From within the throes of starting Year Two in Colombia, I thought I’d repost something I wrote about a year ago on moving abroad and long-term travel. Enjoy!
Boys and the entire Danbury crew for putting up with me.
Coworkers and bosses at AIFS for a great ten months.
Gunner for snugs and not eating anything important.
Teagan, Brianne and Paul for the dinners and company.
Everyone (players, parents, coaches) involved with Westport Field Hockey.
Sue and Paul for adopting me after the disgusting Halloween snow power outage.
Teachers and students in the Danbury High School ESL classes.
Family around the globe.
Volkswagen “Babycar” Cabrio, thanks for the awesome gas mileage, and for always breaking down when I could safely and conveniently pull over.
Friends – thanks for the couches, the weekends, the drinks, the calls, texts, emails, the perspective, the great times. You guys rock.
Just about anyone I’ve been in contact with this past year, particularly this crazy fall…thanks. It was a blast.
After 4:53 pm tomorrow, I’m out. We have three weeks of orientation outside Bogota with limited internet and whatnot, so consider this a brief blog hiatus. I have a billion more things to say and hopefully I’ll get them into words sooner or later. Nervous? Nahhh. I’m about to enter my comfort zone, not leave it.
A little Kerouac to keep you going:
“But why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?”
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain ’til you see their specks dispersing? – It’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
By the time I post this, it will be midnight, and 24 hours until January 4th. That’s the crazy day wayyyy off in the future when I get to go to one of my favorite locations (the airport) and hop on a big ol’ Delta machine headed south. Am I ready? Mentally, I’ve been ready since about five years ago. Logistically, I really hope that I at least leave the house with my passport. Packing for a year abroad and moving back home in the same 3 days is NOT recommended. Also we recently acquired a Wii, and it is not at all conducive to productivity.
In the midst of completely not preparing for Colombia, I decided I had a serious deficit of friend time, so a little [12+ hour roundtrip] car ride was in order – down to DC for some quality Windham lovin’. Some of my absolute favorite people congregated in Alexandria for New Year’s Eve to act like complete weirdos, make fun of each other, dance, drink and leave all filters and boundaries behind. Living so far from friends isn’t always easy, but it definitely makes the reunions…special.
It was also a great opportunity to do some fundraising for my trip. While other WorldTeach volunteers host fundraising parties and events, I just sat on the floor and had money thrown at me. Literally. The quarters hurt.
I think the hole-y hobo tights I tried to wear the night before set off their pity (generosity?) but hey, girl’s gotta pay tolls.
C.S. Lewis wisely said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” That couldn’t sum up my best friendships more and I’m so very lucky to have them.
Now it’s officially January 3rd, so January 4th is tomorrow? That’s weird. If you’ll excuse me, I have to unpack and repack my bags 7 more times before I can sleep.
Once upon a time approximately a year ago, one of my oldest friends was pretending to listen to my mental breakdown regarding dying cold and alone in my parents’ house with no job and no friends, when he offhandedly mentioned the extra bedroom in his bachelor pad. Funny thing is, he probably didn’t think I would take him up on it. A few weeks later I had a job in Stamford and became the sixth (human) resident of WestConn’s “Baseball House”.
Living with five guys aged 20-23 was probably just like you’re picturing it (cleaner, though, because one of them is Joe-sessive Compulsive Postemsky.) One day I opened up my lunch at work to find that someone had taken a bite out of my leftover pizza, then put it back in the Tupperware. Other days I would find half the baseball team sitting on the roof, or play death matches of Cranium for hours. It was loud, comical, chaotic and absolutely wonderful. My roommates soon realized that I have a thick skin for verbal abuse, and let loose without mercy whenever they had a chance. They also were great for a hug or a laugh when I had a bad day, a built-in social life, and for opening jars.
In August some of us moved to a smaller house, where life is still interesting and hilarious, but quieter. Overall, the ten months I spent living and working in this corner of Connecticut would have been drastically different, dare I say worse, without my roommates. I will miss my Danbury/Brookfield family dearly. Joe, Deej, Jordan, Yates, Sam, Scribby and the rest of the crew: Thanks. You guys are the best.
As for the whining…I leave one week from tomorrow. Despite being unemployed for the month of December, I left virtually all preparations for this week. Today was dedicated to returning some Christmas gifts and the start of packing – this is my fourth lengthy trip abroad, but somehow I still SUCK at packing. I’m trying to balance everyday clothes with going out clothes, with business casual for teaching, with workout/lounge clothes, and then there are the shoes, and the accessories, and makeup and toiletries and I don’t even know what. After verging on insanity I came up with a decent system, and I think I’ll be ok. Unfortunately, there are no useful opinions in the mancave.
I get a variety of responses from people when I tell them I’m leaving the country for a year, from surprise to confusion, worry and indifference. One common reaction, particularly from people around my age, is “What!! I wish I could do that. You get to do such cool things.”
I always say the same thing. You can. It’s not about “getting to” travel and live abroad, it’s just DOING it. True, I don’t have a mortgage or a child or any other ball and chain stopping me, but I don’t just take off on a whim whenever I please. So here’s a little guide for anyone who wants to get their long-term travel on.
1. Find something.
What are you passionate about? Do you want to study? Work? Tour? Volunteer? Sight see? Hike? Party? Wwoof? Meet people? Lay on the beach? The internet is amazeballs, people. Figure out where your interests lie, and Google it. I’m constantly on websites like www.idealist.org, www.goabroad.com, www.matadornetwork.com, and the Thorn Tree forums at Lonely Planet. I started with UConn’s own study abroad program in Granada, followed by IES Abroad in Quito, then found Pueblo a Pueblo from Idealist.org and WorldTeach from a friend’s experience in Ecuador.
2. Save – and spend wisely.
Any type of travel, whether simple tourism or volunteering, is expensive. Make a few concessions, pick up a side job and save your money. When I’m not abroad, I’m working my tail off and trying to live as frugally as possible without actually dressing like a homeless person. Know when to treat yourself with a Guatemala vacation and when to pick up extra shifts.
There are countless resources for traveling on the cheap as well. Some people would rather travel more luxuriously, whereas others are ok with hostels and low-budget meals. Your destination is a big factor – I’ve stayed in beautiful hotels for less than $20 in South/Central America, and some dirtbag hostels in Europe for twice that. Take an honest look at your priorities, and budget accordingly.
3. Book a flight, and tell people you’re going.
If the money doesn’t get you, the peer pressure will. You can’t back down now. While you’re at it, try to rope in a friend, or two. Everyone needs a buddy.
4. Prepare mentally.
Pick up some language skills if you need them. Research the climate. Have a rough idea of what you want to do or see. Know your transportation and communication options.
5. Prepare logistically.
Take care of your bank stuff, work stuff, doctor stuff, etc.
LOL. I suck at packing.
7. Go. Do. LOVE. Share.
Get on that plane, do yo’ thang. Make a friend or a hundred. And please, please tell everyone how great it was. Tell them until their ears bleed. Travel is invaluable.
Disclaimer: Not everyone is cut out for this. “I love to travel!” and “I love vacations!!” are not the same thing. You will get sick. You will get lost. You will miss the USA. You will get robbed and be cold, dirty and lonely. You will HATE your country, and APPRECIATE it in the same breath. The kids…they will take your heart and smash it in a million pieces. You will fall in love. You will want home more than anything. You will want to stay forever.
You will love it. If you think in the most minute way that this is for you, you will love it. The world effing rocks. Go down the street or go across the globe. Just go. Go.
Go. And tell me how much you loved it.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
- Miriam Adeney
I was introduced to this quote by my world-saving globetrotter pal Cait Smith. I love it because it resonates so clearly and true. There is a price to be paid when you are so fortunate as to grow roots in multiple locations. At this point in my life, “home” and further, “homesick” are hard terms to place. To be clear, this gringa rarely – if ever – gets homesick, I think I actually get more homesick when I’m in the United States. Homesick for the glorious sunshine of Granada, Quito’s chaotic oxymorons and every single thing about my unconventional paradise, Santiago Atitlán. Home in Windham, Connecticut is a series of fond childhood memories that can be conjured in any corner of the globe, or a Skype call to my parents. Home is any of my friends’ kitchen tables with a bottle of wine. Home is the rugby pitch. Or the library.
A few weeks ago WorldTeach had us fill out a survey with our preferences as far as living/teaching, and I put neutral answers for just about everything. Let’s get real, my preferences are a roof and no snow, please and thank you.
On that note, I am ecstatic to introduce my next home: Bogotá, Colombia. I may be largely unconcerned about detail (refer to my last post) but I have been POUNCING on my Gmail inbox waiting for the Colombia Placement!! gem from WorldTeach. I finally received word that I’ll be spending the next year living and teaching in Colombia’s capital city, located in the Andes.
I couldn’t be happier living ANYWHERE in Colombia, but I’m pretty excited to be in the city. As much as I’m a country girl, I love city life and I’m more than ready to get back into it. Bogotá is massive, about the size of NYC and has a cooler climate, like New England spring and fall weather. It has buses and tiendas and bars and so many Colombian friends waiting to be made. I’m picturing it like Quito, except a bit scarier and not as warm.
My teaching placement will be either primary or secondary students. I don’t know my living situation yet (host family/apartment/cardboard box are all acceptable options.)
Three weeks to departure. Can’t wait to get acquainted, Bogotá.
I did that obnoxious blog thing where I didn’t post anything for over a week, much to KRISTIN SMITH!’s dismay. I’m actually annoyed at myself as well because I was determined to really get this thing rolling before I actually left the country, and post as much as possible to get my domain payment’s worth.
So. Pre-departure Woes. That would be a fun blog title, right? Except woe doesn’t really describe my state of mind, other than the lack of daily income now that I’ve left AIFS. Then again, trading my paycheck for all this free time that I can procrastinate the pre-departure business hasn’t been too bad. I’ve been reading a lot (nothing that regards Colombia, of course), watching recorded TV, Christmas crafting, running errands (aka making long lists then making one stop before going home), playing with my favorite Doberman and making some of my normal Fairfield County rounds.
That’s why I haven’t posted. I have nothing interesting to write about!
The Pre-Departure State of Mind. Much catchier and inviting. Pre-Departure has essentially been my only state of mind for the past four or five years – every time I find myself in the U.S., it’s like a precursor to my next departure. It’s a hybrid of trying to live in the moment and itching to pack my bags and GO. As I try to appreciate every weekend with new or old friends, every minute of instant connectivity, every mile cruising in my VW, every iced coffee and bagel that you just can’t imitate in other reaches of the world, I’m also methodically scheming and searching for a new venture, opportunity, location.
Now that I have that next step concrete and paid for, what is my Pre-Departure State of Mind? Uhhhh, I’m excited? That’s what I tell people and what I’m supposed to say? When really I’m just kind of ….typical B Carey. Short infrequent bouts of panic in between long, languid periods of chill. Yea, I’m going to another country FOR A WHOLE YEAR OMG WHAT ABOUT YOUR PARENTS AND IS IT SAFE AND WHERE ARE YOU GOING TO LIVE.
Why is everyone else freaking out? My Spanish is ya know, not fluent but very proficient or whatever I tell people, I have a pretty solid idea of what to expect from living in a developing Latin American nation and I’m just not that concerned. Ain’t no thang. Even my first long trip to Granada I just kind of hopped on the plane like, this is cool, where we going guys?
As for missing friends and family, I’ve gotten accustomed to keeping ties from far away. I live a few hours from my parents and most of my family right now, and the majority of my best friends have scattered across the U.S. and abroad (because they are AWESOME.) Besides, it’s 2011. People without running water have cell phones, and my grandmother will be emailing by the time I leave in January. There are approximately 237 ways to contact a person at any given moment (even if hermits like me “accidentally” leave their phones on silent or in the car or buried in a pile of laundry.)
Right now my Pre-Departure State of Mind is telling me to watch some Project Accessory on Hulu until it warms up enough for a run outside. Then I’m going to clean my room and try to finish my TEFL homework. Then maybe Christine will come over and we’ll decorate for Christmas. I will probably listen to some reggaeton in the midst of all this so that concludes my Colombia preparation for the day.
Tomorrow kicks off my BC/DC Farewell Tour Part 1 during which I blow through Our Nation’s Capitol, aka one of my favorite adult playgrounds, in 24 hours or less. Love me some roomie road trips – I give it 20 miles before Joe and I are fighting.
Oh, and NO, I do not yet know where I’ll be living for the next year. Hopefully I’ll find out sometime next week. Everybody chill out and drink a beer or something.
[Note: A HUGE thank you to the 7th and 8th grade Westport Field Hockey Association parents for your generous donation to my fund!]
The scramble of months categorized as “Pre-Departure” for endeavors like a year volunteering abroad through WorldTeach is stressful, to say the least. [Working extra hours and jobs to save money, gathering visa paperwork, making oodles of appointments and somehow putting several hours of ESL classroom time into my already triple-booked work week - it makes for some headaches.]
I know that in exchange for the WorldTeach paperwork, fees and deadlines I’ll get extensive training, in-country support and resources, health insurance and, of course, 30+ gringos to share the experience. That’s a massive factor in this trip because as hermit-like as I can be, I need friends – and my study abroad pals are some of the best I’ve ever had.
[Note: Some people attest that hanging out with other Americans during semesters abroad is destructive to the cultural experience blah blah blah, but I wouldn't trade my Spain and Ecuador friends for anything. And I managed to get some culture along the way.]
Then I did it on my own, and I had to dig down deep and toughen up in the beginning, but I succeeded. In many ways, Santiago Atitlan became more of a true home than Granada or Quito had. I had to forge my own comfort and depend entirely on myself and the kindness of the people I met there to create that home, rather than relate to those who were also out of their familiar environment. I can’t describe how grateful I am to the wonderful, caring individuals I met in Guatemala.
As I sit here dry-heaving from stress and anxiety, I’m a bit worried that being a WorldTeach volunteer will be detrimental to the utter independence and self-reliance I practiced in Guatemala. However, I know that I need WT’s support and training, and more than that, my school and students need me to have it. I’m accepting a full-time position and the pre-departure headaches are part of the contract.
That being said, WorldTeach has been nothing less than amazing and supportive since I started the application process in July, so I haven’t the slightest concern about my Colombian experience with this non-profit. Having worked in cultural exchange at AIFS the past nine months, I’m familiar with the gritty details on the other side and I really appreciate all their help thus far!
A few things for which I am thankful:
My Volkswagen Cabrio babycar
First World comforts
Cousins: near, far, big and small