Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Deciding What to Do Abroad

So when you finally make that decision to pack up your stuff and go, what will you do in your new found home?

The most popular option for native English speakers is to teach English as a foreign language.  In order to do this, most* locations require you have a TEFL or TESOL license.    The most popular location for TEFL is in South Korea or Southeast Asia in general.  Though if you want a more "close to home" feel you can always check out Europe.  You can get a TEFL in a few different ways.  You can do it online for a couple hundred bucks.  You can take a class for a few thousand bucks.  Or you can do it on site (meaning in the country abroad) for a few more thousand bucks.  I've never been through the TEFL experience, but I hear it is quite worth it to train on site.  After you get your license, the program usually sets you up with a 1-year job contract.  I suggest you google "TEFL or TESOL class in [the country of your choice]" and you'll get all sorts of options.  *(I have known people to get into a program without a TEFL/TESOL, but I would be wary of programs like that.  There are lots of scams around this world wide web.)

Another occupation that can be found globally is teaching at a bilingual or international school.  This, obviously, is what I chose to do.  For most international schools you need to have 2 years teaching experience, great references, and international travel experience.  Most of these international schools are taught in English, so you don't even have to know the native language of the country (though I hope you learn it!)  I thought knowing Spanish would help me out in the interview process as I applied to the school in San Jose, but they never even brought it up.  They just want you to speak English.  For this job, try googling "international schools in [country of your choice]".

When looking for a job at an international school you should really take into account when is their school year?  Most schools in the northern hemisphere run from August/September to May/June.  While most schools in the southern hemisphere run from February/March to November/December.  This is important to consider because schools usually do the majority of their hiring during the "summer" break, so knowing the school year is advantageous.  For any teaching position some great resources are Dave's ESL Cafe and TES which both have a forum and job postings.

If you're not the teaching type then there's still other options out there.  You should consider the culture/economy of the place you plan to end up.  If you move to Mali, you'll probably have a hard time finding a job as a software engineer.  Some jobs you could look into are working at a resort, hotel or hostel; bartending; waitressing; or being an au pair.  For hostel-ing you should look at Central/South America, and Southeast Asia.  Bartending, waitressing and au pairing is popular in Western Europe and Australia.  A lot of programs that will set you up with these jobs you have to pay for.  Which, to me, is BS.  If you're adventurous just move to your intended location and start looking for jobs.

A final option would be volunteering abroad.  There's tons of programs for this, a lot you have to pay between $1000-$7000 for (which you know my opinion on).  A few websites I would recommend are Help Exchange and Workaway.  Both you have to pay small fees (20 Euro or so) to subscribe, but the subscription is good for a year.  The general idea for these websites are you work for your host 5 days a week for 7 hours a day, and the host provides room and board.  But each situation varies a little.  I used workaway to find a host in Spain.  I worked with them for 2 weeks before continuing to travel.  Another volunteer option for the more "rugged" is WWOOFing.  This is the same idea, work for a place to stay and food.  You can do it just about anywhere in the world.  It's hard work (on a farm), but I've known people who have had a blast doing it.

Finally: WORK VISAS!!  This is where you have to do your own research.  I just don't know enough about it to write.  Each country has its own process for a work visa.  But you'll probably need a sponsor (company who says they'll hire you), a background check, a birth certificate, and a clean bill of health.  I hear it's hard for USA passport holders to get a work visa in the EU, but it can't be impossible.

Whatever it is you decide to do, prepare for a lot of ups and downs as you research, apply, move and settle in to your new ocupation.  But one thing I can promise is you'll never regret going abroad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Crawdads and Jazz

I did have a post in the making about my upcoming trips, but it's now in blog-limbo and will not be published.  Instead, I will write my review about my trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Oscar and I flew down to NOLA Friday morning.  We already had a hostel booked, but I refused to pay the $33 ONE WAY airport shuttle to the hostel.  This made Oscar a little nervous, but I assured him I'd figured it out before, I could do it again.  After a bit of wandering in the airport we came across a tourist booth and the nice man gave us a map, and told us where to catch the bus.  From the airport to Canal St/downtown you need to take the E2 bus.  It costs $2.00 (you need exact change), it leaves from the top of the airport and takes about an hour to get downtown.  We then walked to the Amtrak station where our hostel had free pick up.

Waiting for the E2 bus at the airport

After 5 minutes of calling the hostel, the owner, Anna, was there to pick us up.  We stayed at AAE Bourbon House in a 6 bed dorm.  I found the hostel to be extremely clean, the owners super nice, and in a great location.  It was generally quiet except for the ridiculously loud Nigerians who would shout at each other at 6am.  The bathrooms were kept clean and it was a short 5 minute walk to a bus on Magazine St, and 10 min walk to the street car on St Charles.  It also has a HUGE kitchen for hostel standards, and 2 common areas.  The porch outside has a warped pool table and a que stick that has been shot to hell, but Oscar still enjoyed shooting around a bit.

On Friday Oscar and I were pooped from so much traveling so we hung around the hostel common room and met a few other travelers.  An Australian, Tiwell, suggested going to the Bayou Boogaloo.  So around 5pm we headed out.  We met up with an American, Chris, and another Aussie, Lucy.  The boogaloo was pretty great.  Oscar had shrimp and grits, I had a tomato/basil crepe, and the others had gumbo and ice cream.  The music was pretty great, though the name of the band slips my mind.  After that Oscar and I headed home to get some sleep before the wedding the next day.

The Bayou Boogaloo

Saturday we caught the Magazine #11 bus over to Audubon Park where the Tree of Life stands.  The tree of life is supposedly over 200 years old.  Evidently some plantation owner planted it for his daughter on her wedding day and so now it symbolizes love and what not.  We eventually made it to the Tree of Life and it seriously is a HUGE tree.  There was a great little 4-piece band that played for the ceremony.  The ceremony was really sweet, and short.

The Tree of Life.  Those things at the bottom are PEOPLE.

The bride kicking off her shoes as she walks down the "aisle"

After everyone yelled MAZEL TOV and the glass was broken, we were passed out handkerchiefs to use as we "third lined" down the street.  The third line is traditional in NOLA.  It is when the bride and groom (1st line) are followed down a street by a playing jazz band (2nd line) who are then followed by all their friends/family who are dancing and singing and such (3rd line).  It was way too much fun.

Dom and Dov heading up the "third line" as we head into the street

The reception was held at this beautiful little area and there was delicious hors d'oeuvres (gazpacho, boulin balls, and mozzarella/tomato/basil skewers) served while the jazz continued to flow.  There was also red and white wine, beer, and water so you could dance more.  We boogied down until the food was served.  Fantastic food-- jambalaya, ribs, salad, stuffed mushrooms, stir fry veggies, and garlic bread.

Wedding food has NEVER been this good.  On the side you see the gazpacho.

The cake, beautiful to look at and delicious to eat.

We scarfed down just in time to see the first dance and the cutting of the cake (which was also fantastic!)  We continued to dance until the jazz band literally packed their stuff up and left.  After a quick shower and power nap at the hostel, we returned to Dom and Dov's house where the after party was in full swing.  There was a huge amount of crawfish being boiled by the crawfish master-- Bruce, a Louisianian born and bred.  After even more eating and drinking, Oscar and I stumbled back to our hostel to get a good night's sleep.

Bruce pouring out the 2nd of 3 batches of crawdads

Sunday Oscar really wanted to see the World War II museum, and I wanted to get some gifts.  Oscar was about to pass out he was so excited to see all the big trucks, planes, and what nots.  We also saw a 50 minute movie about WWII which was full of all sorts of crazy effects.  The ground would shake when a tank went by, smoke came out of the ground when a bomb went off, a plane even dropped from the ceiling!  But as cool as it was, it was about WWII and was very sad.  I still recommend seeing both the movie and the museum.  Bring your student ID, it's $12 for students and a whopping $23 for adults.

Oscar falling in love with airplanes at the WWII museum

Finally, we went down to Decatur St which is evidently where all the action is.  We walked a good mile to get to Cafe du Monde where everyone says you have to go to get the famous beignets.  But as we sat down Oscar was offended not only by the smell of the place, but the fact that they only served donuts and coffee.  He wanted a steak so we left sans powedered sugary goodness and ate instead at a pricey Riverfront Restaurant.  I ordered a $10 mojito that was not worth that much, but I certainly enjoyed it that much.

The Riverfront Restaurant had a great view.

After that excursion my feet were hurting pretty bad so we stayed in Sunday night, and Monday morning as we awaited our flight.  Because I smoozed with the hostel owners so much, they gave us a ride to the airport bus stop instead of just the Amtrak station.  One hour later we were in the airport, and 2 hours after that on our way back to good old NC.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Before You Go

After much research and checking out all my favorite websites for cheap tickets I finally bought my ticket.  Staying diligent I checked the same sites I was checking before and found a flight for $200 cheaper.  I immediately bought it and will be flying to San Jose, Costa Rica on August 9.  Oscar will be flying in a week earlier to (hopefully) get our apartment situation settled.  I am really excited about moving and decided to write up a little something about some things to consider before you leave your home country.

1. Visas  First and foremost- do you need a visa?  What kind of visa?  Is there a fee?  Can you get one at the border or do you have to get one before you leave?  What are the requirements for the visa?  How do you renew your visa?  These answers can all differ depending on what country you are a citizen in and which country you are visiting.  Usually being a citizen of Canada, USA or the EU will be of your advantage.  Most of the time you will not need a visa to visit countries.  But ALWAYS CHECK FIRST.

USA-Costa Rica Visa:  Citizens of the USA do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica.  You will be stamped with a temporary 90 day visa at the border.  Renewing this visa is super easy and how most gringos stay in Costa Rica for years  All you have to do is leave the country for 72 hours (a long weekend) and you will get a brand new 90 day visa on your return to the country.  This is a super easy, cheap way to renew your visa, plus you get an excuse to visit Panama or Nicaragua every 3 months.
The requirements:  Here's where a lot of people might get caught up.  In order to enter Costa Rica you MUST HAVE proof of onward travel.  This means you need to have proof you are leaving the country.  This can be a return plane ticket, a bus ticket to another country, or a plane ticket to another country.  In my experience they are not that picky about this in the airport.  Where you will have to have documentation is land borders, especially Panama/Costa Rica.

2. Vaccinations  What vaccinations are mandatory?  What vaccinations are suggested?  What proof do you need of vaccinations?  I learned this the hard way-- GET YOUR VACCINATIONS!  Depending on what country you're leaving, entering, etc you need certain vaccinations.  You can check this information on the CDC website.  Do your best to try to find this information out straight from your country's embassy in the other countries or from their websites.  I made a huge mistake of trusting a 3rd world country's health website and paid for it dearly.  From USA - Costa Rica you do not need any vaccinations.  Typhoid, Hepatitis A and B are recommended, and some doctors will try to put you on malaria pills.  I suggest getting typhoid and Hep A/B for ease of mind, but leave the malaria pills at home.  You have to take one EVERY DAY which can be annoying and pricey for the meds.  Plus I hear they give you freaky dreams (though you might be into that).

3. What to bring  What should you bring?  What can you buy there?  What is not allowed into the country?  How will you get your stuff there?  What will it cost?  My general rule for packing is to ONLY PACK WHAT YOU ABSOLUTELY WILL DEFINITELY NEED.  Then take out 1/2.  Especially if you are planning on spending 6+ months in your new country, leave your shit at home.  Or sell it.  Seriously.  No matter how different/remote a country might seem I promise you they have what you need to survive.  If you end up forgetting to bring an umbrella, they will sell them.  Buy stuff there if you need it.  Try to leave most stuff at home.

A good tip for getting as much stuff as possible to your new location is to try to book a flight with an airline that will check 2 bags for free.  The airlines are starting to get stingy with baggage so read the fine print before you buy.  Wear your largest, bulkiest clothing on the plane so you don't have to pack it.  When I first moved to Costa Rica I wore my tall boots, puffy jacket, and pants onto the plane.  It left a lot more room for other things in my bags.  If you can, layer on the clothing too.  You might look silly but it'll cost less!  A final suggestion is to ship your stuff that you just can't live without.  I haven't looked into this yet, but I'll post an update when I do.  (**Update: June 10--  Shipping is stupid expensive.  I looked up shipping my blender and I was quoted between $500-$2000!!  I've decided to pack everything I can in bags and put it into checked luggage.**)  The problem with Costa Rica is a lot of times the taxes to bring something into the country is MORE than just buying it there.  A few things I don't want to leave behind: my sewing machine, kitchenaid stand mixer, and kitchenaid blender.  I think I'll have to pick and choose with those items as they're all large, heavy and bulky.

So this post has turned a little lengthier than I originally planned.  But I hope it helped guide a few to make some smart decisions.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making the decision

When I tell people I'm leaving the country I get a lot of "Oh I wish I could do something like that" or "I want to do that one day".  The difference between me and those people is I actually am doing it.  Now I'm not trying to sound condescending but if you want to do something in your life GO. DO. IT.  Do not wait around for a hand out or the "right time" to come around.  Make right now the right time, and go for it.

I decided to move abroad about 7 months ago.  I have few ties to home right now (well besides my wonderful family and friends!!!) no kids, mortgage payment, car payment, etc. so this is my time to go make some drastic decisions.  I do have a few financial obligations here in the States-- a loan to pay off, my rent to pay until August, and hell just leaving my job for the unknown.  But I've lived off of peanut butter before and I can do it again (well this time it might be mangoes... yum!)

Finding a job was one of my top priorities and I started looking for a teaching position in December 2010.  I literally google searched "bilingual schools in Costa Rica" and got tons of results.  The internet is the greatest tool of our time.  Decide what it is you want to do, where you want to go and google it!  I spent about a week tweaking my resume and applying to a grand total of 7 schools in Costa Rica.  I heard back from only one saying there were no positions available.  I wasn't disheartened and I continued to look for positions.

In some sort of crazy coincidence I was put in contact with a teacher at a school in San Jose and he emailed my resume directly to the school director.  I thought for sure I would nail this job (I mean I'm a seriously awesome teacher), but found out about a week ago I didn't get that one either.  The school did say they might have room for me to substitute and then "something may come up later".

So right now I don't have a job, don't have a solid plan, don't have a work visa, and I'm still going to buy my ticket to San Jose to get the show rolling.  You have to be able to take these kinds of chances if you really want to get somewhere.  Stop making excuses for yourself.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Plane Tickets

I'm currently in the process of attempting to find the cheapest ticket to San Jose possible.  I've done quite a bit of flight searching in the past couple years and I thought I would do a post on different airlines and ways that I find my cheap fares.  I have the most experience with inside the USA and to and around Central and South America.  So that's where I will focus today.

Inside the USA:  My favorite airline by far is SouthWest.  The crews are extremely nice (sometimes they ask if you want MORE snacks!  This is a huge plus in my book!), the cabins are doable, changing flight dates has a low fee and the flights are usually at better prices.  We've all heard of the hole-in-the-ceiling fiasco, but that won't keep me from buying SouthWest.  The problem is they do not fly all over the country, and they are NOT searched in websites like Kayak, Travelocity or Priceline.  So if you're lucky enough to live near an airport serviced with SouthWest, I'd give them a whirl.

To Latin America/South America:  Everyone knows about the American international airlines that can get you down there (American Airlines, Delta, Continental) and out of those I would recommend AA.  I find Delta and Continental cabins to be extremely cramped and just not worth it.  There's one other shout out I'd like to give: Spirit Airlines-- you can get [what appear to be] stupid cheap tickets that then start to build up to "normal prices" after you add on things like taxes and luggage (you have to pay for carry ons AND checked).  Also they only go to a couple big cities in the USA.  I still have found that combining a SouthWest flight with a Spirit flight was cheaper than any other provider.  Just make sure to triple check your dates/times when combining airlines.

Around Latin America/South America:  Within this area I have flown with Taca.  They are a great airline that has monthly deals ($99 flights from Miami to San Jose!) and who always give you a meal on the flight, even if it's only 3 hours.  Besides the deals they have, they are not much cheaper than any other provider so you have to continually check their websites to get the cheaper flights.  Another airline within this area is Copa which I've never flown with but has similar deals as Taca.

I hope some of this information will be useful to some of you out there.  Right now in my quest for tickets I have found prices to be uncommonly high.  A ticket that would usually cost me [round trip] $500 is now at a minimum $800.  I have found a couple one-way tickets for $400 which I might consider buying.  The issue is that when entering Costa Rica as a foreigner on a visa you have to have proof that you're leaving, ie: a return ticket, a bus/plane ticket to another country, etc.  So right now I'm considering buying a one-way coupled with a bus or plane ticket to another country.  $800 is just too much!