Tag Archives: Culture

Friday Global Giving: I Need a (Volunteer) Vacation

I’ve always been told that when I give back, I have three resources I can share: time, talents, and treasure. While it’s great to support organizations and ministries through donations, there is nothing more influential than actually digging in with your own two hands and helping a worthy cause. If you search blogs, you’ll find a number of people who have given up time from work to serve in a community at home or abroad. Some of my favorites include:

  • Partners for Peace – a husband and wife duo serving with the Peace Corps in Ecuador
  • Soulshine Traveler – a woman who left her job to volunteer in Latin America and Russia for the past year
  • Clearing Customs – a recently returned missionary figuring out the transition back into American life

Unlike these great bloggers, unfortunately I am not in a place in life where I can go abroad for a long period of time and serve, but I do have some vacation time. This is where the volunteer vacation comes in. Whether you go with a religious organization or a secular non-for-profit, there are some incredible ways to get back abroad and serve. Volunteer vacations are ideal for young professionals, families with elementary through high school aged kids, recent retirees, and really just about anyone. As I’ve worked with students to help them figure out their “beyond study abroad” experience, here are some of the organizations that I think provide quality and culturally conscious volunteer vacation opportunities:

  • Global Volunteers: one of the pioneering organizations of volunteer vacations, this organization  is ideal for the volunteer who may only have a week off from work.
  • GlobeAware: another good org providing week-long volunteer vacations working in schools, teaching English, building, and skill training. Some project sites include Romania, Ghana, Mexico, and Cambodia.
  • World Teach: based at Harvard University, this organization sends volunteers to teach English around the world. This is a great option for college students and teachers as there is a commitment over the summer.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions: this organization has both short and long-term volunteering options. Check out Soulshine Traveler’s blog for details on her experience with this group.

My senior year of college, I went with a group to Slovakia to work at an English activity camp for high school students. I gave up most of my winter break to be there but in return have wonderful memories and friends from the experience. As you start to plan you 2013 vacation plans, keep a volunteer vacation in mind.

Me in Presov, Slovakia with one of the Slovak students

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.

Tell Me About It

This past week was International Education Week in the US. Colleges and universities around the country celebrated the week by hosting various events of an international nature. I was able to make a trip to Stillwater, OK and visit the campus of Oklahoma State University on Friday and attend a few of their International Ed Week activities, including a gallery display by a group of students who had studied abroad this past summer in Kenya.

As I walked down the hall viewing the poster displays, I saw a few students gathered together. I asked them if they had gone on the program and immediately they perked up. “Tell me about it,” I said. From there I heard all about their itinerary, the local students they were paired with, the orphanage they visited, and the baskets they bought from the local women who were trying to develop a self-sustaining community. These young women were so enthusiastic about their experience. Just by standing with them for ten minutes, it was obvious how much studying abroad in Kenya had impacted them and opened their eyes to the world around them. I identified with their emotions and it reminded of how studying abroad changed me.

For those of us who have traveled, I think we all yearn for someone to say to us, “Tell me about it.” So often I hear from students that they return from abroad only to realize that their friends and family are not all that interested in hearing about their experience. But for those of us on a mission to be global from home, living vicariously through others who have traveled recently is so important. Not only do we provide an outlet and a listening ear for the traveler, but the traveler also helps us stay engaged with the international community through their stories.

So dear readers, the next time a friend or family member returns from abroad be sure to ask them about their experience, and if you ever need someone else be on the listening side of your travels, let me know. I happy to hear all about it.

Abroad Blog of the Week: Mary in Haifa

My mom called me this week and told me she had been reading a blog that she found through my site. “It’s really good,” she said. “You should highlight it one week.” When I found out she was talking about Mary in Haifa, I smiled because the interview was already in the works. It was good to know that my mom enjoyed Mary’s blog as much as I do. I’ll admit I’m a bit partial to Mary in Haifa for several reasons.  1. Mary and I met in 2005 at the University of South Carolina and since then have met up for dinner in all my subsequent cities when she comes through for work. 2. As Mary is a study abroad professional, I love that she is studying abroad herself in Haifa, Israel to pursue her master’s degree in Holocaust Studies. 3. Mary is always full of surprises, for instance, she was on the roller derby team in Reno, NV. 4. Her blog is wonderful, thought provoking, and really highlights the cultural experience of being a non-Jewish American grad student in Israel. Now that Mary has been in Haifa for 6 weeks, we’ve been able to exchange emails and thoughts on her new home. If you’ve thought about grad school abroad or living in Israel, Mary has some great advice.

What has surprised you so far about life in Haifa?

Truthfully, one of my biggest surprises has been the security situation. I’m an avid news reader so before I came the news was full of stories about Iran ramping up their nuclear program, missiles being launched from Gaza and growing tensions in next door neighbors Syria and Lebanon. Honestly, my first week here – I was pretty jumpy. Any loud noise and I was whipping around trying to figure out where it came from. I very quickly realized that despite being surrounded by chaos, an entire society of people was just simply living their lives. I know this sounds Captain Obvious but I guess in some small piece of my naive mind, I half expected people to be jumpy and scared all the time. That’s not the case in the slightest. The security issues are still there but they are more like the white noise in the background to a very full life. For the most part, I do feel safe here.

How is your experience living in Israel different from your previous times living abroad?

School is much more intense this time around. When I lived in Germany, I took German classes 4 days a week and an Intercultural Communications class once a week. I had a Eurail pass and we’d travel every single weekend. My time in New Zealand was after I graduated so I had no school responsibilities – my work schedule was the only thing I had to plan around. Grad school is time intensive so I have to make an effort to carve out time to explore but it’s important to me to do that. Yesterday, I read 3 chapters of a book, then went and explored the Druze bazaar just north of campus. One thing I love this time around is being around so many people from all over the world. The dorms are mostly full of international students so even a trip to the mini-market is multicultural. Two days ago, I was invited to join some Polish friends at their consulate to celebrate Polish Independence Day. Who ever would have thought that I’d be celebrating that in Israel?? We have some incredibly interesting students from all kinds of backgrounds here so even simple conversations have a depth to them that’s not typical at home. I even recently discovered that in our midst is a girl who’s father is the President of her country (sorry not naming countries for her privacy).

What did you do to minimize your culture shock?

I’m big on research. Before I came I read a boatload about Israel and Haifa. Everything from student blogs to watching YouTube videos. From TripAdvisor to Wikipedia. I even used Google Earth to check out the neighborhoods around the university. I found people who had been to Israel or Haifa before and picked their brain. In addition, I also researched groups that I might be interested in joining. One of my biggest worries when moving abroad is always how to find friends. By knowing in advance that there is an English community theater, a roller derby team and a Young English Speakers group in my new city – I felt more confident that I could create a place for myself in Haifa. I reached out to all three of these groups before I ever left home. I wanted to make sure that I had an outlet outside of school too.

What is on your “must do” list while living in Haifa?

Well, I have a whole Israel to do list on my blog but Haifa specifically – I’d like to walk through the Bahai Gardens (I’ve only seen it from the outside), visit Elijah’s cave and take the gondola from the beach and up Mt Carmel. Israel – floating in the Red Sea, visiting the Masada at sunrise and wandering the ancient streets in Old Jerusalem. Outside of the big touristy things though, I’d like to find “my cafe” in Haifa – you know a place where the waitress knows your order, you can get a cup of coffee and study for hours. I know that seems silly but to me that really illustrates that you’ve settled into a city. When you have a specific grocery store, a favorite cafe, a much loved bookstore. When you are finally able to build these relationships, you are no longer anonymous. You are a citizen and a member of a community.

What advice would you give someone who is interested in graduate school abroad?

Do your research! Many countries use different teaching methods so be sure to look into this too. Be aware that grad school abroad is just as intense as home so don’t come expecting a super easy, relaxing time. Be sure to plan time in your schedule to get to know the city and country you are living in. As grad students, it’s very easy to get buried in your work and not pull yourself out until your program finishes. You are abroad though! Soak up the culture! Make time to enjoy your new city.

Mary, thanks so much for interview and wishing you a very happy belated birthday!

The Culture of a Line

A few weeks ago I played Four Square for the first time in probably 20 years. All the kids were done with their homework so we headed out to the playground. It started with just 4 of us but within 15 minutes we had 20 kids playing the game ranging from 5-years-old to 15.  To me it was amazing that the older kids had no problem playing with the little ones. They even gave the smallest ones second chances so they wouldn’t have to get out so fast.

The only problem that came up during the game was waiting in line. No one wanted to wait their turn and if someone even stepped out of line to throw a candy wrapper away, their place was lost and they were forced to go to the end or fight to get their spot back. I never once had to referee the game but I ended up settling disputes about the line for the entire hour we played.

As I waited in line for an hour and half to vote last week, I had plenty of time to contemplate the cultural aspects of waiting in line. Behind me was a gentleman who continuously got out of line to talk on the phone, but the strangers around him let him back in each time. In Italy, I doubt that would have ever happen. In fact, from my experience, there would be no line. There would just be a herd of people who would eventually funnel their way into the door. It reminded me just how drastically different the concept of time and efficiency is my beloved Italy compared to my hometown of Oklahoma City.

Yep…this was my election line

I’m curious now if the problem of waiting in line for Four Square was an age issue or a cultural one.   Are these kids who came to the US from Iraq, Myanmar, Honduras, and Sudan taking on the impatience of American culture or just being kids who want to hurry up and play the game? It’s a question that I believe I’ll have to ponder on for a while, but in the meantime, I’ll just enjoy another game of Four Square.

Friday Global Giving: The Full Plate Club

When my mom was growing up, my grandparents instituted the Clean Plate Club. If she didn’t finish her dinner, she was told there were starving children in China who would love to eat her food. I think she responded with, “I’ll mail it to them.” 🙂

I think most parents now have substituted China with Africa but the sentiment is the same – don’t waste food when there are people going hungry every day. In fact, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 925 million people around the world suffer from consistent hunger.

While perhaps we can’t send the food from our plates, there are great organizations and things to do to help eliminate hunger around the world. For the first Friday Global Giving, check out some of these ideas to help keep plates full:

Courtesy of goldencommunitygarden.org

 

Global Giving Series

For the months of November and December, I decided to do a new series called Global Giving each Friday. For Americans these months are naturally a time we give. Many of us donate to the local food pantry to help stock for the holidays, donate coats for colder weather, or give to a favorite charity before the year-end. Whether you are Stateside or abroad, there are certainly hundreds if not thousands of great causes to give to no matter what time of year it is.

In the next eight weeks I’ll be doing research on global issues like hunger, clean water, healthcare, housing, children’s programs, and poverty and reporting on organizations I find, causes I personally give to, and hands-on ways to give on a global level.

As always, I’m taking recommendations. Whether you run a non-for-profit yourself or give consistently to one that you feel is worthy, please share!

 

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!

Global from Home Makeover

Over the next few weeks you’ll see some changes on Global from Home. Now that the blog has been up and running for 6 months(yay!), I’m planning to do a bit of reorganizing to make it a little easier to find ways to explore culture from your front door.  Here are the new categories you can expect to see pop up soon:

  • Abroad Blogs of the Week – ABOW is definitely my favorite post I write each week so this one will be staying. However, I am hoping to get more recommendations for blogs to highlight. Nominate a blog today by clicking here.
  • Cultural Crafting – find posts on decorating your house, unique ways to use your photos, and plenty of craft ideas with an international theme.
  • Doing Global Good – this will be the home for a new series coming up called Global Giving, as well as posts highlighting do-gooders around the globe.
  • Ethnic and Tasty – this category will also be staying. Check here for recipes, restaurants, and foodie penpal posts.
  • Foreignly Entertaining – from You Tube to books to movies and any other entertaining tidbits on culture I can find, this is where to look.
  • iGlobal – with so many great tools on the web, this new category will put all of the ones I’ve found in one place.
  • International Neighbors – this category will include my stories and tips on meeting people from around the world in your own hometown.
  • Study Abroad and Beyond– as a study abroad advisor, I have lots to say on studying overseas. Check here for info on how to get a job in international education and other great info on studying, working, or volunteering abroad.
  • Worldly Events – finds posts on international holidays, festivals, and other fun events with a global theme.

Have other ideas to be global from home? I’d love to hear them!

Disasters Make the Best Stories

One thing I always tell students is they have to have disasters when they study abroad. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have any good stories to tell when they come home. People are always so scared they’ll get lost, get sick, get hit-on, or get pick pocketed that they don’t fully enjoy themselves. And while none of those things are fun when they happen nor am I advocating being lackadaisical, they really are the stories we tell when we get back.

I recently met with a student at my university who studied in India last semester. She had presented on her study abroad experience just a few weeks ago and had shown some of her photographs from her semester abroad during her presentation. One of the pictures that caught my attention was of her walking down a catwalk in a long gown. When I asked her about the photo she explained that it was actually an awkward experience. Some of the Indian students she had met were fashion majors and asked her and several other American students to be in their fashion show. She talked about meeting up for practice and learning about “Indian time”. Sometimes practice would start an hour later. Other times she would come late and they would already be done. She said the gown itself was also an issue. As a rather tall girl, especially by Indian standards, she was slightly stunned that her gown was far too long for her. At 5’9″ she towered over her Indian friends. So who was this dress made for?

We laughed over her stories, the reactions from both her and her Indian peers, and the absurdity of some of the situations. Then I shared my theory. No disasters = no good stories. She thought for a moment and realized that it was true. Almost all the stories she shared from India were disasters at the time.

What disasters from your travels do you share? I’d love some good stories!