I Always Knew I Wanted To Live In Asia | Travel/Volunteer Guest Post Series: by Abby Stewart

I can’t believe it is actually here but I am off volunteering and teaching kids in Kilimanjaro-Tanzania for the month! Don’t fret! I haven’t forgotten about you, readers! I have a lineup of some very talented and wonderful bloggers who will guest post for me while I am gone.  The guest post series topic is on travel experiences OR adventures in volunteering locally or abroad to go with the theme of my volunteering & traveling adventures in Africa. I’ll be back before you know it with plenty of stories of my own, I’m sure! Enjoy!

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 My first guest post is from a fellow blogger whom I am lucky enough to have met IRL while she was in Chicago for the 20sb Summit last year. Abby Stewart is currently teaching in South Korea, just self-published her novela Menthol Kisses (which I am dying to read on my long flight!), and blogs at A Geek Tragedy. I LOVE this post about following travel dreams and learning about yourself.  Easy for me to say, I am doing just that right now as I am in Tanzania volunteering!

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I think junior high was the first time I ‘officially’ announced my desire to live in Asia. At the time my preferred destination was Japan. When my grandparents asked what they should tell my extended family to get me for Christmas, I replied: “Oh, anything to do with Japan.”

I received a VHS travel documentary about Hawaii. I’ve considered the obvious explanation, they are both islands. And the more nuanced one, perhaps the older generation, filled with World War II memories, was providing me with a subtle hint.

At any rate, I was not dissuaded. In high school I didn’t move toward this goal in any real way. I spent much of my time on Internet forums and pinning up anime pictures next to the dragon figurines around my desk (whatever — I was super cool). However, in college I took the first step toward making my dream a tangible reality.

Walking across the university courtyard I noticed a single booth set up with a banner that read JET. I knew immediately what that banner was for, The Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. I walked past the booth twice, maybe three times, before finally approaching the booth’s solitary inhabitant and requesting an information packet. The guy seemed almost elated to speak with me, and I got the sense that he hadn’t spoken to many people that day. I, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved in my questioning. I didn’t want to seem over eager, after all.

I kept the JET packet sitting above my computer until I graduated. When I graduated, I moved the packet with me to my new apartment and my new job. It became a dusty, manila receptacle for my hopes and dreams.

Eventually, I figured I would never act on the packet — and it had to be out of date by that point anyway — so I tossed it. I felt nothing more than a soft flicker of guilt as I trashed the college artifact. But I had a lot going for me then — I had a job, a car, health insurance, a seemingly stable relationship, all the trappings of a successful “adult” life.

And then suddenly, I didn’t have any of that anymore.

After I lost my job, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt purposeless. Then, I realized what I should have been doing all along. I started doing Internet research and decided that I was finally going to move to Asia for a year to teach ESL. At first, I began researching jobs in China, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand — I don’t quite remember how I settled on South Korea, but I’m glad I did. Then Jared (my boyfriend) told me he wanted to go with me, and so here we are!

We recently passed our six month mark in South Korea, and I’ve learned so much about myself. I am definitely not the same unemployed sad sack that I was last year. I’ve walked on the Great Wall of China, learned phrases in a previously incomprehensible language, successfully navigated public transportation (which doesn’t exist in Texas), and immersed myself in a culture I knew little to nothing about. Every day I teach (mostly) enthusiastic students how to read, write, and speak in English. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time here! And I am so thankful that I finally gave my dreams a chance.

My advice? If you’re thinking about traveling, teaching, volunteering, do it now. Do it while you’re young and impulsive and willing to take more risk. There’s nothing to regret, except never trying.


Bio: Abby is an indie author, blogger at a geek tragedy, and ESL teacher, living with her boyfriend, in Seoul, South Korea.

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A travel lesson in flexibility

On Thursday morning 9/20 was awoken by a phone call from the airline saying my flight on Friday had been cancelled. That got me up fast. The new flight they put me on had a 6 hour layover in Newark. Not a chance. No thank you. Not happening.  So I offered to take the last flight out that thursday night. Good thing I was mostly ready but still had a few things left to do. It was definitely a lesson in being prepared and willing to roll with the punches. Things happen and you have to be flexible.  It all happened so fast, it was so surreal.  My parents came down for lunch, we ran (literally) last min errands, went to dinner and headed to the airport.  The funny thing about this flight was that after I booked the friday flight, i had looked into changing it to leave Thursday so I could join nic for tea at kensington palace but it was $400+ to change it. So it was wild that the airline wound up saving me $400 and I got on the flight i wanted. I felt that this was really meant to be. I was meant to be on that flight. I said goodbye and I honestly got a little emotional. I couldn’t believe that after years of dreaming and months of planning, here I was, at the airport about to depart and make all of it a reality. Just writing that made me tear up a bit. It is all so surreal and exciting.

Once in London, I quickly realized my phone didn’t work. I had talked to verizon before I left and they gave me the wrong information.  So I attempted to meet up with Nic but sadly it didn’t work out.  I took a tour of Kensington Palace and explored London on my own a bit.  Getting yourself around via bus and train (tube) and walking in a foreign country is a very satisfying and proud moment.

Things in London I noticed.
The tube voice says: “mind the gap ” instead of “watch your step”. This is so much more polite and classy sounding. 

Lift is an elevator

People are friendly as hell. I haven’t met one person who wasn’t personable and helpful. Even at the airport!

Security at Heathrow- they didn’t even look at my passport and I didn’t have to take off my shoes.

It is expensive here.

People drive on the left and steering wheels are on the right. This makes wide turns seem uncomfortably strange.

My plane is boarding for Nairobi now. I am so excited! I’m still amazed this is all happening!

Let’s look at the world a little differently

I first saw this back in June so I am sure you have seen it already too, but it is just too good not to share.  

The news and media around us always focuses on the negative things going on around us. But Coca Cola reminds us that there is good in this world. It doesn’t matter if you prefer Pepsi or Coke; this isn’t about a corporation’s bottom line. This goes beyond advertising genius. These are not actors, they are people who were caught on hidden security cameras being funny, kind-hearted and selfless and doing amazing things.  It renews my faith in humanity.  This video makes you laugh, smile, cry, and tugs at your heart strings. And the song! Supertramp’s “Give A little Bit” is perfection. It is so touching, I tear up every time I watch it.

So Smile. Dance. Sing. Be weird. Help others. Give random hugs. Spread happiness. Thanks for the reminder to look at the world a little differently, Coca Cola.

The Year Of Caryn: 2012 – Progress Check

If you remember, I didn’t do my New Years Resolutions on time this year because of it didn’t quite start how I had expected. If I did, this list would be completely different. Instead, in February after some dust settled, I deemed 2012 – The Year Of Caryn and this list was born. And oh, The Year of Caryn it has been! Here is my progress check on accomplishing my goals thus far.

Goals For The Year Of Caryn:

  1. Focus on me. Discover who Caryn is as an individual. Do some soul-searching – figure out what makes me happy and what makes me tick. – CHECK (but still in progress & evolving)
  2. Put my needs first. Don’t do something just to please others. If it is something that I don’t want to do or that doesn’t make me happy, DON’T do it.  (This is liberating!) Also note: It’s okay to be selfish sometimes. CHECK – Despite family trying to get me to come back early from Tanzania, I am actually standing my ground and not giving up on my dreams. I am not trying to please them, I am putting myself first for once. Also, saying no to plans because it isn’t something I want to do – SO FREEING.
  3. Make time to do the things that I’ve always wanted to do but made excuses for, never thought I would have time to do or never thought the time was right. CHECK – volunteer in Tanzania in 19 days!
  4. Follow my dreams. CHECK I started Tweetup For Change, volunteering in Tanzania AND I’m going to climb Kilimanjaro, baby!
  5. Get in shape  – this includes running more, attending yoga and core fusion more often and completing a month of Jillian’s 30 day shred. CHECK, completed several Jillian DVD’s, got a personal trainer and started Couch to 5K
  6. Find space between digital world and real world.  Disconnect from constantly being connected. Turn off  the cell phone and computer once in a while. Still need to do this, but will have limited access while in Tanzania
  7. Take a photography class & learn to use a DSLR camera. CHECK Took a 90 min free photography class, but want to learn more
  8. Buy that DSLR camera  Can’t afford this right now. STILL TO DO
  9. Be more proactive about reaching out to those I love.  So many wonderful people have come into my life recently, don’t take them for granted. Continuous & in progress but not sure worthy of a check.
  10. Surround myself with those who make me happy. If someone doesn’t make me feel happy/smart/cool/pretty/nice/thin/safe to be my true self/smart enough – then take a step back and re-evaluate the friendship. I want to surround myself with people who make me feel happy and alive and appreciate me. CHECK but still evolving. Amazing how much better you feel when you’re around positive energy. Realized even if bad things happen, you can choose to be happy.

Blog Goals:

  1. Stay on top of my ideas for blog content and post in a timely fashion. I have 63 drafts just waiting to be finished and published. I’ve got to work on this. I have more drafts now and haven’t been posting as often as I would like. I’ve been too busy off making shit happen!
  2. Personal posts are okay but add more inspiring content too. The intent of the blog is not to be a diary. CHECK. Also started Saturn Return segment
  3. Don’t feel pressured to post if it has been a while.  It is my blog and I should only post when I have content I want to share. Guess this contradicts #1 but CHECK
  4. Create a new blog name. Please feel free to submit suggestions. Seriously. CHECK. new blog TBA later.
  5. Buy my own domain with said new blog name. STILL TO DO
  6. Hold more contests, interviews, giveaways etc. Be a more active blogger but still adhere to Goal 3. STILL TO DO – but I do have a guest post series coming up and have been selected for UbiChamps…
  7. Embrace all that blogging has brought into my world and continue to grow with it. CHECK! BiSC #2, winning a free trip for BiSC 2013 and Kindle Fire, Tweetups, new friends, social media events, etc.
  8. Learn CSS and improve technical skills STILL TO DO

I still have a bit to do in the Year of Caryn, but I am really proud of all that I have accomplished.  I feel like a totally different person than I was and so much has changed and evolved in these 9 months. It seems like forever ago when I first set these goals. I have made improvements in my life and focused on the big, personal, soul-searching things, the things to make me happy and allow me to grow. I have realized a lot about myself and about life in general and while I know this process is far from over, I know I am finally discovering who I really am at my hearts center and what I want to get out of this life. It really is the material things that I have left to check off this list. And it is only September!

What were your goals for 2012? How are you doing on accomplishing the goals you set out to do this year?