Tag Archives: Travel

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!

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.

Exploring the Hajj from Home

With new friends from Iraq and Bangladesh, the Hajj and Eid al-Adha were topics of discussion this past week. As a Christian, I will never be allowed to experience Mecca during the Hajj (it’s a Muslim-only event) but I decided to at least do some research and learn a little more about the biggest religious gathering on earth. (This year it was estimated that 4 million pilgrims attended the Hajj; 1.7 million were from abroad.)

After some perusing on You Tube, I found this great 14 minute documentary by Suroosh Alvi, a Muslim from New York City. He snuck a handicam into Mecca on his own personal Hajj last year and shared his own thoughts on the experience but also the process and rituals that were required to complete the Hajj. It really helped me understand a little more and I would really recommend viewing it if you’re curious about the Hajj.

The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and requires each Muslim who is physically and financially able to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Of the pictures I’ve seen of the Hajj before, the one that comes to mind is of the Kaaba, the black box that the Muslim believes to be the house of God. As part of the Hajj, the pilgrims must perform Tawaf where they circle the Kaaba seven times and then kiss the black stone (or point to the stone if the crowds are too bad).

The next ritual of Hajj is to go to Mt. Arafat, where the prophet Muhammad gave his last sermon, and pray. Mt. Arafat is also known as the Hill of Forgiveness and is a highlight of the Hajj as the Muslim pilgrim spends the afternoon in contemplation and prayer.

The ritual of stoning Jamrat Al-Aqabah follows the day at Mt. Arafat. Jamrat Al-Aqabah can be found in Mina and consist of three columns (recently replaced by three walls) that represent the Devil. For the ritual, the pilgrims must throw 21 stones at the columns symbolizing their defiance of the Devil.

Once the stoning is complete, the pilgrims must slaughter their sacrifice in celebration of the sacrifice that God provided Abraham in replacement for his son (for Christians and Jews, this story may be familiar). This holiday is celebrated by all Muslims whether in Mecca or not and is called Eid al-Adha.

After stoning the Devil and slaughtering the sacrifice, the final rite of that day  is shaving the head (for men) or trimming the hair (for women). The hair cut symbolizes an important stage of the Hajj and almost all restrictions are lifted from the pilgrim after this point.

When these rituals have been completed, the pilgrim returns to the beginning and once again prays and circles the Kaaba seven times. These rites are completed by both men and women of the Muslim faith, although the rules are slightly different for the sexes. For example, women cannot complete the Hajj while menstruating, nor can they attend Hajj without a male relative to escort them. But once the Hajj is complete, whether male or female, they are given the honored name of Hajji.

I will admit that this account is far from detailed, and despite reading multiple websites and watching several videos, the Hajj is still a bit of a mystery to me. But considering even devout Muslims need a guide to help them through the Hajj, I decided not to feel to bad. However, I am still curious to learn more and welcome any comments from my more experienced readers!

 

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.

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: willtravelwithkids

If you have children or not, this Abroad Blog of the Week is definitely one you should add to your reader. Even though Hubby and I don’t currently have children, I have been enjoying willtravelwithkids now for several months. The author blogs from her home base in San Diego but she is no stranger to travel with her two little girls. Her posts detail their adventures exploring God’s creation whether they be in Japan or Nova Scotia. My personal favorites so far include her exploration of cemeteries around the world and her reminisces of Anne of Green Gables while visiting Prince Edward Island. When not traveling, willtravelwithkids is a global from home expert and explores San Diego just like she were abroad. I caught up with the author via email and found out more about her family travel the globe with stroller in tow.

This is just after dawn in Istanbul, before the tourist buses arrive and the view is continually obscured.

Why do you think it’s important to include your children in your travels?

I want my kids to grow up experiencing the unfamiliar and understanding that just because something is new to them or different, it doesn’t need to be uncomfortable, scary or considered inferior to what they know.  Experiencing new things should be a normal, desired part of life experience.

From your experiences, what are some of the easier places to travel with kids?

We don’t usually pick our travel locations based on ease.  I could push my stroller down the aisle of the train in Germany, which made traveling in Germany with small children ‘easier.’  We had wonderful kid-friendly travel experiences in Germany utilizing public transport.  However, when we visited family in Africa, we took the baby carrier/backpack, knowing the stroller would not be practical.  Transport with a baby was not ‘easy’ and required significant pre-planning.  But, the people we came across in Africa were so glad to meet our baby and were thrilled when we let them hold and hug her.  They were more touched by our willingness to share our precious child with them and come all that way than anyone I came across in Europe.  They did not take our effort for granted.  In the same way that raising kids isn’t “easy,” traveling with them is also not easy.  But we know that raising children and also traveling with them are both extremely rewarding.  The positive outcomes outweigh any negative experiences along the way.

How does your faith play into how you see the world?

My faith is the primary component that impacts how I view the world.  People, cultures and geography were created by God to show us some aspect of his nature.  The more experiences we have outside of our cultural comfort zone, the more opportunities we have to learn something new about God or have God show us something new about himself.  Of course, most people can step out of their cultural comfort zone without spending a lot of money and globetrotting.  That why I like your blog, Elise!  It’s a good reminder that we can stretch ourselves and seek new experiences without owning a passport.  It’s a mindset.

Considering all the places you’ve lived and traveled, where do you feel the most at home?

Home is wherever we can be together as a family or, as I often say, home is where my toothbrush is.  Last summer we spent three months away from our house so we could be together while my husband worked on the east coast of the U.S.  I felt more at home in that hotel than if I had stayed at our house on the west coast with the babies (3 months and nearly 2 years old at the time).   No matter where we are in the world, when we are together as a family, it’s home.

What advice would you give other parents who are about to embark on family travels?

  • Focus on what is important – time together as a family sharing an experience.  If you show up to a museum and it’s closed or a visit to the zoo is cut short because of an ‘accident’ or your hike gets rained out, all is not lost.
  • Try new, local foods together.  You can even do this from home!  If it turns out you don’t like what you ordered, you will laugh later about the experience.
  • Germs are everywhere and are normal – get over it.
  • Don’t focus on the places, but focus on the people.  People matter.

Time Capsule

When I was last home I spent some time in my parents’ basement. Its large and unfinished and my brother, cousins and I have consistently used it as a storage unit. The fun part is that it’s like going through a time capsule every time I go down there. As a kid, whenever my closet got full, I would just gather up all my pictures, mementos, yearbooks, etc., put them in a bin and take them down to the basement. I’ll admit that I was kind of a pack rat back then. But years later, as I begin to go through all the things I kept, I have to say I’m glad that I had some hoarder tendencies. In those boxes, I found some great memorabilia from my childhood through my years of studying abroad. Here are just a few things that stuck out from my time capsule.

My friends and I have decided that there are two things that women who travel wear: scarves and hats. As you can see at the age of 5, I was already embracing my future as a traveler. Or I was trying to be Anne of Green Gables. One or the other. I’m the shorty on the right.

When I was a junior in high school, my family made a trip across the Atlantic for the first time to visit my big brother who was stationed in Germany. Upon getting off the airplane, this was my first picture. The airport bathrooms in Germany had the self-cleaning toilets and I was beyond amazed with German ingenuity. Now having traveled with lots of students on their first experience abroad, I’ve discovered that foreign bathrooms are a common interest. And I’m not going to lie, I know for a fact this isn’t the only toilet I’ve taken a picture of in my past 14 years.

Also buried in the basement were all my old study abroad journals. This one was from my second summer in Italy. It was written in (poor) Italian and was full of my vocabulary, sketches, and the daily challenges and triumphs. As I read through the words that I decided to look up, the questions I wrote down, and the experiences that I struggled with as a 21-year-old college student, I see how much I grew up through my time abroad.

But of all the pictures and notes, this one is beyond far my favorite. After I graduated from high school, I spent four weeks in the mountains of KwaZulu-Natal attempting to teach economics in the local high school. As I look at this photo, it is a reminder that we all need to leave our comfort zones for a while, take risks, and that often what we are most afraid of is actually quite harmless.

Have you kept journals and pictures from travels gone by? Read and look through them and share your old memories that have come back!

 

 

 

 

Abroad Blog of the Week: Turkish Musings

I started following Hayley from Turkish Musings almost four months ago when she was just in the process of preparing for her semester in Ankara. As a study abroad advisor, I can say from experience that Hayley put a lot more time into preparing than most. She debated whether she would wear a headscarf, started learning Turkish on her own, and even got a pen pal. Hayley is now in her fourth week in Ankara and though she’s had her ups and downs, her research and preparation have definitely paid off. Her posts are now filled with her stories in which Hayley has a way of making you feel like you’re traveling with her. For the next four months, she has officially given up Lake Michigan and figure skating (she’s an official for USFS) for the Mediterranean and exploring the history and culture of Turkey. I was able to catch up with Hayley this week to learn more about Turkish Musings and her first few weeks in Ankara.

Your very first post was actually not written by you. How did Turkish Musings get started?

Oh, I forgot about that one! Yes, my friend started my blog for me and she wrote the first post as a type of “friendship love letter.” I keep it because it reminds me of the primary audience I write this blog for: my friends and family back home. After I found out that I was accepted to study abroad at Middle East Technical University, I told everyone that I was going to create a blog to keep in touch with them. But for me, the study abroad process started several months before I arrived in Ankara; I began researching about Turkish and Muslim history and culture and bounced my thoughts, ideas, fears, and goals off my friends. They suggested that I start a blog as soon as possible to share my ideas but I was wary because, really, who wants to read a study abroad blog when the person isn’t even abroad yet? Finally Elizabeth, who I think was sick of my silly excuses, started Turkish Musings and wrote the first post. It jump-started by blogging; I edited some drafts I had been working on, posted a couple posts, received positive feedback from friends and strangers….and here I am right now!

 Now that you’ve been in Turkey for a few weeks, what have you found the most surprising?

This is going to sound silly, but everyone back home told me to look out for Turkish boys because they love blonde girls. But actually, no guy seems to be interested in me–which is awesome because it was never my goal to “find love” or anything like that while I’m here. From what I’ve observed, 1) Most of the people on campus are already in a relationship, and Turkish men are loyal to their women; and 2) If a Turkish guy is looking for a foreign girl, he is first-and-foremost looking for a Russian or Ukrainian. Don’t know why, but that’s what I’ve noticed so far here. I would say guys seem more interested in me in the more touristy parts of Turkey (such as Alanya), but at least I’m safe in the capital!

A second surprising thing is that despite being in a Muslim country, I have yet to see anyone pray during the day. I have noticed several mosques in the city and I hear the call to prayer on campus (in fact the sundown one is going on as I type this), but Turkey is truly secular in that the work day continues and you can’t deter from it!

 At this point, how would you spend a free day in Ankara?

First-and-foremost I would visit a mosque because I have yet to get to one. The largest mosque in Ankara is the Kocatepe Mosque and I’ve heard that it’s worth seeing. I would grab some lunch at a little restaurant (none in particular, there are so many and they’re all good!) and accompany the food with çay (Turkish tea). From there I would go to the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations for a few hours–by myself–and take my time going through the exhibits. Even though I went there with the orientation group, we only had 45 minutes and that is not near enough time for a place like that! Shopping would be next; I’d probably start to buy little gifts as Christmas presents for my friends back home (because it’s never too early to shop for Christmas). Finally, I would venture to Kızılay, Ankara’s downtown, with friends and finish off the evening in a cafe with İskander (a meat, bread, and tomato sauce dish that is to die for), live music, good company, and nargile (Turkish water pipe).  🙂

 How are you feeling being away from ice skating?

Being away from skating is somewhat like a double-edged sword. On the one hand it pains me to be gone from my skating family (i.e., other USFS officials) because they have been a formidable part of my life since I was fourteen. Yet I know that in leaving them, if only for a few months, I will come back with my own travel stories and evolving perspective on life which will make me a better-rounded official of U.S. Figure Skating. And actually, a few of my peers will be on a Mediterranean cruise this fall and will be in Izmir in early November for a day. I’m currently researching the possibility of me meeting them there–hopefully I can make it work!

 What did you do that helped you best prepare for your semester in Ankara?

One of the things I did extensively over the summer was listen to Turkish music and watch Turkish movies. I played music constantly during my commutes in the car–probably much to the chagrin of my friends and family. Basically, I found find several songs and artists that sounded cool, found the lyrics to them (and if possible, the English translation) and listened to them….over and over and over. This helped me learn how to pronounce the letters of the Turkish alphabet, learn the inflections and emphasis of longer words, and it helped familiarize my brain with Turkish in general. Even though I didn’t know the meaning of the words, by the end of the summer I could sing along with many of the songs. And now that I’m attempting to learn Turkish here, I can concentrate more on vocabulary and phrases than on my pronunciation.

Hayley, thanks for the great interview!  

Where Are You From?

In the past, if I heard anyone speak with an accent, I would always wonder where they were from but would never ask. I thought it might be rude or make them feel uncomfortable. Well, I’ve thrown that notion out the window. For someone who is trying to be global from home, that just won’t work. Over the past several weeks, I came in contact with three individuals who were clearly not born in the U.S. based on their accents. Rather than just smiling politely and going my own way, I took the risk of asking where they were from.

The first was a Mexican man who was working at a restaurant here in OKC. I noticed he was a little shy telling me where he was from, but when I immediately responded that I had recently been to Mexico and really enjoyed exploring it, his mood visibly changed. He began to tell me about his hometown, how long he had been in the States, and then asked me my opinion on safety in Mexico. He said he had not visited home in years, but based on the news, he questioned how safe it would be to return to Mexico with his family.

My second experience was with a man who had recently come to the United States from Iraq. He told me about having to leave his wife and baby daughter in Baghdad but has hopes that he will be able to bring them over soon. He told me he wants to get his master’s degree in engineering and how his father went to college in the U.S. at the University of Georgia. We ended up spending several minutes talking about taking the TEFL and the quality of the Georgia football team this year.

The third person I met owns a furniture store in Atlanta and moved to the U.S. from Turkey 18 years ago. But before coming across the pond, she also lived in France and the UK. She talked about having her mother still in Turkey and the challenges of going back home to see her three or four times a year. She told me how she speaks four languages and her brother speaks five. We talked about technology and how something that is suppose to help connect us, often disconnects us from the person sitting beside us.

What I’ve been discovering is that behind the accent there is a story. Leaving your home country and moving is never easy – there are language challenges, family left behind, and new customs to learn. And while I certainly hope that I’m not offending the people I meet, I am so curious to hear about their stories. I am entranced as they tell about what they’ve overcome to be where they are, and I’m eager to hear why they left the familiarity of home to come here. In the end, each time I ask the question “Where are you from?” I believe I am taught something new about the world that I never would have learned if I had to decided to be just be polite and mind my own business.