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Why You Should Visit (Or Live In) Switzerland

What is living and working in Switzerland like? How did you come to live in Zurich in the first place?

I had finished at Uni and was meant to move to London to start a job in Investment Banking back in 2009, but then the bank told me they’d pulled all their graduate positions due to the crisis. Having ready English and Italian Literature at Uni, I didn’t have options galore.

A job agency specializing in English and Japanese speakers (how niche is that, eh?) got in touch with me and suggested I interview for a position in Online Marketing based in Zurich. I didn’t even know what the job really entailed, but I went along with it and one thing led to another. I figured I could do with living in a mountainous country (I climb and ski), and optimistically thought I’d be able to learn a little German before returning to London perhaps one, maximum two years later.

I was naive in two senses:

1. German is a hard language to learn, especially in a Swiss environment. I immediately realized I’d need more time.

2. Once the Alps become your neighbor, it’s near impossible to find a neighborhood that’ll satisfy your needs the same way.

So, almost seven years later, I’ve secured myself permanent residency, quit my corporate job, and discovered how welcoming of entrepreneurs this country is. In short, I’m extremely happy here and am now pretty firmly rooted to the city.

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What is your favorite thing about living in Zurich? What has been most surprising or shocking?

I won’t bang on about the mountains – we all know they’re amazing, so I don’t to spell things out there. My favorite thing is that it’s very international. I feel it has its own sense of multicultural identity, which you’ll notice if you stay at centrally-located hotels like Moevenpick. It’s not like Singapore or Dubai, where hundreds of English speaking nationals have flocked over and labeled themselves expats.

I feel like the people I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with here are all here for reasons other than just work – they’re all pretty outdoorsy, in some cases even more so than the Zürcher themselves. People say the Swiss are hard to make friends with as a foreigner and, sure, you can’t compare it to the at times overbearing hospitality of Southern Europeans, but I do find it to be an exaggeration. I have made friends with plenty of lovely Swiss people, and it’s taken no extra effort at all on my part.

What has been most surprising is the education system. It’s very common to have opted for an apprenticeship rather than go straight to Uni. I find that where I’m from, going to Uni is largely considered the only way to carve out a respectable career (though, I have to point out that my idea of a “career” has transformed massively of late).

I like that the Swiss value experience and work ethic just as highly as a piece of paper you obtained at an institution somewhere.

What kind of work are you doing now?

I went from Online Marketing for a multinational private education company, to Private Banking at a well-known Swiss bank, to realizing desk jobs are really not for me. I waited until I’d saved some money and got my permanent residency and plotted my escape. I spent my bonus on an English teaching qualification, and decided to teach English to pay the bills while I tried to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to work with food, but not as a chef. I went and got some kitchen work experience just to reconfirm that latter point.

Now I hold cooking workshops, primarily on the topic of Japanese fermentation. I take part in the Slow Food Youth Network’s activities, and hope to continue to be inspired by the wonderful people there and to find my niche. I’m getting there, but I’ve accepted that it will take time.

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What do you see from living in Switzerland that the average tourist might not?

Switzerland is a beautiful, almost fairy-tale-like country. Most tourists come to ogle at the mountains, and rightly so. Zurich is a lovely city, but doesn’t really offer much by way of tourist attractions. I always tell people it’s a wonderful place to live – life is comparatively easier than in all the other cities I’ve lived in, but I’m not sure it has a whole lot to offer tourists who are keen to snap pictures of landmarks and the like. The culinary scene is starting to blossom and, as I said before, it is rather entrepreneurial. It’s lovely to go and dig around for small businesses and see what they’re up to.

People associate Zurich with banking, insurance, and sometimes, pharmaceuticals. While they have played a large part in building Zurich’s reputation as a financial hub, I like to tell tourists that Zurich is also like the rich man’s Berlin. There are left-wing squats and a strong alternative scene that don’t meet the eye at first. The only difference is that living in a squat most often signifies you are taking a political stance, not that you have no other choice. Hence it being the rich man’s Berlin.

Why do you believe it’s important for people to live abroad?

The struggle can be real, very real, but it’s never the kind of struggle that drowns you. It’s more like the struggle I imagine one faces when learning to surf. You’re doing it because you know that once you get the hang of it, it’s going to be amazing and your way of life will change forever.

About Christine

d77646_f362c0f54221489ea73a4f0123751fd2Born in the UK and raised both there and in Japan (with a diversion to Italy as a young child), Christine is pretty familiar with being a foreigner, even in her two home countries. Since her passions lie in writing, cooking, skiing, trail running and climbing, it’s obvious she’s not really cut out for a nine to five office job. So as of 2014 she is hustling as a part-time English teacher and part-time entrepreneur.

April 23, 2016
Experience The Philippines “Organically” At Happy House Farm

TM: What is Happy House Farm’s purpose?

David: The purpose of the Happy House is to act as an education center focused on enhancing human potential, as well as a special home for ourselves.

Right now we are in the early stages of development. We are creating all the infrastructure, so not a lot can be seen apart from two buildings—the Little Happy House (our home plus a self-contained guest house attached) and the Happy House (self-contained guest space). There is also a ‘Big’ Happy House on the property plans!

Creating all the infrastructure from nothing, in an environment with limited water resources is challenging. Even after four years of hard work, we still do not have tap water, but we now have more than sufficient water, which is a huge blessing.

By early 2017, we will have the final pieces of our water infrastructure in place and will have abundant running water to all parts of the property, in an area that, on average, goes seven months without rainfall each year.

How did it get started?

It started with the focus of being our private home, but little did we know at the time that it would evolve into something much bigger.

When we purchased the property four years ago, we were looking to create a “getaway” space for ourselves. At the time, we were focused on running a busy SME business with a staff of 40 employees out of Singapore, Manila, and Baguio City.

Two years ago, our previously successful business ran into massive challenges and we were finally forced to close it down, which left us with “nothing” to do! The challenge was that we had lost our major cash flow. We were left with very little except the land, a Mac computer, and our very simple home (the Little Happy House) that was built in two weeks when we were soon to be homeless.

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Our ‘loss’ was the start of something so new, that for a while we did not know where we could take it. For a year we just focused on survival, with little or no income to expand the farm.

After a year, a close friend offered to ‘give us a hand-up’ (in their words) with a loan. They told us to put together a proposal, and they would see how they could help. I created a ‘big brush stroke’ proposal that would need two million Pesos to implement—not a massive amount in Western terms, but still over 44,000 USD.

Our friend was so polite, and said they were looking at something that we could easily afford to repay! It was then that we got a lot more focused and looked at what we already had and what we could easily create.

We already had the foundations for the Happy House, so we ran with a proposal to create a temporary building for those foundations that could accommodate eight people with lots of space.

Our friend confirmed our focus by giving us 300,000 pesos in cash the very next day to do the upgrade. We were ‘off and running’. Six weeks later, we had the Happy House all ready to receive guests. Since then, it has accommodated over 200 special people from all over the world.

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What kinds of travelers normally stay at Happy House Farm? What types of programs do you offer to people?

Most of our early guests were overseas travelers who were looking for a different experience. They came and helped on projects. Our initial guests did not pay anything and contributed on a 100 percent work-exchange basis, but this was not sustainable for us because we needed cash to expand the project and to survive.

We implemented a nominal contribution to cover food and accommodation, and it worked as a win-win for everyone. At times we would have seven or more people staying and helping out.

At the beginning we tried to run workshops and training courses, but with our location being a little out of the way, we were not successful in attracting local Filipinos. We let things go for a while until we could expand our infrastructure. Right now, we are in ‘trial-and-error’ mode, trying out different ideas to see what creates attraction.

The long-term vision is to become an international destination for people who want to focus on enhancing their human potential, but right now we do not have all the pieces of the puzzle in place to allow for this to happen.

For the time being, we are building our overseas network of teachers, who in the future will be excited to come here when the time is right. We continue to focus on infrastructure, beautification, and local integration (with local support projects like Billy and Be Proud).

The majority of our visitors are still travelers that come from Europe and North America. On average, around 40 percent come from North America, 20 percent from France, and the rest from other European countries and Australiasia. We receive most of our guests from online websites like Workaway, HelpX, and WWOOF.

We recently joined AirBNB, and have received quite a few local Filipino people as guests for the weekend who want to experience something very different.

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Why is organic farming important, specifically in the Philippines?

To be honest, Organic Farming is a secondary focus, but nonetheless a ‘nose-to-the-ground’ focus. Our focus is on eating healthy and natural foods instead of polluted foods. Organic is really a given. It’s not something special for us. It’s all about choosing what feels right, and at the end of the day, why someone would choose unhealthy farming practices over healthy ones.

For overseas visitors, though, organics are VERY important. Here in the Philippines, there is a low understanding on the real benefits of organic agriculture. Overseas, people know the benefits and are attracted to the fact that we’re an organic farm.

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What is most rewarding about Happy House Farm and organic farming?

Watching the bamboo sway in the cool evening breeze after a full day’s work and drinking a cold beer that costs much less than 1 USD!

Life is very simple here in the Philippines. Being a Western person, I find it VERY quiet here at times. And yet I feel deeply nourished as I learn to let go more and more, and deeply enjoy simple things and simple living.

As each day passes, we focus on improving what we have on the farm and bringing the long-term vision more into focus.

 

About David and Carol

d77646_a8ce733ad8884111bff84a75f2a78992David was born in the UK, and has lived in Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and now the Philippines. He has traveled to Germany, Scotland, England, Ireland, India, Nepal, Australia, Fiji, Tonga, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. He has created and co-created eight companies in five countries over 20 years, and is most proud of Buy1Give1.com. He is now a ‘trainee’ organic rice farmer in the Philippines with Happy House Farm.

Carol was born in the Philippines. She has lived over 15 years in Singapore, and is now back in the Philippines. Her passion is people. She wanted to be a nurse and started the training, but didn’t have enough money to continue her studies. Instead she cared for her six siblings, paying their way through school by working as a domestic support person in Singapore. These days, she is a mother to Kyra, who is still only three years old but loves cooking and caring for our guests.

March 31, 2016
Life In Nicaragua: The Ins And Outs Of Moving Abroad

Why did you choose to move to Nicaragua?

My wife and I vacationed in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua on multiple occasions. When it came time to choose a place to live, the decision was easy. We currently live in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. It reminds us of our favorite beach town in Costa Rica, but the decade old version.

Costa Rican prices are similar to Canada, but prices in Nicaragua are seemingly rolled back to a decade ago. In San Juan del Sur I can still find a restaurant that serves lunch with a beer for under $5. Travel outside of my little tourist village prices drop considerably.

We love the raw authenticity Nicaragua has to offer. We didn’t want to live in a sea of American chain restaurants. There are some cruise ships that pull into our port, but most are whisked away to the Colonial City of Granada.

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What were the hardest things to adjust to?

There were definitely a couple of things that were tricky to adjust to. The obvious one is language. We didn’t speak any Spanish when we moved to Nicaragua, but a month of lessons set us on the right track.

One thing we didn’t think about was shopping. We don’t have a Walmart on every corner, so instead we go to dozens of mom-and-pop shops to find all the things that most people are used to shopping for in one stop. We often drive two hours to the capital city of Managua to get variety in our items. Ordering from online shops like Amazon are not easy, as many items will be held to pay duty.

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How did the people around you see you when you first moved? And now?

I’d guess the Nicas thought we were lost when we first moved to Nicaragua. We were living in a tiny beach village with vacation homes for wealthy Nicaraguans who only came for holidays.  Most of the time it was just us, and a town full of people whose language we didn’t speak.

I vividly remember Christmas Day. The town was packed full of vacationing Nicaraguans. The restaurants were all completely full and we had no real food in our kitchen. We thought our Christmas dinner was going to be rice and a can of tuna. We peeked into our favorite restaurant, and the owner told us to wait.

She dragged a table out of the kitchen, then went around the restaurant to find two empty chairs. She said she wanted to take care of the locals, as the tourists would be gone in a few days.

I found it amazing that after only a month she considered us locals, and all of the Nicaraguans just tourists. I felt lost in the beginning, but I think the Nicas knew we were where we belonged.

Since then, we have helped raise funds for children’s scholarships, started an animal outreach program, and physically helped neighbors build their homes. But it’s just as important to wave, smile, and stop to talk to everyone we know. We’ve felt accepted and welcomed since the beginning, but now I feel like we have earned our spot in the community.

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What advice do you have for people who are thinking of moving abroad?

Anyone moving here should read everything they can find in books, Facebook groups, Google, and blogs.

They should then go on an exploration trip to test drive the country. Don’t stay in some swanky vacation home or hotel; stay somewhere closer to the area you might live in. Shop for food and cook some meals.

Most importantly, meet up with as many expats as you can. Gain their perspective, but more importantly, see if you are willing to fit into the community. Moving somewhere isn’t so much about living in a different country, but living in a different community. Get out there and meet your future neighbours to see if these are the people you want to spend your days with.

 

About Gordon & Elisha

d77646_a171190269d1472f8e24aca4bdf9ce39Gordon and Elisha are a Canadian couple who left their corporate jobs behind for a new life in Nicaragua. They decided possessions were far less important than experiences and quality time spent together. Now the couple helps new expats with home finder and relocation services to Nicaragua, and run the blog In Nica Now.

March 10, 2016
3 Reasons To Move Your Life (And Business) Abroad

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to live a life full of travel and experiences.

Today, I can happily say that I am living the life that I always dreamed of.

In the last three years alone:

  • I’ve lived in three different countries for a period of six months or more (Korea, Sri Lanka, and Colombia).
  • I have learned to speak two languages (I am fluent in Spanish and conversationally proficient in Korean).
  • I’ve volunteered doing marine conservation work in West Papua, Indonesia.
  • I’ve taken hallucinogenic drugs in the middle of the Colombian jungle.
  • I’ve made more friends and had more experiences around the globe than I ever thought possible.
  • And I’ve even managed to start my own remote business. 

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But none of what I have achieved has come easy for me and in fact, all of it almost never happened at all.

Today at 30 years old, I could just as easily still be working the same job that I took when I graduated from college. I could have taken advice from family and friends at the time I left the United States and never moved abroad. I could have ignored the burning desire that I had inside to get more out of life and allowed my dreams to dissipate.

Thankfully at the age of 27, I followed my instincts and made the decision to start life in another country.

I didn’t think when I started this lifestyle that I’d still be “nomading” around the globe so many years later, but I am grateful that my life has gone in the direction it has.

Travel has done more for my life than I ever would have imagined. In particular, the first time that I moved abroad for a significant amount of time (teaching English in Korea for 17 months) transformed my life in some extreme ways.

My first extended abroad experience in Korea ended up being the catalyst for all of the amazing things that have happened to me since. Once I jumped over the initial hurdle that was holding me back from following my dreams (fear), it’s as if Pandora’s box was cracked wide open and rather than being struck by evil, all of life’s magic was hurled in my direction.

I believe that in order to really get everything that you want out of life, you need to posses three character traits:

  1. Confidence
  2. Humility
  3. Empathy

Some people spend a lifetime attending personal development seminars and reading self-help books in order to get these things and by the time of their death they have still fallen short.  In my opinion, by traveling and living abroad longer term, one can expedite and greatly reduce the time that it takes to acquire these attributes.

Confidence

When I first graduated from college, I suffered from severe anxiety about what my future held and (a surprise to many) I was generally a nervous wreck in social situations. I was embarrassed about where I was at in my career and for the first time in my life, I lost all confidence in myself and my abilities.

It’s no question that moving abroad takes a tremendous amount of courage. When I landed in Korea, I spoke zero Korean, I had no friends, and I had just taken a job to teach English with zero experience having done anything similar in the past. I was presented with quite a challenge but I had no choice other than to take action.

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By the time I left Korea, I was conversationally fluent in the language, I was the most popular foreign teacher amongst the locals in the city that I lived, and the way I looked at myself in the mirror had taken a drastic turn for the better.

The same confidence that I gained in Korea is what has helped propel me forward and given me the belief in myself to achieve everything I have to date, including starting my own business.

Humility

Throughout my younger years and in college I was an athlete. Because I played sports, I was always in great shape. I got good grades and always hung out with the popular kids.  I’m tall and fairly good looking so girls were never an issue. Life was pretty easy for me.

Though I never outwardly stated that I was better than anyone, there were certainly circumstances in my life as a young man that may have subconsciously led me to believe that I was superior in some way.

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When I moved to Korea to teach English, I was greatly humbled. I spent a significant amount of time alone and was afforded time to think about my place in the world. I developed a modest view of my importance on Earth and overall, I became a more present human being.

I developed a consistent habit of meditation while I was in Korea that has continued to serve me well and keep me humble to this day. My meditation practice has helped me through many personal traumas, kept me grounded, and helped me keep my mind clear so I can run my business successfully.

Empathy

Since I was a child, people have always told me that I am great at connecting with and understanding people. And with the exception of foolish drunken brawls in college, I like to think that’s true.

But connecting with people in your own country is one thing. Making the leap to a country like Korea and connecting deeply with people who have a cultural background entirely different from that of my own was quite difficult.

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I met many different types of personalities in Korea and I had to manage everyone from my irrational boss at the English academy to the new students that entered my classes on a daily basis. Teaching everyone from the ages of 6 to my oldest student (age 85) taught me a great deal of patience.

Today, I manage a team of more than fifteen virtual contractors in order to run my business. The empathy and understanding that I developed in Korea has helped me out tremendously in resolving and preventing issues between team members. It has also made me a better leader, friend, boyfriend, and business partner.

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As I write this post, I sit here in Medellin, Colombia – my “hometown” for the past couple years. Often times I still pinch myself to make sure that the life I am living is real. I’ve already achieved far more than I ever thought I would in a lifetime.

At 30 years old, the biggest problem I have today is figuring out what new goals I am going to set because I’ve already accomplished everything that I ever wanted to.

If you’re considering making a move abroad, I highly encourage you to do so. The benefits of doing so are far more than you can imagine. All it takes is one healthy step in the direction of your dreams. Making the move to another country can help you achieve the key ingredients that you need for a successful life; it certainly did for me.

 

About Tommy

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Tommy is a full-time digital nomad and good friend to many. He enjoys diving into new cultures, meditation, hiking, organic food, and sunrises. His company Gingerbread Marketing provides premium blog content to founders who don’t have enough time to write and are interested in turning more of their site visitors into email subscribers. Tommy also loves helping other freelancers follow in his footsteps and turn their side business into a full-time income through Freelance Hustler. In addition, Tommy loves talking to people considering travel or living abroad for the first time and is launching a new book titled, “Teaching in East Asia” on March 1st, 2016.
February 2, 2016
5 Challenges of Living in India as a Western Woman

Tamar Gaffin-Cahn is an American citizen living and working for a literacy company in Pondicherry, India. She is a Traveler’s Mindset Ambassador, contributing to the “darker side of travel” series by sharing her real life experiences as they happen and what it means to be challenged and transformed by international travel.

I’m grateful to be sharing my experiences and challenges with you, and that you are willing to read about my experiences while living in India. First, I want to be clear that these are told from my personal perspective, the view of a white woman who was born and raised in the United States.

Pondicherry (also written Puducherry) is where I live now. It’s a place where the collision of Indian cultures with the former French colonial culture is obvious. In fact, the entire town is divided into two sections: the French Quarter (Ville Blanche or literally, ‘White Town’) and the Indian quarter (Ville Noire or ‘Black Town’). Many streets still retain their French names, and French style villas are a common sight in Puducherry.

You can rest assured that foreigners living in India who come from other perspectives and backgrounds have different stories to tell and contrasting experiences to share. Nevertheless, you’re about to learn about five struggles I’m currently facing in the “darker side of travel” and how I’m working through them as I live life here in southern India.

1.    The Stares

I happen to be white. I also happen to wear clothing that’s distinct from the people around me. It’s obvious I come from another place, and maybe you’re not used to seeing a human look like I do. So it’s natural that you look at me.

But you don’t just look, you stare intently. I see and feel your extended glance and no matter the length, you show no change in your facial expression.

This isn’t what I’m used to. In the United States, if someone stares at me and I see them staring, the stare-er smiles, nods, or somehow acknowledges their having taken a good, long look at me.

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“Puducherry Tamil house” by Flickr user Melanie-m – http://www.flickr.com/photos/melanie-m/2677014244/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons

 

The other day I was taking my scooter out of my garage, as usual, and noticed a neighbor looking down at me from his balcony. I made eye contact; he didn’t glance away. Then I smiled, he’s a neighbor, I didn’t want to be rude.

Eventually, he smiled back, but what was the staring for? Did he want contact with me, was it interesting to him, how I took my scooter out of the garage? Or was he staring just to stare (a concept I still don’t understand)?

In the United States, we’ve perfected the quick glance, just a blink from our peripheral vision. I’ve lived in India for nearly seven months in the same apartment building, taking the same route to work every day, and even now there is still one man who stares at me every time I walk by his house.

I should mention that most stares are either directed towards my whole body or my face. Occasionally, some men take very obvious, long glances at my chest, but for the most part when I look back at the person staring at me, he or she is looking at my face.

There are a few ways I’ve dealt with these moments walking down the street, riding my scooter, or doing anything I do while I’m out in public… ignoring it, wearing sunglasses, or shaking my head in a stern form of “no”. What’s frustrating is that none of these tactics is consistently effective at stopping what I feel is unwanted attention.

 

2. “Will you take a picture with me?”

"Rock beach aerial view" by Karthik Easvur - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Rock beach aerial view” by Karthik Easvur – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

 

A few times each month, I’m stopped while walking along the beach (a tourist destination) and asked to take a photo with Indians visiting from out of town. It feels almost like I’m a celebrity; they get that excited to see me.

Most of the time I want to be left alone and kindly decline, but if it’s to be in a family photo or with women, I accept. I realize I’ve been taking this personally, as if they want a photo with ME, not the foreign-looking woman I happen to be.

I have experienced all types of Indian tourist photographers, everything from aggressive guys secretly taking a photo of me after I’ve told them “no” many times…to giggly, innocent families excited and happy to see a western person.

A strange thought crossed my mind lately: the photo they want has nothing to do with whether they like me or not. It merely documents having seen a foreigner, something new and exciting, like I’m a bear in a zoo. Take a picture of the bear, watch it walk around, then leave. But I don’t want to be a bear, so I’m going to stop making that comparison.

3.    No Late Night Travel “Allowed”

This one feels extra difficult, as it prevents me from spending time with friends. Many people I know here live in the part of the town where most of the other foreigners live, about 20 minutes outside of the city center.

I live in the city center because it’s closer to where I work. However, as a woman it’s not safe to be alone on the roads here past 11 pm. I’ve traveled by myself late at night before and am constantly watching to see if anyone is following me. For the record, no one ever has.

Without any knowledge of how risky it is, you might not feel unsafe. I’ve been told by locals and foreigners not to travel so late at night, but because I still haven’t felt unsafe yet, the issue isn’t fully a reality to me. That means I’m more likely to push limits to see how far I can go. I don’t want to be the overly-prudent one holding myself back just because I’m scared.

The only preventative solution to this particular challenge is not to put myself in the situation of being out at night, which means I simply have to stay over at a friend’s place if I want to spend time with others in the evening. It may be a small sacrifice compared to the comfort of my bed, but it’s something I have to do to build relationships with my new friends here.

 

4.    Trusting People Around Me

There are certain disadvantages of being a foreigner or non-local in any place. You’ve probably also been warned about being taken advantage of, whether that’s through sky-high prices only for tourists, or having a driver tell you a particular restaurant is no good because he wants to send you to his friend’s place instead, for example.

Bargaining (also called haggling) is helpful in cases with money, as I’ve found my bearings and can bring the price down to something reasonable. Another thing that has been effective is simply being very direct with what I want and don’t want.

For example, I will tell my auto-rickshaw driver very firmly, “No, I do not want to go there, I want to go here” if I notice him taking me in a different direction than I asked him to. I’ve often walked away from or ignored people altogether.

I’m very firm in setting boundaries with people trying to get me to do something other than what I truly want to do. I’m not afraid to say “no.”

On the other hand, India has a bad reputation for women’s welfare (see #3) and coming from the US where people are hyper sensitive about safety, I’m constantly concerned about trusting men here, especially because men and women have different relationship dynamics and interactions than in America.

 

5.    Constantly Being Guarded

"Puducherry Government Park" by BishkekRocks - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

“Puducherry Government Park” by BishkekRocks – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

 

During my first weekend here, I rented a bicycle and went exploring alone. I didn’t know exactly where I was going, but headed in the direction of a boating area I had heard about.

Once I left the main part of town, there were no more foreigners around me. Then I realized there were very few women on the road, too. It was the middle of a swelteringly hot day, and I felt completely out of place.

I biked for 45 minutes and decided I would bike until I didn’t see any more women on the road. The proportion of men to women out in public isn’t noticeable…until you notice it, and then it can feel scary.

This guardedness, this frequent necessity to defend myself with boundaries keeps me constantly aware of my surroundings, on edge.

Similar things happen at local bars, which are often full of groups of men and maybe two or three women. In situations like these, it’s even easier to be a target for negative and unwanted attention, and I make sure that I don’t drink so that I’m able to stand up for myself if needed.

But being guarded with daggers in my hands, ready to fight, is exhausting. It tires me out. I can’t enjoy myself freely; therefore, I’m not happy.

Why I’m Still Here, Despite All This

All the challenges are difficult, and I’m constantly struggling to overcome them. Will I ever?

Maybe, maybe not, but it’s part of living in a developing country or any place where you’re the “stranger”. It’s part of traveling alone. Ultimately, it’s part of life.

But this is why I am here. I wanted a challenge; I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and learn about myself.

I wanted to experience things no one else can give me and get stronger and more confident in myself. At the end of the day, I am the one that will make the change within myself.

The hard part is that constantly having my guard up all the time means I’m not being as open to meeting new people as I would be in the States.

This wall stops connections, connections I love to make, connections I live for. I love looking around a room and appreciating the diversity of native languages, of experiences, of having every continent on earth represented.

I’m lucky I have these experiences under my belt, and I’m definitely lucky nothing bad has happened to me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not scared. Moving my fear from something negative to a positive force that projects me forward in my personal development is also scary.

 

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But I think it is worth it. And it will be worth it.

I’m working on patience with the world and with myself to take these out-of-my-comfort-zone times to wow-I-surprised-myself-and-had-an-incredible-time! moments.

Slowly but surely, my hard work is paying off and I hope to look back on this experience with a smile, laughing about how awkward I was and how much I’ve grown.

Knowing you’ve grown is a fantastic feeling. The struggles are 1000% worth it and no excuse like fear, lack of time, or money should stop you or me. Might as well make life more challenging and more adventurous!

As far as I know, we only have one life; I’m going to make opportunities for myself that I can grow into.

December 8, 2015
10 Reasons Why You Should Live, Work, or Study in Barcelona, Spain

1) SIESTA.

Are you tired of the daily grind of life back in the USA? Get up, eat quickly, go to work, come home at 5 or 6pm, make dinner, go to bed and begin again? In Spain, people have a similar schedule, but for about two hours in the middle of the day, you can leave work to go out to eat, relax in a plaza and listen to local musicians playing, take care of things that you normally don’t have time to do during the day, or go home and take a nap!

 

2) Cheap, high-quality wine.  

If you are a wine lover, the Mediterrannean region is the place to be. You can go to your local grocery store, pick up any bottle of wine for less than $5 USD and be confident that the wine you chose will at least be decent, and  probably very good. I found an organic wine that I love for about 3 American dollars! As soon as you SEE the word organic in the states, you are sure to shell out a bit extra than you would for your typical bottle of wine. The Catalans are also famous for their cava, which is their version of champagne, a sweet and refreshing beverage to enjoy at dessert if you aren’t having coffee.

 

 3) The nightlife.

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People finish working around 7 or 8 pm here, so the typical dinnertime is around 9 or 10. The Spanish are very social people. By 9:00 pm the streets and restaurants are full of people relaxing over a meal of tapas, then proceeding to a nearby bar for gin and tonics (Barcelona is known for these!), and then going out dancing or watching a football (soccer) match on the local bar’s tv.
It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, although more people go out on the weekends, you can always find plenty to do after hours. The best thing about this is that, even late at night, I feel safe. Unlike being in a small, dark street in New York or Baltimore at night, which can fill me with apprehension and make me clutch my bag a bit tighter, here I find walking through the streets of Barcelona at night to be either incredibly exciting or incredibly peaceful, and I’ve never felt threatened. (Note: It is still important to keep an eye on your belongings in a crowded area, especially tourist areas, as it is a city and robberies are possible.)

 

4) The tasty tapas and traditional dishes.

If you haven’t tried tapas, you are missing out! The Spanish like to sit down at a restaurant, choose a variety of small plates and share.
Tortilla de patatas is a Spanish omelette with potato and onions layered inside (similar to a quiche) and served on the traditional bread rubbed with tomato, olive oil, and salt. There are varieties of seafood on the Mediterranean coast, from calamari to a huge pan (to share) of paella, the famous rice cooked with saffron and shellfish, or with meats such as rabbit and chicken. You’ll also want to try the savory delicacy, shaved Iberian ham, for which Spain is famous. Speaking of bread, Spain has the crustiest, most flavorful breads you will ever eat, and you’ll eat a lot of it. No more soggy white bread sandwiches! If you are hungry, you can walk into almost any restaurant and be guaranteed a satisfying meal. I especially love the bars where you can order a drink and they bring you a tapa to try for free!

 

5) The geography.

Do you prefer the mountains or the ocean? Well, no need to choose.
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Here, you can go hiking in the mountains in the morning and finish your dance relaxing on the beach! The Mediterranean
Sea is a gorgeous shade of blue, and you can enjoy swimming, sailing, jet-skiing, sun-bathing, or even a massage at one of the many beaches along the coast, both within the city and just outside (if you are looking for a less crowded option). The mountains are equally gorgeous. You can hike up to Tibidabo, an old monastery with an amusement park overlooking the entire city, or travel an hour or two outside of the city by train to hike, rock climb, or camp among some stunningly beautiful peaks. It’s the best of both worlds!

 

6) The colorful history and architecture.

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If you’ve ever seen a post card from  Barcelona, you know what I’m talking about! This city may be one of the most beautiful in Europe, and possibly the world (in my humble opinion). There are centuries-old cathedrals, including the most famous landmark, Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Only 12 euros to enter, this masterpiece may bring you to tears. If you go on a sunny day, the light streaming through the stained glass windows throws color along the columns (made to represent trees) and it is simply breathtaking. The size and incredibly nature-like  designs are unlike any church you have ever seen before.
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You can see more of famous architect Gaudi’s work at Park Guell, where you can go for a walk, enjoy a coffee, or relax and listen to local musicians in the shade of impressive columns and
plants. You can also take in a view of the city and the sea from this park. There are several buildings designed by Gaudi in Barcelona, and every single one is colorful, unique, and worth a trip. Everywhere you go, you will admire the iron balconies, beautiful stone architecture, and colorful mosaics for which Barcelona is known. Every time friends come to visit me, I show them the same sites in Barcelona, and I never get tired of taking in the beauty, and I learn something new each time!

 

7) The talent.

What drew me to Barcelona, originally, was the sheer amount of creativity and talent that exists in this city. It is brimming over with artists, musicians, dancers, and actors. Everyone I meet seems to enjoy some creative outlet, and everywhere I go I can appreciate artwork and music, whether it is the beautiful mural painted on the metal doors when a store is closed, a local guitarist strumming some tunes for tips in the plaza, the singers belting out well-known pop songs for your enjoyment in the metro, or a large group of swing dancers filling a plaza to dance to their hearts’ content for a few hours, sometimes with a local swing band.
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One of my best moments here was coming home at 3:00 AM and finding one of my friends singing around a grand piano the a music conservatory installed there, and joining in as people stopped by to play the piano, brought their own instruments, danced (that was me!), sang along, or just watched and enjoyed. I went home with a whole Whatsapp group of new music-loving friends! This creative energy that pervades the city is amazing and you can feel it everywhere you go, and meet incredibly interesting, passionate people along the way.

 

8) The people.

The Catalan people, although they may be politically divided about the issue of independence, are generally sociable, warm, and helpful. I came to this city knowing only two people, and after a year I have more friends than I can count. The people of Barcelona are proud of their language and culture, so making an attempt at their language, which is similar but distinct from Spanish, can make you an instant friend.
It is easy to make friends over a beer, coffee, or a meal, as the people will be excited to tell you anything you want to know about Catalan history, culture, and daily life. When I first arrived, I commonly found myself invited to have lunch with new friends’ families, where I learned so much about the city, culture, and food. The people were also curious about me. People here are open-minded, spontaneous, and fun, and appreciate the small things in life, like a good cup of espresso and an enjoyable conversation.

 

9) Public transportation.

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The public transportation system in Barcelona is outstanding. It is easy to use, even if you don’t speak the language. The city is relatively small, and very well connected by different colored metro lines which go either east and west (mountains to sea) or north and south. For areas that aren’t very close to a metro stop, which means more than 10 minutes walking, there are usually several bus lines available. The T-10 ticket is the cheapest option, as you have 10 rides which can be used any time by any amount of people, and can be used on the metro, bus, or train within the city, and includes transfers during trips up to 1 hour and 45 minutes. Basically, you can reach just about any point in the city in 30 to 40 minutes maximum. I, personally, have a terrible
sense of direction, and I’ve never gotten lost here!

 

10) The climate.

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Barcelona has four seasons, but because it is in the south of Europe, the climate is much warmer. Barcelona’s climate is tempered by being near the sea, and it rarely rains due to the protection of the mountains, which seem to ward off many storms. In Barcelona, you can enjoy being outside any time of the year, and can comfortably enjoy a day at the beach for 9 or 10 months of the year.
Barcelona is a city brimming with history and culture, it’s aesthetically beautiful, there is plenty to do for city lovers and nature lovers, it’s full of warm, passionate, creative people, and life is generally relaxed and socially-centered. If you haven’t been, you’ll fall in love as soon as you step off of the plane; and if you have, you know why it’s a city that keeps people coming back, or even keeps you here forever (as it did in my case)!

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out the Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.
November 5, 2015
Challenges & Adventures – An Expat in Japan

When she was just a kid, Lauren Zelek’s life was transformed by a move across the globe… After 8 years of life in Japan, she returned to the United States with a new perspectives and a lot of insights to share with us in this interview. Lauren also dishes out the real deal on difficulties living abroad and on being a “TCK”, or “third culture kid”. Though it’s easy to think that living and traveling abroad will be wonderful, it’s not always sunshine and butterflies…

“Looking different, becoming a minority, having people act distant because you’re different… when you look like you don’t fit in, you feel like you don’t fit in and you become shy, like a hermit. You close off. You feel like you have no community.”

But the times aren’t always tough and moving abroad is worth it, according to Lauren…

“When something in your heart or in your gut says, ‘Yes, I must do this!’ go and DO IT! Don’t question what other people say. Take the risk and put yourself out there. That’s how you learn.”

Make sure to watch to the end, when Lauren amps up the inspiration and shares tips to help YOU feel great making the leap to live in another country too.

Links
UYD Magazine

National Culture Comparison Tool

Millennial Train Project

As Told By Nomads Podcast

The Crossroads of “Should” and “Must”

About Lauren

Lauren is the CMO of UYD Media and Co-Founder of UYD University. She is a marketer, film writer & producer, and a cross- and inter-cultural expert. After living and traveling 7+ years internationally as a ‘third culture kid’, Lauren shares how to navigate diverse, multicultural environments, people and ideas with ease, both socially and in the workplace. She is also working with the Millennial Train Project/NBC to produce a documentary on international students at six colleges/universities across the United States. Contact: lauren@uydmag.com

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.
April 1, 2015
Globalized Life of Third Culture Kids

Tayo Rockson is a cultural chameleon. Growing up in a globalized life as a TCK, or “third culture kid”, his passport country is Nigeria, but he has lived between (and adapted the accents of) multiple places, including Burkina Faso, Sweden, New York, and Vietnam. Tayo has become an expert at adjusting to the nuances of new cultures and pushing through the challenges of always feeling like the person who stuck out.

Tayo also shares with us what inspired him to create UYD University, an online university for travelers and future global leaders that makes travel and leadership training accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Classes serve a wide range of students, including millennials wanting to travel, business people developing global leadership capacities, internationals living in the US, and more!

UYD University will be launching soon, so check out the course catalog or check out the links below for more information.

 

Links

UYD University

Travel Savvy eCourse

UYD Media

As Told by Nomads Podcast

The Daily Travel Podcast

About Tayo

Tayo Rockson is the CEO and president of UYD Media, a media company encouraging people all over the world to use their difference to make a difference while celebrating diversity and educating others. He is an avid writer whose work can be seen on the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Social Media Club as well as Global Living magazine. He is an authority on Third Culture Kids and assimilation into new cultures and his podcast and blog are heard and read by thousands of people in over 100 countries. Follow Tayo on Twitter @tayorockson, or contact him via email: tayorockson[at]uydmag.com

d77646_5f1ae0db393f4a999eb5bfd83a1569e2Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

March 26, 2015
Creative Ways to Travel Abroad for Free

Julie got her first passport in college. Postgraduate, she now lives between London and Boulder, Colorado and has an undergraduate curriculum of over 40 countries, most of which she visited by the generosity of grants and scholarships. By the time she graduated, she had accumulated 150,000 frequent flyer miles to propel her around the globe and give her a sampling of different countries all on her own.

Julie is truly a pioneer when it comes to how to travel abroad for free. Now, her travels have inspired her to speak out about safety as a solo traveler – particularly as a female solo traveler – and design her app, pingWHEN, which uses your phone’s GPS to check in with a friend or loved one back home each time you leave for or arrive home from a trip, a night time run, or even a party downtown. If you don’t arrive when you said you would, pingWHEN alerts your contact know that you haven’t so they can check to see if you’re safe.

Click here to listen to the interview with Julie (mp3)

Links

pingWHEN app
juliemarkham.com

The Traveler’s Mindset Guide to Over $50,000 in Programs, Grants, Fellowships and More to Fund Your Time Abroad

About Julie

Julie Markham is passionate about using technology for social impact and is on a hell bent mission to empower women. From her travels to more than 40 countries, she was concerned about her safety which led her to create pingWHEN – a personal safety app. In between travels, she has worked with a tech company on environmental responsibility and a microcredit program in Rwanda. She has served as the Director of Special Ops with Unreasonable Group which has led to projects including sailing across 13 countries Unreasonable@Sea, and helping to push entrepreneurs impacting millions of girls in poverty through the Girl Effect Accelerator. Julie believes in continually learning and has a strong intellectual curiosity as demonstrated by the fact that she was a Fulbright Scholar and holds three master’s degrees. Contact: julie@pingwhenapp.com

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

March 24, 2015
Only Six Months Left to Live

Chelsea’s home base is currently West Virginia, where she returned in 2012 after living on St. John, USVI for six years, Dominican Republic for two, and a couple tours of South Africa. She keeps a nook in the woods as a retreat to work, write and collect herself before taking on the next thing. Professionally, Chelsea builds websites and custom applications with her Tech Diva Media team, and consults with others on internet marketing and outsourcing. In September 2014, she started the 6 Month Experiment to see how much bigger her life could become if she started living like it’s her last 6 months.

What do you love most about traveling?

I find there’s an intriguing psychology around traveling and habits. Travel, without a doubt, has had the greatest impact in shaping my life. Travel helps facilitate change because it gets me out of my normal mode of daily living. I break my routines and find myself present to the moment because I’m experiencing new things.

Travel gave me the opportunity to zoom out and made me consider the way I was living my life. If I wasn’t happy to return home to my “normal life” after my trip, I could ask myself why not. That made it easier to figure out what I could do to adjust things.

The most adventurous trip you’ve ever taken?

There are two… The first was moving to a Caribbean island when I was 22 without a plan for where to live, what my job would be or what I was going to do. I had faith I’d figure it out…and I stayed for six years.

The second was traveling through South Africa and visiting the people living in a ghetto, Guguletu, outside of Cape Town with my boyfriend at the time, a native South African. I was amazed at how the American media had shaped my fears/beliefs about Africa…or any other land, for that matter. I was touched by the warm hearts and gentle smiles of the people I met.

How have you designed your life to include travel as a core part of your lifestyle?

Five years ago, I had the opportunity to design a new career for myself and take entrepreneurship seriously. My partner and I had gone bankrupt with our computer repair business, and I swore I wasn’t going to tie myself into another business where I had to be physically present each day. Thanks to my partner, I stumbled onto the Internet marketing expert Eben Pagan and his training materials for building an online business.

Because travel is a high value, I am proactive about planning trips to build relationships, get additional training or gain new perspectives. I get itchy if I don’t have a trip planned every 6-8 weeks or so. I have chosen to invest in a house and make my base in a rural area where the cost of living is low so I can pour money into plane tickets instead of rent.

What is one key lesson you’ve learned from traveling or living in another country?

The media is biased; I stopped listening or reading news three years ago. If it’s important, I’ll hear about it. Otherwise, I’ll discover it for myself rather than get sucked into the manufactured drama of the news industry. Every single time I have visited another country, I have been pleasantly surprised to find it’s much less intimidating than the American media usually makes it out to be.

What is your dream trip?

Round the world ticket, traveling for 3-6 months and staying 3-4 weeks at each location. It’s on my calendar for 2016! What would you be doing if you hadn’t started traveling? Making physical art (paintings, collages, sculptures) and more homemade things. I’d probably be making clothes or beauty products and have multiple Etsy stores.

Can you share one thing you do to be more adventurous in your everyday life?

Since my last birthday, I took on a “6 month experiment” — living right now as if I were living the last six months of my life. It’s shaping the way I choose to spend my time, trips I take and relationships I nourish. It’s also helping me to take my time more seriously and pushes me to be bold before it’s too late.

 

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Have you ever said, “I don’t have the money to travel”? Problem solved! Check out The Traveler’s Mindset guide to over $50,000 in funding for travel/work/life abroad.

January 27, 2015
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