That time again

Those who know me well are familiar with my two year streak.  Other than growing up in Palau, my high school years on Guam and college in Boston, I haven’t live in one place for more than two years at a time.

On October 12th, I celebrated my two year anniversary in Costa Rica (and what a celebration it was too!).

Needless to say, the two year itch is here and I’m scratching the hell out of it! Come December, I’m off to Colombia to spend two weeks traveling with a friend and another three weeks doing a work exchange somewhere in the Caribbean coast.

After that I’m heading to Brazil–that’s right, BRAZIL–for…..

Wait for it……

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

carnaval.gif

It’s been on my bucket list forever and now that I’m in such (relatively) close proximity AND have a Brazilian friend going too, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this opportunity.

After Carnaval I plan to do another work exchange in a small village by the beach just outside of Sao Paolo. If everything works out, I’ll be teaching English to the locals in return for room and board for about a month.

From there I’ll head to Peru. Specifically, the splendid city of Arequipa. Except for eventually seeing Machu Picchu, I don’t have any solid plans yet for what exactly I’m going to do. I may do another work exchange or perhaps try to get an English teaching job.

So that’s the general blueprint, for now anyway. I may have to tweak some things as I go but therein lies the fun and excitement, right?!

My pants would be on fire if I said I wasn’t the least bit nervous.  Although this is the first time I’m actually doing this without a proper safety net like a secure job, I’ve done the travel thing long enough to know that it comes with risks and challenges.

But then again, so does any other path any of us choose to take in this life.

My tickets are booked and the countdown is on!

58 days

 

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Day 17: My proud moment

Until about three years ago, I was something of an over achiever. These days I say the word with some disdain because, from personal experience, it’s not as good as it sounds. I worked very hard, took on many responsibilities, and pushed myself to the limits. I believed being an over achiever was better than being an underachiever.  It isn’t.

Of course, I’m proud of the many accolades and credentials I’ve earned and don’t regret any of the time I’ve given up for others.  But I’m prouder of the fact that I’ve been able to step away from a life of distorted expectations and high standards, racing against the clock, and people pleasing.

It took the death of a four and a half year relationship, becoming dependent on my sister I was so broke, and the depression that ensued to yank me out of that existence. I finally asked myself why I was doing the things I did and for whom I was doing them for. The answers took a while to come and when they did it took some time to process. It’s never easy to admit to yourself that everything you’ve worked so obscenely hard for and sacrificed so much for isn’t making you happy. Truly, not-just-fleetingly, really happy.

My proud moment is an amalgamation of small realizations, hours of agonizing contemplation, and scattered inspiration that led to one big life decision: to leave the direction my life was going (the blueprint I’d drawn up even as a young child) and go on a less structured, not-so-conventional path.  So I quit my job, sold my stuff, bought a ticket to Costa Rica and became a certified English teacher.

Sometimes, in very rare occasions, I’ll get a glimpse of the life I could’ve had if I had stuck to the plan. In my friends and family and even complete strangers I get to know traveling. There are aspects of it that I really miss, sure. Like having a steady home and salary; getting a pedicure and wearing stilettos. But that’s not me anymore.

It’s nice not worrying bout deadlines or competing for a promotion or the last pair of heels at Belk on Black Friday or some other ridiculous consumerist holiday. I like that working full time means 22 hours a week even though it means I make only enough to feed myself by shopping at the local farmers market. Pura vida! And I love that in six months I could be living in Peru or Colombia or in the same place, and it’s OK!

I know the old control freak, overachiever part of me will always be there and in some situations I’m happy I’m that way. But I am pleased and extremely proud that to be living what brings me joy and a sense of freedom.

 

 

 

Day 15: An average day

7:30 a.m. It’s a Tuesday so I’m up early. I begrudgingly force myself out of bed and make some coffee. Because I’m not a morning person, it takes me about an hour to get showered, dressed, and ready. Luckily I’ve done my lesson plan the night before; otherwise I’d have gotten up half an hour earlier to go to work earlier.

9:00 – 12:00 p.m. I teach a Book 2 English class which is the equivalent of advanced beginner. They’re actually about to graduate into Book 3 which is intermediate. I have a small class of 5 students and they’re all great! I’ve watched them improve and learn so much in the last five months and take pride in my role in helping them grow.

12:15 p.m. I go back to my apartment (literally across the street from the school) and have lunch. I chat a little with my roommate before I head to the mercado for some fresh fruits and veggies. I also stop at the supermarket for toilet paper and other household products.

2:00 p.m. I head back to work to grade papers, update the student database, and lesson plan for my evening class and tomorrow’s class. I do all this in the teachers lounge where I intermittently chat with other teachers as they come in and out.

3:45 p.m. I go to the pulperia (corner mom-and-pop store) for some snacks—a granola bar and chocolate milk. Then I continue to work and chat.

4:30 p.m. I go home and check my email, message my sisters, and read my favorite blogs. Then I take a 30 minute nap.

5:45 p.m.  I cross the street back to work and set up my classroom.

6:00 – 9:00 p.m. I teach an Intro class I just started a week ago. They’re super beginners and it’s been challenging but fun teaching them. They’re all adults so there aren’t any discipline problems and they learn very quickly. I’m used to teaching upper level English (intermediate to advanced) so this level is a bit daunting for me but I’m actually enjoying teaching it.

9:10 p.m. My roommate (also a teacher) and I head home. We heat up our dinner in the microwave and we chat about stuff. Our entire building is inhabited only by teachers and it’s not uncommon for us to pop into each others’ apartments for a chat over some drinks.

10:30 p.m. I chat with my childhood friend on the other side of the world and send a quick email to my mom. I also update my blog and do a little Facebook/Instagram stalking.

11:30 p.m. I get ready for bed and watch one episode of Orange is the New Black on Netflix.

12:30 p.m. It’s unusual that I’d actually be asleep by this time. I’m probably watching another episode of ONB or The Tudors or Black Mirror. Or if I can’t sleep I’ll read one of my unfinished books on Kindle.

This is basically my day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. However on Mondays and Wednesdays I don’t teach until 6 in the evening so I have more time to practice yoga, meet a friend for lunch or coffee, or even go to dance class. I also try to study some Spanish when I have time.

On Fridays I usually sleep in ’til eleven (sometimes noon), especially if I’ve been out the night before. Most teachers where I work don’t actually work on Fridays so there’s always a party or some get together on Thursday nights. I do work on Fridays but thankfully not ’til 2:30 p.m. so it’s not so bad.

I teach 6 hours on Saturdays—three hours in the morning and another 3 in the afternoon. As you can imagine, it’s pretty exhausting but at I get at least one Saturday off every month which provides a bit of a reprieve.

Because Sunday is my only day off, I vary how I spend it based on how I feel at the end of the week. On harder weeks, I’ve been known to sleep all day and shamelessly veg out. But I also like to destress by going to the beach or going for a hike on one of the nearby bosques (forests) and surrounding mountains.

So this is “average” for me these days. I’ve decided to stay in Costa Rica until December so this will be the norm ’til then–with a few trips thrown here and there.

Of Paperwork & Jumping Through Hoops

As I mentioned in my volcanic post the other day, I’ve accepted a full time job teaching English for six months at a reputable and excellent language school here in Heredia. While I’m extremely excited about this new direction, there is one part I’m not particularly thrilled about: the slew of documents and information I’m required to provide in the process of obtaining a work visa.

I’ve been through this process many times, in several different countries. There’s no way around it; jumping through hoops is something that comes with the territory of traveling and working around the globe.And although, I’ve gotten pretty used to it, this doesn’t mean it’s gotten easier.

As I put together the paperwork yet again, I realize just how complex (and rather remarkable) my background is. Among other things, my file consists of the following:

  • my birth certificate from the Philippines (my country of birth);
  • a background check from South Carolina in the United States (where I lived the last two years before giving up my paralegal career to travel);
  • another background check from Palau (where I grew up and the last place I worked before moving to South Carolina);
  • employment verification from my job on Saipan, CNMI (where I worked before moving back to Palau);
  • my transcript from the University of Auckland in New Zealand (where I studied law for two years); and
  • my transcripts from college in Boston, Massachusetts, and high school in Guam (a U.S. territory in Micronesia and neighboring island to Palau)

Getting these documents together is tedious, but the real challenge is explaining my particular circumstance to people (especially bureaucratic immigration officials). You see, I was born in the Philippines and still hold a Filipino passport although I left the country when I was but two years old. Except for a couple of visits and layovers, I have never lived there since. I grew up on the Micronesian island of Palau, which at the time was  a U.S. Trust Territory, and was educated by American missionary teachers. At thirteen, I moved to Guam (also and still a U.S. territory) for high school and then was lucky enough to get a full scholarship to attend college in Boston in the United States.

My American education and experiences have influenced my accent as well as my mannerism, but I am not a U.S. citizen. Still, I am often mistaken for a Gringa, especially here in Latin America. But only after I open my mouth because apparently, based on my looks, I could pass for a Latina (thanks to the one-sixteenth drop of Spanish blood I inherited from the Philippines’ colonial legacy).

In addition to my accent and my background, I also have to explain the colorful mosaic of stamps in my passport. I am a traveler doesn’t suffice as an answer to immigration, labor, or government officials who pretty much dictate whether I can experience a country or not. Despite the expansion of globalization, a lifestyle of pure travel or nomadicism isn’t fully accepted yet, nor is it the norm. And while I do understand each country’s need to protect it’s borders, it’s citizens, and it’s culture, I’m so grateful for the hundreds, if not thousands, of travelers, adventurers, nomads, and wanderlusters out there helping to expand minds and attitudes towards our chosen lifestyle.

I also have to explain the colorful mosaic of stamps in my passport.

visas

I used to think I was the only one who had such a complicated history, and at one point even hated that I didn’t have a normal life. That drifting around the world was shameful and that following my wanderlust was non commital and reckless. Now I embrace and celebrate it along with everything else about myself.

Everyone is on their own unique and personal path. Mine involves painstaking, irksome paperwork and hoop jumping in order to see and experience different parts of the world. But it is also colored by breathtaking moments, unparalleled experiences, serendipitous encounters, a kaleidoscope of cultures, food, and people, and adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

Everyone is on their own unique and personal path.

So while the mundane administrative humdrum doesn’t fall into the rainbows-and-unicorns facet of the travel life, it is a very necessary part of the journey.  It isn’t glamorous or fun, but each time I go through the process, it reminds me of how far I’ve come and how divinely fortunate I am.

What are your experiences with visa processes (visitor, student, work, or otherwise)?   Do you have any tips or hacks to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.