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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting Your Mind Right

by: Chealynn Feaster

I can't believe the biggest piece of the puzzle is actually completed. My visa appointment! After stressing and questioning my documents, the appointment went smoothly and took no longer than 15minutes. If my documents were incomplete or incorrect in some way it could possibly delay my departure date and/or employment start date. No visa means NO Spain and there’s just isn’t any way of getting around that. And for this being my first time moving, living and working abroad I NEED to be there as early as I can to get myself situated. I NEED to attend my orientation to have all of my questions answered. The questions I have now and the questions that are sure to arise each day as my start date gets closer and closer. I want to feel settled and at peace as much I possibly can before I leave and when I arrive on another continent X amount of miles away from everything that is safe and familiar and the way that I know how to minimize my angst and feel at peace in most situations in my life is to read, write and ASK. 

READ - The internet is a wonderful tool I use to my complete advantage. I’m reading up on Spain and learning as much as I can through travel blogs, expat forums and participating in FB groups that are specific to my needs and traveling destinations. I’m learning from people who have done it before as well as newbies like myself who are navigating through the entire preparation process for the first time. The never ending to do list can be daunting but also exciting once you start checking things off. In the Facebook groups we announce and cheer each other on when background checks are apostiled without a hitch, visa appointments are complete and plane tickets are purchased. Through all the issues, concerns and reservations, seeking information and support can relieve so much of the stress that can manifest when trying to go at it alone.  

WRITE – All of the information that I'm reading and learning I can’t possibly remember so I jot down alot of notes, especially useful topics that will need further research (aka more Googling). Packing is such a small part of the process, preparing includes researching crime rate, economic and political status specific to your area along with setting up VPN’s, bank accounts and finding English speaking doctors and/or specialists if needed.  The "to do" list that I mentioned before is literally a list that I write down on paper with a pen and each item is checked off as they are completed. Most people rely on their smartphone calendars or electronic task reminders but for me there is something about the physical act of handwriting that is therapeutic. I’ve been a journal writer since I was twelve years old and to write down goals and see progress (or setbacks) on paper gives me an extra boost and sense of accomplishment. Of course not every single item may be completed in a given day but seeing what I need to do keeps me more organized and focused. 

ASK! - Know that no question is too small or too dumb. This is how you learn. If you can’t find the answer on your own ask someone who has already done what you want to do. They may offer advice and additional information that you never knew you needed. By asking questions I just recently found out that T-Mobile can provide me with a code to unlock my sim card so I can use my phone overseas, now I don’t have to purchase a new phone in Europe and that gives me one less thing to worry about.

So in my quest to continue releasing a few fears and anxieties I'm also reflecting and asking myself some questions. I wrote a few down and invite you to do the same.  Answer them for yourself or come up with a couple of your own, meditate and breathe it out, allow your mind some peace we will definitely need it!

What are my expectations?
To be amazed and to fall in love. Everyone I speak to about leaving for Madrid whether they've never been there visited once or already live there assures me…"you're gonna love it!" so I'm setting expectations high on this one. I really do love NY but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room in my heart for new additions. I'm ready to ooh and aah over landscape and architecture, experience breathtaking scenery and eat authentic run and tell that food!

What is my contingency plan?
Realistically I know my comfort level will be significantly compromised. I won’t touch down in Madrid throw my hat in the air and twirl Mary Tyler Moore style some major adjusting will have to take place as I encounter a different language, new culture, new people, a different lifestyle...what if I hate it and want to come home? What if I love it and want to stay beyond the expiration date of my teaching contract? How can I start to prepare now for each scenario? 
(Side note: Returning early is not an option, I signed up for one school year and I'm sticking it out for one school year)

What are my goals?

Learn a new language. Open my mind to new activities. Stay inspired. Influence a child's life. 

Or another version of this question (I get asked this the most) is what made you decide to move to Spain and honestly I felt bored and boring. NY is all I know as I haven’t spent a significant amount of time anywhere else and I wanted to experience a different kind of energy.  I want to see the sights in Spain, Italy, London, Paris and Morocco and it really couldn’t hurt me to be a little more cultured. I once went on vacation and met someone who was an avid scuba diver. He dived in every country he visited and was so proud that his passport barely had room for any more stamps. Scuba diving was his thing and his passion for it was admirable. Now I don’t particularly see myself scuba diving but I did want a part of that travel excitement. I want stories to tell my kids and grandkids so…why not?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Essential Personal Care Items for Eco-Minded Travelers

I have to admit it…I’m a roots gal!  Whole, organic, and natural describe my diet and aesthetic.  As a vegan, environmentalist, and traveler- what I put in my luggage has to suit my health, my pocket, and our planet.  Eco-friendly personal care products will enable you to buy less, carry less, and waste less- a winning trio for fellow nomads.  If you’re also an earth-conscious traveler, here are a few allies worth adding to your backpack.  They may not offset the carbon emissions from your air travel but they may lower your environmental impact once you touch ground!  ;)


Castile Soap

This potent, veggie-based, bio-degradable soap is popular amongst backpackers.  It can be used to wash your hair, your body, your clothes, and your dishes!  Available as a bar or liquid, both are effective and can be used sparingly.  Some find it harsh on their hair or skin, so dilute as necessary.

Bath Brush

Instead of washing and rewashing washcloths, a bath brush will exfoliate your skin, stimulate your lymph system, and scrub you till you shine!  Investing in a durable, natural bristle bath brush is worth the cost and it will help you feel “pampered” even if a spa visit is not in the travel budget.

Pumice Stone

FYI for new travelers:  there may be towns or regions where pedicures are unheard of.  Especially in rural regions where manual labor, long walking commutes, and poor shoes are common, you may have to take your foot care into your own hands.  To keep rough foot bottoms at bay, rubbing your soles with a pumice stone at the end of the shower will help to keep them smooth and callous-free.  A generous rubbing of shea butter before bed and wearing cotton socks (if you really need some TLC) will keep your feet from being…um…abrasive.  ;)


Recyclable Razors

With the exception of a French or feminist minority, most women shave.  I’ve seen disposable razors for sale in nearly every country I’ve visited but I haven’t always found replaceable razor cartridges.  By investing in a durable recycled razor handle, you can pack disposable razor cartridges for use, which produces less waste than throwing out an entire razor with the handle included.  If that option is not green enough for you, you can invest in a razor sharpener to extend the life of each razor head, try a DIY razor sharpening method, or go “old school” with a straight razor and a leather strap.

Reusable Toothbrush

Similar to the abovementioned razors, there are recycled toothbrush handles that have replaceable toothbrush heads.  Instead of changing an entire toothbrush, the head is replaced every three months or so.  Also similar to the razors, the replaceable toothbrush heads are not found everywhere, so it’s one of those products you’d have to stock up on before your travels.


Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has become my new multi-use product of choice.  It makes for a great leave-in hair conditioner, face and body moisturizer, and--with a little baking soda--an effective, homemade toothpaste.  Using coconut oil will put you in compliance with the naturalista’s code of honor:  “If you won’t put it in your body, don’t put it on your body”.  Your skin, being the largest organ of your body, absorbs everything that enters the pore straight through to the bloodstream, so choose your moisturizer wisely!  Solid when cold and liquid at room temperature, virgin coconut oil should be stored securely.  Make sure your container is properly sealed and placed in a secure Ziploc bag in the event of leaks.


Shea Butter

Pure, raw shea butter is the best moisturizer I’ve found for dry skin.  Even if your skin is not generally dry, relocating to a location with particularly hard water or harsh weather conditions can be a dermal assault.  Shea butter is my product of choice for skin softening, repair, and protection.  A little goes along way, so it will earn its share of luggage weight.


Thai Crystal Deodorant

Finding your deodorant of choice on the road is not always easy.  Instead of discovering a new foreign brand that suits your liking, you can get to the root of the problem by preventing body odor.  Made from crystallized natural mineral salts, these “rock” deodorants don’t allow odor-causing bacteria to flourish.  The deodorant will last as long as its intact, which could be years (if you’re not clumsy like me!).  If you need odor protection back-up, a dab of tea tree oil after application should keep you “funk-free” until you reach your next shower.  Please note:  This deodorant is not an anti-perspirant, so you will sweat as freely as usual (which is normal, healthy, and okay!).


Menstrual Cups and Reusable Pads

Yes, I said the “M” word.  Regarding your monthly friend, your Aunt Flo, or whatever your moniker of choice, we have to address our menses.  While most women are eager to flush away, throw away or wish away our womanly experience, we have to consider the disposable pads and tampons that are piling up in landfills, alongside other sources of avoidable waste.  Even if we don’t want to think about what happens once we throw away our sanitary products, our planet is absorbing the cost of our disposable culture.  And if you think that suppressing your cycle is the answer, the widespread use of birth control pills and other hormone-influencing medications has been altering the reproductive habits of aquatic life for the last few decades.  The majority of any medication that we ingest is excreted through our urine, so all those synthetic hormones end up in our waterways.

As an alternative, products like the Keeper or the Diva Cup are reusable menstrual cups that produce no unnecessary waste.  Made from rubber or silicone, you empty and rinse them during your cycle and when it’s over, they are washed, dried, and stored until next time around.  The same product can be used for up to ten years, so no need to make mad dashes to pharmacies- you can be prepared at all times.  Reusable pads are made from cloth, so it will take more effort to soak, wash, and dry them after use, but still worth the effort considering the long-term costs of monthly sanitary products.  Sorry if that was too much information but I had to put it out there! 

What are some of your favorite eco-friendly, travel essentials?

Friday, September 14, 2012

“I Wish Things Were Like This At Home…”

By:  Brittany S

While I was sitting there looking at her that’s when it hit me; things are different because of me.  How could I have been so na├»ve to that fact?

I just moved to a new city three weeks ago and I have a new “best friend”.  Now of course we aren’t true best friends—the type that go in each other’s fridges, know each other’s parents’ phone numbers, been each other’s wingman then shoulder to cry on after the breakup.  We’re not even the besties that use the bathroom and talk to each other while the other is in the shower (Too far?).

"You and me must ne-vah part...ma-tee-da-da."
But, if anyone knows what is going on with me and/or where I am, she does.

But how is this possible in such a short time?  Two words:  FOREIGNER FRIENDLY.  These words mean more to me than just that that locals welcome/embrace foreigners or that there is an English translation available.  It means when foreigner meets foreigner, we (generally) become really friendly!  Initially knowing our only commonalities to be English speaker and non-Korean, we are more willing to do a lot of things within the first 24-48 hours of “knowing” each other:

·         Exchange phone numbers
·         Add each other on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, etc)
·         Tell each other where we work and live (and sometimes even give each other the key codes to get into each other’s apartment buildings/rooms) as well as how/why we are in Korea and where we are from
·         Go to each other’s apartments
·         Go to dinners, bowling parties, etc and not know a single person in attendance
·         Hug or have some other form of familial physical contact
·         Ask for and/or offer career advice
·         Give or loan goods and services

I don't even know them.  I invited them to sing w/us & they were HILARIOUS.  I don't think I would be so "friendly" in the middle of the night if we were stateside.

All of this is possible without even knowing each other’s last name!  It may seem as though these newly-formed relationships are superficial (and in some cases, they are), but we sincerely develop somewhat intimate relationships with each other in an astoundingly short time.  It’s human nature to seek out those who are similar to us.  Whether our similarities be along the lines of race, gender, sexuality, class, beliefs, etc, we feel most comfortable among our own.  Do you remember where you sat in the high school cafeteria?  The need to belong and be accepted is great among the human race and we thrive off of some kind of interaction with others.

Yea, I think it is a little like "Mean Girls"...even where you SIT determines sooo much about you smh.

In a country where English is not the native tongue, I’ve come to realize how important verbal communication is and isn’t at the same time.  It amazes me how my eyes would light up when I saw another foreigner walking the streets, as something as basic as being able to talk to them excited me.  If we ever had the chance to formally meet, we would have started to see a place in each other’s lives.  And yet, there are moments where all we share is a laugh and that's enough of a language to know what the other person wants to say.  But why can’t things be like this at home (in America)?

How many people in this picture do you think speak English?  I'll give you a hint, only the ones that look like me do.  We communicate with more than just vocabulary.

While I was sitting there looking at her that’s when it hit me; things are different because of me.

At the risk of making us sound like participants in a salivating dog experiment, we are conditioned to think and behave in a certain way from birth.  The socialization in America is phenomenal.  I’m sure we can all think of people who vote Republican because their father does and that’s just “the way things are.”  Or the girl who won’t tell anyone she likes Winnie the Pooh because her friends said liking cartoon characters is for babies.  There is a suppressed personality inside of all of us; putting yourself in unfamiliar surroundings allows for it to come out.

When you get off the plane, you are filled with a spectrum of emotions and questions.  As time goes on, you start to balance out, but your personality and character exponentially develops.  Just in my brief stint abroad, I have seen/done/learned so much. (Click here to see a little more of my travel story!)  Some things are forever changed in me.

·         I love to travel.  Someone once said the adult sticker book is a passport.  I wholeheartedly agree.  Every time I get a new stamp I feel the same exhilaration as getting a new Lisa Frank sticker book (remember those?).


Can you believe we are at a BOWLING ALLEY?! Yea, we got hard in the paint for some karaoke!
·         I am unique.  That is a stronger, more positive word than “different.”  I embrace it.  If people don’t understand my fashion choices for instance, it is because the pants I wear are Thai pants and my jewelry is from Jamaica and Malaysia.  I can’t expect them to be accepting, or even understanding of me.  They haven’t been unplugged as I have.  It’s ok.  They don’t know any better. ;-)

·         Food is delicious almost EVERYWHERE.  You just have to be willing to try it (and at times, get over the presentation or ingredients of it)!
This food looked a little like vomit haha but as you can see, we devoured it.
·         Most importantly, I’ve learned that it is ok to be yourself.  It is almost required.  Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”  No matter whom you choose to be, make sure that is who you really are.  Even when we say someone dances to the beat of their own drummer, that still means it is them and the drummer!  Don’t hide who you are in fear of isolation.  If we are our true selves, we will attract the correct circle around us.

I pretty much met them all the same night.  We ended up having dinner & spending HOURS thinking we are Whitney/Mariah/Toni/Janet haha.  Now we hang out regularly & I've even had a sleepover with one of them!

Traveling has allowed me to come to my own resolutions about these and many other things at warp speed.  I think this is perhaps why things are so different here than back home, especially in terms of relationships.  All the highs and lows we would experience with people back home is fast-forwarded here.  In our familial surroundings, we listen to family, friends, media, politics, religion, etc.  When you move to a place where no one knows your face, name, or even language, an enormous socialization burden is lifted.  A lot of societal voices are silenced.  When our own voice is the most clear, so is our sense of direction and purpose; so are we.

Thanks Abbie! (My new hair stylist haha you like?)

As bizarre as it may sound, I came to all these conclusions one day when I was out with my new bestie and chuckling at how we already have inside jokes and each other’s back stories.  My guard is completely down with her and many others I encounter here.  I pray I never feel the need to throw up a wall again when I move on from this place.  So here’s to Abbie, who unknowingly helped me to realize that it isn’t necessarily Korea specifically that changed my behavior, but my own maturity when I allowed my voice to be the only one to speak for me.  Silence is more than golden; it's eye-opening.

**If you can’t afford to travel internationally, I highly recommend domestic travel to place totally unfamiliar to you.  The silence is there for everyone, you just have to find it.