Tag Archives: Travel

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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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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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.

I love that Letizia took a trip to China via a book. What a fabulous way to be global from home. Check out her review of China in Ten Words by Yu Hua.

reading interrupted.

I haven’t been to China yet but I went on a little voyage through space and time to take my mind off of the hurricane and its aftermath.

I had read a few good reviews of Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words and its bright yellow cover had been sitting on my desk for a few months.

As I prepared for Hurricane Sandy, I set aside a few different books to read.  I wasn’t sure what kind of reading mood I’d be in so my selection included:

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, John Steinbeck’s America and Americans and Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words

Yu Hua explores his relationship with 10 words (such as “People” and “Writing”) and through this exploration tells a history of China interweaved with his own personal stories.

I was delighted to find that one of the words he writes about is ‘reading’.

One passage in particular…

View original post 109 more words

My Thirty-One List

Hubby is a very goal-oriented person. I admire him so much for all he gets accomplished and for achieving goals that most people would consider unobtainable. While I am not yet so skilled at goal setting and achieving, his example has definitely rubbed off on me. As today is my 31st birthday, I decided it is time to set some new goals for the second year of my thirties. I put them here for accountability sake and because many of them contribute to the goal of this blog – being Global from Home.

My Thirty-One List (in no particular order)

  1. Be thankful daily for all the dear family and friends who bless my life.
  2. Read 31 internationally themed books.
  3. Attempt to make scones from scratch rather than buy them from Whole Foods.
  4. Print and frame our travel photos for our new house.
  5. Plan our next trip. Mexico went so well, I think we need a repeat.
  6. Post a minimum of 4 times a week on Global from Home.
  7. Reconnect with friends that I’ve met along my travels.
  8. Begin renovating our 1934 house one room at a time.
  9. Read the Bible from front to back.
  10. Create my own visitors guide for Oklahoma City for all our upcoming house guests.
  11. Drink more water and less coffee.
  12. Host an international meal to raise funds for Spero Project.
  13. Call my big brother more regularly.
  14. Craft with the women from the local refugee community.
  15. Watch one foreign film a month.
  16. Start writing a book. It may never be finished but I want to start it.
  17. Apply and hopefully get into a PhD program with a focus on international education.
  18. Practice my Italian more often.
  19. Try 31 new international recipes.
  20. Learn to use Photoshop.
  21. Be a kinder and more considerate spouse to my wonderful Hubby.
  22. Join the YMCA and start Zumba.
  23. Dine at 31 new restaurants (as many international ones as possible).
  24. Run a 5K (maybe 10) for a cause that means something to me.
  25. Help start a study abroad returnee conference in Oklahoma.
  26. Learn more about my German heritage and traditions.
  27. Attend as many cultural festivals I can find in OKC.
  28. Invite the international students from my university over for dinner.
  29. Attempt to eat broccoli and like it.
  30. Find 50+ new blogs for my Abroad Blog of the Week series.
  31. Honor God with my time, talents, and treasure.

Whew! That’s a lot of goals. Fortunately I can start working on number 19 tonight. Hubby is taking me to Japanese steakhouse to celebrate.

 

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!