a little something from everything, from Baroque art to the Bible as Literature. Her mercurial interests and curiosity prepared her for her first big journalism gig.
It was a lonely Wednesday night filling in for the jazz DJ at KRWG when the radio request line rang. It was the news director from KDBC, CBS 4 News in El Paso, complementing Larae on her radio voice and inviting her to intern in his newsroom. In time, she would be a full-time general assignments reporter at age 19, while completing her bachelor’s degree in 2000.
By the end of her three years at KDBC, Larae had the city beat and knew key players at City Hall by first name. Most senior citizens who loved CBS knew Larae, too. For fun, she’d also reported live while rappelling down a 50-foot wall with soldiers at Fort Bliss on Armed Forces Day, walking inside of an inflating hot air balloon, receiving one of the first corrective laser surgeries in El Paso, and floating in a zero-gravity simulator at NASA in Houston.
But by the beginning of 2003, Larae launched her own freelance writing business, crafting features, reviews, and hard news for several newspapers and magazines across Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. She’d also used that radio and TV voice for professional public speaking in front of hundreds of high school students, delivering motivational programs on achieving success after graduation for Making It Count, owned by Monster.com.
Then one day, her dear friend and former contact when writing tax stories rang her up. “I want you to get out of town and do something with your life,” Mary Brock said sternly, encouraging Larae to apply and later win the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to study abroad and build cultural bridges by interacting with Rotary clubs in other countries, volunteering, and practicing the philosophy of Service Before Self. She had no idea how much this scholarship would change her life.
She narrowed her choices down to master’s programs in Buenos Aires, Cairo, or Amsterdam. Moving to Amsterdam in February 2005 was the logical match for many reasons.
Leaving the arid mountainous desert for the heavy clouds and flat landscape of the low countries, Amsterdam fulfilled her craving for different cultures and viewpoints. The University of Amsterdam’s International School for Humanities and Social Sciences offered the perfect International Relations program. It dealt with conflict resolution, NGOs, the UN, energy and environmental issues, conflict zones, and foreign policy. Her final thesis discussed how global communication impacts our perspective of the world, sampling news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by BBC World, AlJazeera English, and CNN International, to reveal that each news organization portrayed a different viewpoint of the same world events.
The Netherlands was the perfect place to study, where lectures and NGOs dot the country amidst local and international academics, politicians, and activists. The most practical part of the education was witnessing lectures from Dutch ministers and their foreign counterparts on issues like the ICC, human trafficking, and lately, the relationship between Old and New Amsterdam during the 400-year anniversary of Henry Hudson’s fourth voyage on the Halve Maan across the Atlantic on behalf of the VOC in 1609.
When the scholarship money ran out halfway down her program, Larae became a tour director for two of the largest tour operators in the United Kingdom, leading student and adult travelers on historic and cultural tours throughout Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. Springs and summers were spent leading North American high school students throughout Europe, exploring ancient cities and teaching the effects of the Roman Empire, World War II, the European Union, decolonization, and other ideas on the state of affairs today.
Commuting now by bicycle, Amsterdam is her adopted city. Since graduation in 2008, she remained to start another business, this time designing and leading unique walking and coach tours of Amsterdam, explaining famous periods of history such as the 17th century Golden Age and WWII along with the architecture, lifestyle, and culture that makes the city so unique. The buffet of opportunities abound, as Larae conducts tours while writing articles for The Holland Times and editing for Dutch NGOs. She supports the local music scene and regularly attends film festivals while taking courses on languages and drawing and Tai Chi, just to keep the creative currents flowing.