Thursday, January 31, 2013

Day 31: Updates

Hey everyone, I finally got paid yesterday!!! Hurray, I'm not broke any more, so I finally got a light bulb for my bathroom (which had been out since Sunday). I can't believe tomorrow is February 1! Already January 2013 has come and gone. Crazy. And only 7 more months (and a week) until I turn 25... which is REALLY scary!

At the moment, I'm planning a trip with friends to see the D-day beaches and surrounding area (Caen/Bayeux) in Lower Normandy next weekend, which I'm super excited about. 8 of us are driving down on Friday and coming back Sunday. This is one of the BIG things I wanted to see while I was in France, so I'm glad I'm getting the opportunity to do it. We've officially booked the hotel in Bayeux as of yesterday, and it is a really reasonable price. We got 2 4-person rooms, and it's only going to be €22 a person for both nights!

I'm also officially all booked for Italy; I got my last train ticket today, finally. I'm still hoping I'll get my housing assistance (CAF) money before I go to Italy, so I don't have to take money out of my US account for the trip, but it doesn't look very likely any more. It's only because they're completely dim and didn't understand that I have two months' pay on one pay slip and they won't answer the phone when we try to call and explain that to them! I guess I am just going to have to mail them another copy and a letter explaining that, then maybe they'll get it through their thick heads. Hopefully then I'll finally get the payments!

I've had some problems with my working holiday plans in New Zealand, but no worries, I'm still going! It was all due to the fact that I have to get a chest x-ray by a special panel doctor in Paris before I go (Thanks, Korea, for your high risk of TB). Of course it has to be a new one by a special doctor, even though I just had a chest x-ray done in October when I arrived in France.

I'm still coming, Middle Earth!
The NZ immigration office wanted me to turn this in less than 2 weeks after I applied, but my appointment isn't until the day before I go to Italy, and they wouldn't give me an extension. So, because I didn't want to have to make an extra trip to Paris just for this (which would be an extra €30 out of my pocket for the train in addition to the doctor's visit itself. I'm going to Paris the day before my flight to Italy anyway, so that was the perfect time for the appointment); I had to rescind my application for now. But, I'm going to re-apply when I have my x-ray. Luckily the visa doesn't cost anything, so I don't have to worry about that.

Then there should be no more holds on getting the visa... At least I hope not! This was really frustrating for me, because I'd really like to buy a plane ticket but of course I can't risk that while not having the visa yet.  I just hope the plane ticket prices will still be the same in a few weeks! Right now they're quite reasonable, and I'd hate to pay hundreds more just because of this stupid visa delay.

I might also be able to get a day in Kuala Lumpur on the way with certain tickets, which would be awesome, and it would break up the 24 hour total flying time too. I'd love to see the Petronas Towers (they were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004).



So that's all! See you next time!

xx Kaylin

(Picture 1- travelzoo.com; Picture 2- wikipedia.org)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Day 28: My American Travel Bucket List

When I first started traveling overseas, I couldn't wait to get out of the US. I wanted to leave for good, and never come back. (For the record, W Bush was still president then. Most sane people wanted to leave.)

Now, however, I see some things that my home country has that I really like. Places I've never been that I would just LOVE to go one day. They're not in my immediate plans, because my immediate plans are taking me to New Zealand and probably Australia, but the next time I'm back in the States, I'm going to make a serious effort to hit up these places.


    1. The Grand Canyon-- I mean come on. This place is epic. I want to do the hike down into it, and take like a gazillion pictures. It's just gorgeous, and a national treasure.

    2. Boston-- one of the more historical cities in our vast nation, and one of the few I've never been to. Plus, I'd love to check out Harvard and see what all the smarty-pants are up to.
    Cute kitty in Hemingway's House via NPR

    3. South Florida-- I've never been south of Tampa. My best friend lives in Miami, so of course I'm going to hit up Miami Beach. But, I'd absolutely flip to see the Everglades and the Florida Keys. So many animals!! (The Keys are home to a load of six-toed cats, all descended from Ernest Hemingway's polydactyl feline.) In the Everglades, I want to do one of those fan-boat tours and try some gator meat.

    5. New Orleans-- this crazy city is only 5 hours' drive from my home in Alabama (not far in US standards), and yet I've never been. I'd probably avoid it during the madness of Mardi Gras, and the middle of sticky hot August, but I'm game to check out Bourbon Street and the Garden District any other time of year.

    6. Texas-- Again, Texas isn't that far from where I live and I've never been. Austin's weirdness is just calling my name.

    7. Family and friends all over-- After college and my travels, I've got friends all over the States, from Wisconsin to Colorado. I've also got cousins in North Carolina I haven't seen in ages. I want to catch up with everyone!

    So yeah, those are my top places to hit in the States. I'd also love to visit one of my best friends in Canada (if she's there; she travels like I do), and some of my new made-in-France friends from the Caribbean. One day!!

    What are some places you'd love to visit in the good ol' US of A? Leave me a comment!

    Now it's my bed time.
    See ya next time,
    xx Kaylin

    Sunday, January 27, 2013

    Day 27: 10 things I've learned this weekend

    1. French administrative paperwork is never done.

    2. It is possible to survive a week on 20€.

    3. Enough chocolate and coca-cola for the weekend is an important thing to spend that 20€ on.

    4. French light bulbs suck and are bound to fail on Sundays when any and all stores you could replace them at are closed.

    5. I can MacGuyver the shit out of stuff when said light bulbs fail in my dark windowless bathroom.
    5b. Always bring your headlamp.


    6. I REALLY hope we get paid tomorrow so I don't have to survive another few days on the remainder of that 20€.

    7. Supernatural is an awesome show and I have no idea why I've never watched it before.

    8. If important people re-tweet your blog URL, you get alot more hits than normal.

    9. I just got way distracted by photobucket's new photo editing section. They have an airbrush button! (yes, I used it on the pic above, but I didn't airbrush it, I just lightened it up a bit)

    10. Blogging every day is kind of impossible, but I'm gonna try my best anyway.

    Friday, January 25, 2013

    Day 25: The Most Ridiculous Hostel Story You've Ever Heard

    SO sorry for not blogging yesterday. I had serious writers'/mental block after my post about my quarter-life crisis. That, and I discovered Supernatural and have been marathoning it online since yesterday afternoon. (It's awesome, btw. How have I never watched it before!?)

    Today, I don't have anything serious to talk about but I wanted to share the entire story of what happened in my first few nights in Korea. I shared the basic story on Brooke Vs The World's facebook page a few weeks ago, and which you can read on her blog (at that link), but the entire story is a bit longer than that.

    So, the story.

    I had made friends with people who were also going to teach in Korea with EPIK at the same time as me via Facebook. We decided to all meet up at a hostel in Seoul before orientation. The first night, we had dinner and drinks and just hung out at the hostel afterward.

    The second night, however, is where it gets interesting. Several new people arrived at the hostel. One of them, it was his birthday. Clearly, we had to celebrate.

    Let the good times roll, when party hats are involved
    We pre-gamed at the hostel, then went bar-hopping in Seoul. I don't remember how many bars we went to, but one of the new guys (not the birthday boy, pictured center above, or the other guy G) apparently couldn't hold his liquor very well. He went toe to toe with the birthday boy on Jager bombs, 7 at last count, along with some beers. Then when we made it to a noraebang (Korean karaoke), he shotgunned a bottle of soju.

    For those who don't know, soju is a white clear liquor indigenous to Korea. It's slightly less potent than vodka (only about 25% alcohol instead of 40%), but considering you can buy 500ml for about $1.50, it's still pretty dangerous.

    Noraebang time, me on the left
    The guy was belligerently drunk by this point, but we were all pretty wasted so let's not throw any stones (yet). We decided to go back to the hostel. Some people went to bed, while others went to a private room where one of the party was staying and continued drinking for a while. (I'll let you guess which group I was in.)

    After about an hour, everyone decided to go to bed. The belligerent guy (BG, for short) passed out in the hallway and we decided to leave him there. I went to my room, got in bed, and dozed off. About half an hour later, BG wanders into my hostel room mumbling and running into things. I task myself with getting him out and to his room, on the other side of the hostel, since everyone else is sound asleep. I drag him across the street and, with the help of H who was also staying in BG's room, we eventually settle him into his bed. I leave and go back to my dorm, and finally, blissfully fall asleep.

    Unfortunately, about an hour and a half later, we are all roused from sleep by the four other people we knew from that side of the hostel, one of whom says, "Not to be dramatic, but [BG] has just shit himself."

    Wait WHAT?!

    They proceed to tell the story of how the fellow fell out of bed (the top bunk), pissed himself then they were hit by The Smell. The 3 of them clearly ran out of the room as fast as possible. They went next door to a private room of someone we knew staying there... and the smell permeated his room too. They came to our room, in another building on the other side of the hostel, in hopes of escaping the smell.

    We all try to go back to sleep but some of us, including myself, can't. I, and another guy J, get up to go to the hostel common room, when... what do we see?

    BG. Outside the hostel. NAKED, from the waist down. Still covered in poo. ....And the best part? Banging on the neighbor's door. Some poor random Korean person had to be woken up at 6am to THAT.

    J and I, clearly, can't handle this shit and make a run for the nearest convenience store a couple blocks away, still shocked at what is happening. We stayed there for about half an hour, before deciding to go back and wake up everyone and tell them what we saw.

    We get back, and see S, another guy from our group, in the common room. We relate to him the story and even he, a former US soldier, is perturbed. All of a sudden, the hostel owner, an old Korean woman, runs into the common room yelling in Korean. We all look at each other in panic. She starts pointing outside and yelling at us, in English, "Crazy man! crazy man! I call police!"

    Oh god, she's spotted BG. The three of us go back to the dorm room where everyone spent the night and recap to the group what's happened. We all decide it's for the best if we grab our stuff and make a run for it. Only, we can't get Birthday Boy to the door of his private room, and three of our group still have their stuff in The Shit Room. They go back to try and salvage their things and come across BG. S shoves him into the hall bathroom, turns on the shower, and blocks the door.

    BG comes to, and somehow doesn't remember a damn thing of what's happened. Someone, probably S, had to relate the entire story to him so he knows why the police are coming for him.

    We finally rouse Birthday Boy, and when he comes to the door, I tell him, "The police are coming, get your stuff NOW!"

    The police arrive, and we're all still there, now trapped. We're all kind of terrified we'll all be blamed and end up getting deported, because Korea has a bit of a history of lumping all foreigners together.

    In the end, BG gets fined about $300 (for the clean-up of the room, mostly) and is let off with a severe warning and a black mark on his record in Korea. Pretty sure if he even gets a parking ticket while he's in Korea now, he'll get deported.

    The rest of us are let go with no problem. Although it's awkward with BG, we all get on a bus and go to our EPIK orientation that day, and decide not to discuss it.... until a few weeks later, when SOMEHOW, everyone we know from the facebook group, even people who weren't there when the incident happened, knows about it.

    Because the story finally spread outside of those who were there when it happened, I don't feel bad about sharing this story on the blog. I've intentionally left out any name details and not attached a photo of "BG" at all to this post, so as to protect some sense of privacy in the matter... but it's too hilarious of a story NOT to share with the world.

    And that was my introduction to life in Korea.

    If you think you can top my hostel story, please try. Leave me a comment below!

    See you tomorrow,
    xx Kaylin

    Wednesday, January 23, 2013

    Day 23: What to do when you feel lost

    Today's blog isn't quite travel-related, but it does involve my traveling life and I know a lot of my friends kinda feel this way, so I wanted to talk about it.

    Sometimes I just feel really lost. Not physically lost, like I don't know where I'm walking to (I have an excellent sense of direction and awesome map-reading skills) but mentally lost. Like I don't know where my life is headed.

    Many people would consider me really lucky, since I travel so much. I have lived in two foreign countries and visited 7 (soon to be 8) others. I definitely have some wanderlust and really enjoy traveling and seeing the world. But, at the same time, sometimes I feel like I "should" be doing something else, like getting a "real job", going back to school, or doing something meaningful like joining the Peace Corps.

    Also, I know teaching isn't the career for me, so the more time I spend teaching overseas, the more of a poser I feel sometimes.

    It just hit me the other day that I will be 25 this year and in May, it will be 4 years since I graduated from college. And I feel like I have nothing to show for it. I still have no clue where my life is headed. It just strikes me as kind of pathetic. I'm supposed to be an adult, damn it. I feel like I need to get my shit together and make a decision about the rest of my life.

    I think, if I had a partner, it would be different. I'd have someone to make decisions with, hopefully someone who would be better at decision-making than I am, but that doesn't seem likely to happen any time soon. Particularly not in France. I couldn't chat up a French boy if my life depended on it.

    Is this normal? Do most mid-20 something's feel like this? Is this the dreaded "quarter-life crisis" I keep hearing about?

    If so, what exactly do I do about it? Keep traveling, but also keep feeling lost, a little pathetic, and like I'm just a wishy-washy decision-maker? Or, go home and get a stable job, but potentially feel completely bored out of my mind? Is it possible to somehow form a combination of the two?

    SOMEONE JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH MY LIFE.

    That's all for today.

    ~Kaylin

    Tuesday, January 22, 2013

    Day 22: A Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher (France edition)

    OK, this one is a little bit harder than Korea. In Korea, I had the same basic schedule, being at school 8:40-4:40 every day, teaching 4-5 classes every morning, and deskwarming in the afternoons. I taught approximately 22 hours a week.

    In France, it's different, because I only work 3 days a week usually (4 days max), 12 hours a week. I don't always teach 12 hours though, because classes get canceled for exams, or like yesterday, it was a snow day. Some days I teach 3 classes, some days 5, but the best part is no "deskwarming". I can leave when my classes are finished, and don't have to show up until they're starting. I do sometimes have downtime because clearly I can't leave if I've got an hour break between two classes, but there are computers in the teacher's room I can use to facebook and check my email. I also try and socialize with the other teachers in they're around. Of course, I also have to follow the train schedule on Monday and Thursday (Tuesdays I ride to and from school with a teacher) and some days that means I must arrive an hour early to school or wait an hour to leave because that's when the nearest train time is.

    My schedule also changes by term (which are roughly 6 weeks), which is different from Korea because there my schedule was the same for the entire semester. Tuesdays this term are my long days. I work 9-5. I normally have 5 classes (although today I had 6!), so I do have some breaks in there as there are 9 class hours a day. On Mondays, I have 4 classes all in a row from 12-4 (with a 15 minute break around 3pm). On Thursdays, I have 3 classes between 8-12. Last term I worked the same days but had 4 classes on each day and they were mostly different hours/different classes.

    I teach all the grade levels in collège (middle school), which in France is 6ème, 5ème, 4ème, and 3ème. These are equivalent to 6th-9th grade in the US. Their English levels all really vary, so I can't say I have a favorite grade level. One of my favorite students is in 6ème, a couple are in 4ème, and some are in 3ème. It's quite a mixed bag.  I have 6ème kids with English parents who speak almost fluently and 3ème kids who can barely say "He has got brown hair." (which is 6ème level learning) I usually take half the students for half the class period, but sometimes I stay in the class with the teacher, and sometimes I have smaller groups of students for a shorter amount of time. It really depends on the class and the teacher's preference!

    I get along well with all my teachers, even though some of them don't let me know what I should do for their class until the day before. They all speak English pretty fluently (they don't know ALL the slang but it's extremely easy to have a conversation with them on almost any topic; except the one who's actually English, of course she's completely fluent), so I mostly speak with them in English although I try and speak to the other teachers in French. It's hard though because even though they're all older than me, they use quite a bit of slang and speak really fast so I get lost all the time most of the time sometimes. I was really proud of myself for making a doctor's appointment over the phone today, though, all in French and without any help!

    One of the weirdest things to me is "faire la bise," the infamous double-cheek kiss. If it seems like they're overdoing it in French films, they're not; EVERYONE does it, including men with other men. At school, I bisou with some of the English teachers, but because I know them pretty well it's not too weird. I've gotten used to it anyway. Because I'm not French most of the other teachers don't bother to try with me, but occasionally one of the male PE teachers tries to bisou me and it really freaks me out! I just want to say, "DUDE I DON'T KNOW YOU YOU'RE IN MY PERSONAL SPACE BACK AWAY!" It's not even like he's old and ugly, it's just that I literally never speak to him ever at school so it's just super strange. I just sort of lean out of it if he tries to lean in, and usually I hear him mutter in French (probably about weird Americans) afterward. Sorry, I just can't. It's awkward. I need my face space, dude.

    So that's about it!

    On a completely different note, I've officially applied for my New Zealand working holiday visa and I've got an appointment for a new chest x-ray to accompany the visa in a few weeks (that's the doctor's appointment phone call I did all in French today). Fingers crossed!!

    See you tomorrow,
    xx Kaylin

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    Day 21: A Day in the Life of an ESL Teacher (Korean edition)

    Hey everyone.

    So today I just wanted to talk a little about what it's like to be an ESL teacher. Today, I'm going to talk about Korea, and tomorrow France, because they are wildly different and deserve their own posts.

    Here's a breakdown of my typical school day in Korea.

    7 am- Alarm goes off. *snooze*
    7:05, 7:10, 7:15- repeat. *snooze*
    7:20- "SHIT I gotta go to work today, get up!" Check facebook on phone for 10 minutes.
    7:30- "Crap... I gotta get a shower. OK, fine, I'll get up...." Go to bathroom. "AHH ITS SO COLD OMG" Wear flip flops in the shower because the bathroom floor is so cold.


    7:40*- Out of the shower. Run and turn on space heater. "AHHHH that's better" sit in front of heater for five minutes.
    7:45- "Crap I have to leave in 15 minutes!" Hurry and dry hair, get dressed, pack bag, brush teeth, etc.
    8:00- "Ready to go on time, oh yeah!" (this rarely actually happened)
    8:01- Go to 7/11 across the street for a muffin or other thing for breakfast, and something to drink.
    8:02- As I'm paying for 7/11, see the bus approaching bus stop. Throw money at cashier, run out with my stuff, trying not to get hit crossing the street and run for the bus. If I'm lucky, it doesn't pull away as I'm running up to it. Also the bus driving tends to go something like this in the traffic:


    8:10*- "Dear god it's hot on this bus. WHY IS THE HEAT SO HIGH" Discretely tries to open fogged up window to get some air, get glared at by an ajumma.
    8:30*- Get off the bus, start walking up the hill of death to school. Even though it's -4 out, I'm still sweating when I get to school because of combined overheated bus plus major hike to school.
    8:40- Get to school just as the bell rings, oh yeah, on time! (this rarely happened either)
    8:45- Making copies of papers for the kids in my office. Crap, the copier's broken AGAIN. Go downstairs to the teacher's lounge to make copies.
    8:55*- Immediately get cold because it's -4 outside and the heating is not on in the building. Try to turn on the heat in office. Get yelled at in Korean by office mates. Don't turn on heat.
    9:00- "First class of the day, OK, bring it on! ....OH GOD ITS THE 2nd GRADERS NOOOOOO"


    9:40- "Oh thank god no more second graders"
    9:50, 10:40, 11:20- 2nd, 3rd, 4th classes of the day respectively. Try not to freeze to death in classroom.
    12:10- LUNCH TIME! Eat alone in my office because the Korean cafeteria food is scary.
    1:10- If I'm lucky, no class. Just planning for the next day, usually just making new worksheets and such. If I'm unlucky, another class with 1st or 2nd graders for their "after school" classes.
    Rest of the afternoon until 4:40- Usually "deskwarming", the term used by Native English Teachers in Korea when we have to be at school but actually have nothing at all to do.


    Sometimes you can use this time constructively, such as if you are planning summer or winter camp and making materials, but for the most part: Facebook, twitter, tumblr, repeat. Maybe throw some Cracked or Gawker in there. While doing this, also watch one of the following shows: The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, True Blood (if my office mates aren't there). Take a nap or have a dance party if it's summer/winter break and no one else is at school except you. (Yes, that does happen. Frequently.)

    * In the summer, replace this with "sits in front of a/c for 10 minutes after shower because it's so hot" and "even more sweating because hiking up a giant hill when it's 30C after being on a stuffy bus = death" and "jesus it's hot in this classroom/office, let me turn on the A/C.... oh we can't turn it on until it's 32C outside? FFFFFFFFFF *rage internally, secretly turn on a/c after everyone else is gone and you're deskwarming*"

    So yeah, that's a typical day in the life of an ESL teacher (in public school) in Korea! (It was slightly tongue-in-cheek but mostly true overall.) If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below!

    Tomorrow, I'll do a typical day in French schools. Stay tuned.

    xx Kaylin

    (GIFs from the awesome #kikinitinkorea tumblr that my friends Krystle and Hannah run. Check it out for more truths about life in Korea in GIF form)


    Sunday, January 20, 2013

    Day 20: Snow is All Around You

    I've had a lovely snow-filled weekend, part of it spent with great friends and part of it spent cuddled up in my bed with a cup of tea. All in all, great weekend! Just sad it's back to work tomorrow...

    Anyway, just wanted to share some of the pictures I took of Dieppe in the snow. It's wonderful!

    That's not a white sandy beach, it's snow!

    In the park, someone built a little snowman.

    Doggie footprints in the snow.
    The cliffs, the promenade and the beach all snowy.

    The view from my apartment this morning.

    That's all for today, but I'll be back to regular blogging tomorrow. See ya then!

    xx Kaylin

    Saturday, January 19, 2013

    Day 19: Is Couchsurfing Safe?

    Hey all! So today is part 3 of the safety series. The last two days I've written about the safety of hostels and traveling solo. If you haven't read those first, you should.

    Today, I wanted to talk about something that people fear far more than just traveling alone or staying in hostels. Today, I address the issues around Couchsurfing. I'll be couchsurfing in Florence next month, so it is something I thought would be good to share.

    For those that don't know, the couchsurfing website allows you to set up a profile, kinda like on Facebook. You talk about things you like, places you have traveled to or would like to travel, and share a few pictures. The catch is, you set up this profile in order to find strangers in another country to stay with when you're traveling there.

    Grandma is APPALLED.

    "WAIT A MINUTE. WHAT?!" you might say. "Talking to strangers online and then going to their house in another country?! Do you WANT to be murdered and chopped into little pieces?!"

    OK, don't get your panties in a twist, y'all. Yes, there are risks, which I will also address.

    But first, the perks of couchsurfing:

    • You meet a local person in the place you're going. They can give you local, insider tips about the city/country that fellow travelers just won't know. It's a great way to see the area from a different perspective other than just tourist. 
    • It's free! You don't pay to stay with your host. They offer you a couch (or bed, or mattress on the floor, or sleeping bag) to crash on for a few nights. However, you should probably bring your host something like a small gift or offer to cook or buy them dinner or drinks while you're there. It's just polite. 
    Save some dough, make a new friend. Win-win situation.

    And now the risks:
    • Clearly, you don't want someone to ax-murder you in your sleep. I will talk a little bit more about how to prevent this (and other things like sexual assault) in the "Tips" section below.
    • Sometimes you just can't find a host. Popular cities are popular for a reason, and everyone wants to save money. People in big cities can be swamped with requests and it's not always easy to find someone to put you up. 
    So how can you couchsurf safely? Here are some of the things I follow every time I couchsurf (or host surfers). 
    1. I, as a solo woman traveling, do not stay with male couchsurfing hosts. I just don't feel comfortable. Guys, I'm not saying you're all crazy rapists out to get us poor single ladies, but for me personally, it's just not something I'm OK with on my own. If I had a travel partner, whether that person was male or female, I would definitely feel differently. On the flip side, I also don't host single men traveling alone either. I typically only host women, but I've hosted a girl and guy traveling together before too. 
    2. ALWAYS meet your host in a public place. Train station, bus station, ferry port, even a market; wherever other people are around. As a host, I always meet my surfers in public spots too. That way, if something feels really off about the situation, I can peace out easily and they can't come and find me.  This is pretty much standard when meeting ANYONE in-person that you've "met" online. 
    3. Beware sending out blanket surfing requests. This is where you make a post requesting a couch, to a general audience (i.e. Everyone who has an available couch in Rome, will see it), rather than to an individual person. There ARE creeps on CS, unfortunately, and they love these type of posts. I made the mistake of sending a blanket request for a couch in Paris and got a reply back from some dude talking about a threesome! 
    4. Make sure to look at the person's reviews. It's hard when you're first starting out, because you don't have any reviews yourself right away, but I never host or surf with new people who don't have any reviews at all. You can now get reviews from your friends (by linking your CS profile to your Facebook profile), so there's little excuse for this anymore. It just looks a bit suspect, so I steer clear of those folks. Remember also that you can filter your search results for people who've had active profiles in the last week, people not above age 30, and people who've had their name and address verified. Whatever makes you feel safe. 
    5. Last, but not least, if you are unsure if the person is suitable, ask them for their Facebook profile. Most people have Facebook, and use it the way the rest of us do: to talk to friends and family, and upload pictures of your daily life. If someone wants to hide this from you, that's sketch and you should be suspicious. 
    If you still don't feel comfortable couchsurfing or hosting, you can still meet people in different cities you are traveling to by going to CouchSurfing meet-ups. 

    CSers meet in Vancouver (photo: lapir0.com)
    They are usually advertised on the CS groups you can join for particular cities. There may even be one in your own city you can try first. Either way, you can meet locals without feeling worried. The meetup is usually in a public place like a bar or restaurant. Then, if that assures you of your safety a little better, next time try couchsurfing! Really, it's a great way to get to know a city from a local perspective and it's a fun time. 

    Another good blog post I can recommend about the good and bad of couchsurfing is by Nomadic Chick.  She goes pretty in-depth and the comments on the post are excellent too, so don't skip those.  

    Just remember, most people are just like you: safe, non-murderous, and just wants to meet a cool new person from another country. 

    Well, that's it today. What do you think about couchsurfing? Have you, or would you, try couchsurfing or hosting? Or do you think I'm just completely mad? Let me know in the comments!

    xx Kaylin

    PS It snowed in Normandy! The last few days have been quite cold and snowy but it was all worth it to see the pebble beach here in Dieppe covered with snow today!! Check it out:

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    Day 18: Is Traveling Solo (as a woman) Safe?

    Yesterday, I talked about the safety of hostels, and how they're NOT chainsaw-laden madhouses where people want to kill you for fun. (Sorry to ruin the plot of the Hostel movies there... but not really.)

    Today, I would like to talk about traveling alone. Specifically, traveling solo as a woman.

    Me, solo in Cambodia
    In American culture, it is very ingrained in our minds, especially as women, that going somewhere alone is bad. It is dangerous. It is weird and risky, and if something happens to you, don't say we didn't warn you! And, it also means you're a loner who doesn't have any friends to go with you. Men may face the "don't you have any friends to go with you?" attitude, occasionally; but for the most part, I think the safety issues are directed almost entirely at women.

    Why? Are we helpless little flowers?

    To that, I say an emphatic NO.

    As long as you are prepared for your trip, you are as safe as you are sitting at home fretting.

    So, first a few tips, then a few links to some other awesome ladies doing the same thing.

    Tip 1: Research your destination before you go!! This sounds like common sense, but you'd be surprised at how many people just turn up somewhere. Get a guidebook. Find a place to stay before you go, research about the local people and customs and what you should wear to blend in, and have a secure place to store your passport/money/credit cards (could be a secret pocket in your pants, or just wearing a moneybelt under your clothes) so that even if your wallet or handbag gets stolen by a pickpocket, the important stuff is still safe.

    Also available in kindle!
    Tip 2: Be street smart. Don't wander down a dark alley at night alone. If you're going to meet someone (such as someone you met online), meet them in public first. If something seems off, don't ignore your instincts. Use public transportation as much as possible; not only is it cheaper, but it's likely there will always be many people around. However, beware peddlers and beggars in and around public transportation, because they can be a distraction to take your eyes off a potential pickpocket.

    Tip 3: Know the local police numbers, AND know the number for your local embassy or consulate, in case the worst happens.
    Know how to get in touch with these guys.

    Tip 4: Act like you know where you're going. Nothing says tourist like stopping in the middle of a sidewalk to pull out a map and stare at it. If you need to check your map, duck into a shop. Or, better yet, if you have a smartphone, download apps onto your phone (accessible offline in case you don't have wifi or 3G coverage) that you can look at. Then, you just look like a normal person checking their phone instead of a gawky tourist.

    Tip 5: Don't be afraid to be rude. Women are taught to be polite at all costs, but when you're traveling this just doesn't fly. Don't be a jerk to random passers-by, but if someone is harassing you, tell them very sternly to Fuck Off. They may not understand your words, but they will understand attitude and a loud voice. Plus, it draws other people's attention to the situation and makes that person more likely to leave you alone, now that they've been spotted by others.

    Tip 6: At the same time, don't be afraid that everyone is going to rob or hurt you. Most people are just like you. Normal, non-murderous, and just trying to go about their day.

    So, those are my tips. Now, I'd like to recommend some fellow solo lady travelers that really helped me when I was starting off.


    • Adventurous Kate -- Kate took off for a 6 month jaunt through Southeast Asia on her own. Her tips were invaluable when I visited that region solo myself (even though I was only there 2 weeks!). My favorite post of hers has to be about visiting a ping pong show in Bangkok alone. Hilarious!! She's been to many countries all over the world solo, so definitely check her out.


    • Steph at 20-something Travel -- Steph didn't let not having a travel buddy hold her back. Her blog's tagline is "Why wait to see the world?" and she lives by it. She started off traveling solo on a RTW ('round the world) trip, although she ended up traveling with her fellow-blogger boyfriend (now fiancé!) later on. The link above is one of my favorite posts by her, called "Is the American Dream Holding You Back?" It is one to check out for sure.


    • Janice at Solo Traveler -- This cool lady is a bit older than the others, but that makes it even more awesome that she's out exploring the world on her own. Click the link for a good post she wrote about the potential dangers of solo travel. She's also written articles about  specifically women traveling alone, and also how to travel alone without being lonely. Good reads! 


    So that's it for today. Now, I'm off to the Norman countryside to meet up with some fellow teacher friends for the weekend. We're having pizza and booze, so it's sure to be a great time!

    Tomorrow, I'm blogging about "Is Couchsurfing Safe?" Stay tuned!

    xx Kaylin

    (pictures: 1- mine; 2- gadling.com; 3- wikipedia.org)

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Day 17: Are Hostels Safe?

    Hello everyone. I wanted to talk today about this question, which people have asked me before. It mostly comes from people at home who've never really traveled before. Some of them would like to, but are put off by their perception of hostels.  

    Because I've stayed in many hostels around the world, I thought this would make a good topic today. 

    In most of the world, hostels (also known as "backpackers", particularly Down Under) are regular fare. But in the US, they aren't very common. They are usually only found in big cities, like New York, DC, and LA, and even then aren't as popular as hostels are in other countries. In the US, cheap motels generally take the place of hostels. Therefore, most Americans who haven't traveled outside the US before have never stayed in a hostel. 

    Often then, people get their perceptions of hostels from films. At best, people's perceptions of hostels are that they're loud and dirty, and at worst, they're a place where people want to kill you for fun (Thanks, Hostel and Hostel 2 for that one). 

    Yeah, normally, there are no chainsaws...
    Fortunately, hostels are pretty safe. There are all kinds of websites where you can look up hostels in different city by rating. For example, the one I'm staying at in Rome next month has a rating of 91%! Clearly, that's very good. You can also read reviews of the people who've stayed there before. There's no excuse for ending up in a shitty hostel if you check things out in advance. Any good hostel nowadays has key card entry, like a hotel; lockers for your personal items (you bring your own lock); clean sheets provided when you check in; and many even offer free breakfast and free wifi! 

    This hostel I stayed at in Cambodia? $6 a night!
    Hostels are, as well, often much cheaper than hotels. Again using my hostel I just booked in Rome, it's an 8-bed dorm room and it was €10.49 per night. That's about $14! Yes, you have to share a room with up to 7 other people, but bring earplugs and an eye mask and it's fine. Remember, you've got that locker to lock up your important stuff like camera/phone/passport, and trust me, no one wants the dirty underwear out of your backpack. Some hostels also have kitchens where you can make your own food bought in local supermarkets, so you save even more money instead of eating out all the time. 

    Finally, hostels can be very social! It is a great place to meet people from all over the world. Not only the people in your dorm room, but anyone else staying at the hostel. Hostels often have common rooms (lounge rooms), patios, or kitchens where you can chat with your fellow travelers. I have met other Americans, Brits, Australians, Dutch, Germans, Canadians, Japanese, and many more at hostels around the world. If you are traveling solo, this then is a great way to meet someone to hang out with while you're there. Heck, you could even make some real friends out of it (or at least some Facebook friends to call on for advice and/or a place to stay anytime you happen to pass through their country of origin). 

    So, I hope this helps dispel some of the rumors about hostels and prove to you that they are, in fact, safe. More than that, they are great places to stay because they are both cheap and social! 

    xx Kaylin

    PS Coming up tomorrow: "Is traveling solo safe?" and Saturday: "Is couchsurfing safe?" Stay tuned!


    (picture credits: 1- imdb.com; 2-www.thesiemreaphostel.com)

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    Day 16: Trip Update on Italy

    Sorry the update is so short today. Not much going on in my little corner of the world right now. I've mostly spent my day today (no school) feeling crappy but working out my Italy trip nonetheless. It is officially planned (mostly)! I have a couchsurfing host in Florence, a very cheap hostel booked in Rome (thanks to the HostelBookers sale going on right now), and have a hostel picked out in Naples but I'm waiting on my friend to book flights to Naples first so we can maybe book together. Should be booking that hostel, plus my trains in the next few days.

    I've got my budget worked out and have come up with very suitable numbers for my cheap ass poor frugal side. I'll post again after the trip to see if the numbers matched up like I hope they do. 

    I've got a list of sights and their prices worked out for each city. To that effect, I've found that the Firenze Card and Roma Pass are both very reasonably priced compared to the price of attractions I want to see. Plus, they include free public transportation! So I will be taking advantage of these cards. 

    I'm also working on maps of each city with locations of each place on the map... can you tell I'm a planner???

    I can't wait to head to beautiful Florence, Rome, and Pompeii next month!!!! 

    See you soon, Colosseo! (picture: http://wikitravel.org/en/Rome)

    See you,
    xx Kaylin

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    Day 15: The Best Place to Watch the NYE Fireworks in London

    So I promised to write about my New Year's Eve in London and I finally have pictures to show you!

    I left my friend Kate's house in Ashford around noon on the 31st and traveled to London on the train. I met my friend at her house and then we got on the tube for her boyfriend's place not long after. In the tube, we heard an announcement that the areas in Central London near the fireworks would be full by 9pm! CRAZY TIMES.

    We got to Kate's boyfriend's house at around 8, made pizza and played monopoly for a while, then left around 10:30 to go to Primrose Hill, near Regent's Park.

    Primrose Hill is one of the highest points in London and we had a great panoramic view of the city.

     Check out this view (image via wikipedia)

    We got there about an hour before midnight. There were quite a few people there but nothing compared to the madness in Central London. More people arrived as it got closer to midnight so it was a bit crowded but nothing terrible.


    Some people were jamming on guitars and bongos. Other people were lighting and setting off Chinese lanterns. There were a few instances of premature fireworks going off nearby. 

    Finally, when we reached midnight, we kinda made up our own countdown and not long after the fireworks started. The pictures don't do it justice but it was great! 

    nye016

    There were fireworks going off all over the city, not just next to the Eye, but they were definitely the biggest and best. 

    All in all, it was a wonderful and not particularly stressful night! I had a great time with my friends. 

    nye011

    How was your New Year's 2013? Where did you spend it? Leave me a comment!

    xx Kaylin

    (All pictures after #1 courtesy of Kate Beard)

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Day 14: An Open Letter to French People

    Hey all! This blog won't be very long today, because I spent too much time skyping a friend in Canada (even though it was awesome to catch up) and too little time doing my school planning, so I'm running late and need to go to bed soon!

    This post in inspired by something I saw today coming home from work.

    Chers Les Françaises,

    Bonjour! Ça va? D'accord, bon, maintenant j'ai votre attention avec mon utilisation de français...

    I generally sing France's praises to silly Americans who dislike it for no reason, or stupid reasons (I'm looking at you, "freedom fries" people). For instance, I'm a huge fan of your healthcare system. The train system, SNCF, is generally awesome, despite occasional strikes.

    But this is one thing I really can't stand here.

    PICK UP YOUR DOG'S SHIT. DON'T LEAVE IT ON THE SIDEWALK.

    Seriously. There are signs and everything.

    It is not a normal day if I don't have to hop over a pile of crap on the sidewalk, often with a smeary footprint in it.

    Why is it so hard to pick up after your dog, or at the very least, take them somewhere that it won't matter if they take a crap there? Like, for instance, the beach which is three blocks away? It's winter, no one's on the beach. Or, the church grassy yard that's roped off half a block away? No one ever goes there. OR... JUST PICK UP AFTER YOUR DOG, YOU LAZY ASS. I've never even owned a dog before (cat person here) but even I know that is one of the things you have to commit to when you get a dog. Walk them, feed them, clean up their poop.

    Today, I actually saw someone pick up their dog's poop. The first time in ALMOST 4 MONTHS BEING HERE. I joyfully expressed my excitement on Facebook for finally seeing this miraculous thing happen. Want to know the responses?

    "Must be someone from elsewhere who has settled in France..."
    "This is a lie. I don't believe you."
    "It's a German/Austrian (person)."
    "No way, she is probably from Belgium or Quebec. TOTALLY NOT FRENCH."

    This is your legacy, French people. People who leave steaming piles of shit behind on sidewalks everywhere.  Do yourselves, and everyone else who visits France for long or short term, a favor. PICK UP YOUR DOG'S SHIT PLEASE.

    Yours sincerely,
    Kaylin (and every other non-French person living in or visiting France)



    (photo belongs to me.)

    Sunday, January 13, 2013

    Day 13: Upcoming travel plans in France

    I was originally going to write about a different topic today but have decided to save it for another time because my brain is just not wanting to write anything in-depth today.

    BUT, I would like to share a couple things I've decided.

    I've talked about my trip to Italy that's coming up in February and (briefly) about my trip to Germany in April. However, I of course would like to do some traveling in France too! So I thought about some places in France I'd really like to go before I leave and came up with the following.

    1) The D-day Beaches near Caen, France.
      - Where the Allied Forces landed on June 6, 1944; there's also a museum in Caen and an American Cemetery.

    2) Mont-St-Michel island monastery
      - A beautiful castle/monastery just off the coast of Lower Normandy. At low tide, you can walk there. A monastery has existed there since the 8th century!


    3) Nice, France
      - The French Riviera! What's not to love? Plus, I know an assistant who is teaching there now and I'd like to visit her.


    The D-day beaches are closest to me so I am thinking about hitting those up in February, but I might wait until later depending on how much money I have for Italy. Mostly because I want to do a tour there, and that's a bit expensive (but the best way to see all the sites).

    Not sure about when to go to Mont-St-Michel either, as I haven't done much research about it yet, but the plan now is to go to Nice in mid-March. Hopefully they will have some good weather then! (Their weather is generally way better than Normandy anyway.)

    Anyway, that's all for today! Hope everyone has had a lovely weekend. See you again soon!

    xx Kaylin


    (Pictures credit: 1- stamperdad.wordpress.com; 2-wikipedia Mont-St-Michel article; 3- nicefrance.ca )

    Day 12: Why You Should Visit Cambodia (besides Angkor Wat)

    This time last year I was getting ready to go to Southeast Asia on vacation from Korea, so I thought I would talk a little about that. Specifically, one of my favorite countries I've ever been to, Cambodia.

    If you know anything about Cambodia, (which a lot of people don't!) it's probably Angkor Wat. Now, Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples and the nearby town of Siem Reap are AMAZING and gorgeous and I would highly recommend you visit that area.


    It's the most popular place for tourists to visit there, but it's not the only place worth visiting in Cambodia. In particular, I would recommend spending a couple days in Phnom Penh, the capital.

    You can take a bus between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh for about $6 US, and it takes 5 hours. It's not the most comfortable bus ride, since a lot of it is on unpaved or shoddily paved roads, but for 6 bucks, it's fine.

    In Phnom Penh, I would highly recommend two sites in particular. They are Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also known as S-21), and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, which are right outside the city.

    First, a little background for those that don't know. In the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge took over the Cambodian government. They forced people to leave cities, split up families, and murdered anyone who dissented or was "different" or "smart" (like doctors, teachers, etc). Sometimes it seems like they just killed people for fun. A large portion of the Cambodian population was killed. If you ever meet anyone over the age of 40 while in Cambodia, they are someone who survived the mass murder. It's a chilling thought.

    I visited both sites in one day, but if you are easily disturbed you may want to take a day for each one. I visited the sites with two guys, one from Canada and one from New Zealand, who were also English teachers in Korea that I met randomly in my hostel. We split the price of a tuk-tuk to the sites, which was about $15 for the whole day.

    First we visited Tuol Sleng. It's in the center of the city and wasn't far from our hostel. The building is a former school building that became a torture prison during the regime, and is now a museum.

    Here, in the background is the old school building. In the foreground is a type of gallows where they hung people upside down and dunked them in the big pots full of water (waterboarding?). You can kind of see the bars on the windows of the building. Other buildings had barbed wire and fencing along the corridors. Inside the rooms, some were bare, some had makeshift cells barely big enough to hold one person made of wood or brick, and some had videos playing, pictures of the former captives (most of whom died in captivity there), and cabinets of bones of the dead.


    It was a pretty emotional visit to the museum but really informative. I'd heard about it before coming to Cambodia, but never though how intense it would be to visit the site. 

    After Tuol Sleng, we took the around 15 minute tuk-tuk ride out to the Killing Fields. 

    My view from the tuk-tuk

    When you first enter the site, you will see the big memorial stupa/tower. It's pretty and done in a Cambodian architectural style, and something you will think about posing in front of... until you realize that the several-story-tall tower is filled with bones. They are the bones of the people who were found on the grounds on this Killing Field. It is important to note, also, that this is not the only Killing Field in Cambodia. It is the most famous, being right outside the capital, but there are many sites very similar all over the country. They just aren't touristed like this one. 


    You get an audioguide with your entry fee, about $2, which tells you about the history, and also the various areas around the Field, which include mass graves and "murder spots", like one particularly gruesome tree which was used to kill children by beating them against it. 

    It paints a terrible picture in your mind of the atrocities committed, and it's not for the faint at heart (I admit I cried afterward), but I definitely think it's something everyone visiting Cambodia should make a point to see. If you wonder, as you wander through the temples at Angkor Wat, why there are so many landmine victims begging you for a dollar, or why there don't seem to be any old people in the entire country, take the time to visit this oft-neglected area and learn some history in the process. After all, those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. 

    A few notes:
    One, there are like to be quite a few beggars around, anywhere you go in Cambodia, from small dirty children with no shoes to people missing enough parts of their body that you wonder how they're even alive. While it's incredibly tempting to give them all a dollar (that's nearly a whole day's working wage there), don't.  If you want to help, donate money to charities supporting landmine victims or children's homes or schools. Many of the people begging, particularly children, are coerced into doing so by someone else. It's especially detrimental for the children since they see begging as a better way to make a living than going to school and getting an education. 

    Two, for comfort, don't wear flip flops while touring these sites. The Killing fields' terrain is uneven and in some parts the grass can be high. Better to wear comfortable closed-toed shoes if possible. 

    Three, splitting a tuk-tuk with other people is the most economical option for getting around. If you're going solo, a moto-taxi (basically, just hopping the back of a motorcycle) is likely to be cheaper for you, or renting a bicycle. But, not only is this a little bit unsafe (relatively speaking; tuk-tuks aren't the safest mode of transport either), tuk-tuks are also used to waiting around for their customers to get back and will congregate and hang out with their fellow drivers to pass the time. If you can find someone in your hostel to split one with, it's a good idea. While you should haggle the original price he gives you (they always ask for more than the regular price at first), being generous and tipping the driver is nice if he has given you good advice or been particularly friendly. You can also arrange for him to pick you up the next day if you want to visit another site. They are always happy for pre-arranged customers. 

    That's it for today! Sorry the blog was late, I just couldn't think of anything to write about until really late! 

    See you soon,
    xx Kaylin

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    Day 11: Tourism for your Favorite TV Show or Movie

    Have you ever traveled to visit the set of your favorite TV show or movie? Well, that is what I am talking about today.

    This isn't a new phenomenon but only recently has it gained steam as a solid tourism practice. I'm not talking about riding a bus through a back lot at MGM, hoping to catch a glimpse of disused props, or walking through "Hogmeade" at Universal Studio Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

    What I mean is visiting actual real-world location sites for films or shows. Fans of popular books, TV shows, and movies (and particularly books that have become movies or TV shows) are ready to pay to see the sights from their favorite chapter or scene.

    For example, the recent Hunger Games film was shot partially on-location in the woods of North Carolina. There's currently a tour company offering visits to the State Park where the shooting for the District 12 scenes and some of the Arena scenes took place; while there, they throw in some archery and painting lessons (the two main characters Katniss and Peeta's specialties).

    In New Zealand, there are tour companies that offer sightseeing tours to the various remote locations on the Southern Island where outdoor filming took place; or, if small and slow-paced is more your thing, you can join a tour of Hobbiton, Bilbo and Frodo's hometown. It was specially built for the film, but has been left in place (good thing since The Hobbit returned here to film) and there's even an actual pub now in the pub building from the movie. I'm excited to do one of these tours when I go to New Zealand later this year!! (Expect a blog post about THAT, for sure!)

    And of course there are tours for people who LOVE Harry Potter. You can visit location sets around London and Oxford, such as Diagon Alley, and parts of Oxford University used to film Hogwarts scenes, or you can do a tour of the studio in London where the huge Great Hall was built in its entirety (and still remains).

    As for me, I've done some travel and sightseeing for two of my favorite TV shows: Doctor Who (and it's spin-off Torchwood) and The Walking Dead.

    First, in 2010, I backpacked around the UK for a couple weeks solo. I visited Scotland, England and Wales. In Wales, I went to Cardiff, which serves as the backdrop and shooting location for many Doctor Who and Torchwood episodes. I specifically decided to go to Cardiff because of Doctor Who.

    Here on the plaza in front of the Millennium Centre, the big silver thing (it's normally a fountain/waterfall type thing, but it had these big strawberries on it the day I went and the water wasn't running) serves as the entrance to Torchwood 3, and multiple episodes, particularly in the first season of Torchwood, were filmed here. You can also see in it the first season episode of Doctor Who, Boom Town. This is where the rift in space and time occurs.

    To the left of the Millennium Centre is Roald Dahl Plass, and this place is easily recognizable in two Doctor Who episodes, Boom Town (series 1) and Last of the Time Lords (series 3). It also features in Torchwood heavily, since it's just outside their hidden headquarters.

    More pictures of the Plass and Millennium Centre, along with episodes filmed there, can be found here. 


    In Cardiff, not far from the Millennium Centre, you can also find the Doctor Who Experience, which houses various props (particularly of all the baddies the Doctor's faced, like Daleks and Cybermen, but also companion's outfits and a TARDIS) and a shop of memorabilia. It's a bit cheesy, but still fun for big fans like me. I'm not aware of any official tours you can take of the sets, but if you know some, let me know!

    I didn't see any filming while I was in Cardiff, unfortunately, but it was still cool to walk in the footsteps of the Doctor.

    The second show I traveled for was The Walking Dead. OK, I say traveled... it was about an hour's drive from where I live back in the US. You see, they film the show mostly in rural West Georgia. As I'm from rural East Alabama, it's not much of a stretch to go there. However, I did meet some girls who had driven up 8 hours from Florida to come watch the filming! Now that's dedication!

    The hardest part is finding out when and where they will actually be filming. Walking Dead Locations is a godsend for that. They get tips from locals about the filming and post it on their site. All you have to do then is google maps your way to whatever out-of-the-way small town or back road they've set up shop in, and you're in business!

    When I was there, I even managed to meet two of the actors, Chandler Riggs (who plays Carl, see left) and Laurie Holden (who plays Andrea), although I just missed Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl, my favorite character) by minutes, which made me sad.

    (BTW, yes, I'm wearing a "Keep Calm and Kill Zombies" shirt; don't judge me.)

     I went two separate times over a week's period, to two different locations. If you watch the show, you'll recognize one place I visited was "Woodbury", which is an actual small town called Senoia. Senoia is such an idyllic small Southern town that multiple TV shows and films have shot here! Another was a rural set in a different small town called Grantville, the episode for which hasn't aired yet (I was told it is episode 11 which should be the third episode aired when the show returns in February).

    Set from upcoming Episode 11

    The tire gate at the "Woodbury" set, recently seen in the mid-season finale

    There's also a tour company out of Atlanta that does tours to the Walking Dead sets in Atlanta and nearby rural Georgia. They also showcase other popular TV shows and movies that currently film or previously filmed in the area, such as Driving Miss Daisy, The Vampire Diaries, Zombieland, and The Blind Side.

    So, there you have it! Have you ever traveled to visit a set of a favorite film or TV series? If you haven't, would you? Would you prefer take a tour or find your own way? Let me know in the comments!

    xx Kaylin

    (Picture credits: 1-www.southernworld.com; 2- www.everywheremag.com; all other photos belong to me)

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    Day 10: Pro's and Con's of Teaching English Abroad

    Hey everyone! The past couple days I've talked about the application processes of the two programs I used to teach abroad, TAPIF and EPIK. Today, I wanted to talk about something more general, which is just the pro's and con's of teaching abroad. This, unlike the last two posts, is non-country-specific. 

    First, let's do the pro's. 
    • You get to live in and experience another culture first-hand. Living in another country is totally different from just traveling to one. You really get an in-depth look when you live there for an extended period.
    • If you want to be a teacher at home, you get good experience for your resume. Even if you don't want to be a teacher at home, living and working in another country can benefit your resume in other ways for other careers. For example, you may be able to add the language skills you've acquired, or talk about how teaching children made you more responsible. 
    • You learn to adapt and be flexible. Sometimes, especially if you're living in a country where you don't speak the language well (or at all), things don't go the way you planned very often. You learn how to let things roll off your back without getting so upset. 
    • If you like children, little kids learning English as a second language is super adorable. 
    • You often get to travel to surrounding countries on vacation. European countries especially are tiny compared to the United States. I can be in multiple other countries in just a couple hours.
    • In some places, you will get paid a lot for not doing very much. While my salary in France is not that much overall (roughly 800 euros a month or around $1050), considering I only work 12 hours/3 days a week I think it's pretty good. In Korea, there are all sorts of incentives for teaching there, like that they will pay your round-trip flight, give you a free apartment, and give you a month's salary bonus at the end. Plus, at minimum you'll get the equivalent of $1600 a month, and in Korea, that goes a long way as it's much cheaper than Europe and on par with/a bit cheaper than the US. 
    • Sometimes your school and co-workers are amazing and really help you to adjust to your new surroundings. My professeur référent here in France, Flo, is absolutely amazing with this. She is so nice and helpful. 
    Now for the con's.
    • If you don't like kids that much, it can be hell. I don't hate kids (no matter what some of my friends may tell you) but I greatly prefer working with older kids. I just don't have the ability to deal with 20 screaming 6-year-old's. In France, this isn't a problem because I work with middle schoolers, and my youngest students are 11. In Korea, I worked with 6-11 year olds, and hated teaching 1st and 2nd grade in particular. Especially because my co-teacher wasn't very accommodating about actually "Co"teaching with me, being left alone in a classroom full of non-English-speaking 6 and 7 year old whose language you don't speak either is terrifying. At that point, it's just glorified babysitting, trying to make sure they don't hit each other and make each other cry, and that they don't throw things across the room or run around and scream bloody murder.
    • You are a long way from home! Even if you are dying to travel, like I was, being away from home for months at a time can be trying. Especially during the holidays! Homesickness and culture shock can exacerbate the situation. It's only natural to miss your friends and family back home. If you've never spent a Christmas away from home before, it can be sad and depressing your first time. Your best bet is probably to get together with other English teachers you've met abroad and have your own holiday celebration so you don't get lonely. 
    • Getting around in a country where you don't speak the language is hard. Especially if you go to a country with a completely different alphabet/writing system! Then you can't even try and fudge your way through the meanings. Even if you are trying to learn the language, it can be hard to practice it in daily life. For example, in Korea most people aren't used to hearing their language butchered (like we are with English) and they are unlikely to understand a word you say at first. In these situations, becoming a good mime helps.
    • Sometimes your school and co-workers aren't very inviting and never speak to you, and/or speak about you in their language as if you weren't there and couldn't hear them saying your name. They may be reluctant to help you in situations in which you need a translator, like setting up a bank account. (Yes, this happened to me in Korea. I'll leave it at that.)
    So that's about it! What do you think? Are there any other pro's and con's you can think of? Leave a comment!

    xx Kaylin

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Day 9: How to teach English in Korea (with EPIK)

    First off, big news: I booked my flights to Italy!! HURRAY!! I'm officially going February 20-March 2! I'm pretty pleased with the prices of the flights and stuff, although EasyJet was kind of a pain because they wouldn't let me use my US debit card as a debit and instead I had to select "MasterCard Credit" (which made the final total $3 more due to their credit card fees boo). But anyway, it's now booked! I can't believe I'm going to Italy!!!!!!!!

    Buongiorno Colosseo!

    Also one of my friends here in France is going to be in Naples and visit Pompeii with me which is exciting. I will have someone to take pictures of me! I rarely travel with other people so this should be interesting and fun.

    Anyway, today I wanted to talk about getting a job with EPIK, the English Program in Korea. I taught in Korea from August 2011-August 2012. It was definitely an interesting experience with pros and cons, but I'm glad I did it anyway, even if I didn't always love it. I met lots of wonderful people who I'm now lucky to call good friends, which is securely in the PRO column.

    Getting colorful at a Holi celebration in Busan, Korea, with my friend Tegan

    BTW, before you ask, yes, it's SOUTH Korea.

    So, I know the application process has changed a bit since I applied so I'll try to take that into account but I may not know everything that's different. The best source of information would be directly from EPIK. However, I will go over my own person experience in applying, which is from an American perspective (Canadians, Brits, Irish, South Africans, Australians, and New Zealanders can also apply though).

    First, EPIK has intakes generally in February and August. I did the August one, so my dates will correspond to that intake but I will put (x months before) so you can work out the dates if you are interested in doing February instead. I started the process of applying in January. Yes, you have to plan that far in advance.


    • Apply for your criminal background check as soon as possible when you know you want to apply for EPIK. In the US, this will be done through the FBI and the whole process can take 2-3 MONTHS for it to come back. Filing for this late and delaying your application like this can cause you to be placed somewhere you don't want, or not be placed at all if they are full.
    • Once you get your background check back, then you must send it off AGAIN and get it apostilled. Every state Secretary of State's office as well as the US Department of State does apostilles, but most states will only apostille state documents. The Feds will definitely only apostille national documents. Therefore, you will probably have to send it to DC to get the apostille attached. If you're wondering what the hell an apostille is, it's basically a document based on an international convention that will certify, to another country's government, that it's an official government document from your country, and hasn't been forged or falsified. Yeah, complicated. 
    • You will also need to get your university diploma apostilled. For me, this was really easy. First, I made a copy of my diploma (NEVER apostille the original diploma; those things are expensive to replace!!), had a notary public notarize the diploma copy saying it was a true and original copy of my diploma. (Note: the notary public service was provided free at my university's records department even though I'd already graduated; check with your school to see if they do this.) Then, I drove to my state capitol and went to the Secretary of State's office and they attached an apostille to it for the astounding sum of $5. Other than the drive of about an hour, it took all of 5 minutes in the office. Each state is different though, so call your state's SOS office to check. Some offices may require you to mail the document or make an appointment as they may not take walk-ins. 
    • Other things you'll need are two letters of recommendation (scholastic/professional sources only), 2 original sealed transcripts from your university, and a copy of your passport photo page. It's also greatly to your benefit if you have a TEFL certificate. I did an online one that cost $190 which bumped me up in salary and gave me an extra 200,000 won (about $180) a month. So basically after the first month working, it's paid for itself and the I profited the rest of the months. ** Note: if you have a master's degree in any subject, a bachelor's degree in English, Education, or Linguistics, or a teaching license in your home country, you do NOT need the TEFL certificate for this pay bump. You already qualify. 
    • Preliminary applications (just the application form with letters of rec) are accepted starting April 1, and I submitted mine April 3. 
    SO MUCH PAPERWORK.

    Next, if you application is accepted, then you will have a phone or Skype interview within a week or two of notification. Due to the time difference this may be at midnight or some other strange time for you. I also happened to have mine on the worst day of tornadoes Alabama has ever had, April 27, and I lost power at my apartment during the interview! Fortunately, I was on my phone, not my computer, so it didn't disrupt my interview. 

    You will receive an email officially accepting you 2-10 days after your phone interview if you pass. I got mine May 2. Once you receive this, you'll be invited to send in the remainder of the paperwork asked for. By this point, you should have all your paperwork, including FBI background check with apostille, ready to send ASAP. I FedEx'd my documents to Korea a few days later, and they were received May 12. 

    After they receive your documents.... it's a long wait. I finally received notification that I was placed in Busan on June 20, about 5 weeks later. A few days later, I booked my flights for August. They tell you not to book until after you receive your contract and/or apply for your visa, but I was too impatient to wait. 8 days after the email, June 28, I got another asking me to confirm my mailing address so they could send me the contract and notice of appointment for getting the visa. I received the documents around July 1. 

    Once you have that, you can then apply for your visa. You can mail in your information or go in person. I chose to go in person because my consulate was in Atlanta, which isn't far from where I live. It took about half an hour total, including wait time, when I arrived. I received my passport back through the mail 3 days later. 

    A nice shiny new E-2 visa for Korea.

    Finally, when you have your visa all taken care of, you pretty much just have to sit tight and wait to leave. I had about 3 weeks left once I received my passport back. I finished up my TEFL course, stressed over packing (and of course ended up packing too much), and had a goodbye party with friends and family. I left on August 15, spent 2 days in Seoul and then went to orientation starting August 18. 

    Phew! So, that's the application process for Korea. 

    As you can see from today's and yesterday's posts, getting a job abroad involves LOTS of dead trees. But, I wouldn't trade the paperwork for anything, because once you get there, it's worth it. Teaching/working abroad is one of the best ways to travel. Not only are you experiencing a different culture in daily life, but during holidays you have the chance to travel with that money you've made at your job too. While in Korea, I was able to travel to Thailand, Cambodia, and Japan; while in France, I've been to England twice, and planning to go to Italy (see beginning of post) and Germany this spring. 

    I am planning to write a post about the pro's and con's of actually being a teacher abroad next time. Some things about it may surprise you. Stay tuned for that! :)

    One last note: there are other ways of teaching in Korea that do not involve EPIK. They include teaching at a hagwon (a private after-school academy), teaching in public schools by applying directly through the Office of Education in that district, and teaching in Korean universities. I have friends that have done all of these, but I don't know much about them myself. I can, however, recommend you read Waegook Tom's blog as he works in a hagwon currently. He's also the go-to guy for advice about LGBT issues in Korea too. If you'd like to read some more blogs about Korea, try Audrey at That Backpacker, and Sheryll at The Wanderlust Project.  Or, my friend Hannah

    See you soon!
    xx Kaylin


    (Pictures: 1- wikipedia; 2- mine; 3-carcrashpain.com; 4- takemeout2night248.wordpress.com)