Monthly Archives: December 2012

Abroad Blog of the Week: Life Out of the Box

Two twenty-somethings give up their lives in California to move to Nicaragua to start a business which gives back to the community. They know little Spanish, have a very modest budget, and have never been to the country, but somehow end up running a hostel and making a real contribution to education in their new home. Now you know why I chose Life Out of the Box for this week’s Abroad Blog of the Week. I was actually introduced to this entrepreneurial duo from a nomination by a reader. I’m so glad too because Quinn and Jon of Life Out of the Box are doing incredible things. Whether you are of the Millennial generation or not, you are bound to be inspired by their interview and blog.

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How did you decide to start your business in Nicaragua?

We have always wanted to start a business of our own since we were kids, so the idea of creating a business of our own was one that had been in the works for a while. Our ideal lives consisted of traveling to new countries and learning about new cultures. We wanted to travel the world, be our own boss, and live overseas. After lots of brainstorming, we decided that our ideal business to start would be one that integrates giving back into the finances from the very beginning. We wanted to search for unique handmade products that would appeal to people in the States and be able to give back to every new country we visited. So we decided that for every handmade product we would sell in the States we would give back an educational product to that country.  

We knew that we needed to dedicate all of our time to create this business, but we didn’t want to borrow money from family or take out a loan. Therefore, in order to save our money through the startup phase of the company where we wouldn’t be making money, we decided that living somewhere with a lower cost of living than California would give us the best opportunity to do what we wanted.

So we took a map of the entire world and ultimately chose Nicaragua. There were several factors and a lot of research that went into the decision, of course, as we were leaving everything stable that we had ever known to start something of our own. Neither of us had ever been to Nicaragua before and had done as much research online to be able to understand the culture as we could, but there wasn’t much. This made us want to go discover it for ourselves even more–the unknown was exciting. We both knew some Spanish, but thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to improve it. We also learned that the average person lives off of $2 a day in Nicaragua as it is the second poorest country in Central America. We knew we could find a way to give back which could make a big difference. A little goes a long way in Nicaragua and we think that is such a beautiful thing–it’s the small things that matter the most. Within a month of making the decision to move and pursue this dream of living overseas and starting our own business, we quit our jobs, packed one backpack of clothes, said goodbye to family and friends, and hopped on a plane to Nicaragua.

What are the challenges and highlights you’ve experienced in trying to start a business overseas?

The highlight for us both was the day that we launched our online store, sold our very first bracelet and then gave our very first notebook to a sweet Nicaraguan girl named Naomi. It was one of the greatest and most rewarding days of our lives. Naomi, 6 years old, was absolutely ecstatic when she picked out a notebook and found out that it was a gift from someone in the United States. She started dancing around and laughing. I cried. It was so beautiful to see how much a single notebook meant to a little girl here. They can draw in it, write in it, use it for school, use it as a journal, write song lyrics in it–the possibilities are endless. It allows kids to be creative, use their imagination and gain confidence in their talent and skills. It’s an opportunity that many people get as a kids in the first world without thinking about it, but an opportunity that unfortunately doesn’t exist for everyone worldwide. 

The challenges here we’ve experienced have all taught us both that patience, persistence and the ability to adapt are keys in creating a business, especially when you’re in a third world country where you don’t have everything at your finger tips. We’ve had internet outages when we needed it the most–the day we were going to Skype with a high school class in LA, our Internet was of course out all day! So we improvised and searched everywhere for a place with WiFi and finally found a little coffee place with it. We’ve also hunted for days searching for product material, product designers and packaging. One day something or someone will be there and the next they won’t. They have a thing here called “Nica time” which basically means there is no structured time. It took a while to adjust from the States where we’ve been trained that punctuality is key in business: if you’re on time, you’re late and if you’re early you’re on time. We still believe this, but when it comes to people here we’ve learned to just be patient and understand that it is a different culture. Overall though, people here have been so helpful and welcoming; we both feel very lucky to have encountered everyone we’ve met along the way.

How did you come to run the Life out of the Box restaurant and bar? How has it impacted your lives in Laguna de Apoyo?

That is a great story of randomness and spontaneity–one that wouldn’t have bee able to happen had we not set up our lives to being open to any and all opportunities. That’s one of our favorite parts about being entrepreneurial and being our own boss, at the drop of any opportunity we can take it. We had just moved from San Juan del Sur to head up to Masaya, but wanted to make a stop in Granada so that we could travel with all of our new friends for a few days longer. We ended up staying at Oasis Hostel, which is a well-known and very nice hostel in the heart of Granada. We stayed there just one night with our friends, but as we were checking out the next morning we noticed a sign on the walls saying that their other hostel in Laguna de Apoyo was looking for a couple to run the hostel, bar & restaurant for 90 days. Free room & food. It sounded great for 3 months and we knew we’d have a good time with it as we each had experience in hospitality & guest services. So we called the owner, she put us up at the hostel for a couple of days, we fell in love with the resort and jungle and decided to have a go at it. The staff only knew Spanish, so that was a huge learning experience. It’s one thing to try to order food in Spanish, but it’s quite another to manage people in a language you’re not completely fluent in. We learned a lot about how business is done in Nicaragua and how to manage our own staff. We were able to get our name out to many of our guests and improve our website in the time we lived there. We are very thankful to have been able to live in such a beautiful serene place as long as we did. It really is one of Nicaragua’s hidden gems.

How has this experience differed from your previous international ventures?

Well this is certainly the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place internationally. The longer you live in a place, the more necessary it is to learn the language, so being immersed and forced to speak a foreign language has been very different from our other international travels where we weren’t there long enough to feel like we needed to know the language. Living here we’ve had the time to actually explore and truly feel what it’s like to live like a Nicaraguan. We have the time now to be able to do that rather than before when we traveled it was much faster, on a timed and planned schedule–aka binge travel. Because we couldn’t do it very often and for very long, we felt like we had to cram as much as we possibly could into the short time frame that we had. It’s something we didn’t realize we were doing until we actually had the time to make no plans and just explore. We’re thankful that we have the time to travel the way that we do because it allows us to learn more about the people and the different cultures–something that was very important to us as we defined our ideal lives. We certainly plan to make sure it stays this way everywhere we go all around the world. 

What advice would you give other 20 somethings with the hopes of living abroad and helping the local community?

Get out there and do it. Just do it. One of our favorite quotes is, “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down”. It’s very true and we promise you, if you do make the leap of living your own life overseas to do what you want, you won’t regret it. You can always go back, but if you never go, then you’ll never know. Pushing yourself out of your safety zone will make you grow more than you’ll ever know. You get stronger. Once you take big leap like this and see that you actually can do it, you’ll be able to make other difficult decisions more easily as well. As for helping the local community, always know that you can make a difference. Even the smallest difference helps. Our biggest piece of advice is to help a cause that you are truly connected to. If you are personally connected to the cause, then your passion will drive you to succeed. It’s not always easy, so you need that passion and connection to keep you going when things are hard. Giving back to people who need it is the most rewarding experience either of us has ever had. It doesn’t matter where it is. In giving back selflessly, you receive just as much in return. We have a lot of faith and hope in our 20-somethings and even the younger teens–we are the Millennial Generation. 

To this new generation, money is no longer the bottom line. Making the world a better place is. I’m proud to be apart of this generation and think that together we really can change the world. We want our story to inspire others to go out and make a difference themselves–if we can do it, so can you. 

 

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Homemade Scones

I fell in love with the flaky pastry that hails from Scotland while living in New York City. I would walk to this cute corner coffee shop owned by a Brit couple and order a scone and latte to enjoy while I journaled about my summer in the big city. While I’ve been a connoisseur of scones for quite some time, I’ve never attempted to make my own. So I added scone-making to my goals on my Thirty-One List.

While visiting my best friend in Chicago last week, she decided to help me accomplish one of my 31 tasks. Having a culinary degree from Argentina, I agreed that she would be the best person to guide me through the process. We used the Cook’s Illustrated recipe and my BF indicated it is the Bible of all things food. The recipe was precise but actually pretty simple and the scones turned out buttery and delicious…definitely a culinary splurge.

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Orange Cranberry Scones Recipe

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small cubes (cut these quickly so they don’t melt in your hands)
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1 cup heavy cream

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse 6 times to combine. (I counted 1 one-thousand for each pulse.)

3. Distribute the butter evenly over the dry ingredients, sprinkle the zest in, and then combine with a dozen 1-second pulses. Add the cranberries and pulse one more time. Transfer to medium size bowl.

4. Stir in heavy cream with rubber spatula or fork until dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.

5. Transfer dough and all dry, floury bits to countertop and knead dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds. Pat the dough into an 8-inch circle (we used a cake pan) and cut into 8 wedges. Put the wedges on the prepared baking sheet.

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6. Bake until scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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The Magic of Sinterklaas

Communicating Across Boundaries hosted a guest post today about St. Nicholas (Sinterklaas) Day as well, but from the traditions of the Netherlands.

Marilyn R. Gardner

Earlier in the fall I asked readers for submissions on Christmas traditions around the world. I am delighted to offer you this post on Sinterklaas by Annelies Kanis who wrote the popular post The Trunk That Traveled the World.

Bright December moon is beaming

boys and girls now stop your play

for tonight’s the wondrous evening

eve of good St. Nicholas day

There is nothing quite like the magic of Saint Nicolas. Or as we say, Sinterklaas.

Nederlands: Sinterklaas tijdens het Het Feest ...

Saint Nicolas was a Turkish Saint from the 4th Century A.D. In the Netherlands we celebrate Sinterklaas on the evening before his name day, which is December 6th. The original Saint Nicolas had a reputation for secret gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out. And as it goes with legends, the legend of Saint Nicolas got bigger and bigger and somehow…

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Happy St. Nicholas Day!

As a child December 6th was one of my favorite days of the year. On St. Nicholas Day eve (December 5th) we would set our homemade slippers outside of our bedroom door with our Christmas wish lists inside. The next morning we would wake up to find that St. Nick had come for our list and left us candy, a new Christmas ornament, and a chocolate advent calendar in our bedroom shoes. To me, it always represented the beginning of the Christmas season.

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What I didn’t realize as a child was that most of my American friends did not celebrate St. Nicholas Day. My mom, being Pennsylvania Dutch, brought this tradition and several others to our family. While my mother’s family never spoke Pennsylvania German, they did maintain many of the German traditions. My grandmother was definitely a Pennsylvania Dutch cook and made pickled beet eggs, scrapple, and hog maw. Personally, I rarely tried any of these dishes as a child, and at the mention of them my response was always “yuck”. My mom and my aunts still make some of the traditional meals but I think they’ve all let hog maw be a recipe of yore. Cleaning pig stomach  just is not a pleasurable chore.

Now that I am older, I am so grateful for the traditions that have been passed down from my German ancestors and carried on my grandmother and mom. I know when Hubby and I have children we will be celebrating St. Nicholas Day too. If you missed St. Nick’s Day this year, I don’t think he’ll mind if you celebrate it on December 7th or 8th instead.

Happy beginning of the holiday season!

Abroad Blog of the Week: Through Harold’s Lens

I’m keeping my intro to this Abroad Blog of the Week short, because the interview is just so good. Personally I have been mesmerized by the photos of Harold Green on Through Harold’s Lens. I’m positive you’ll be captivated by his answers as well.

How does taking pictures while traveling impact how you travel? 

My needs as a traveling photographer traveler are different from just a casual traveler who wants to shoot “look where I have gone photos”.

Before launching, I have to deal with what cameras, lens, hard drive and other camera gear to take. On various journeys there are weight limits too. Small planes used on African safaris, etc.

Security is always an issue. I sure don’t want to get to my destination and find my portfolio of camera gear missing. Therefore, all of it goes in my airline carry-on bags and in my photography vest. I’m talking about around 30-35 lb. of camera gear plus my personal items. Heavy, schlepping in some airports.

At my destination I love exploring with my wife, Rita. It takes me time and patience to create most of my images correctly. This often runs counter to the faster exploring needs of my wife.

Rita also loves to go shopping for items from the culture. These are most often best found in the local markets. This I love. For it is in the small markets, alleys and souks where I can establish relationships and create up-close and personal photographic images of the people and the local cultural items.

AFRICA. Botswana through my lens: 30-35 lb. of camera gear plus my personal items makes for some serious schlepping in some airports.

AFRICA. Botswana through my lens: 30-35 lb. of camera gear plus my personal items makes for some serious schlepping in some airports.

How do you approach taking a stranger’s photograph? 

The key is building a relationship and trust.

In large cities and well-traveled areas, I simply ask the stranger. Most people are very honored that I want to photograph them. In this day of more heightened security, they truly appreciate you asking. Very seldom have I been refused.

Most of my travels take me into off the beaten path and into various remote areas, towns and villages. I find that the people there are often just as curious about me, as I am about them. So I work extra hard on building a relationship using the tools I have on hand: my camera, iPod, harmonica, etc.

Bree Bree Indians. Costa Rica. Carefully I walked on the wobbly vine bridge over the gorge 150’ feet below to the village of the Bree Bree Indians. The village is in the trees. Their animals lived below. Up the vine ladder I climbed into their home, filled with many children. Different language. Build trust! I sat on the bamboo floor at their eye level. Pulled out a small harmonica from my photography vest. Played a few short, catchy tunes. The children’s eyes were glued. Ah music, the universal language! Gave a child the harmonica to play. He loved it. All the children wanted to play it. The harmonica got passed around. Trust built! My camera went into high gear. Bree Bree children captured. I gave them the harmonica. Always carry a few.

The Maasai. Tanzania. I casually strolled through the small Maasai village. The adult Maasai looked to the ground and gave me questioning glances from the sides of their eyes. Seeing curious Maasai children, I took a few images of them. Then, I showed them their picture on the LCD screen in the back of the camera. They loved seeing themselves. I took more images. The Maasai adults watched. Then I carefully put the camera strap over a Maasai child’s neck. Showed him how to take a photo. He clicked. Many times. All the kids wanted to see the LCD screen and use the camera. I placed the strap over each child’s neck and let them shoot away. The adults gathered around closely. Trust built! For the rest of the day the Maasai were comfortable with me and my camera. I was even invited into a Maasai home just after the birth of a little new Maasai.

AFRICA. The Serengeti through my lens: Involvement with trust. I had just finished individually photographing over 30 of the most lovely Maasai women. They loved it and all wanted to see images of themselves on my camera. They were all huddled around me. I hung the camera strap around one Maasai woman's neck and told her to take a photograph of me with one of the other Maasai women. This is the fun result.

AFRICA. The Serengeti through my lens: Involvement with trust. I had just finished individually photographing over 30 of the most lovely Maasai women. They loved it and all wanted to see images of themselves on my camera. They were all huddled around me. I hung the camera strap around one Maasai woman’s neck and told her to take a photograph of me with one of the other Maasai women. This is the fun result.

Peruvian Indians. Chile. The indians from Peru were privately and quietly chatting among themselves. Their eyes carefully looked at me. Two were playing music. Pan flute and vibes.  Standing there with my camera, who was I?  At the end of one Peruvian song I turned on my iPod, buds in my ears, and began to dance to my music. They were very curious. Next I shared one ear bud with an indian and let him listen too. Together, we smiled and rocked to the rhythm. Then I shared my iPod and buds with another indian. He smiled and rocked too. Next my iPod, music and ear buds went around the tribe, all to smiling rocking indians. Trust built! My camera went into high gear.

These kind of techniques have worked for me from the mountain villages of Thailand to the rice fields of Vietnam to the war-pocked lands of Cambodia or with the Nomads on top of the dunes of the Sahara.

Many of my journeys are to very poor countries. I do not pay a person to take a candid photograph of them in a public place. I feel this sends the wrong message. Often later in the day, I make a donation to the school, medical facility or tribal leader, therefore my donation is not tied to shooting photography of the people.

What can photography teach us about culture?

Photography allows us to expose what one culture believes to another.

My photography allows me to go beyond the WOW of a scene! It allows me to engage very personally and in-depth with a culture, rather than to just be an observer on the outside. Photography teaches me the skills of building trust. I enrich myself by learning about other cultures and I learn more about myself as a person.

I am able to share my cultural experiences with others. I often take the viewer behind the scene of an image with a capsule short story. By taking a low-traveled viewer beyond their front doorstep and into the up-close and personal side of a culture, I feel I can help eliminate misconceptions and give them an opportunity to view our world through an open mind.

I often go into the local markets in a culture and purchase native music. As I am performing Post Production on my images, I always play the music from the region. This helps me re-live my cultural experience with a richer visual and audio aspect.

Often my images capture aspects of the culture I did not initially see. An image within an image. Thus I am being exposed to something culturally new. Something I never originally saw.

share my photography of cultures with others most often in a non-commercial way. My Photography Blog www.throughharoldslens.com does this. My Facebook page: Harold Green Sr. also does it. If I have a photography show, 100% of the proceeds go to charity. I have put together photography presentations of a particular culture for a teacher to use in her geography classroom located in a poor Texas school district. The feedback adds personal depth and enriches my life.

AFRICA. The Serengeti through my lens: Building a relationship and trust. I spent two hours photographing these Maasai 15-year old boys out alone for six months on the Serengeti learning to be Maasai warriors.

AFRICA. The Serengeti through my lens: Building a relationship and trust. I spent two hours photographing these Maasai 15-year old boys out alone for six months on the Serengeti learning to be Maasai warriors.

What is your next big adventure?

Due to other commitments, at this moment I do not have a big adventure booked on my photography guide. It will happen!

I am researching photographing the people, customs, villages and lifestyles along The Amalfi Coast in Italy; trying to capture the legendary herds of wildebeest as they migrate across the crocodile infested waters and lion dominated shores of the snaking Mara Mara River where the northern tip of the Serengeti meets the Kenya border in Africa;  the tribes of the Omo in Ethiopia, Africa and the cultures of the Indian communities in Peru.

What advice would you give a novice photographer when traveling?

Whenever I purchase a new camera or some new camera gear, before my journey, I take time to familiarize myself with all of it; how it works, what can it do, all the buttons, etc. I do not want to spend time on my journey with my face buried in a manual or questionably studying the buttons on a camera. On to Greece, I purposely left my new Nikon camera at home for this reason. Things happen fast and you have to know what to do. Now. Plus, I want to be able to see and explore the culture.

I always remove the camera strap with the camera’s name and cover the name on the camera and lens. By eliminating the names I am increasing my security. I put a very secure, non-slip camera strap on each camera and always wear it around my neck. All of my cameras and camera gear go in my airline carry-on bag. My camera is always with me, morning, noon and night. There’s an old adage: “you will see the best shots when you do not have your camera”.

I always take the road less traveled when going through a new culture. I do not pre-judge. I am not afraid or hesitant and stick my nose in everywhere.I am always polite and patient.

When I see a scene I want to shoot, I focus on the item that drew my eye to that scene. I work on not being tempted to widen my lens to include more aspects that are in the theme.

I prefer candid photography vs posed. I don’t put a family member or friend in my images unless there is a reason. I don’t have a need to say “I went to ?” if I have the photos. I want my scene to be the focus, not the traveler. I find this to be a more interesting image.

Contact: 

I hope some of my thoughts will help others. I am always open to comments and questions. I can be reached through my Photography Blog www.throughharoldslens.com

My Facebook page: Harold Green Sr. I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

My email: haroldgreen40@gmail.com

I hope that my images and comments will inspire others to travel and explore other cultures of our world with an open mind. Thank you for inviting me to be your participating guest on Aboard Blog of the Week.

Have Fun Clicking and Writing,

Harold Green

Calling All Expats: Opportunity to Lead Students Abroad

I love that through this blog I have met so many great people around the world. It has only enhanced my ability to be global from home by extending my international network. For all my lovely expat readers and friends that I have met through the blogosphere, I have an opportunity that wanted to share.

I am looking to hire expats as On-site Program Coordinators for our short-term faculty-led programs through CISabroad. If you are someone who is currently living outside of the U.S. and would be interested in guiding a group of college students and their professor around your host country, this is the perfect gig. The primary role of this position is to facilitate the in-country implementation of the assigned program and provide safety/emergency support as needed. During the program, the On-Site Program Coordinator is responsible for managing the day-to-day logistics of the assigned customized program and providing in-country support to both the leading faculty and CISabroad students. These positions are contracted and last anywhere from 10 days to 4 weeks. We cover all travel expenses, food, housing, and provide a small stipend.

If you or someone you know might be interested in working with me at CISabroad this spring/summer, I would love to answer questions. You can check out the position and find directions to apply on the CISabroad Career page.

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