Care for a Lemon?

When life gives you lemons, you have several options: tequila shots, lemon tea, freshly squeezed lemonade or maybe even grill some salmon and drizzle the sweet and sour goodness all over a feast.

But really, that is one thing I keep telling myself.  Right now, I feel like I’m at the tip of a cliff determining whether to jump or to run the other way, but that’s just it…I have options.

  • One can simply wait.  Patience is the greatest virtue, right?  There’s always that age old saying, “Good things come to those who wait.”
  • One can fight back.  Think of it like a challenge.
  • One can run and never look back.  I’m getting really good at walking out with my head held high and my dignitity in one piece.

 

As for the path I’ll choose, I’ll keep the world posted.  Stay tuned for more updates on my ever changing life.

The Truth About Travelers: A Reading

I recently fell in love with a blog post by Stephanie Dandan.  I fell so in love with the passion embedded in this piece, I recorded myself reading it.  To all my fellow gypsies, enjoy.

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No Such Thing as an Ordinary Moment

What have I been up to the past few weeks?

Many readers may already know because I hardly ever neglect to upload pictures to my facebook.  I’ve had what many dub “blogger’s block” which is basically a streak of writer’s block.  I come home with every intention to write a new blog post, but just like my recent facebook comments to dear friends, I end up backspacing them into internet oblivion.

Two months have flown by here in Gwangju!  I’ve acquired a kindergarten: a class of three fantastic boys!  I will teach them until their long-term teacher comes back from vacation.   At the start of September, our school began a new quarter which means new classes!  I do have a few classes that I taught from the previous quarter, but most are new.  I really enjoy the classes with older children, especially when they push my buttons because I’ve learned to push theirs right back.  One of the many skills I acquired living with my younger sister for so long 😉

I think the children have learned the way to my heart, it seems like every other day I have a latte or americano (sometimes both) waiting for me in my classes!  The children here are so giving!  In one of my classes, ages around 13, I asked what their favorite holiday was and two of the three students responded with “Teacher’s Day”.  From what I hear, this holiday is exactly as it sounds, it’s a national recognition of teachers and the children make special gifts to thank them for all they do!  I thought it was so precious that these students actually look forward to this day so much that they’d say it’s their favorite holiday!

I no longer teach middle school reading but I still have a discussion class with them.  Unlike my other classes, this class allows me to make my own lessons each Wednesday.  This class is basically designed to get the boys talking.  Last Wednesday I showed them this clip about a Syrian refugee girl along with a BBC teen’s guide to the Syrian civil war.  We then discussed refugee life, relating it to a National Geographic story we read last week about the Afghan refugee girl with a captivating stare.  We then related it to North Korean refugees here in South Korea.  It was really interesting to hear their perspective.  Later, we prepared for a debate about whether the US and other countries should intervene in the Syrian conflict.  So far, one of my students says the USA and other countries need to take action.  We’ll see how the debate goes on Wednesday.

One thing is for sure, there is no such thing as an ordinary moment…EVER.  Even on those rotten days when all you want to do is lounge in bed and dive into the pages of a book, even while I’m grocery shopping by myself, I try to savor every second of the moment:  “I’m picking up grapes …in South Korea” …except they’re seeded here 😛

Looking back at everything I’ve done, every person I’ve met and everything I’ve experienced in these past two months and it all just blows me away.   I’m so fortunate to land this opportunity and I can’t wait to see what the next few months bring.

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Making the most of a rainy day: buy an umbrella and go for a walk

Unpacking the Packed Bags: An Impromptu Road Trip

This past week has been one perpetual night before Christmas.  You know, that feeling where you just can’t sleep because you’re so anxious/excited for the following day to begin?  (I would be lying if I didn’t say I am somewhat nervous too)

Just when I thought my going-away festivities couldn’t get any better, my sister tells me of her insane idea to make a random seven hour drive to Pittsburgh, my favorite city in America one last time.  She couldn’t have been more right, I needed this trip – to get out and see the beauty of our country one last time before I leave.

Pittsburgh from the incline.

Pittsburgh from the incline.

Pittsburgh will always hold a special spot in my heart as it has huge significance to going out and accomplishing the craziest of dreams.  Long story short, I picked up and left Michigan to live in Pittsburgh during the summer of 2011….subleased and apartment, found a couple jobs, met amazing people along the way, and pushed myself to live in a random and new city for a few months.

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When you’re in your 20’s you should totally do crazy stuff like that.  It doesn’t necessarily mean randomly moving to a city for a summer.  It could simply be a small unplanned 24 hour road trip with family!  There’s so much to see and do and we really don’t get enough time to see it all so be absolutely spontaneous and appreciate the time you do have.

This one’s for you:

I randomly discovered an indie movie the other day that used a quote that really got me thinking:

Though utterly dependent on one another, most found the other’s maps unsettling. They denied one’s perspective by charting the land incomprehensibly, calling into question one’s very being. Still, when they met on the lonely roads, the explorers would present one another with their maps. Some seemed to say so plainly, directly, the world is like *this*. Others were more oblique; skating, impressionistic, unstable. They froze mere slivers of the infinite earth as it skittered by in orbit. If ever these maps could be gathered together, they would comprise an atlas of unsettling vision. A final proof that truth is conjecture. –Here, 2011

I thought this was a pretty awesome quote.

We’re all map makers, charting out every second of our lives – sometimes our paths intersect and sometimes we’re left in a mysterious desert, forced to entertain our lonely minds.  It’s the intersection of personal paths, the clashing or connecting of two human spirits, that really intrigues me.

I’ve had many intersections within the past six years.  Some left me devastated and confused – forced to trek further into the darkness and reluctantly pull the pieces of my heart together, others lit a passionate and infectious fire that continues to blaze within me.

I believe each of these unique intersections affect the charting of the rest of the map, sometimes so small we barely notice any change in direction and sometimes so intense that we find our paths completely turned 180 degrees.  Even the smallest relationship can trigger wild changes, so when holding a door open or smiling at a complete stranger, know you may be playing a larger role than you think.

I just want to thank all of you, each intersecting path on my map has led me to where I am and where I’m about to go.  Whether our paths connect again on this long and crazy journey or it was only a happenstance collision, I am forever grateful.

If you’re reading this you’ve helped shape me, thank you for that.

Ironically wandering the streets of Belgium map-less.

Ironically wandering the streets of Belgium map-less.

Mental Exercise: Practicing Culture Shock

For the next month before I leave I am trying to mentally prepare for culture shock.   Here’s one way I’m trying to stretch my brain for the marathon:

When I experience something “ridiculous” or something I reflect negative judgement upon in my own culture, I want to try to turn it around into something positive.  What I might view as out of this world might be someone else’s reality.

So, from this day forward, when I find myself about to judge something, I want to turn my thoughts around, reword them and simply rethink.  I want to challenge myself to see the beauty in what I might not categorize as “beautiful”.

 In other words,  I want to try to understand, I want to gain perspective.

Now, this is a lot easier said than done (especially since many of our judgments pass while we aren’t consciously aware of what we’re doing).  But when I find myself about to ridicule a person or situation I want to see beyond my judgement.

For example, instead of pointing out an atrocious outfit I could rethink the atrocity of the outfit as interesting and unique and that mere rewording of an idea elicits a whole  myriad of questions..it sparks a curiosity!  A judgement typically scoffs at the situation, but this exercise forces one to dig deeper and appreciate the beauty in differences.

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Be curious, not judgmental

-Walt Whitman

15 Ways to Save Money For Travel

One of travel’s biggest lies is that it’s expensive.  Here’s how I’m saving up for my year in Korea, all while working minimum wage jobs.

  1. Give up conveniences.  Your traveling self will appreciate this later anyway.  Forgo the McDonald’s drive through for fresh fruit and veggies and you’ll be amazed at how much you save weekly by eliminating fast food (for me, this meant local coffee shops).
  2. Socialize Simply.  Feel free to join everyone for a night on the town, just don’t splurge on the $10 drinks (tip: volunteer as the DD, then you have a ride home).
  3. Start downsizing.  You can’t take your quirky collection of star wars figures with you, it’s time to say good bye.  I have three “sections” of stuff started: keep for Korea, irreplaceable memories for storage, and the rest of it I’m selling.
  4. Cancel subscriptions.  You don’t need Netflix or Cosmopolitan while you still have time to socialize and appreciate the people at home.
  5. Public transportation and/or carpooling.  I do not have a car and have saved so much by car pooling with my family or using public transportation.
  6. Do not “purchase more”.  For me, this has been my greatest weakness.  I try to find excuses to buy another pair of shorts for my trip, when in reality, I already have more than I need.  The less you buy before your trip, the more you can purchase abroad.
  7. Pack snacks. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy your meals at the airport, it’s definitely not worth the price.  Pack a sandwich and snacky foods for the flight and/or layovers.
  8. Need suitcases? Try resale shops like goodwill, just be sure to clean them thoroughly before use.
  9. Purchasing tickets?  Airfare Watchdog and other sites that you can either subscribe to via email or twitter are really great resources.  Also, consider traveling during “off seasons”;  Paris in the winter is still the same ‘ole Paris. (Tip: look into flights flying in/out of larger hubs and take a bus to and from these airports.)
  10. Homemade gifts make heartfelt and personalized gifts to any host, advisor, or boss abroad.  Skip purchasing generic postcards and make your own.
  11. Don’t fall for name brands.  I’ve had the same backpack and luggage that traveled a year through Europe and they’re about to travel a year through Asia, no big names needed.
  12. Exchange your money for foreign currency at your local bank.  Most often, they have better exchange rates than airports.
  13. Buy your comfort toiletries and cosmetics at home because they will cost an arm and a leg abroad, if you can find them at all (one of my two suitcases is designated for just toiletries/cosmetics and shoes).
  14. Start purging yourself from your comfort foods as soon as possible.  For me, that means Gevalia coffee, peanut butter m&m’s, and Kraft macaroni and cheese.  You’ll crave these less later if you give them up now and also save all the money you used to splurge on them.
  15. Spend your free time enjoying the simple things.  Your friends want to spend time with you?  Go biking, window shop downtown, throw the frisbee around.

The moral of the story: live simply, save loads of money.  I find that it’s really easy to save knowing I have a huge adventure awaiting.  My latest mantra is “do I really need this for Korea”, if not I let it go.

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20 Reasons to Travel Beyond Borders

Not too long ago I had someone ask me why I’m so passionate about traveling outside of the USA when there is so much to see here.  I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but after much delay (weeks later) I’ve come up with a valid list.  Here it goes:

  1.  Nothing compares to the sense of awe created by experiencing a foreign city or seeing a land mark in person.  Walking in places people only read about and touching the centuries old cobble stone is a gift only you can give yourself.  It’s incredible and I long for that sense of complete wonder and amazement everyday.
  2. Shattering comfort zones.  I have realized I become bored in a place where I feel “comfortable”.  I want to be where I can’t understand the language or traditions and I have to force myself to learn a new way of living and I blame this desire on my year abroad.
  3.  It CAN be done cheaply.  I went to Europe on a college student budget and found my year in Europe was cheaper than any year spent at Central Michigan University.  I was forced to budget my life and it was probably the most financially organized I’ve ever been!
  4. Speaking of finances, everyone should experience foreign currency.  For some reason, the USA missed the memo that currency CAN be colorful pieces of art.
  5.  Even for the extroverted, travel elicits a sense of introspection that no other experience can give you.  Yeah, you travel to new places and somehow end up discovering random facts about yourself!
  6. You end up appreciating home.  As much as I have an obsession for Europe and travel in general, I did end up missing random strolls along lake Michigan during the sunset, tubing down the Chip river with a massive group of people, and the simple smell of home.
  7.  You’re forced to realize what really matters.  If you’re lucky you will have two suitcases in which to pack your entire life.  I really enjoyed living simply and there’s something about only living out of a backpack (I wore the same outfit three different days, *gasp*) that gives the middle finger to society.  It’s just you and a backpack, the adventures are limitless and societal norms are shattered!
  8.  You meet the most entertaining people.  The people you meet along the way all have stories to tell as well, I remember in Poland I met a girl traveling by herself and to this day I admire her.
  9. Many of your friendships established during your time abroad will stand the test of time. Though you may be separated by countries and oceans, you pick up right where you left off.  I joke that my best “souvenirs” were the friends I’ve met while abroad.
  10.  You begin to see things differently.  I was extremely sheltered and it took going abroad on my own to realize the world isn’t the utopia I believed it was.  The world has flaws, lots of them, and we need to acknowledge them.
  11.  2 am closing time?  Nah, the bars (and parties in general) last way into the night anywhere other than the US.
  12.  Your ignorance will be tested.  None of us is perfect and we will never be but while chatting with people with differing views, religious backgrounds, and cultures you might learn a thing or two.
  13.  Are you running from something?  I actually read an article on how those who are doused in a longing to travel are most likely “running from something”.  In reality, I  think we all are running because we really don’t know what the heck we’re doing in this world and running means we are determined to find answers even if that means breaking the shackles of tradition.  Travel gives one the time and space for contemplation and self discovery, so run as fast and as far as you desire!
  14.  You will discover hidden talents.  I bought a paint brush and canvas in order to decorate my room in the Netherlands.  I ended up taking those pieces of canvas with me everywhere since then.  By no means am I a Picasso but I never would have considered painting as a past time before then.
  15. It’s easy.  Stop saying “someday” and simply order those tickets, fill out that study abroad application, apply for the position abroad!  You don’t have a passport?  GET ONE.  There’s nothing more valuable than a passport.
  16.  It not only builds a resume, it builds confidence.  You have conversed with complete strangers in the Czech Republic, saw the realities of World War Two in Poland, slept in a Hungarian airport, and explained your culture to a lecture hall of foreign students from all over the world.  I’d say you have some experience under your belt now.
  17. Forces adaptability.  Spend a week living out of a backpack and you become really good at improvising.  Both a burden of the traveling life and a virtue, one begins to take a cancelled flight as a cause for more adventure.
  18.  You discover better music.  Sure, you’re stuck on your favorite Beyonce song but there’s a whole world of new sounds waiting to be discovered!
  19. Nothing compares to the sense of freedom you experience while on the road to an unfamiliar location. I learned very early on in my travels to never travel with an itinerary or with a large group of people.
  20.  You have so many stories to tell.  Two blogs and several journals later, the stories never seem to get old.

“But that’s the glory of foreign travel, as far as I am concerned. I don’t want to know what people are talking about. I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”
-Bill Bryson

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It’s you and one GIGANTIC world, do yourself a favor and see it, experience it, savor it.

Committing to Collect Experiences, Letting go of Things

Life is so silly and entertaining when you let it happen.  I mean, if you truly let go of things that hold you back  and simply, genuinely, and organically LIVE.  In other words, stop living superficially.  Stop acquiring junk, stop competing with the Jones’ and really focus on obtaining enriching experiences.  I really don’t care if you have 59 pairs of Michael Kors shoes, tell me about the countries you’ve traveled and the people you’ve met then you will have my complete and undivided interest. Things mean nothing, but the experiences and characters within those stories mean absolutely everything.

I had someone ask me how long I plan on staying abroad and in all honesty, I say as long as possible.  To me, success means experiencing as many places and embracing as many cultures as possible, all the while giving back in some way.  My ultimate goal is to pay off my school loans, then join the Peace Corps, I don’t really care to ever own a house in a suburban town or to be a stay at home mom, it’s just not in the cards for me.  
Today begins my mission to completely purge all unnecessary “things” from my life.  I have two suitcases in which I need to pack a year’s worth of necessities into.  This is one of my favorite parts of travel – you really get to decide what really has meaning and value in your life.  The rest of the the “things” that do not fit into the two suitcases will be sold or donated because my family surely does not need my random crap lying around.

In other news, today I went to the secretary of state to make everything final.  For some odd reason, I had to sign a book and record the country I plan on moving to.  According to this list I was only one of three people in the area preparing to leave the country, I honestly really didn’t think anything of it.  …not until I received a facebook inbox from a girl who saw my name on the list and it turns out she was visiting the Secretary of State for the exact same reason, for the exact same country!  She is from the area and is planning on teaching in Korea as well!  This is what you call a small world, these little connections that randomly appear in life.  These signs that sporadically occur help me realize I’m on the right, yet sometimes crazy path and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A few weeks and counting…

Until then I’ll continue to savor the moments I have left!