Jambo Afrika: story-telling a volunteer experience in Kenya

 

Naaaaaaants ingonyaaaama bagithi Baba – Sithi uhm ingonyama (ingonyama) – Naaaants ingonyaaama – bagithi babaaaa – Sithi uhhmm ingonyamaaa – Ingonyama – Siyo Nqoba – Ingonyama -Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala – Ingonyama nengw’ enamabala …

*cue to my fascination of Africa.

Choosing the Right Program

Dead set on making my childhood dreams come true, I declared I was going to Africa after high school. Feeling like the wealthiest person alive with less than $1,000 to my name, reality set in as I researched volunteer programs.

I had no interest in going with a church group, nor did I have $4,000+ to hang out with lions for a month. But I had a determined mind and so I researched far and wide to find the perfect fit. International Volunteer HQ was my answer; inexpensive, endless options and as it turned out, trustworthy, local and reliable.

From there, convincing my father was half the battle of getting the journey started.  Thankfully, a connection in Nairobi allowed him to sleep at night and made the decision as to which country I would go to simple.

Building First Impressions

Nairobi, known as the most Western-like city in Africa, was nothing like I imagined it would be. It was ridden with poverty as the elite drove by in Mercedes. It was dusty but green. The roads were surrounded by tropical plants, while covered with cars and moppets 4 lanes wide despite there only being 2 lanes.

The colonial impact was undeniable as I continued to see Kenyans in subservient roles to intruders, such as myself. From kitchen maids to security guards to ball boys at country clubs; I felt as though I had been dropped into the South ca. 1950s. It wasn’t a backdrop I was comfortable with or ever wanted to be in, but it was real.

After exploring the city for a few days, I was ecstatic for my volunteer experience to begin. During the informational session in town we were told where we would be heading and who we would be with. As my 18-year old self eyed the cute guy in the front, the names were called out with placements.

Three girls – IDP Camp Gilgil. A blessing I didn’t know at the time.

Experiencing Reality

After a 5 hour drive into mainland Kenya, we arrived at our destination in the late afternoon. I had held my bladder like a champ, but hoped out of the van ready to burst. Our host, a robust 4″11 grandma with the warmest smile on her face, pointed me to a shed compiled of metal sheets a few yards away from the house for relief.

As I made my way to the outhouse, innocently recollecting IVHQ’s website statement about all placements having indoor plumbing, I had my doubts. The door creakingly opened to unleash flies spinning in circles like tornadoes. The toilet paper was on a wire attached to the interior of the metal sheet and a long drop toilet greeted my naive eyes. The website lied.

I walked back to get my two over-sized, unnecessary suitcases out of the van and waited to be shown our room. A shed attached to what I later learned was the goats shed, was to be our home away from home. It closely resembled the toilet’s architecture, but, as promised, had an electricity outlet. A bunk bed and twin bed were stacked in just right to fit both and as the youngest and shortest, the top bunk had my name written on it.

We slid our luggage under the bottom beds as the van disappeared. Dawn set and our adventure was only just beginning.

 

Stay tuned for part two coming next week!

Jambo Street Child

A child on the city streets taking care of his little sister.

Jambo Kenya 1

The outhouse from afar.

Jambo Toilet

The outhouse from up-close.

Jambo Mary

Mary, our kind-hearted host.

JAMBO Kenya

The left side of the house was our room and the right but attached was the goats’. The blue/brown building on the right is Mary’s home and the straw roof/rock construction was the social hangout spot for meals and time spent together.

Top 3 Budget-Travel Blog Picks to Get You Motivated

After a recent conversation with a friend, it became evident money and time are our biggest excuses for not traveling. It’s hard, and I get that. Saying travel needs to be a priority is far easier said than done.

So, I cast a net on the world wide web to deliver solutions and turned up with experts who managed to turn their passion into careers or who live their lives no different from us, but travel like Romans.

Luckily for all of us, they live to tell the tale. They’re self-created travel idols, who have all written blog posts about how to travel with no money, on a tight budget, or on a PTO schedule.

Here are my top 3 motivators:

 

  1. The Professional – Nomadic Matt:

The Ultimate Guide to Traveling When You Have No Money

Matt, is undeniably the most established travel blogger out there for a reason. Among his in-depth destination advice, he has also written several posts on how to save money for travel and how to travel without money. He’s been featured in the NYT, the National Geographic and CNN, to name a few. This guy figured it out, and this blog post is gold.

2.  The Full-Time Travel Yogi – This American Girl:

How I Afford a Life of Constant Travel, and You Can Too

Camille is not only an inspiration, but also a brilliant, witty writer. Featured in Marie Claire magazine and starting her journey from Seattle, she’s been traveling for 4 years now. While, I’m not sure I could envision a life of nonstop travel, her message is clear, to travel you simply have to decide you will. For personal, heartfelt advice on traveling on a budget I highly recommend This American Girl.

3. The Normal Office Job Traveller – Travel. Paint. Repeat.:

How I Afford Travel: Badass Trips on a Not-So-Badass Budget

Out of all my inspirations, I most relate to Megan. We aren’t all meant to give up the life our parents envisioned we would have. Some of us enjoy having a place to call home and a pup to greet us at the door. That doesn’t mean we can’t have the best of both worlds as Megan explains in her blog post.

 

There are lessons and tips to take away from each of these wonderful bloggers. Be that how to save money, make money, spend less, or travel wiser. I hope they motivate you to start your next journey wherever that may be.

Safe Travels, Millennials!

 

Have some travel motivators of your own? I’d love to hear about them!

 

 

Before You Sign a TEFL Contract

There are many factors to consider before signing a TEFL contract in Asia. To set yourself up with the best prospects and bargaining rights you should have the following:

1.     A Bachelor’s Degree (in any field)

2.     A TEFL Certification – this can be obtained from any online or school program,    there’s no need to shell out a ton of money, as TEFL is not regulated.

3.     A Native-English Speaking Passport

Note, if you do not have one of the above, many schools and tutoring centers will still hire you if you are already in the country. However, they will likely be forging paperwork to hire you on a contract. I do not recommend signing on with these businesses.

The Chinese government, in particular, has been cracking down hard on businesses doing this. I’ve heard several horror stories of teachers showing up to work just to find the place shutdown and others waiting on paychecks for months.

Now, if you have the above three, let’s talk details.

Location 101

Renown cities, like Shanghai, and businesses, like  EF, have a large base pay and are usually reliable. However, the workload is heavy, the teaching standardized, and the cost-of-living high.

Small towns will often also have high salaries with far more freedoms in the teaching arena, but they can be isolating. In Asia, it should be known that very few people speak English in the countryside. If you are hoping to pick up the native tongue though, this could be a great choice for you.

Universities and other public schools provide ideal social environments for teachers, but unfortunately are unable to compensate you at a competitive rate. My personal preference is small, yet established businesses in lesser known cities, like my alma matter, Xi’an.

Salary and Working Hours

When I left Xi’an, a competitive hourly wage was between 150 to 225 yuan per hour. Salaried teachers worked around 20 teaching hours a week and still made around the same amount per hour. This needs to be in your contract, along with when and how you will get paid.

Note, 20 teaching hours should be considered full-time. Do not sign a contract which will require you to work more than 25 teaching hours a week. I’ve heard first-hand of teaching centers telling foreigners they need to teach at a different school occasionally to build up enough hours to obtain a teaching certificate. It’s not necessary and you do not need to do this. Far from it, any hours outside of your contracted hours are over-time and should also be getting paid.

Teaching Options

The options are endless on who you teach and how many students you wish to have at a time. Virtually any tutoring center offers one-on-one classes, small classes and larger classes. Likewise, there will be toddlers, adults, and everything in between, eager to learn.

Be sure to ask who you will likely be teaching and state your preference. If this is your first time teaching and you have no idea, go with the flow, variety has always been my favorite. There are pros and cons to all. If you are set on a certain age group or classroom size, try to incorporate it in your contract.

If your first lead does not seem to fit your style, keep looking! There are an amplitude of English teaching positions, one is bound to be a good fit for you.

Negotiating Contract Bonuses

Most contracts do require you to purchase your one-way ticket there, but upon completion of your contract (usually one year) the company will give you a generous bonus to cover your return flight. I never encountered a job offer which did not include this. So be sure to ask for this if it is not offered.

A housing allowance or apartment should be provided and a good employer will absolutely provide you with health insurance and time-off. Try to haggle on this last one as you will want to travel often in Asia ;).

Utilize Social Media

Lastly, there are hundreds of expat groups filled with teachers on social media, be sure to ask around about a school or tutoring center before signing. WeChat is huge in Asia and I always saw job offers and feedback floating around in groups.

If you are unsure of how to find these groups ask your potential employer if they can put you in touch with another teacher, they will most likely know of a group or two and will be able to send you a link to join.

These teachers may be a great resource, but be cautious of what they say as you may be the one taking over their breached contract. There are occasionally penalties for breaking a contract, so you should definitely ask about this as well.

 

Please add any additional tips or questions in the comment box and I will look forward to reading them.

 

Safe travels and signing millennials!

Bali’s Hidden Gem: Ubud

Ah, the paradise of Bali where western hippies and vegans go to retire. This small in-land town has been rapidly developing into a complete foreigner zone, but the kind that suits my heart.
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Largely known for its spectacular Monkey Forest sanctuary (which I highly recommend), Ubud’s charm lies in the rice paddies surrounding the town. Despite the large influx of foreigners, the Balinese life seems to be going on as usual.

The hard-work of farmers is difficult to miss when cycling through the paddy fields and seeing the carefully designed waterworks along the leather-skinned man walking behind an ox in the swampy fields. The smiles are genuine, the food is fresh, and the religious beliefs wrap this beautiful town in a golden shimmer of warmth.

There is a stark difference between the foreigners in this town and the foreigners you would find in Kuta Beach. These travelers have reached their destination and don’t care for boom-box blasting, fire-throwing parties, but rather, have adapted their lifestyles to reflect their adoration of the Balinese. Many are deeply religious, most are free-spirited, plenty are total yoggies, but all are loving, accepting and inclusive to one another.

It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows my very own hippie boyfriend that I was ecstatic to discover this town anew with him by my side. There wasn’t one portion I wouldn’t be willing to do for a third or hundredth time if the opportunity arose.

So, if you’re looking for a more relaxing, cultural experience here are some tips for making the most of this charming town:

1. The ultra-prepared should get an international driver’s license, because the best way to explore Ubud is via Scooter. It’s cheap, fast, and fun.

Failed step one? Get a scooter anyway. Stephen and I did encounter law enforcement officers who were on a raid of busting foreigners driving without a license in attempts of pulling out a hefty bribe. Don’t feed into the corruption, ask for a ticket and tell them you would like to go to the station and pay the fine.

Regardless of how much more the fine may seem versus the bribe, there’s a high chance they will back out and just let you go, as they did with Stephen and I. They tried to bluff it for a while, but eventually told us to “just go.”

Alternatively, prepare that license and avoid the hassle all together. Though they still may try to get you to pay fines for other traffic “violations,” in which case refer back to the original advice – demand a written ticket.

2. For the most delicious, affordably-priced meals and deserts, check out Dayu’s Warung (Jl. Sugriwa No. 28X, Padang Tegal Mekar Sari, Ubud).

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The staff was kind, the atmosphere chill and the food to die for. In fact, we liked it so much we went there several times. The smoothies, main courses, and deserts are
the perfect blend of home-cravings with local flares.

Things to avoid in the food department are the more foreigner-run food businesses which are popping up all along the busy streets. Though undoubtedly good, many struck us as being unreasonably over-priced, regardless of how “highly-recommended” they came. Just head into the more residential areas and you won’t struggle to find the more authentic gems.

3. Find a boutique hotel outside of town after your first pre-booked night.

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We simply stopped in a few different spots, compared prices and settled for a beautiful apartment-style room with a kitchen, whih overlooked the rice-paddies from two attached private balconies. Usually the place would go for double the price, but as it is was last-minute we were able to snag the place for less than $30 a night!

Ask the staff if they can set you up with a scooter and dodge the hassle of dealing with a business downtown (just know the cost ahead of time). If they don’t have any on-hand, chances are they know a friend who owns a scooter and wants to make a few bucks.

4. Beat the tourist tides at the Monkey Forest which flood in at noon by heading there early in the morning.

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Hop on your scooter and head on over, it’s ashort ride from anywhere in Ubud. Be sure to travel light though as the monkeys are highly intellectual and will gladly rob you of anything shiny, tasty or fun looking. They are not confined to the forest either so store everything away in the scooter seat.

5. Head to the market near the end of daylight for the best shopping prices.

The tourist crowds have for the most part retreated to their respective beach towns by this time and the store owners are wanting to make a few extra bucks before closing. So, know what you want ahead of time, know what you want to pay for it, offer the price and walk away. At this time of day the haggling process is short and sweet.

 

I hope these tips can help you navigate your own adventure, have a wonderful time and as always, if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me or comment below.

Safe travels millennials!

 

 

 

 

Pitstop in China

If you are an American on a budget or on a tight timeline, I would strongly advise against including China in your Asia travels. Visas are expensive  (ca. $200) and flights from China to Southeast Asian countries can take over 6 hours, taking up a large chunk of your travel time. That being said, there is a loophole!

Despite China being the size of America, with mountains, beaches, grasslands, and deserts, 72 hours can certainly give you a taste of China which will leave you wanting more.

China offers a 72-hour free-transit-visa, which requires no application and is issued upon arrival. As long as you enter and exit from the same airport and are coming in from one country and are departing to another you may spend up to 3 days in China (i.e. ✈️ Chicago-Beijing, Beijing-Bangkok). This could enable you to see the Great Wall of China on your way to say India, just expect lots of travel time.

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It should also be noted airport security will require you to show your exit ticket which should be within 72 hours of arrival. Larger airports like Beijing and Shanghai are more familiar with the transit visa so I suggest going to one of those. However, smaller airports, like Xi’an, will also issue them, just expect some more questions and time coming your way as they do not frequently encounter these requests.

I personally had no problem (other than extra questions) using the 72-hour transit visa to collect my belongings in Xi’an after my visa expired and I returned from traveling.

For any additional questions,  I suggest checking out the Chinese Embassy website .

Safe travels millennials!

Trumped Out? Xi Wants You.

Looking for a change; wish to experience living abroad without breaking your bank; or simply aspire to see the world? China is a great start.

After almost two years in China, I continued to be amazed at the diversity of a country and people perceived as so uniform. I never intended to make the move, nor did I plan to stay as long as I did, but there’s something about China. Opportunities are rich for westerners and the land is vast and waiting to be explored.

This post will focus on the possibilities foreigners can take advantage of when considering longer term options in China that don’t require a trust fund.

 

   1. Teach English as a Second Language

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This is without a doubt the most popular method to end up in China with. Whenever you go out to the clubs (yes, China has clubs) and find yourself among fellow foreigners the chance of them being teachers is very high. It is a fairly easy job, which pays incredibly well.

You are not required to have a teaching degree, though in recent years restrictions have been set in place. To end up with a legitimate company you must have a bachelors degree in any subject (several would offer you a visa regardless, be wary of these as they will produce a fake diploma for you) and a TEFL certification (teaching English as a Foreign Language). Do not be put off by this requirement, it is easily obtained as it, unfortunately, is a non-regulated certificate offered through several online programs. Meaning you can pump out a certification in as little as 2 weeks at a low cost (talk to schools, some may even be happy to reimburse you).

Classes range from 4 year old pre-schoolers all the way to adult business English learners. Most hires occur with private tutoring companies, which either offer one-on-one classes or a full classroom. Jobs will also be available at schools, however, private companies will be able to offer you more money. Your best bet at finding a good job is signing up for a wechat account and searching for a foreigner group in the city you like and bluntly ask. Somebody always has connections to openings.

Here’s what you should expect out of a contract.

Lastly, location is everything. Figure out what you want out of this experience. Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai may be obvious choices and though salaries may appear higher, in actuality they are not. The cost of living far exceeds the increased salary, however, it is still plenty of money to live off of and have leftovers to store away. My personal bias leads me to recommend Xi’an, a combination of the old with the new, expect to learn some Chinese with this selection. (Follow the link for more info about my ‘hometown’ in China.)

   2. Consider Going Back to School

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Several top Universities in China offer full-ride, stipend programs to Europeans and especially Americans. This is how I extended my time in China after the completion of an internship at an American Exchange Center. Consider finding the nearest Confucius Institute and check out this list for Universities which accept Confucius scholarship recipients.

If you have no Chinese language background, consider contacting Universities of your interest on that list and ask them if they offer scholarships for language semesters or other programs (the chances are high, as they often desire a high international student body ratio). My program was a Masters in Chinese Cultural Studies all expenses paid, plus living and housing stipend at Xi’an Jiaotong U
niversity
. Expect last minute decisions and questionable organization at some institutions.

Be aware this method is not a money-maker, but you will have plenty to cover your living expenses. Additionally, you will be able to return home with a further education and are in an environment in which you can make several Chinese friends who can help you experience the real China.

   3. Big Boy/Girl Jobs

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These are harder to come by, but are certainly attainable. If you are interested in a large company consider scoping out their international jobs. Alternatively, consider checking out some of these job browsers or search for some on your own (IndeedChinaJob,  or Echinacities). Most browsers will have an abundance of teaching jobs, but if used the right way, you can also find great non-teaching jobs. Just know that whichever field you would like to work for, there is probably a position for you in China if you are a native English speaker.

As always, if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me or comment below.

Safe travels millennials!

Budget-Friendly U.S. Road Trips

Before I pick any city to visit on road trips, I open our magical U.S. road atlas and plan the route according to where National Parks are. A task that aligns easily with any desired destination or departure, as America hosts a whopping 59 National Parks (that’s not even counting the equally beautiful 154 protected National Forests and 20 National Grasslands).

Since, I do not swim in a pool of money like Scrooge McDuck, our road trips are always very cost conscious and thankfully National Parks fit right into our budget. Stephen’s RAV4 doubles as our glamorous hotel room with the backseats pushed down and a yoga mat and sleeping bag spread out, we get to wake up with better views than the Ritz-Carlton can offer.

The past few winter months have been especially ideal for Stephen and I’s adventurous little hearts as the parks have been borderline deserted. With the exception of the Grand Canyon, none have even had entrance attendants taking fees (though, we did break down and purchase the annual pass for $80 to eliminate any guilty feelings for seemingly sneaking in).

Background aside, here are my tidbits of “wisdom” for an enjoyable road trip on a budget:

1. Don’t Underestimate the Cost of Gas

Nothing quite ruins a trip like budgeting too tightly and having to worry about money. There are several apps and website out there to help you estimate your gas expenses; I like to use Rome2Rio as it gives me an idea of alternative options with prices attached.

2. Bring along a Cooler Bag & Shop at Grocery Stores

Ah, the difference between a $30 day and a $30 week. Not only is grocery shopping financially smart, it’s also much healthier! Make sure you pack some cutlery and get creative. I usually make sandwiches or salads on the road.

My go-to ingredients: Spinach, Hummus, Carrots, Bell Peppers, Cold-cuts, Boiled Eggs,  Avocados, Bananas, Apples, Peanut Butter, Bread, Trail Mix

3. Bring a Physical Map & Turn Off the Navigation System

Road Maps have nifty features, like scenic route indicators and campground markers. They cover more than Lonely Planet is capable of and allow you to ditch Google maps beaten path routes. Personally, I find maps more adventurous than a plugged in cellphone, though combined they offer good time estimates.

4. Find a Good Travel Companion

May it be a partner, friend, pet, podcast, or music. America is big and empty in many places, keep yourself sane by having good company. Some are able to find solace in solitude, I’m not one of those cool people.

5. Expect Poor Cell Reception

Going along with tip four, try not
delaying your search of a virtual companion. I’ve had experience with AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, all have had an amplitude of dead-spots. So be sure to download entertainment ahead of time.

Likewise, make sure you check-in with someone whenever you do have reception to let them know where you are and where you are headed. America is beautiful, but frankly, we have a bunch of nuts out there too. So, be safe and smart.

6. Pack a Warm Sleeping Bag

Regardless of whether you are traveling in the summer or in the winter, cars do not
protect you from the cold, in fact they can get hella cold at night. My advise, pack two sleeping bags and layer.

7. Don’t Waste Your Money on Drinks

Pack a reusable water bottle and thermos mug and take advantage of free hot and cold water at gas stations and rest stops. I always remember to pack tea bags for the thermos mug. It may not save you a lot, but to me money spent on drinks is money wasted. Unless you want to venture into neat little juiceries or coffee shops, which I do enjoy from time to time myself.

8. Break Your Isolation by Asking Locals for Tips

Speaking of juiceries or coffee shops, a great source to find these gems is simply by asking (common sense, right?). We stumbled across the coolest coffee shop in Salt Lake City by asking a local; the menu was fabulous! More importantly though, in smaller towns locals will often provide you with far more than a simple location once they discover you are passing through. A young woman in a South Dakota breakfast diner of a town of maybe 300, gave us the most heartfelt directions and suggestions, when we inquired for a pit-stop.

Side note: Shoutout to the Midwesterners who seem to always be eager to help!

9. Stop for Scenic Hikes, Runs, or Yoga Sessions

The. Body. Loves. To. Move. Sitting in a car and driving all day, can be exhausting in the bad kind of way. It’s easy to hunch your back, eat junk, and miss out on all the beauty surrounding you. Even if you are in a rush to get somewhere, take breaks and make them count! This is where National Parks or Forests come into play.

Sure, a week at Zion National Park would be great, but I’ll take whatever time I can get, even if it’s just 30 minutes. Try to schedule your breaks so you can catch the sunrise or sunset. I try to park the car either in national conservation areas or near them, so that it is the first thing I get to experience in the mornings before hitting the road.

10. Lastly, as Always, Be Flexible

You never know where beauty will floor you and require you to readjust your travel plans. An enjoyable road trip cannot be harnessed with overly ambitions plans or deadlines. Allow yourself the freedom to wander to your hearts desire by packing clothes for all weather and dedicating more time than you expect it should take to cover your distance.

Bonus Tip

Pack some wet wipes and consider them your shower. If you’re like me and the hair gods are not on your side when it comes to not showering, be sure to pack a hat. I assure you it’s  not as gross as you think, you can still brush your teeth every day and wash your face.

I hope these tips can be of some use to you. As always feel free to shoot me any questions, suggestions or comments.

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Safe travels millennials!