Tag Archives: Abroad Blog of the Week

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. 

 

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

Abroad Blog of the Week (revisited): Healing Pilgrim

I first featured Healing Pilgrim as an Abroad Blog of the Week just as I was starting Global from Home. The pictures of Amit hanging upside down doing yoga, the explanations of various traditional medicine, and the process of healing by engaging in the culture of Ubud, Bali, they all attracted me. At that point I wasn’t doing interviews, but over the past few months, I have gotten to know Amit better through her posts and comments. Now I consider Amit a friend of the blogosphere and was determined that I needed the interview to go along with the first post. Healing Pilgrim is amongst my favorite blogs – one in which I feel transported by the writer. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.

What attracted you to Southeast Asia to begin with?

There was something about Asia (not just SE Asia!) so otherworldly, so ancient and completely different from where I grew up, that it appealed to me on many levels. For example, although I can’t explain the source of this particular desire, I simply knew – in the same way that you know what you are hungry for, which ingredients you want to use for a sandwich – that I would have to travel in Nepal, Laos and Mongolia.

How has your perspective on travel changed since your accident?

I can see more clearly now. I pay more attention – to what goes on around me, as well as what goes on inside. I trust my intuition and instinct in ways that I didn’t before, and I honor the angels and guides that I’m now certain protect me and hover nearby. I am inherently as adventurous now as I was pre-accident, but I’m more limited in my mobility, so I appreciate disability, the challenges of aging and finding creative solutions to still getting around.

What cultural aspects of Ubud still surprise you?

Regardless of the increasing influx of tourists, offerings, temple festivals, family and banjar ceremonies are still very much an intrinsic part of life in Ubud – less so, in other parts of Bali. I’m also constantly amazed by the array and output of creativity, and how Western elements and beliefs are woven into the fabric of their lives; often with surprisingly innovative results.

What has living in Bali taught you about healing the mind and body?

Letting go of control. Being open and grateful to what I have rather than what I wish I did. That which is ‘unseen’ is equally significant, sometimes more so, than that which is ‘seen.’ There are SO many ways to heal ourselves, and going natural is the optimal way to go. And that if I believe that my body (and mind) is healing, then it will be so…

What is your favorite yoga pose?

Since I began to learn and practice Iyengar, I would have to say that I love – as does my body – doing inversions, preferably those that involve ropes. A close second is warrior, because I feel strength coursing through my body. And if I can throw in a third, savassana 😉

What advice would you give the traveler who is going through a healing process?

Breathe deeply. We are never taught about the importance of deep breathing in our healing process, in oxygenating our bodies and minds. I would also say that healing does not have a finite point so it’s a worthless (and frustrating) endeavor to find it. Trust that your body does want to heal, it just needs time, guidance, the most nutritious foods possible, exercise, rest and an acceptance that you are now exactly where you are supposed to be.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Lottie Nevin

If you haven’t already subscribed to this Abroad Blog of the Week, you’ll want to. I came across Lottie Nevin when I first started blogging about six months ago. I was hooked by Lottie’s blunt honesty but humorous take on the difficulties of being a Brit new to Jakarta. She is also a fabulous story-teller and frequently weaves previous life experiences into her present day predicaments. Lottie just celebrated her one-year blog birthday (huge congrats!) and her blog is a great source of funny advice for anyone considering a move to Indonesia. Want proof? Just keep reading for my interview with Lottie…I promise she’ll have you laughing by the end.

Looking back on this first year of living in Jakarta, what are you most proud of?

My greatest achievement thus far, is managing to avoid falling into any of the open sewers that are such an attractive feature of Jakarta. I’m proud of that but then I seem to remember a saying that ‘Pride comes before a fall’ so maybe I should think of something else?

I’m proud of the fact that I haven’t gone totally mad from living in Jakarta. With the best will in the world, I doubt very much that it features on anyone’s bucket list of destinations but it’s our home for the moment so I’ve had to step up quickly to the mark and embrace the good, the bad and the ugly side of living here which if I’m honest, is not always easy.

I’m also very proud and somewhat relieved of not getting run over trying to cross the notoriously busy Jakartan roads. Crossing any road here could be described as something of an extreme sport. It certainly helps to have a sense of humour and the patience of a saint, because you can bet your bottom dollar, that whatever you have planned for your day will not go smoothly. In case you were wondering, I have neither.

How do you handle the attention you get from being a blonde, British woman in Indonesia?

The blonde hair does get noticed, and that coupled with me being a good foot and half taller and at least 3 foot wider than most women here, makes me stick out like a sore thumb which sometimes I find difficult. We don’t live in an expat area of Jakarta so if I’m out and about walking, the sighting of another western women is a rare occurrence. In Bali it’s different because being a holiday destination there are plenty of blonde Australians, which means I blend seamlessly into the environment.

Have you picked up any new habits since you’ve lived abroad?

Ah, that’s an interesting question. Habits, yes, I’ve certainly picked up some new bad habits over the past year, wearing a dastah (Indonesian onesie) for example, which went down like a lead balloon with my husband. I’ve had to wean myself off wearing them as he gave me an ultimatum. Not enough exercise is another. Because of that, I am now almost spherical and resemble the apple motif on the front of my laptop. My best new habit is probably starting writing a blog. I’ve discovered so many great blogs in the past year, and since starting my own I’ve met up with other bloggers in the flesh so to speak and subsequently made some good friends. I also now write for an expat website, a glossy magazine in Jakarta, and best of all, I get emails from people who’ve stumbled across my blog on the internet and want advice on moving to Indonesia. I’m always delighted to hear from people and it’s a good feeling being able to offer advice, and help in any way that I can.

Do you think you’ll ever get used to Indonesian bathroom culture?

Never in a month of Sundays will I get used to Indonesian squat and drop type toilets. There’s something very off-putting about having to place ones feet on the ceramic paddles either side of it, and hover over a hole. After one too many Bintangs, it can also be a perilous balancing exercise. The sit down toilets aren’t a lot better because the seats are generally covered in dirty footmarks from the Indonesian ladies who don’t like sitting and prefer to scramble up onto the seat to squat. Not least the fact that toilet paper is rarer than hens teeth in these parts. Instead, there is an apparatus resembling something akin to a high-pressure hose that is supposed to be used for washing afterwards. I’ve never managed to use one without soaking the bathroom and myself from head to foot.

Which is your favorite post from your blog?

My favourite post? That’s quite difficult to answer because I’ve enjoyed writing all of them.  I know that there have been certain posts that have proved popular with people who follow me, but I think My Pelvic Floor and Our Move to the 12th Floor is definitely one of my favourites. I like it when I can weave things that have happened in my past into what I am writing about here in Indonesia.

What considerations should someone contemplate before moving abroad to Southeast Asia?

I think it very much depends on where you are going to be living in S.E Asia. Thailand is  different from Indonesia and so are Malaysia and especially Singapore. Indonesia is the largest modern Islamic state in the world. Culturally it is very different from the UK which is where I was brought up. It’s certainly important to do your homework before moving out here so my advice is check out expat websites, read expat blogs, and find out as much as you can about all the cultural differences, especially if you are moving from the west.

Something that I read prior to our move, and at the time made very little sense to me but which nonetheless stuck in my mind, was the line ‘when moving to Indonesia give up on the idea of ever having any control over anything. If you need/want to be in control, you will not last 5 minutes here’ or words to that effect. Having lived here for just over a year, those words now make perfect sense to me.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Happy to be Homeless

Happy to be Homeless was nominated to be this Abroad Blog of the Week by Ashley of the Parallel Life and it is quite obvious why. Happy to be Homeless is the story of a husband and wife (Bryan and Kristin) who have left friends, family, jobs, and the familiarity of the US to travel the world for two years. Their blog is quite simply amazing as they have just now finished their first year of travel and are about to embark on Africa. Kristin and Bryan tell about the incredible, the frustrating, and the challenging. I was able to catch up with Kristin (while they were traveling through Georgia) to learn more about their world-wide travels and how they’ve made it work for the past year. For those of us that are homebound, this is great blog to add to your reader for vicarious living.

Your blog has a pretty extensive map of where you plan to go. How did you decide?

A lot of places we go are on a whim. Before we left we just had a basic idea of areas we wanted to hit. Most the time we hear about interesting places as we go (especially from other travelers and locals) and add them to our itinerary. Our exact plans are constantly changing but we have a basic route of the world. We pretty much want to go everywhere that offers something unique so we try not to rule anything out. Sometimes we find ourselves in places we never expected to go because we are open to any good opportunities. For example, Antarctica was definitely not in our original plan but we went last February and it’s been one of the highlights of our World Trip!

What are the benefits and drawbacks of traveling with your spouse for such a long period of time?

I think this trip has been a really good thing for our marriage. For seven years (before our trip began in November 2011), we only saw each other on weekends because we worked opposite shifts. We’ve learned how to communicate better and work together to solve problems. I’m really glad we decided to do this before we have children because it’s been a lot of quality time together. We see each other at our best and at our worst.

Of course, sometimes we get on each other’s nerves. The first six months in South America had a lot of ups and downs while I adjusted to living out of a backpack and dealt with my homesickness. It was difficult for Bryan to understand why I was sad while “living the dream.” We are in a good travel groove now and are really looking forward to our 4-month overland tour of Africa that begins in a few weeks!

What have been your favorite hostels along your journey?

The cool thing about hostels is that they are all different and most are in prime locations for affordable prices. For example, we stayed in a hostel that was in a former Olympic Stadium and one that was in an old castle. Hostels usually have good social events and perks, too. Bryan had one of his all-time favorite meals at a hostel in Salta, Argentina that had a weekly Asado (Barbeque) on Wednesday nights.

Do you take days off from traveling and exploring?

Honestly, we don’t really slow down much while we are on the road – as you can probably tell from our map of the last year! We rarely sleep in the same bed for more than a night or two. Getting Bryan to sit still is a difficult task. He’s like a toddler; I can barely get him to sit on a beach for more than 10 minutes. 🙂 We did return back to the US last June for five weeks for Bryan’s sister’s wedding so that definitely recharged our batteries. We’ll go back to the US again for another break from travel in April. Family and friends have come to meet us during our travels quite a few times so that gives us a nice change of pace and helps with homesickness.

What is your advice to being happy and homeless at the same time?

Unlike Bryan, it took me awhile until I was content being “happy and homeless.” I used to derive a lot of my contentment from my friends and family nearby, my belongings, my volunteering, and my profession. The first few months were a huge adjustment for me with no job, no home, no schedule, and having my family and friends so far away. There were many days that I just wanted to go home.

After some time, I finally started to realize that there is plenty of time for careers, another home, children, and everything else. I started enjoying every free moment I had with Bryan. I can wake up in the morning and do whatever I want. I don’t have bills, a job, or really any responsibilities. Some days may not be the best, but for now I have my freedom and I’m going to enjoy it. I try to keep a positive attitude. We may be in a completely crummy city and a bad hostel, but tomorrow I may end up in a gorgeous place and in a nice hotel.

Thanks, Kristin, for a great interview!

Abroad Blog of the Week: كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco)

I love Peace Corps Volunteer blogs. 1. They are always in interesting locations. 2. They always have great interactions with local people. 3. I can live vicariously through them. I started following كوين ف المغرب (Quinn in Morocco) almost four months ago for all of these reasons. The blogger, Sarah, is an Atlanta native who studied art at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) and now finds herself teaching English to the local children in Tamslouht, Morocco. Having finished her first year as a PCV this coming November 17, Sarah’s blog is full of great insight into the Moroccan way of life. Her blog highlights everything from Ramadan to Moroccan weddings to current political and religious issues in the country. I was excited to “meet up” with Sarah via email to learn all about the PCV experience.

What is a typical day for you as a PCV in Morocco?

 A typical day…oh, what a faraway dream from another land!

I have found that there is absolutely no such thing as a typical day in Morocco. Even my best-laid plans are always disrupted by invitations to tea at a complete stranger’s house, last-minute excursions to the city, meetings that I had no idea were happening, students not showing up to my classes (or showing up at my front door in droves when I had no idea a class would be meeting), donkey traffic jams preventing me from getting anywhere on time…the possibilities are endless. Additionally, life in Morocco is really seasonal. By this, I mean that my “typical” Tuesday during the school year is very different than a Tuesday during the summer. And a Tuesday during Ramadan is a completely different animal entirely!

If I had to draw up a “this is what I spend most of my time doing” schedule, patched together from the most common occurrences of my life during any given time, it would probably go something like this:

In the morning, I wake up around 6am to the alarm that I optimistically set the night before— you know, to go running and do that whole “healthy lifestyle” thing. I rarely make it out of bed. I sleep in until my next alarm around 8 or so and then spend a bit of time checking emails, reassuring people I’m alive, etc. My mornings revolve around last-minute lesson-planning for my English classes at the local youth center, teaching those classes, or spending time at the local café studying Darija with my tutor. Lunch usually occurs in the 12-3pm timeframe, and this can be anything from a depressing concoction from my own fridge (Lentils? Third day in a row? Why not!) to a delicious meal at a friend’s house. I always cross my fingers for an invitation. The afternoon involves more last-minute lesson planning, classes, meetings with associations, and possibly activities at the youth center. In the evening, I go home, to a friend’s house, or to my host family’s house. The latter two options involve sitting around, watching Turkish soap operas dubbed in Darija, and eating more delicious food. Bedtime comes pretty soon thereafter.

You’ve got great packing list! Of all you have, what three things could you absolutely not live without?

 A quick aside about my packing list— that was composed after coming to Morocco and seeing what I actually needed (as opposed to what I brought with me). Let me assure you, those things were completely unrelated.

Nevertheless, the three things that I absolutely can’t live without are:

  • My small book: This was a going-away gift from the museum I used to work for. It’s pocket –sized and perfect for writing down new words that I learn in the various places I end up during any given day.
  • My computer: It’s not particularly fancy, but it has enabled me to communicate with the outside world during the past year. Even without an internet connection, ending the day with an episode of the West Wing in the comfort of my bed (as opposed to the local cyber café) is a wonderful, purely American comfort food.
  • My glasses: Not only are they practical, as I really can’t see anything without them, but they’re always a good conversation starter with little kids (“Can I wear your glasses?” “Wow, look how goofy I am!”). In big cities, they also diffuse a lot of unwanted attention. It’s like I’m a mystical creature with large black glasses instead of a foreign woman to hassle.

 What is your favorite thing to do with visitors when they come to Tamslouht?

I have taken every visitor to the local café that sits right in the heart of Tamslouht. It’s a really cute, very Moroccan establishment that I visit every day, if not multiple times a day. A cup of coffee or a soda is less than a dollar, the owners (Marwan and Mustapha) know and love me very much. From their plastic chairs, I can literally see everyone in the town walk by if I sit there long enough. It has that “rustic charm” that only stray cats napping on the chair beside you and soda delivered in glass bottles can offer. For American visitors, it’s also extremely entertaining for them just sit and observe the rhythm of Moroccan life for a bit. The donkeys pulling carts of vegetables and small children are always a hit.

 How do you use art to work with your students?

I spend the majority of my time teaching English. However, because of my personal background (I studied art and art history in college) and my desire to make learning fun, I really try to implement as many creative activities into my curriculum as possible.

Mostly, I use art as an English-teaching method. For example, if we’re studying adjectives, I’ll make students randomly pick an adjective and a noun and draw a picture combining the two. This ends up being not only fun and an effective way to learn (how can you not remember something like “fat table” or “sad tajine”), but I also end up getting free classroom decorations. The kids really dig it.

 What have your students taught you?

 More than I’ve taught them. I swear.

 For new PCVs, what advice would you give them to have a successful start?

Just laugh it off. Peace Corps usually ends up being an amazing, life-changing experience….that is simultaneously a complete emotional rollercoaster. We volunteers joke with each other a lot about the way that the tiniest, slightly-negative experience can send the most even-tempered volunteer to tears. Also, living in another culture, you have a lot of things said to you that are completely normal, if not even complimentary in this culture— while being simultaneously offensive to you as an American.

The best example I give people is the frequency with which people call me fat. It’s a huge (ha ha ha) compliment here, although not so much to an American. Just a week or so ago, I was at my sitemate’s host family’s house for dinner. We had walked over in the pouring rain and they insisted that we change our clothes as not to get sick from the cold. My skinny sitemate had no problem slipping into his host brother’s sweat pants; I, meanwhile, literally could not button the “largest pants they owned.” Direct quote. This is a family of very small-boned, genetically-blessed women, and they were very entertained by the fact that I couldn’t fit into the largest pair of pants that they owned (probably the equivalent of a size 6 in America). They kept telling me that my stomach was huge! I was so fat! Ha ha ha! This is the kind of situation where you have two choices: break down and cry because it’s the 6th time today where someone has called you fat and you’re beginning to believe it, or just laugh and take it in stride. Seriously, if you look at everything the right way, you’ll see that it’s all complete sitcom material— even the stuff that can really hurt and make you want to pack your bags. Taking things lightly will not only make your Peace Corps experience exponentially easier, but it will make all of the potential for cross-cultural misunderstandings null and void.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Taking Nominations

Image credit: birdsandshoes.com

Well, dear readers, I need your help. After more than 20 great Abroad Blogs of the Week, I want your recommendations and nominations. Who should I be reading? Who is doing great stuff abroad? Who have you added to your reader recently? If you write a great abroad blog or know of someone who does, read through the directions below and nominate your favorite abroad blogger via my new form. I can’t wait to get some new reading recommendations!

Criteria to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. The blogger must either be about to go abroad, currently abroad, or recently returned from abroad
  2. The blog must predominately be about culture/travel
  3. Posts should be fairly regular (at least once or twice a week).

Requirements to be an Abroad Blog of the Week:

  1. Let me ask you 4-6 questions via email
  2. Send back your responses by the following Monday
  3. If you want (i.e. this is not a requirement), welcome any new readers from Global from Home the day I post our interview.

Easy, peasy.

If you would like your blog to be an Abroad Blog of the Week or know of another blog you think I should scope out, let me know! You can anonymously submit your nominations at the Abroad Blog of the Week Nomination Form.