Responding to the “You’re so lucky!” comments

When I tell people I am teaching English in a foreign country many people respond with, “Wow, you’re so lucky!” They are right, but for the wrong reason. They assume that somehow I luckily happened upon a lottery in which the winner gets to travel the world and live anywhere they want. Well, no… that part just took a little hard work and determination. Both attributes everyone can have and does not require chance.

Lake Toba Young Learners

I'm lucky to be a native English speaker!

The luck came in 1980 when I was born in one of a few countries where English is the native language. The world population was about 4.4 billion in August of 1980. The population of all the native English speaking countries was roughly a combined 330,000,000. That left me with a 7.4% change of being born into one of those countries. That’s luck. That’s chance. And a day does not go by that I don’t thank the universe for the opportunity to be able live the dream.

So, if you’re sitting at home reading this and you are also a native English speaker, don’t call me lucky. Stop making excuses and get off your ass and join me! Your lucky chance came the day you were born.

Haiti is not a Headline

First, my thoughts go out to all of those effected by the earthquake in Haiti on 1/12/10. I know so many people have been effected by the tragedy, in Haiti and the in Haitian diaspora around the world (especially the United States). It seems entirely unfair that just as the country was beginning to show signs of improvement a disaster of this proportion would strike. Word had just been coming out on the backpacker radar about the political situation improving and the future looking positive. This earthquake will surely only send Haiti back into chaos for the foreseeable future.

The last big tragedy outside of the country of similar proportions was the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. At that time I hadn’t done a whole lot of travel yet and never really knew the scope of the events. Other countries were still sort of just news headlines to me. Now, after spending time in other parts of the world and especially the developing world, I have found a greater connection when events like this occur. I don’t just see Haiti as a headline but instead as a destination that will forever be changed and people’s lives who will never be the same. I see friendly vendors in the street and hotel employees. I see students and children. I see homeless and I see the middle class driving decent cars. I see the poor and I see the rich. I see taxi drivers. I see ex-pats and English teachers and backpackers just like myself. I see all of the people effected not just the blank faces on the news. It is disturbing but at the same time, this is what I asked for when I ventured out of the country for the first time, a better understanding of life in other parts of the world.

Just a couple of weeks ago me and a good friend of mine (Daisy) were in the beginning stages of planning a May trip to Haiti to spend a night or two in Port-Au-Prince and then a few days on the southwestern coast in the town of Port Salut on the beach. Obviously, the events of Tuesday will change things. Tourism will surely be set back as Haiti recovers. I can’t remember a disaster in my life time where a city was so thoroughly damaged. Even in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, the epicenter of tourism was spared. As if Port-Au-Prince didn’t have a bad enough reputation as it is, this certainly isn’t going to help. In fact, it seems almost pointless to think about tourism right now, but as a travler I can’t help but find myself in a struggle between my own personal desires to see the world, even at its worst, and the reality of what so many around the world suffer through. Who am I to care about whether or not Haiti is safe to travel to?

That being said, I’m going to monitor the situation closely and keep in touch with the owners of Port Salut Beach House to find out what the situation is in their area. If airports are reopened and safe transport can be made from Port-Au-Prince to Port Salut, Daisy and I might just do our part in helping out by spending our money and sticking to our previous plans of visiting the country.

I urge anyone reading this to do what they can do help out. I use Mercy Corps.Org to donate but there are a number of good organizations out there.

Flag courtesy of http://www.ultimateflags.com

Flag courtesy of http://www.ultimateflags.com

I Love Mountain!

I arrived in Bogota yesterday afternoon around 2pm. I didn’t shift time zones so that was very nice and the flight was rather quick. 3.5 hours from Miami. Customs and money exchange were smooth and since I didn’t check any baggage I was out of the airport and on my way to the hotel very fast.

I want to start off by saying. I LOVE MOUNTAIN. Having lived in Florida for almost two decades the only scenery I get if i haven’t been to the beach in awhile, is concrete and billboards. It was so nice to be immediately hit with mountain landscape behind the city. The first thing that I noticed hovering over the entire city was a statue of Jesus with his arms held out on top of the mountain much like the Christ Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro.

The importance of Christ in Colombia doesn’t end with the statue. It seems the entire country is in a mood of celebration for Christmas coming up. You will not hear the phrase “Happy Holidays” from anyone’s mouth this month. Whether it is getting out of the taxi or exchanging money for food at the stalls, it has been “Feliz Navidad!” from everyone.

I went out last night in search of a club called Casa 33 where a drum and bass show was happening that I had heard about online. I had sent a message to one of the performers and used the Facebook event page to communicate with some locals that would be attending. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet up before hand with anyone so i went out and committed the cardinal sin of traveling in a new city… I wandered aimlessly in a two block radius looking for it. Luckily, there was a festival happening right there so instead of walking around for too long I decided to check out what was happening. I was on Calle 32 and the streets were decorated with Christmas lights and families were walking around singing, dancing and in a general state of excitement. Party buses and flatbeds full of people dancing and honking horns with Santa hats and neon sticks banging the sides of the vehicles.

I had decided to make one last attempt at finding this club that was supposed to start at 9:30. I asked a couple walking up towards where I thought it was and they had confirmed it was just a block up. I realized that it was just a plain building with graffiti that said “Casa 33” and I had walked by it several times earlier. I sat outside and noticed a few people coming up but no one was being let in. The crowd started building outside and I realized this wasn’t really the place for me. I decided to do the much more wholesome and simple thing and headed back to the festival. There were so many Christmas lights. I had heard during the weeks leading up to Christmas, Colombian cities tend to compete over displays. I look forward to Medellin, I hear they win every year.

I hung out till about 11pm and then took a taxi back to the hotel. I haven’t slept well over the last few days since I’ve had a cold that started on Wednesday. I thought it would be a good idea to retire early, take some Sudafed pm and sleep till my body wakes up. I got up around 11am this morning and took a walk around La Candelaria which is the old colonial area of Bogota. The temperature here is trying to defeat me by going from 40’s to 70’s in a matter of hours. You’d think I’d be used to this living in Florida during the winter where it fluctuates daily. Being the high altitude from the mountains (Bogota is the 3rd highest capital in South America behind Quito and La Paz) the temperature can get very warm during the afternoon and downright cold at night. I slept well though.

I’m at my hostel right now in the courtyard listening to music and drinking Poker, Colombia’s most popular beer. I’m attempting to follow the Bucs game on NFL Gamecast but it is looking pretty brutal for them right now so I decided to write. Pics will come soon and more updates of course.

Oh by the way, lunch today… 2 empanadas, 1 coke and a beer was $3.50.

Until then, hasta luego!

Travel Savings Tip #2

If you’re like I was in the years leading up to taking that first step towards traveling, saving the money is probably the most overwhelming and intimidating part of the pre-planning. It really does not have to be though. I’ve learned over the last half decade of traveling and saving that it takes patience and some discipline but is not impossible even for those who don’t make a lot of money. I’ve been part time at my job and going to school full time and I still have managed to put some money aside in order to take an occasional trip. I’ll be listing some of the tips that either I picked up along the way from other people or that I have figured out for myself.
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Tip #2: Envelopes!
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Envelopes are a great way to divide your money up into specific savings categories. Set a small goal for yourself that you plan to meet by taking a little out of your paycheck and instead of using a savings account that is attached to a checking account where you can easily transfer money when you need it, put it into an envelope. The key is to put the envelope somewhere that you won’t be tempted to take from it. It takes discipline. I find it more tempting to transfer money from savings to checking than it is to go into my savings envelopes. If you plan to have large amounts make sure you use a safe. I have an envelope for long term goals and short term goals all of which eventually gets transferred to a savings account that is not attached to my checking and difficult to pull from with delay time between when I request withdrawals and when it actually hits my account.

Travel Savings Tip #1

If you’re like I was in the years leading up to taking that first step towards traveling, saving the money is probably the most overwhelming and intimidating part of the pre-planning. It really does not have to be though. I’ve learned over the last half decade of travelling and saving that it takes patience and some discipline but is not impossible even for those who don’t make a lot of money. I’ve been part time at my job and going to school full time and I still have managed to put some money aside in order to take an occasional trip. I’ll be listing some of the tips that either I picked up along the way from other people or that I have figured out for myself.

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Tip #1: A Little Bit at a Time
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If you don’t have any idea where you want to go yet but you know you want to go somewhere it is best to start your savings now instead of waiting for a plan to pop up. It only takes a little bit at a time and before you know it you’ll have a travel fund that you can use on a destination of your choice. You can literally start today. Take a small portion from each paycheck that you remove ON your payday immediately and put it aside. When I was working full-time I was able to put much more aside each paycheck but right now I do a very modest $30-40. This means two times during the pay period I probably need to stay home and not eat out. This also means in a 6-8 month period I could have enough money saved for a flight to somewhere in Western Europe, South America or Central America. The beauty about travel to a large portion of the world is that it is cheap ONCE you get there. So another 6 months or so you’ll have enough money to last you 2 weeks in most places. (Western Europe excluded but you would just have to save for a little longer)

I just got done doing this exact process for my flight to Colombia and with out guilt I purchased a $400 round trip ticket from Tampa to Bogota and then Medellin back to Tampa for the end of this year. I’ll spend 10 days inbetween the two cities and since day-to-day expenses are some of the cheapest in this part of the world I’ll only need to save from now till December at my current rate to have a very comfortable time. Remember, the flight is usually the most expensive part of any trip so once you get that out of the way you can focus on day-to-day expenses. So don’t get caught up in feeling like you have to save for everything in such a short period of time… patience is important.

Chicken Pizza

My friend Brooke from Brooke Reviews.com brought up the Chichen Itza because of a book cover she found and loved. It reminded me of how many amazing things there are to see in my corner of the world. North America is filled with world heritage sites and ancient history that I’m often guilty of overlooking for more far away lands.

Has anyone reading this made the bus trip from Cancun to Chichen Itza? Or been there for any other reason? I think I’d like to visit during the autumn equinox because at an exact moment during the day a shadow hits the temple in such a way that creates a snake down the side of it. The Mayans were pretty cool. I bet Tikal and Chichen Itza will be flooded for the 2012 end of the world celebrations.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza (photo courtesy of travel.resourcesforattorneys.com)

TEFL International

I have put off the dreaded search for a good TEFL certification course for quite awhile and I’m not really even sure I’m ready to dive into it yet but seeing as though I’m about a year out from graduating it would smart to at least have some options. For those of you who don’t know, TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is a certification that helps prepare people to teach English in a foreign country to students who already have a basic grasp of the language. The certification is not required but it does help find better paying jobs in more competitive markets.

Wat Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai, Thailand

I’ve narrowed it down to Chiang Mai, Thailand, Hong Kong and Jakarta, Indonesia as the three most likely places I will land a teaching job coming straight out of TEFL certification and my bachelors degree. I found a pretty decent looking course. TEFL International I’ve done a little bit of research and it doesn’t seem to have any scams attached to it and it is pretty affordable. There are 4-6 week courses in Chiang Mai so that would be perfect! I could totally see myself traveling through South East Asia for a few months then settling into a TEFL course and then hopefully being placed into a job. Thailand is supposed to be really laid back and the students are really eager to learn and very respectful. This would be a great opportunity to start out and get the hang of the classroom. My ultimate goal will be Hong Kong. I’ve always wanted to live in a big city and I totally dig Hong Kong in just about every way. I can give up having a car, learn a new language, ride the best subway system in the world in a city with by far the best skyline. Oh, and eat authentic Chinese food ALL the time.

If anyone reading this has any suggestions for TEFL courses or knows anything about TEFL International that I linked above PLEASE let me know.

5th Continent

I’m excited to say that in December I will set foot on my 5th continent. South America. I just spent 45 frustrating minutes on americanairlines.com trying to purchase the flight. I had originally planned to go to Panama but after thinking it over for awhile and being bored with the idea of chilling on the beach for 10 days I decided the price was right for a flight to Bogota, Colombia. I’ll spend 10 days in December in and around the cities of Bogota and Medellin! I’ve hear nothing but good things about Colombia as long as I ask the right people who have actually been there and aren’t basing their opinions on popular misconceptions. The timing will be PERFECT for this trip. I’ll be finishing my 3rd semester of Spanish so it will give me a good chance to practice it. I hear English is kind of hard to come by!

I have no real plan in place yet other than about 5 days around each city with one full day of travel in between. I found a pretty cool looking hostel in Bogota but nothing yet in Medellin. I will be sure to keep everyone posted on my plans! Now I just have to get through the fall semester in one piece. This will be a great get-a-way.

I hate computers and I think I'm staying home in August

Seriously, I finally figured out what was buggin my brand new PC over the last few months. It was a crappy hard drive. So, I made sure I got all my photos off of it and into safety. I would die if I lost my travel pictures. I replaced the hard drive and reinstalled windows and now everything seems to be running OK. I told myself I would wait for everything to be working right before I started organizing photos or getting myself more involved with Twitter.

So, about August. I have a week off from both classes and work in mid-August. It will actually be my birthday week. I originally planned to maybe go out of town for the weekend. I even went as far as attempting to make contact with a Couch Surfer from Haiti. Flights are pretty cheap from Tampa to Port-au-Prince and I have heard great things about the couch surfers there. I think the notice is too short now and in reality I just don’t feel up for a trip right now.

I’ve been running through a ton of options for December when I have much more time off but that’s Christmas time and mom has already expressed that she would like me home for Christmas this year because after I graduate I may not be home for SEVERAL.