Am I a Bad Expat?

Subway. Starbucks. Coldstone. It’s names like these that set my heart aflutter. I walk inside and I feel instant comfort like a hug from a long lost cousin.
Hanging round an area of the city on the hunt for food, I should, as a traveler, seek out something local and exotic. Instead, I whip out my iPhone, bring up Google Maps and search for a nearby Subway sandwiches. I hideout in my little Americanized heaven for a quick lunch before heading back out to the scooter-filled chaos of Taiwan’s streets. And I am happier.
Why?! What has happened to the girl locked in the cubicle who couldn’t wait to get out and try new food and see new places, new cultures? Have I been abroad too long? Am I more homesick than I admit? I have no plan to return to the US any time soon though. I like living abroad.
OR…
Am I still more of a germophobe than I thought? The ‘Western’ franchises tend to keep their shops up to their country’s health standards unlike some of their local counterparts. So, perhaps I am merely seeking a familiar level of cleanliness.
OR…
perhaps I have not found enough local food that appeals to my taste buds. I eventually grew quite attached to Korean food while there, but cravings for Taiwanese food have yet to arise (except for the teas!)
OR…
Maybe it is that I have acclimated so much to East Asian culture that I too am accepting the Western ways as the new, young, trendy way. Haha.
I think I am finally understanding the ways of immigrants in the US and why they frequent authentic restaurants from their country and hang out in the same neighborhoods. So perhaps what I feel is normal.
Fellow expats, do you think this desire to try to live your country’s lifestyle in your foreign country is normal? Do you find yourself wanting to enjoy familiar franchises, environments and foods? If you have felt this urge before, is it merely a phase that subsides after awhile? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences.

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Hello New Life!

Has it really been that long since I have written? It’s amazing how quickly time can pass. Since then my life has changed in a variety of ways…
…I finished my teaching contract in Korea, visited the fam in the US, spent a month in Chiang Mai, Thailand obtaining my CELTA certificate to increase my hire-ability, moved to Taichung, Taiwan, moved in with my boyfriend, started learning traditional Mandarin, got a new job, and started working out.
…It’s been crazy hectic and I’ve had my emotional ups and downs along the way, but all in all I’m quite happy and still loving expat life. Over time I’ll post about each of these new changes as the reflections occur to me, but for now:
GREETINGS FROM TAICHUNG, TAIWAN! ^^

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“Happy People are Initiators…”

A moment of true happiness while visiting Croatia. Photo by: Hassan Ali

I read the following quote in an ivillage article I read on Yahoo called “11 Secrets of Happy People.”

“Happy people are initiators…

Don’t wait for life to happen. You have to make it happen.”

I used to be the girl in the cubicle, complaining about not having the money to make myself happy.  I’m sure I drove my co-workers crazy with my constant desire and rambling about wanting to get out.  I’d be reading National Geographic at my desk (because my job was not inspiring to me and I couldn’t bring myself to do it for 8 hours a day) and wishing I could be one of those people who traveled and really saw things.  I was – correction am – in thousands of dollars of debt due to student loans and felt as though the world of travel was out of my reach.  I couldn’t afford to live in Spain on minimum wages, or volunteer in South America.  I couldn’t even afford language classes in my own hometown.  A bitterness began to overtake me as day after day, year after year I went back to the same type of job, always knowing there was something more for me, but not feeling as though it was within my grasp.  I was waiting for someone to show me the way – for life to bring me something fun and exciting to do.

Then, one day I decided I had had enough.  My 20s had been lost to the land of the cubicles and damn it I was going to find some way out of this rut no matter what it took.

And what it took was me moving to Asia, something I never thought I would’ve done before.  It was a little scary at first, moving across the world, signing a one year contract, not sure if me and my set ways were going to like it here, but it was the best decision I could’ve made.  I am much happier in life since I’ve been here for several reasons:  although not out of debt, I no longer use credit cards (except to purchase flights which I then pay off) and am not living paycheck to paycheck; I now have the means to travel more often and have seen 8 new countries since arriving 2 years ago; I broke out of my daily routine, made new friends, found a whole new lifestyle and a career that keeps me on my feet and more active.

None of this happiness would have occurred had I not decided to be an initiator.  I realized that many of the people I read about in travel magazines were not simply lucky, they found a way to make it happen and they created their own happiness.

And so did I.

Don’t wait for life to hand you a goodie bag of opportunity and dreams.  If you long for something better no matter how big or small, go out and get it.  Be willing to step out of your comfort zone if needed.  You may need to get creative to make things happen, so think outside the box.  No idea is too crazy – trust me!  Be an initiator.  Be your own reason for happiness.

The Northern Winds of Change…

Deutsch: Macchu Picchu, ein UNESCO-Weltkulture...

Image via Wikipedia

There are many times when I feel like Juliet Binoche’s character in Chocolat.  The pull of the winds tells me when it is time to move on.  One day I am amusing myself with thoughts of staying in the current city/state/country for a few years, and the next day I’m itching for a change and ready to take flight instantly.  It is so easy to get into a routine and forget that there is better out there for you.  So I am thankful for these demanding winds that remind me of all the places I have yet to see.

At times my desire to travel and see the sights is so strong that it is akin to the longing that can be felt for a distant love.  Today, for example, I was teaching a lesson on vacations (standard chapter in many ESL books) and looking at the pictures of Easter Island, Taj Mahal, Macchu Picchu, Grand Canyon, etc., I actually felt an ache in my body.  I felt sadness because there are so many places I have yet to see and my current job does not offer enough vacation time to accommodate them all.

However, I am hopeful, optimistic and quite determined to make my traveling desires become a reality.  I just need to find the right combination of income vs. travel opportunity in my next job to make it happen.  That is my priority.  I have always said that I do not care to climb the corporate ladder nor be rich.  It’s not about money for me.  It’s not about status either.  If I become a well-known magazine writer, awesome.  If I become a little-known waitress or barista, equally as awesome.  It’s about happiness.  I only want enough money to travel comfortably without worrying about the budget.  I spent too long daydreaming; now it’s time to MAKE IT HAPPEN.

On that note, I have posted my list of places I want to see (which grows every time I glance at it).  I posted this a few months ago elsewhere, but thought it was a good list to put on here as well so we can all share our traveling dreams together.

I ask you, where do YOU want to go and how are YOU going to make it happen?

Here are the Countries/Cities/Sights I want to visit, by region:

SOUTH/CENTRAL AMERICA/CARIBBEAN:

  1. Argentina – tango classes, the southernmost tip of the continent
  2. Brazil – rainforest
  3. Bolivia – suggestions?
  4. Chile – las montanas, el hielo
  5. Colombia – Santa Marta, Cali, Andres Cepeda concert/restaurant and perhaps volunteer with one of the Pies Descalzos schools for awhile
  6. Costa Rica
  7. Cuba – a country without American influence for 50 years!, the music
  8. Dominican Republic – beaches
  9. Guatemala
  10. Mexico – saw Cancun, want to see the ruins and the less touristy beaches
  11. Panama
  12. Peru – obviously Macchu Picchu amongst other things
  13. Puerto Rico – el Yunque
  14. Venezuela – Angel Falls

AFRICA/MIDDLE EAST

  1. Egypt
  2. Israel – Dead Sea
  3. Jordan
  4. Madagascar – biodiversity
  5. Morocco
  6. Turkey – saw Izmir, want to see Istanbul
  7. UAE – Dubai – architecture and salsa

EUROPE

  1. Austria
  2. Croatia – AGAIN!
  3. Czech Republic – Prague
  4. France – southern France
  5. Greece – Santorini
  6. Iceland – beautiful geology
  7. Ireland – castles
  8. Italy – AGAIN!  Florence, Tuscany, Roma, Milano
  9. Monaco – to see what the big deal is
  10. Poland
  11. Portugal
  12. Russia – St Petersburg, Moscow, Siberia and maybe Trans-Siberian railroad trip
  13. Spain – AGAIN!  Miss it immensely and have yet to see Barcelona or Malaga, and visit my Aunt/Uncle
  14. Scotland – highlands and castles
  15. England/Wales – AGAIN!  more castles and visit family

ASIA

  1. China – pandas, great wall, architecture
  2. India – Goa
  3. Indonesia – Bali
  4. Japan – salsa, style and food
  5. Macau
  6. Malaysia
  7. Philippines – swimming with whale sharks!
  8. Singapore – the zoo, the cleanliness
  9. Sri Lanka – resort vaca
  10. Taiwan – waterfalls and hot springs
  11. Thailand – elephants
  12. Vietnam – culture

ANTARCTICA – For the penguins of course, and to see a continent of ice

OCEANIA (AUSTRALIA FOR THE AMERICAN FOLK)

  1. Australia – salsa, animals
  2. Fiji
  3. New Zealand

NORTH AMERICA

  1. Alaska – animals, cruise
  2. Quebec – for the French influence
  3. US – 4 corners – more red rock, Grand Canyon
  4. US – SF – hills, bridges and liberal culture

P.S.  Got my renewed passport today (which btw is processed sooo much faster when outside the US) and they are actually much nicer and more interesting than those from the last decade.  I’m determined to need more pages added to my passport before this one expires!

Study Abroad: Worth Every Penny

I remember sitting in the International Studies office (or whatever official name they called it) with brochures spread out across the wooden circular table before me.  Despite the endless amount of programs for an endless amount of countries, they all seemed to say the same things.

EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME!

UNFORGETTABLE ADVENTURE!

FRIENDS FOR LIFE!

I looked at posters and brochures like this…

Typical Study Abroad advert

…for hours…and thought yeah right.  I thought they were exaggerating because, well, I rarely trust any company who is trying to convince me to spend that much money on something.  However, I figured it might not be as good as all that, but at least I’ll finally stop dreaming of traveling abroad and finally just do it.  And it ended up being one of the few times that I could say that it was not in any way false advertising.

I studied in Sevilla, Spain for one semester in 2002 with International Studies Abroad (ISA) and it was the best decision I ever made.  I know sometimes when talking about a product I really like I can sound like an infomercial, but I assure you no one is paying me to say this and I don’t work for any study abroad programs.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!  If you call in the next 5 minutes, you can get two semesters abroad for the price of one!

Just kidding.

Anywho…I won’t go into crazy details about everything that we did, but I will tell you four important things that happened.

1)  I became quite attached to my host mother.  It was just me and her and I was the first student she hosted, so we had a special connection and I still keep in touch with her today.

2)  Due to the makeup of my particular group of friends plus the fact that my host mother only knew two words in English, my Spanish level went from advanced textbook to actual conversational fluidity.

3)  I became a fan of a couple of the Spanish singers that are still some of my favorites today.  Plus many other odd cultural things I picked up on because I didn’t just visit, I LIVED there.

4)  I truly did make friends of a lifetime.  I move around a lot and friends come in and out of my life, but the close group of people we hung out with while in Spain are still my friends today.  During those 4 months we laughed together, cried together, got annoyed or frustrated with each other…you get the idea.  Since then our visits have been few and far between because we have all been busy traveling to other countries, but when a couple of us do get together, it’s as if no time has passed.  There is so much love and appreciation for this type of friend because you all experienced something great together and something that had its difficulties (namely in the form of culture shock) and that kind of bond is strong in a way that most people can’t understand.  When I started to develop all of my pictures (this was 2002 and I didn’t have a digital camera yet) I realized that I had quite a few pictures that resembled the ones I had seen in those brochures.  My most resembling ‘brochure pic’ isn’t scanned into my computer, but here’s another one of them…

Inside a bull ring in Ronda, Spain

I’m telling you this not to brag about my experience, but to encourage any college students out there reading this to study abroad.  I can’t express in enough words in either language how much it teaches you about yourself, about where you come from and what you are capable of.  I had to take out a big loan to pay for it all, but it’s the only student loan that I don’t mind paying at all because I wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience.  I also wouldn’t have had the courage to move to Asia 8 years later had I not already lived abroad once before.  Once you know you can handle culture shock in another country, you feel like you can take on the world.

I bring all of this up today because one of my closest friends from that semester is coming to visit me next week and every time I talk to her, I am reminded of how great that experience was.  The fact that we do still plan mini reunions together after 9 years (despite that fact that none of us came from the same US cities nor universities) shows you how strong our friendships became.  You can’t put a price on good friendship like that.  It’s worth every penny.

If you are thinking about study abroad but not sure, feel free to bounce your ideas off me, I’m happy to help.  Pick a program.  Go somewhere.  See the world.  Because there is so much that they don’t teach us in school.

And just because I felt like we needed more pics here…this one’s for all the Don Quixote lovers out there:

Las Molinas

An Expat’s Process of Elimination, Step 1

I have always been a fan of the process of elimination in all aspects of life.  Perhaps that is because I am happiest when presented with options to a choice; however, I become easily overwhelmed if given too many choices.  It’s quite a conundrum I assure you.  Needless to say, the process of elimination is a near and dear friend of mine.  So I decided to call on this near and dear friend to help me narrow down my choices of where I would like to live next in all of my expat glory.

The first elimination came to me today while I was leaving my apartment this morning, having just showered and already sweating.  Not daintily glowing or whatever eloquent words women like to use for sweating. I was dripping with sweat – nothing dainty or pretty about it.  For this reason, plus several others (more bugs, more mold, food goes bad faster, laundry takes longer to dry, condensation!, I feel like I can’t breathe, more allergies, etc) I hate humidity.  Anyone who had to deal with me during the Florida years knows that I am not a fan of the humid tropical areas.  I was forever complaining (and those who only ever lived in humidity never believed me) that dry climates are so much less hot in summer and less cold in winter without humidity.  Such as my beloved Salt Lake City (which is an ideal climate IF I wanted to live in the US).

Therefore, first order of elimination: NO HUMIDITY!  Yay!!  I feel better already just thinking about it!  According to the map below that knocks out about 2/3rds of the world’s regions (if we are including the arctic climates which are a wee bit too extreme for me, humid or not).  My climate ranges can now consist of arid, semi-arid or mediterranean.  In other words, the yellow and peach colored areas shown here:

Climate Regions of the World

So which place would you recommend in the yellow or peach?  Although I cannot move for another year or two, people are always asking where I will be off to next, so I need to narrow down some choices.  There are several options here that appeal to me, which means that more elimination will have to be done in the future, but if you have ever lived in one of those areas or visited for a lengthy stay, please share your thoughts.  Just general thoughts needed for now…I know things like visas and immigration may be a factor for me relocating to some of these countries, but that will be another day, another blog, another step in the process of elimination.  Much appreciated!

MOVE

When you see the word “move,” what is the first thing that comes to mind?  Don’t keep reading!  Actually stop and take note of the first thing that the word “move” evoked in you.

Now you may move on (no pun intended…that phrase actually worked perfectly there.  Go me!)

Anywho…

The English language being the complicated beast that it is has given this word so many meanings.  It can be a verb, a noun, an exclamation or a command.  Let’s look at some of the possibilities shall we?

  • To change an apt or house – We are going to move
  • To physically change the position of something – Move your arm
  • To be emotionally altered – This music can move you
  • A strategy – such as in playing chess, I can’t make a move
  • And honestly one of the 3rd or 4th examples that came to mind was Ludacris’s song “Move b*tch! Get out the way…”  JAJAJA…couldn’t help myself

For me the first thing that came to mind when I saw this word tonight in the following video was DANCE.  Probably because of my passion for dance, moving in this sense is what I do to express myself and also relieve life’s stressors.   My second thought was TRAVEL.  My strong desire to see so many places in the world has been my inspiration as of late and I foresee myself in the next however many years constantly on the move.

So to my fellow travelers, I share with you this video.  I hope it inspires you as much as it inspires me.  Short and sweet.

Now I just wish I could slow down the video so I can get a better glimpse of all the places they were.

What does the word MOVE make YOU think of?

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p.s.  For my fellow postaday2011 members, this was actually yesterday’s post, but had internet issues and couldn’t post til today.  🙂