The content of each post is solely written by that contributor and only expresses the contributor's personal views. Each post does not represent the views of all the contributors or Women of Color Living Abroad as an organization. Each contributor is speaking from their own person experiences and/or perspective.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pajamas, Ice Cream, Reflections and a Destiny Fulfilled

By: Brittany S

BRITTANY (BRIT a nee; not to be confused with BRIT-nee): the English translation of the French region, Bretagne, settled by the Britons (British).  The name means “Land of the Britons.”

NOMMO:  interpreted as the Afrocentric principle of the creative power of a word; a word’s power to speak things into existence.  Originally derived from the Dogon people of Central Africa and rebirthed by African American Rhetorical Scholar Molefi Asante.

My mother always told me that I need to “speak things into existence.”  If I want to succeed, don’t say I will fail; say I have already succeeded all expectations.  I really like “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” –(Henry Ford)

What's worse is I used to sign my name like this, too.
But yet, my mother named me after a chipmunk.

If you remember “Alvin and the Chipmunks” and the girls, or the “Chipettes,” then you might know from where my name came.  I’m not sure where my middle name (Nicole) came from, but it almost seems like in the mid 80s (at least in the Midwest anyway) almost every “Brittany” was a “Brittany Nicole.”  “Nicole” is of Greek origin and means “victorious people.”  My last name is actually a made-up name and the only people I know with that name are my family members.

So why tell you all about my name?  As I said, I believe in nommo.  Now that isn’t to say you can just speak something into existence and POOF! there it is (“faith without works is dead”), but I am saying there is something in a name.  You ever look at someone and thought “Yea she looks like a Stephanie” or “everyone I know named ‘Paris’ is pretty” or something like that?  I know I have.  If we hear someone’s (American) name is hyphenated like “Billy-Bob” or “Sallie-Mae,” we automatically associate them with a rural/country upbringing.  If we hear a name with a bunch of hyphens, dashes, or extra letters, we associate that with something, too.  There is something in a name.

In short, my name speaks to Britain and France (Brittany), victorious people (Nicole), and trailblazing (my last name is made-up remember?).  One of those bored, sitting-in-pjs-all-day-eating-ice-cream-out-of-the-pint type of summer days I reflected on my name and my life experiences.  My first international trip was to London (with a weekend in France), even though I went through hell and back to get there (alone).  As a matter of fact, almost every major international journey I have made has had its hiccups.  But, my fighting, “victorious” spirit wouldn’t give up and I am so thankful that I didn’t.  I’m doing these people in my family have never even dreamed of and I’m leading the way for those around me (family/friends/associates/mentees) to do the same.

I didn’t write this snippet of my life so that you can get busy Googling your name and reevaluating your life (although I am curious to hear if anyone else has a name that can be translated to speak more on who they are/want to be).  I wrote it because it was on this particular pj Saturday that I realized that I was/am doing exactly what I was called to do.  I felt a sense of purpose in this new hobby.  Ever heard of the chaos theory or butterfly effect?

Learned about it from this movie haha don't judge me.  It's a real theory!

In short, the chaos theory refers to seemingly unrelated events that in reality are all connected and the slightest change in the initial conditions can have the biggest impact on the outcome.  Although this is more of a mathematical concept than anything else, in application, I’ll just say this.  Now that I am where I am, looking back, I have realized there are a lot of random things in my life that had things been different even slightly; I would not be where I am today.  I’ll even include my name.  If my mother preferred another chipette or maybe another cartoon altogether, what would my name be?

If I didn’t win a study abroad scholarship would I have ever sought out a program?  What if I graduated from college earlier or later?  What if I got that summer job that I REALLY wanted and was devastated that I didn't get it (after all, this job is the reason I had nothing to do over the summer and got bored so applied to leave the country)?  There are so many things that happened exactly as they needed to (even though they weren’t the way I wanted them to) so that things would be the way they are.  It all makes sense now.  My take home message out of my rambling is this:  even though things are not always the way you wish they were, sometimes things are not the way they seem.  Whatever you may be going through right now is preparing in you some way for what is to come.  Who knows, maybe it'll lead to you deciding to trade it all in and go abroad, too.  Ultimately, I think traveling is a great way to start over.  One thing is for sure; being abroad makes you do a lot of soul-searching.  For me, I am realizing that not every rough patch is without its flower.    Not all “chaos” is bad! :-)

BTW, did the title make anyone else think of this?  No?  Yea, no, me neither...heh heh

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Does International Business still exist in the states?

June, 2012-Anonymous Contributor (Japan) 
Graduating with a degree in International Business, and from taking courses regarding International Business. I was always fascinated with doing business abroad and I hoped that I would be able to be an expat too in the future. But from taking International Management courses and International Marketing courses, the expats that were able to go to different countries to do business overseas seem to be arrogant middle age men with a wife and kids. To make matters worse, the wife usually seemed to be least supportive and made fun of the different cultures.

This is coming from a standpoint of a typical American expat. From taking courses regarding International Business, we learned the basic components which are the 3 components polycentric, ethnocentric, and geocentric. Geocentric meaning you're open to hire anyone and to take all perspectives of both the host and home countries and other country's ideas. Polycentric is when you feel the host country does the business the best way, and ethnocentric is when you feel that your way is the best way. It seemed that the stereotypical American expat had an ethnocentric attitude and felt that his way was always and indeed the best way.  In these textbooks, they also discussed various ways on how to hire the right people for these missions.

They even suggested hiring single women because they had no baggage and women tend to be more emotionally in tuned. From paying attention in my courses, I felt that maybe there was a chance for me to do International Business especially with that degree. Well, after graduating in the year 2011 reality finally hit me. Doing international business is indeed hard and it is because even more non existent to be sent by an American company to do international business. How is this so?! Well these days, more and more companies are hiring consultants in their host country that they're doing business with because it's cheaper.

In reality, many companies take the poly centric method and really feel that the host country knows best which can take away the uniqueness of the product or the service that the American company is trying to sell. Also what they don't tell you in books is that in order to be considered to do International Business is you have to work at the company for several years and sometimes with a managerial position in that company. With the economy these days in America and more companies wanting to be cheap, it's hard to put in years of work when you're not even sure if you'll be able to be with that same company in years due to frequent layoffs.

In other words, it's hard to have that trust with the company with rampant corporate politics and instability. In addition, how can you expect for a company to be able to give you an international business position if the position may be here today but not here the next day. In other words, a lot of American companies care about profit instead of trying to establish a global relationship that will help in the long run. (No, exporting cheap factory jobs to China does not count.)

Even with a foreign language, the foreign language that you have varies from state to state in order to see how useful it is. For example, would the use of knowing Japanese would be useful in Montana. But with learning foreign languages, it's all about timing in order to benefit from the opportunities. Right now, Chinese is one of the most useful languages to learn because not only are doing more business with them but their economy is becoming more stronger. In the 1980's learning Japanese was one biggest languages to learn.

Overall, the learning a foreign language at the right time plays a huge factor on doing international business. These days in order to do international business it's all about timing and meeting the right person at the right time. If the timing is off so are your chances especially these days. These days the best way to do International Business in another country is to literally go to the country you want to work in and apply and find an American subsidiary. Also constantly networking and meeting the right people as well in that country that you're in. Overall, doing International Business isn't as easy as they claim in the books!

 I'd love to here your views, please leave comments.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Race and Revolution: An Interview with April G. Brooks

By:  eternitysojourner

A self-proclaimed "Southern Belle," April G. Brooks hails from the Mississippi delta but has seen so much more in her years.  Having lived and landed on five of the globe’s continents (with a goal to reach all seven!), she is a groomed lover of adventure and hater of oppression.  Somewhere between spelunking in Oman and skydiving in Dubai, our paths crossed and I’ve come to know April as more than a globetrotter but as a sincere soul and sister in the path of life.  Her tales of Cairo amidst a chaotic revolution intrigued me and I trust they will do the same for you.

Tell us about your decision to study abroad, generally, and at the American University in Cairo, specifically.

Initially, I decided to study abroad after my undergraduate studies, where I focused on Arab American Relations.  Wanting to continue in International Relations, I attended the American University in Dubai for my first semester of graduate matriculation but it was extremely expensive and ate up my year’s loan in one semester!  I knew that I wanted to remain in the Arab world and thought of Egypt.  I applied and that’s where my journey began.

What’s life like in Cairo and how are you received as a woman of color there?

Life in Cairo depends on who you’re asking.  For me, it has been a mountainous journey.  I’m at the top, climbing down now, but getting to the top has been a hardship.  From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was faced with negativity, racism, sexism and any other –ism you can think of.  Life is really difficult for anyone of color, especially African Americans and Africans.   Modern Egyptians don’t equate African features or dark skin with being American, so that has been a real culture shock; especially for someone like me who is pro-black, coming from America to the motherland of humanity, expecting to be received with open arms.  It’s almost like the racism encountered in America in the 60’s and the civil rights movement- that’s how severe it is!  Egyptians will argue that there’s no racism in Egypt but it’s clear from the billboard signs for whitening creams to the physical treatment of those with darker skin to the verbal abuse and lack of employment opportunities for the Sudanese.  All service workers are dark-skinned.

When I arrived, I only spoke two words in Egyptian Arabic, so that was a major barrier.  I thought it was very important to learn the language of the people and that enabled me to speak for myself and defend myself.  In the aftermath, life is okay.  It’s better now--for me--because I understand the culture and mentality and understand their way of life now.  It really has nothing to do with me; their views are based on the life they’ve had- it’s their struggle, so I don’t personalize or internalize it any longer.

Where were you when the revolution jumped off and how were you affected?

When it started, I was in the U.S. because my family had a fatal car crash but I returned just before it [the revolution] ended, so I was able to witness the chaos, the rioting, the shootings and killings.  I don’t live near Tahrir Square but the whole country felt the stress and chaos of revolution.  It’s still an interesting time.  With the revolution, we realized that we’re living in a historical time where people are trying to liberate themselves.  The air was so thick when Mubarak fell and the government was ousted.  There was complete chaos- no police to protect property, citizens, or expats.  You would see people stealing, snatching cell phones, people fighting all the time- the stress was beyond their coping mechanisms. 

To avoid the chaos or being victimized, I would stay home.  You can pick up the phone and order something- you don’t really need to leave your flat.  I didn’t go out unless I had to.  Then, to go to Tahrir Square and see others rioting, people being killed, and military tanks appeared like something from a movie.

Are things in Cairo better new?

Now, people are up in arms because everyone is awaiting election results.  Egypt will learn who their new president is and most citizens are not happy with either candidate in the run-off.  One is from Mubarak’s regime- his "right hand man". Even though he’s trying to establish democracy, this would be a waste of a revolution.  The people feel that the other doesn’t have the experience to get the country together.  So people are still unhappy and want a re-vote.  Everyone is waiting to see.  Hopefully, there won't be more protests and riots because more people will die and get injured.

So, what’s your next adventure?

I’ll be in India for about two months facilitating women’s empowerment workshops in rural New Delhi to uplift and liberate women from their struggles and trials.  I’ll graduate in December with a Master’s degree in Global Affairs and Public Policy.  My plan is to relocate to Abu Dhabi, UAE or Doha, Qatar.  I want to remain in the Arab region or a Muslim country, preferably in the Gulf.

I recented started an organization called the International Consortium of Global Leaders. The women’s empowerment workshops I'm organizing in India are my first project for the organization.  So, I just want to continue to build my organization and focus on women's empowerment and sustainable education which are both really important to me as a woman.

Read more about April's reflections and adventures here and here!

Friday, June 22, 2012

1st World vs 3rd World Living

June 2012,  Breian S. Brockington

Outstretched on a white, plush beach lounge chair, with my toes dipped in sun kissed sands, beside me rest a mixed drink of assorted tropical fruits, a tourist favorite. Covered by a giant blue and white striped umbrella, I begin to notice the slight and sometimes ambiguous stares, accompanied with chubby, pointed fingers in my direction. I’m sure it’s on everyone’s mind. They’re all wondering the same thing. Who is she? Who does she think she is? Where is she from? It’s not unusual to see someone who looks like me but it is unusual to see me here, in this setting, with people waiting on me. Hi, my name is Breian Brockington, I’m a Black American and I live in a Third World Country: Morocco.
It’s been two years and I still haven’t seen all there is to see in this country. Every day presents itself as a new adventure. And I take it all in stride; at least I think I do. Daily task become an epic tale of magic, foreign languages, bribery, the occasional polite gesture and of course tragedy. My time here really could be portrayed as the next big sci-fi trilogy. Living in Morocco has been a curse and a blessing all in itself. I have learned the value of simplistic living and embraced the joys of First World Problems. Yes, you just read that right. I now value some of the trivial issues we have in the states and other first world countries. Although I find the term third world to be a little offensive and demeaning, I assure you it is definitely “Another World”. Now I know that television will have you believe that Morocco is this exotic getaway in the North of Africa, complete with camel rides, Moroccan tea, and belly dancers. However, living here as a "local foreigner" has given me access to the trenches and luxuries Morocco has to offer. But how do the lows and hi’s compare to first world living? In order to answer this question for those thinking of making that big move to Morocco or else where I’ve compiled four categories that will paint a verbal picture of 3rd World vs 1st World Living.

Number 1: Food
Plain and simple, there are fewer preservatives, pesticides, and it’s inexpensive to shop for groceries in a 3rd World Country. Being that I am American I can only speak for my country. I must say that buying healthy foods in America have become very expensive. A $4.50 bag of pesticide pumped apples at home would cost about $1.50 here. They are smaller, healthier and if not eaten within a week they’re considered bad. The prepackaged bread that we usually pay $2.15 for is less than 0.50 and is baked fresh every day. Yes there are major grocers here and I do frequent them but only for things I’m unable to find at the open markets. The bottom line: The food is healthier. Now, if you prefer to enjoy your food outside the home that expense will run you roughly the same amount as it would in the states or Europe. However, your portions will be significantly less than what the States usually provide.
Number 2: Diversity
Just about everywhere I go in America or Europe I can see someone who looks just like me. But in Morocco people have a hard time believing I’m American. My skin color convinces the masses even when we speak that I must be from some other African country. Although I have no problem with being referred to as African, I hate the subtle undertones of racism that accompany those comments. I guess it's not that far off from the States and Europe. 
Morocco may not have a vast color palette but its diversity shows in the many languages spoken in this North African country. In the north it is quite common to walk down the street and here conversations spoken in Spanish. With Spain being only a ferry ride away it’s no wonder Spaniards tried and succeeded for many years in ruling this part of Morocco. Darija; a dialect of classic Arabic is the preferred by locals. Arabic is the official language but is rarely spoken outside of business circles. French can be heard throughout the entirety of Morocco, it's their economic language. So living here would be awesome if learning a new language is on your bucket list.

Number 3: Daily Convenience
If you don’t miss anything in the states you will definitely miss the ability to get around easily. At home taxi’s, buses, trains and subways are abundant and at your service when needed. I can’t say the same for Morocco. Have you ever been wedged between 4 other people in the back of a 1982 Mercedes? How about sitting side by side in the front passenger seat? You will in Morocco unless you pay for the whole seat. Yes, when procuring a taxi you initially pay for half a seat. Trust me it is in your best interest to pay for the entire seat.  Unless crowded spaces are your thing, I say public transportation in an under developed country is a no go. Fair warning, Morocco can get pretty hot in the summer...Think about it. Other amenities such as online banking are pretty nonexistent. Mailing letters, notarizing official documents, paying speeding tickets and simply buying jewelry and clothing are all things I enjoy in a developed country.
Number 4: Traditions and Culture
When arriving in Morocco you see images of the Berber people (indigenous people of Morocco), some who still live a very traditional lifestyle. You hear the sounds of Gnawa music, and consume traditional meals like couscous are every Friday, as it was done years ago. A trip to Marrakesh or Fez will allow you to see old souks, (traditional markets) that still operate through bargaining. A glimpse of snake charmers and old story tellers are common sights as well. All of these elements give you the sense that although Morocco is striving to compete with other Arab countries, they still hold tightly to their customs. Of course we have our own traditions in America like Fourth of July BBQ’s, Easter egg hunts and New Year’s Eve fireworks, among others. However, there are so many subcultures in America the line between culture and tradition is usually blurred. What an underdeveloped country may lack in economics and convenience it definitely makes up in culture and tradition.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Repatriation Series-Sonya

June, 2012-Cha Jones 

Is Home Where the Heart Is?

Home! I thought that was where the heart is. After, being in South Korea for nearly three years my heart was in Seoul. I love that place with all my heart!

 In February of this year, I came back to the U.S. for a month long vacation, but due to some family issues and an unforeseen head on collision my stay began to look permanent.  It’s June and I have just been released from doctor’s care, but the opportunities that were once on the table are no longer there. I’m sure I could return, but I have found an avenue that is allowing me to live on purpose with my passion, and at this time it’s  here in America.

However, after being in Korea for nearly three years I will admit that I feel a little displaced, I am not really at home with being in America. I am, and always will be American, but it doesn’t feel like home anymore when the last three years I have had bank accounts, memberships, friends, special ways of doing things, adventures, relationships, and so much more that carved stability in the reality of my day to day living in Korea. Wow! I just looked in my purse and I found my Korean credit card, I even have credit to this day in Korea, and to leave all of that and return “home” is very challenging for me to accept.

I have no doubt that living the life of an Expatriate is still available to me, and I think that I will return to it sooner than later. However, at this time I am where I am suppose to be, but honestly speaking there are some many things about Korea that still makes it “home” for me, which has me thinking, “Am I the only one who has lived abroad and feel this way?” So, with that question, I decided to start a series on WOCLA's blog asking other women to talk about their journey of Repatriation.  So, join me as I interview some young women who have lived abroad and for one reason another have come “home.”

Name: Sonya Stutts-Lawrence
Current location: Buffalo, NY
Where are you repatriating from? South Korea

How long were you an expat? 2 years

What was the hardest thing for you to adjust to as an expat? Language barrier

How did you adjust to the language barrier (what did you do to overcome this)? 
Living in a country in which I was completely ignorant to speaking, reading, writing or understanding the language knocked me completely out of my comfort zone; however, it presents opportunities of self-discovery. It was frustrating at times, but Korea also had a free interpreter service I could call to utilize a translator when all else failed; that is a valuable service!

How long have you been back in America now? 2 years

What made you move abroad? The economy

How did the economy affect your decision to move abroad? Prior to moving to Korea, I was a Realtor in the Atlanta market and I had experienced lucrative years when the market was good; however, financial instruments began drying up, sales slowed to a crawl, and it was only the tip of the iceberg. Many companies were not hiring, so I applied for any and everything including teaching opportunities in Korea. They called, I answered, and the rest is history.

What was it like for you when you first returned home? Initially, exciting as I hadn’t seen most of my family in 2 years.

Was it difficult for you to find employment after returning home? Yes, but I knew it was going to be a challenge before I returned as the economy had only marginally improved if at all.

How long did it take to find a job? 6 months, and then I was underemployed.

After finding employment you say you were "underemployed," how so? It took 6 months just to get a Customer Service Rep job in a call center, and I had to convince the HR Rep that I was not overqualified and would not quit when a better opportunity presented itself. 

What was the reason you decided to return home? While in Korea I met and married my husband, and after 2 years his tour was over and we were stationed in Texas.

When you returned home how did you feel? Optimistically torn, as I greatly enjoyed my experiences in Korea and travels throughout Asia; however, I was looking forward to the next chapter in my life which was to take place in the states.

When you returned home did you notice any difference in the people around you? Yes. Positively, the U.S. had elected their first African-American President and there was still some optimistic excitement about that unprecedented feat. However, conversely, others appeared to be pessimistic about the slow growth of the economy and its’ impact on them.

What has been your hardest adjustment since returning home? Being a military spouse.

Really, what adjustments do you think were different for you as a military spouse apposed to being a civil or civil spouse?  As a military spouse, many companies do not want to hire you because they know you will be leaving within 1 to 3 years, and they don't want to invest in a transient employee. Unfortunately, the logic is flawed and they are doing a disservice to themselves b/c no company knows how the relationship with an employee will turn out. The key is to hire based on qualifications with the ability to function on a short learning curve, and maximize the talent for the duration they can commit. But that's the difference between leadership versus management. 

Would you say that your adjustment was different or the same as the adjust you made when you moved abroad? Each adjustment was different for different reasons. Moving to Korea and transitioning to living abroad went very well for me. I received everything I was promised by my employer, I made friends quickly, and many of us explored Asia together. Although Korea, in general, isn’t one of the friendliest countries, it is fairly easy to get around while not being fluent in the language.

How has living abroad changed how you see things in American? It has added more balance and appreciation to my perspective. While no country that I have experienced yet is perfect, living and traveling internationally has heightened my respect for cultural differences. There are things in America that I have developed a new-found love for such as living and personal space, and the more wide-spread application of critical thinking. However, there are plenty of things I relished from Korea such as their cheap mass transit system, the plethora of mom & pop restaurants, the haggling in shopping, and the curious youth welcoming of a different culture, to name a few examples.

What do people say when you tell them that you lived abroad? People vary in their responses. Some find it exciting, courageous, or adventurous; while others have been fearfully amazed.

What do you miss about your life abroad? The openness and reception of meeting new people of all kinds (natives, ex-pats, transients, and visitors), and traveling to different lands. International airlines offer the best food, drinks and hospitality. Additionally, I must mention while abroad I visited North Korea in 2008, and that was certainly an eye-opening experience.

What don’t you miss about living abroad? Shoebox-sized apt, no ovens, and Korean TV. There were only a handful of English-speaking channels and they mostly televised some variation of Law & Order J

Do you think you will ever move abroad again? Absolutely!

Ok, where would like to move, why and when do you think you will be able to do that? I'd love to live in South Africa, UAE, Italy, Hong Kong, Venezuela...the list goes on. As for when, I don't know. I never thought I would've lived in Korea but I did and loved it. Why? I want to experience all that life has to offer and broaden my understanding, appreciation and respect of and for others.

What lesson did you learn while living abroad? Never underestimate the value of toiletries.

If you could have the best of both worlds, what would that look like for you? A bathtub, heated floors, keyless locks, a full-size 2nd-story loft, communal dining, clothes dryer, and a crime rate so low that when you pass out on the street from inebriation, you and your belongings are intact and untampered.

Finish this sentence….Living abroad was valuable and added to me being a more well-rounded person.

Finish this sentence….Now, that I have returned home I cherish my family more.

What advice would you give someone who is about to return home from living a life abroad? Be mentally prepared for the changes you will encounter returning home as you were when you ventured abroad.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Yes, Virginia, There is Winter in Africa: Common Misperceptions About Africa

Kruger National Park, South Africa
By: Meisha

Sally Struthers, "Tarzan," the media, and films such as "Blood Diamonds" have done a disservice to the perceptions of Africa and Africans.  For anyone planning a trip to Africa, feeling afraid to visit Africa, or desiring to visit Africa, here are the facts on a couple of common misperceptions about Africa.

1) It will be “Africa hot!”:  I am writing this post from my room in South Africa, while sitting under three blankets, one of which is an electric blanket.  Right now, it is winter in South Africa and where I live, at night, its 37°F or 3°C.  It snows in Lesotho and you can go skiing in Morocco.  So yes there are some countries that get “Africa hot,” but even they have a rainy or windy season where it gets "chilly."  

2) As a person of African descent, I will be welcomed back to the motherland by my brothers and sisters: This is what I like to refer to as a “Roots” experience. You know, we conjure up images similar to the last scene of the “Roots” mini-series where Alex Haley is welcomed back to Africa with big hugs from his distant African relatives.  Sorry to tell you that won’t happen.  Even if you go to Juffreh, the Gambian village where Kunta Kinte hails from, you won’t have a “Roots Experience.”

In fact, you will probably quickly realize how American (or insert other nationality here) you are.  If you are lighter skinned like I am, you will also have to come to grips with being called, white or mixed.  Even if you are the exact same shade as the locals in the country you visit, you will still stand out as a foreigner and be treated as such. 

However, you will feel a connection and see the cultural similarities.  You may be able to have experiences that non-Black people are not afforded.  And I still do recommend that every person of African descent visit Africa.

3) There will be animals everywhere: Lions, Tigers, and Bears oh my!  Unless you are in a protected wildlife park like Kruger National Park in Southern Africa or the Serengeti in Tanzania you will probably not see wild animals.  I have seen the occasional pack of monkeys while traveling in South Africa and there were hippos, which were rarely seen, in the river near my home in Benin.   

Donkey "Racing," Dogon Country, Mali
What are more common to see?  Farm animals.  In more rural areas, you will see donkeys, chickens, goats, pigs and cows, roaming and grazing freely.  BTW if you are driving and hit one of these animals you will be required to compensate the farmer!

4) All of is Africa is a village: Yes, there are a lot of non-developed, rural areas in Africa where you can still find people living in mud huts.   At the same time though, visiting Accra, Johannesburg, Abidjan, or Nairobi, feels like you are in Europe or the United States. There is a booming middle class in Africa that live comparable to their Western counterparts.  We won’t even mention the wealthy upper class, but let’s just say they are living large, even from a Western perspective.

Rooftop Bar, Johannesburg, South Africa
5) You are helping to alleviate poverty by giving away money: I understand the sentiment behind giving away money, candy, and whatever other small tokens you were able to stash in your luggage to beggars and children.  And I get over tipping or over paying because you can’t imagine only paying ___ when you would usually pay ___ at home.  However, what you don’t realize is that you perpetuate the myth that all foreigners are wealthy, normalize begging as a means of income, and establish a handout mentality. Plus, for those of us that live here, we are then constantly harassed to give people everything from money to the shoes on our feet.

If you would like to help, I recommend funneling your donations thru a local religious institution, school, or non-profit or supporting local artisans and small businesses.  Staying at a small, local hotel instead of Sofitel and trying street food instead of 5-star dining it every night has a stronger, more sustainable impact on economic development. 

Ndebele Women, Cultural Village, South Africa
8) Traveling in Africa isn’t safe. So yes, there are some countries in Africa that have political unrest, but the majority of Africa has had stable democracies for decades. And yes, there are men walking around with machetes, but they are farmers. And the only people with guns I have seen have been the police. Coming from an American city like Philadelphia where the murder rate is pretty high, in some ways I feel safer here then I did at home.  I have even hitched hiked multiple times here, while I would never do this in the U.S.  Like any place, there are the muggers and pickpocketers that prey on tourists but a little street smarts and common sense can keep you from falling into their traps.

7) Africans don’t speak English.  The English colonized a large percentage of Africa. Former British colonies, like Nigeria, will have English as on one of their national languages along with several traditional languages.  And even where English isn’t one of the national languages, English is taught in school.  So you may actually meet people in Africa that not only speak better English than you, but more languages than you!

Zulu Men Dancing, Cultural Village, South Africa
8) All Africans are Black.  Colonization brought people from all over the world to settle in Africa.  There are people of Indian, Asian, and European descent that have lived in Africa for several generations and consider themselves just as African as their black brethren.

9) Africa is one homogenous continent.  One of the best parts of traveling in Africa is experiencing the diverse cultures. This can be done by not only traveling to different countries, but traveling within one country.  Northern Africa with its heavy Arabic influence is very different than Southern Africa with its strong British influence.  Likewise, in a single country, one might find 30 different cultural classifications each speaking a different language.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

~Inglisuri Maswavlebeli...Teaching in Georgia

Being an Inglisuri Maswavlebeli (English teacher) is indeed an interesting experience. I work as a co-teacher with local English teachers teaching 1st - 6th grade. My main responsibility as a co-teacher is to assist with improving listening and speaking skills among students as well as teachers. There is no English classroom, so we go to each class. I work about 20 hours a week with 45-minute classes; teachers do not exceed 30 hours.

Memorization is a popular style of learning in Georgia that I believe dates back to the Soviet times. In my opinion, this is not an effective teaching style because the children are still unable to comprehend the text. Over the past few months, I've tried to introduce my co-teachers to other techniques that are likely more beneficial for the students such as reading comprehension, composition, class presentations, songs and games. It's great that my co-teachers are open to my comments and activities; however, my awkward class schedule doesn't allow me to be consistent at all.

My co-teachers and I do not do any lesson planning, which is a problem that I attempted to change without any success. If I intend to teach a lesson, I show them my lesson plan beforehand and try to explain how it helps me. Simply giving a verbal explanation of the lesson without providing any written information or examples is not helpful, yet students are expected to understand right away. In my lessons, I do the complete opposite to make sure students understand and explain to my co-teachers my reason for teaching in such a way. At the end of the day, all I can do is my best and hope that some things that I have shared will help them to broaden their teaching styles.

The students are very friendly and super excited to see me to say Hello and Goodbye. I must get those two words a thousand times a day on the way to school, in class, walking the halls, and returning home. Classroom management is not a problem, and my students are well-behaved for the most part. Of course there are times when they get a little noisy but kids will be kids. The only thing I have had to work on is children raising their hands and waiting until acknowledged to answer questions, which they have caught on to quickly since I don't acknowledge those calling to me or not raising their hands. I try to engage the entire class in lessons whereas my co-teachers usually pay more attention to the top students; they have gotten better at this.

As expected, some of my classes are ahead of others, and there is a wide distribution of their level of skills. Once the lessons are interactive and fun, they are attentive and participate. Homework given is mostly memorization and translation of text versus actual assignments. However, most students usually don't do homework anyway or copy from their classmates. There is no disciplinary action for cheating or sharing answers that I am aware of. I sometimes give simple assignments, rewarding those that complete them correctly with smiley faces/stars, and doing homework reviews where students are asked to explain their answer choices.

Although my school doesn't look the best in terms of infrastructure, I have found that there is a good supply of resources available. Some teacher's textbook guides are available, blackboards are usable, chalk is available, and there is a computer lab with working computers and Internet access most of the time. My school director also provided some English books from the school library that I could use in class. Overall, the school staff and administration are hospitable and supportive.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Top 7 Out-of-the-Box Experiences in Korea That Are Worthwhile

By:  Brittany S

Traveling to a different country doesn't always have to mean you want to visit the tallest building, location where something was filmed, or museums (or something equally historical and/or insightful).  Why not do some of the fun stuff that the locals do?  Doesn't saying you ran with the bulls in Barcelona sound so much cooler than you watched a bullfight in your home country?  Here are a few ways to make these kind of memories in Korea.

7--Visit “Dr. Fish”  (Gangnam, S. Korea)

Although you can do this in other countries, I’ve read the best reviews about doing it in Korea.  Stick your feet in a tank with two different kinds of fish that will eat the dead skin—a natural pedicure!

Things to Do:
Wear loose clothes so you can roll them up and keep them dry.
Enjoy gelato/waffle/coffee/smoothie before you go to the tank.
Keep a tight grip on your camera so you don’t drop it in the water!

Things to Remember:
Don’t put on a lot of moisturizer the day you get ready to go.

I wouldn’t recommend coming all the way to Korea just to do this, but if you are already planning a trip there, why not take things to the next level?  The pilot is British so don’t worry about language barriers.  You will either fly a 2 or 4-seater plane with his assistance.  It’s pretty cool!

Things to Do:
Dress in layers. The temperature will vary on and off the ground.
Taxi the plane on the runway.
Take control of the plane in the air, both turning & balancing it out.
Wear a headset and communicate with Air Traffic Control and your co-pilot.

Things to Remember:
Take your time moving the controls. It only requires small adjustments.
The instructor has a set of controls, too.  You’re in good hands.
You can only take pictures in designated areas ONLY.

5--Visit the “Love Castle” (Gyeongju, S. Korea)
I couldn’t help but giggle like a schoolgirl at this museum.  From penis chairs, sex toys, and karma sutra instructional videos to fetish displays and animal porn, this museum has enough to keep you smirking.  In spite of its description, it’s not a sleezy place and you will oftentimes see timid couples going there for a date.

Things to Do:
He's such a good kisser. ;-)
Take at least one inappropriate picture with a statue (oh c’mon…you’re at a SEX MUSEUM!)
Be prepared to be shocked, embarrassed, and/or curious, etc.
Go with someone you’re dating or make it a girls’ night out
Watch the kama sutra video while sitting on penis chairs in a dimly lit room

Things to Remember:
Don’t do anything there that you wouldn’t want others to find out about (employers, etc).
This place mainly focuses on the aesthetics of sex and love.

4--Eat LIVE Octopus(Seoul, S. Korea)
Ok I’m not gon’ lie, I haven’t done this one…yet.  I have to work my way up to it! Not only is eating live octopus a little like something off “Fear Factor” for many of us (it actually was a Fear Factor challenge), but if eaten incorrectly, you could choke and die!  It is only second to blowfish as the most dangerous food to eat in the world. (Now you see why I’m not in a rush to cross this one off my list.  Maybe I’ll do a few more of these and THEN do this one…*nervous laugh*)

Things to Do:
Have a buddy record a video of you eating it.  Some people make really funny faces.

Things to Remember:
“Death By Octopus” is not something you want on your tombstone. CHEW!

3--Boryeong Mud Festival (Boryeong, South Korea)
Korea has a festival for just about EVERYTHING.  But out of all their celebrations, this one draws the largest foreign crowd.  Head down to the beach and enjoy a day covered in mud!  From mud facials/massages to colored mud body paint to mud wrestling, there is plenty of excitement for people of all ages.  You’ll leave with your skin feeling great!

Things to Do:
Encourage someone you can release your pinned-up frustration on to mud wrestle with you.
Go down the giant mud slide—try not to scream or you will get mud in your mouth!
Turn yourself in and go to “mud prison.”
Enjoy the free concerts and other performances.
Visit the mud spa.
Party on the beach!
Get your body painted in colored mud.

Things to Remember:
Book your hotel or pension rooms EARLY.  Same thing applies for transportation both ways.
Don’t pack things that you’d be devastated if they were ruined.
Wear sunscreen and swimwear that can handle you being active.
Don’t get your hair done right before you go. ;-)

2--DMZ Tour (DMZ, S. Korea)
DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone is a true misnomer.  By definition, a demilitarized zone is a place where all military presence or function has been removed and forbidden.  Then why is this place the most heavily militarized border in the world?  This area serves as the buffer zone between North and South Korea.  Not only do I recommend this as a great historical site that explains a lot of the story behind Korea’s division and current relations, but for some, it presents a unique thrill of being in a dangerous place.  Even though there are rules and agreements in place, time and time again incidents have happened from someone disobeying orders, resulting in death at times.  Depending on the current relationship between the two countries, you may even be able to go into North Korea; but be careful.

Things to Do:
Tour one of the three tunnels open to tourists (4 tunnels in total)
Take pictures with soldiers (ask permission first)
Read up/watch mini documentaries on the history of that area
Buy souvenir(s)
See “propaganda village” in N. Korea as well as the large flagpole
Go to the JSA (Joint Security Area)
Visit the Gyeongui (KORAIL) line that connects the two Koreas

Things to Remember:
Sign up to go with a tour
Have your passport and/or ARC handy
Dress conservatively and neatly (check your tour’s exact dress code)
Take pictures in designated areas ONLY

1--Do a Temple Stay (all around S. Korea)
You don’t have to be Buddhist (or be concerned that they will try to convert you) to do a temple stay.  Korea has a few world renowned temples that are foreigner/non-Buddhist friendly.  I highly recommend Haein Temple (near Daegu).

Things to Do:
Take a vow of silence.
108 Prostrations (Yup, you’ll bow 108 times!)
Wake up at 3am to begin your day as a monk.
Practice meditating.
Talk to monk(s).
Take a hike.

Things to Remember:
All your actions should be with your “mind” (it’s the heart, not the brain).
Make sure you eat all the food you put on your tray.
Adhere to the temple rules.
No cameras during official ceremonies.
Dress conservatively.