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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The one where I kindly ask you to help me make my dreams of volunteering in Africa a reality. Please.

Dearest Readers,

Jambo! (Swahili for Hello!) As you may remember, I have deemed this year The Year of Caryn and I am doing everything I can to follow through with the goals I set for myself.  I can accomplish goals #3,4 & 6 but need your help to make my dreams come true. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to volunteer somewhere in Africa. I have always felt that it was a calling of mine to give back, to make a difference, to do something bigger than myself, to volunteer abroad. While I always envisioned myself volunteering somewhere in Africa, I didn’t think it was a dream that I could actually make into a reality. It wasn’t until recent life changes that I began to do some serious soul-searching. I realized that even though there will always be excuses and doubters, there is no better time than now to listen to and follow my heart.

Thanks to Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS), I am able to make my volunteering dream come true this coming September. CCS is a 501(c)3 non-profit international volunteer organization with no religious or political affiliations, whose mission is to operate volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustainable community initiatives, bringing people together to work side-by-side while sharing perspectives and fostering cultural understanding.

I have selected CCS’s program in Kilimanjaro- Tanzania where I will teach children for four (4) weeks. Stationed near the town of Moshi, I’ll be joined by 25 other volunteers. I will be living in shared rooms with bunk beds at the CCS provided home-base where hot water and electricity will be very sparse. We will have to go to Internet cafes in town to get Internet (technology detox, yes!).

Despite the fact that many people do not have a lot of belongings and live in poverty, I’ve heard they are some of the happiest and most grateful people you will ever meet. My plan, while I’m there, is to get off the tourist path, immerse myself into the culture, connect with the people, and of course, to help educate and make a difference. I am now attempting to teach myself Swahili so that I am better prepared for this experience. I want to fully embrace this opportunity. I know this will be a very difficult, eye-opening experience, and one of the biggest life challenges I will ever face.

You are probably asking yourself, why does she have to pay to be in a volunteer program? Well, the only free program is the Peace Corp. and I honestly cannot commit to 27 months away from my family, friends & life. I am not asking for your help to go on a leisurely vacation, rather I am asking for you to sponsor me so I can mentor children and to give them the opportunity to be educated and literate. Did you know that Africa lacks quality teachers? In fact, according to the International Development Research Centre, even though literacy rates have greatly improved in Africa over the last few decades, approximately 40% of Africans over the age of 15, and 50% of women above the age of 25 remain illiterate. Education is important for many reasons, some of which are child health, maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS and environmental sustainability.

Everyone deserves an education and this is why I need your help. I am kindly asking you to not only help me educate and improve a child’s life, to help make my dream a reality, but to also help raise awareness. You can click here to make your tax-deductible donation. Any donation is immensely appreciated. It would mean so much to me if you would consider sponsoring me and making a donation on my behalf. To do so, please click here to access my fundraising page: (My username is Carynlevy should you need it to login.) If you do not want to make an online donation, but still wish to sponsor me, please contact me for alternatives. Please note that any donation that is not submitted through the website is not tax-deductible.

You, my readers, have given me so much love and support and encouraged me to follow my dreams. I would not be here, on the path to making my dreams a reality if it weren’t for you. I can’t thank you enough for changing my life. I only hope that I can have that kind of impact on the children of Kilimanjaro.

I have decided that if I reach my goal, I will conquer a trapeze class  as suggested by the lovely Amber. Being as I am a blogger and all, I will video the experience and blog about it for all my readers and supporters to laugh at my lack of grace and skills.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, in advance, for your generosity and support.

All my love,

Caryn

Kilimanjaro-Tanzania

Volunteer Abroad Sep 22, 2012

Where in the world is Caryn going?

Where In The World is Caryn?

The one where I stop making excuses and decide to make shit happen.

“If you could do or be anything you want, what would do?” For as long as I can remember, my answer has always been the same.  I want to give back and help others. I want to start my own charity and volunteer in a less developed country. Ultimately, I want to make a difference in someone’s life.

Then reality struck. I got a job, settled down and prepared for my life as it seemed to be going. My dreams of volunteering and making a difference took a back seat to the hustle bustle of everyday life. I brushed it off as “just a dream” because it just didn’t seem practical or good timing. Then in January, everything I knew got turned upside down and I began to reevaluate my life, who I am (or am not) doing and I declared 2012 The Year Of Caryn.  

Some of my goals for The Year Of Caryn include actually making time to do the things that I’ve always wanted to do but managed to make excuses for as well as focusing on me. Those excuses stopped the second I put up that post. I realized if I really wanted something to change or to do something different, I had to do something about it. No more just sitting on the couch waiting for change. I had to go out and make that shit happen.

So I am done dreaming, done waiting for things to happen to me, done making excuses. I am on a positive path of self improvement and I am making my dreams a reality. So, in September, I am going to Africa! That’s right, I am spending 4 weeks  (FOUR!!!) volunteering in Tanzania! There are three volunteer programs to choose from: Caregiving (caring for kids in orphanages and daycares), Teaching English, (schools are overcrowded and there is a shortage of teachers and resources), or Community Development (women empowerment or helping AIDS patients). Because I have always felt that I was meant to do something big in this world, to give back, to make a difference in someone’s life, I want to be a role model and help educate the children. I want to immerse myself in the culture and make an impact on their lives. I am going with an international volunteer organization called Cross Cultural Solutions.  I am shaking with excitement, I cannot wait!

People ask why Africa? Because it just feels right. Ever since I was little, I have always envisioned myself volunteering in Africa so I want to follow that gut feeling. There is something to be said about following your intuition. Plus, one of my biggest Life List goals is to go on an African Safari. So why not kill two birds with one stone?

I originally planned to go in April but as April is almost over, you can deduce that it didn’t work out. As it turns out, it is rainy season now and it just didn’t give me enough time to prepare. My program runs 9/22 – 10/20 and I’m hoping to catch the return of the Serengeti migration and avoid the second rainy season. The best part? I don’t have to quit my job! I am extremely lucky that my company is supportive of my volunteer dreams and is letting me take this 4 week sabbatical. I have been itching to share this but had to go through proper HR protocol first. I am so excited I want to scream it from the rooftops!

Currently, I am trying to figure out the best flight path to get there that is the most cost efficient/shortest possible route. Looks like it will be 18-24 hours of traveling with a stop in Europe. If I can have my pit stop in Rome, and get to visit Africa and Italy in one trip, I might just be the happiest person on earth. But first, in order to be allowed into the country, I need to apply for a work permit and visa as well as clear all medical requirements. It is a good thing I am not scared of shots because I have a laundry list of shots I need to have done before I leave.

It isn’t required to have the Hep A/B shot series 100% completed before you leave, but because I am a planner like that and am aware of my travel plans so far in advance, I’d rather have everything completed before I leave. There is a lot to be done and anxieties to be calmed which could mean a lot of room for making excuses. But I won’t let happen. This dream will be checked off my list.

Shots I cleared 6 months out: My doctor did a blood test to check for evidence of previous childhood vaccinations. I am all about saving money and not repeating tests. They found remnants of Hep B, mumps, and Rubella in my blood.

Yellow Fever * (March 13) Yellow fever is spread through the bite of an infected mosquito and is not transferable by direct contact. I asked my Dr. of all the shots “I need, which will be the worst?” And the Dr. smiled and said “This one!” as she stabbed the back of my arm with the vaccine. It felt like she was holding the needle in place in my arm even after it had long been removed. It didn’t hurt though, just stung/burned/tingled for about 30 seconds. It has a reputation of being one of the worst shots and often gets people sick with flu-like symptoms and/or swelling at the site of the injection. I luckily didn’t get sick. In fact, I had such a mild reaction, if it weren’t for the stinging, I would have wondered if I actually received the correct shot. It only made my jaw and joints feel stiff that afternoon. I woke up the next day with a pretty bad hangover-like-headache without having had any alcohol the night before. If that was the worst shot, bring on Africa!

Polio (March 13) – done, check!

Hep A(March 27) 2 shot series if not combined with Hep B – 3 shot series if it is. One shot down – one to go! Easy enough, just your average shot.

Hep B booster – (March 27) I had already  have remnants in my blood from when I was child, so the Dr. said a one time shot of Hep B would suffice.

In July I return for the Meningitis, Typhoid and Measles shots and then the week before I leave I finish my Hep A series and pick up my Malaria pills.  These pills supposedly can make you hallucinate, so we’ll see how that goes.

*my mom keeps saying “she got yellow fever” and this cracks me up. I got the yellow fever shot, not the disease, thanks! Oh, semantics.

 

I know there are risks to going to Africa. If I don’t go now, when will I?  I’ve always believed actions speak louder than words. I am putting my words to action and making my dreams come true. I AM GOING TO AFRICA!! NBD. JK. OMG! BFD!

What dreams can you make a reality?

** UPDATE: as of 7/27 all shots complete. I can’t believe how time has gone so quickly.

Typhoid – no big deal. Just your average shot. You have a choice of taking a one time shot that requires a booster dose every two years for those who remain at risk or taking live vaccine pills. I chose the shot as it’s easy. One shot and your done. You just need to get it at least two weeks before travel to allow the vaccine time to work. The other option, taking oral pills, is more complicated. You need to take four doses which are given two days apart for each dose. The last dose needs to be taken at least one week before traveling. The bonus to the pills is that the booster dose is needed every five years for people who continue to travel. I prefer one and done.

MMR (Measles Mumps Rubella) or Meningitis – I don’t know which was which but NO WONDER KIDS CRY when they get shots. I am a pro at shots. They rarely phase me. But this one sucked. It was worse than the Yellow Fever vaccine for sure. I was advised to take advil or that it might swell, neither of which applied to me but it was a beast of a shot.