30 April 2012

Travel-Inspired Series {Part 2}: Rachael from Let's Be Adventurers

Next up in my travel-inspired series is Rachael from Let's Be Adventurers!

I came across Rachael's blog a few months ago and was instantly smitten.  She's fun, quirky, has literally traveled all over the world, and has also found herself living the ex-pat life due to the fact that she met and fell in love with a Dutchman while studying abroad in Finland {doesn't get much more multicultural than that!}.  Over the months she has become someone I consider to be a very close friend and we are already thinking of ways that we could meet up in real life {layover in Amsterdam on my next visit to California? - I think so!}.  Oh, and we also recently decided that one day we're both going to work together at Lonely Planet in San Francisco - so you see, we're basically soul mates :)

Today Rachael is here talking about how she became an ex-pat, and how you can become one too!

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Hello A Home Away From Home readers!

I'm Rachael from the blog Let's Be Adventurers and I'm so happy to be writing a guest post for Jenna while she's off exploring magical places.

Jenna and I basically live parallel lives after having both studied abroad (her in South Africa, me in Finland...we even left the same year) and meeting our handsome significant others while doing so (her meeting a South African, me meeting a Dutchman) AND we both come from beautiful California. And lastly, we both loved this international life so much, we became expats, foreigners living far from our home countries. If we met on the beach in California, we would most definitely become great friends. I'd love to visit South Africa one day just to meet her!

Like Jenna, I have been living the expat life for a few years (I moved to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, almost 4 years ago!), and by far the most asked question I get is how'd you do it? Many nationalities have access to visa programs that allow them to live and work in foreign countries around the world--unfortunately Americans aren't that lucky. But becoming an expat is still possible for anyone!

Ever wanted to move overseas? To teach English, learn a language, build your career or be an expat or just LIVE? I've come up with a few steps that will help you on your way to the wonderful world of expat life. I was just an average college student who mosied into the Study Abroad office, but when I returned from an unforgettable semester in Finland, I yearned for more...here's how I became an expat in Amsterdam:

{Home Sweet Holland!}

1. Decide how and where (and remember to step out of your comfort zone!)

Want to teach English in South Korea? Work on a monkey farm in Ecuador? Be a ski-instructor in the Alps? Attend Graduate school (which is often cheaper than the US) overseas while simultaneously satisfying that travel bug within and building an international profile (this is what I did!)? There are endless options. Maybe you’re already diving into your career, well other countries need your skills too! Work transfers to other overseas offices are not only possible, but probable. The world is more connected than ever before. Scope out the situation with other colleagues. Americans don’t get too many options for just getting a work visa and then flying to another country but fortunately, Australia for example needs young people (all of their youth are off working in Europe during their 20’s) so they work off a points-system and if you qualify (plenty of needed skills do!) you could be eligible for a year-long working visa in Australia (mate!)...yes even if you're American. I’m serious.

(Disclaimer: I’m not pulling these examples out of left field, I personally know people who have done ALL of these things!)


Before I boarded a one-way plane to Finland to be an exchange student in college, I was accepted and nearly on my way for a year abroad in Australia. Christmas in the summer? Beautiful beaches? 4 hours from Fiji? YES PLEASE! But then I realized I wanted a totally difference experience from my life in California and I knew I probably would never go to Finland if I didn’t go then…so I opted to leave California on a warm day in January bound for Finland (yep right in the middle of a Finnish winter!) which turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Why? Well I became great friends with the coolest people from all over the world (who I still see today!) especially the Dutch students, who then told me it was possible for me (a foreigner!) to attend Business school in Amsterdam (my favorite city!) and now I’m in love and engaged to one of those pesky Dutch boys…:)

{From California to Finland}
winter-5515_thumb[4]Finland 150_thumb[15]

2. Google it!

We’re lucky to have the world at our fingertips where people are constantly sharing information. And your bridge to expat life can simply start with a Google search…type anything you want and there are resources out there that will steer you in the right direction. Finding my Graduate program at the University of Amsterdam after I was an exchange student in Finland started with a Google search like this: ‘International Graduate School Amsterdam’. I was led to the University of Amsterdam website, clicked on ‘International Students’ and started my application from there. Eventually my search led me to a scholarship for international students in Holland; fast forward a few months after I applied for this scholarship and I was given a FULL scholarship to my program.

{Canals + tulips + boats}

3. Get the logistics out of the way

Here’s the overwhelmingly tricky part, filling out the forms, renewing your passport, getting a visa, saving every penny, buying the ticket and saying buh-bye to your friends and family. It’s stressful but take it step-by-step and you will be on your way. And rest assured knowing that there have been countless instances where people just like YOU have done the same thing to get there.

4. Keep an open mind, accept change and enjoy this new phase you’re about to experience

You’ve arrived in your destination! Pat yourself on the back and be so proud that you were able to leave your familiar world behind for another one you know nothing about. Accept that this experience will open you up to unfamiliar situations, new ways of thinking and totally unexpected fun that you never knew existed. You will become a better person during and after this experience, I repeat, you WILL become a better person during and after this experience.

5. Meet the locals and get to know the culture

Take part in everything that comes your way! Step out of your comfort zone and do things you would have never done before (keep safety in mind though) – dance until the morning hours at a HUGE party in the French countryside (this was my eye-opening moment), dress in orange and cheer on the national team at the World Cup (thanks to the Dutch in the World Cup final AND Queen’s Day, I have lots of orange clothing items…TONS! And I sport them proudly!), celebrate Carnival in a small village, and the list goes on.

{Dutch Road Trip to Kinderdijk}
{Celebrating Carnival in Maastricht}
chef smit-1723_thumb[3]BeFunky_B&w_5_thumb[7]
{Meeting new friends!}
{Going to local festivals}
{Cheering on the Dutch for the World Cup!}

6. Power through the tough times and homesickness, it always gets better

At some point the honeymoon phase of living overseas ends and it transitions into a ‘is this my home now? But what about my real home? Omg I’m never gonna be able to go home again!’ Anticipate that this WILL happen at some point, but just as you went down, you always go back up and it gets even better. You should be proud that you were able to conquer the difficult task of moving away from everything you’ve ever known to a place you know nothing about. You’re friends and family will be proud of you and will always be there welcoming you back with open arms. So power through it! And know that there are expats living in every country, just as you should make friends with the locals, also be sure to have a few expat friends nearby in case you need a little boost of home to keep ya goin’. Expats are there to support each other!

7. Enjoy every second

Living overseas and traveling have been the best things that have ever happened to me. It’s given me strength, explosive laughter and tears of joy. It’s led me to do some OUTSTANDING things that I never knew was possible, to give me a Master’s degree (for free!) at a young age, let me experience my favorite city and opened me up to career opportunities that I had no idea I could achieve. Most importantly, it’s given me the opportunity to explore some beautiful places, befriend amazing people and, especially, brought me love and a fancy-shmancy Dutch fiancé.

Travel has given me the world and you can have the world too! All you need to do is take the first step.


Thanks for having me Jenna! Happy travels!

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Such an inspiring lady, am I right!?  And a walking travel / ex-pat / study abroad encyclopedia :)

Thanks so much for guest posting for me Rachael!

Do yourselves a favor and head on over to her lovely blog, Let's Be Adventurers.

27 April 2012

Travel-Inspired Series {Part 1}: Megan from Across the Pond

I'm so excited to have Megan from Across the Pond here today kicking of my travel-inspired guest series.  I'm pretty sure she doesn't need an introduction since she's kind of a big deal in the blogosphere {she did coin the term "blate" after all}, but since she's practically my real life twin I thought I owed one to her.

Megan's blog was one of the first that I started following and I immediately fell in love with her fairy tale life in the UK, sarcastic humor, love for Cheetos, and inhumanly quick metabolism {ok, that last one might involve jealously more than it does love}.  She's sweet, funny, gorgeous, and just an all around good person to know, if you know what I mean.  Plus, it turns out that we have sooo much in common that it's kind of downright creepy {just see below}.

Today she's here sharing about some of the things she loves about being an ex-pat in the UK :)

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I don't know if you all know this,
But Jenna is my expat twin..
We are both from Southern California,
have brown hair,
boyfriends with accents,
and our moms went to the same college.
I know...creepy.

except she is the smarter one for picking the warmer climate...

I am Megan and I blog over at Across The Pond 
and I am expatting it (just made that up) in Glasgow, Scotland.

this is me..in case you were confused.

Since it is easy for me to get caught up in the things I miss about home,
and the things I dislike about where I currently live..
I thought I would do a little reverse psychology on myself and tell you what I love about living in the UK.

I have lived in the UK (England, and now Scotland) for almost 2 years..
so here is my list of loves.

1. men with accents (duh)

2. Castles..you can tour them, eat in them, and get married in them..win.

3. Spring time wild flowers... (tulips, daffodils, cherry blossoms..love)

4. Easy travel to other countries on affordable airlines (what a concept). Hop on Ryanair to Italy for 30 pounds.

5. History...America is a baby compared to the UK

6. Free health care, free prescription medication (i know, before you get political on me, I'm not saying this healthcare system is better, or perfect..because it is far from it..but being a poor grad student and not having to worry about co-pays and health insurance or paying for meds really is a big stress reliever let me tell ya)

 7. Soup. They do soup WELL out here.

8. Architecture...Universities look like hogwarts.

9. Drinking outside...ok wait for it...this is not to make me sound like a drunk..but i kinda love that you can grab a bottle of wine, some cheese and crackers and plant yourself in a park on a nice/rare warm day and enjoy a cold glass of wine without worrying about be fined.

10. Parks. they are everywhere..not man made..lush and beautiful. Ive never seen parks like this in the US. 

Picture time, because that's what you all were waiting for.

northern ireland

Wollaton Park, Nottingham England

Dumtochty Castle, North Scotland

Glasgow, Scotland

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland

Kelvingrove Park, Scotland

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Glasgow University, Scotland

Loch Lomond, Scotland


Edinburgh, Scotland

beer garden (aka patio) Stirling, Scotland

Edinburgh, Scotland
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See what I mean?  She's pretty darn awesome.

And the fact that our Moms went to the same college... creepy, right???

On the rare chance that you don't already follow her, do yourself a favor and hop on over to her blog here.

Thanks so much for guest posting for me Megan!

25 April 2012

Bags Are Packed!

Bags are packed.

Plane tickets are printed.

Passport is in my purse.

Malaria prescription has been filled.

Yellow fever certificate is ready to go.

I'm so excited to finally be heading off to Rwanda tomorrow to be meeting up with two of my very best friends and favorite travel partners!  

It's been so long since the three of us have been in one country and almost six years since we've traveled abroad together.  While we aren't quite certain what we'll be doing yet it seems that the genocide memorial, kayaking across a lake, jungle tromping, motorcycle riding, and a good dose of relaxing/catching up are quite high on the list of priorities. 

I am literally itching out of my skin to get there!

{see original Rwanda post here.}

Amber, Me, Katie - Croatia circa 2006

After a fun filled five days in Rwanda, I'll be back in Jo'burg for a short couple of days, but then I'm jumping on another plane to Cape Town to meet up with two more of my very favorite people!  

Two of my ex-roommates {and very very good friends} are flying out to South Africa for the first time since we all studied abroad together in Stellenbosch in 2008.  I'm so glad that everything worked out {read: I was able to save up enough dough} to also be able to fly out and have a little reunion weekend with them in our old stomping grounds.  We will certainly be eating out at all of our favorite restaurants, going on ample wine tours {Stellenbosch is famous for them!}, meeting up with old friends, and generally enjoying each others company. 

Jenny, Brigid, and I at the Cape of Good Hope circa 2008

Following our weekend in Cape Town / Stellenbosch, they will be flying back to Jo'burg with me for a few days and I must say that I'm also really looking forward to giving them a tour of my current home city and sharing a little bit of my every day life with them.  A lot has changed since we were all students on a semester abroad adventure four years ago!  One of these lovely ladies is also the one who is responsible for introducing Jurgen and I, so Jurg's quite excited to spend some time with them as well.

It should make for an amazing {albeit busy} couple of weeks!  

While I'm away there will be some incredibly inspirational ladies guest posting on the blog.  The only guideline I gave them was that their post be travel-inspired in some way and I've loved reading each of their posts one by one.  From semesters abroad in Jerusalem, to tips on becoming an expat, to becoming an au pair in Germany, to foreign boyfriends with accents, to spending a summer working at a baboon sanctuary - the topics were all equally unique, personal, and amazing.  I can't wait to share them with you!

I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the week and a great weekend!  

{I should be popping in every once in awhile on twitter in case you'd like to check-in!}

23 April 2012

An Afternoon to Remember: The Flyover Show in Soweto

A couple of weekends ago, I was able to attend the Flyover Show in Soweto with Karen and Martina {thanks to Karen snagging me a ticket!}.  We were looking forward to enjoying all of the performances that morning, but Karen is especially involved with the Kliptown Youth Programme, and since some of their boys  were starring in the opening number we were really excited to cheer them on and show our support.  It was my first time seeing them in action and I was particularly curious to see what all the hype was about {I had already heard so many great things about them!}.

The stage was so impressive!

These boys have come to be known as the KYP Gumboot Dancers and have been invited to tour all over the world performing this unique, energetic, and explosive type of South African dancing.  While it was different to anything I've ever seen before {the boys wear rain boots and use them as a dynamic drum/accessory throughout their performance} the best comparison I can give is that it was like an African rendition of River Dance... sounds a bit strange, but it was a pretty awesome thing to witness.

The KYP Gumboot Boys :)

The boys performance was incredible and it was so evident that they poured their complete heart and soul into each and every step.  The crowd went absolutely wild and cheered them the whole way through, with some of the children in the audience even attempting to repeat some of the steps themselves.  Watching this for the first time I found myself fighting back tears in the best sort of way.  Not only because these boys were so talented and impressive to watch, but also because I was struck by what great role models they were being for all of the other children watching them.  

Soweto is an extremely poor township in South Africa, with instances of crime, drug abuse, unemployment, HIV/Aids and rape being exceptionally high.  Without the finances to attend good schools and often times without the influence of a positive home environment, many children find themselves engaging in these negative behaviors from a very young age. I guess you could say that it has turned into somewhat of a vicious cycle.

As I stood and watched these boys from Kliptown {which is one of the poorest suburbs in Soweto - see my original blog post here} using their talents in such a positive way, it was evident that they were taking a huge step towards breaking the destructive cycle that has been present for so long.  I felt so proud of them for proactively choosing a better path for their lives even amongst all of their difficulties and hardships and I felt an overwhelmingly urge to thank them for doing something so important for their community.

It was a such an all around wonderful and uplifting experience.

We were blessed with the most gorgeous weather that day!

After the Gumboot boys had finished their routine, we hung around and enjoyed some of the other performances before the DJ came on and announced an intermission of sorts.  During the break, these two members of the crowd broke out their own stereo and started battling in the main square.  They quickly attracted a little audience for themselves!

All in all it was another wonderful afternoon with the ex-pat gang and one that I will always remember fondly.  I left feeling uplifted, hopeful, and optimistic for South Africa's future, which is a feeling that I think all people living in South Africa need to be reminded of from time to time.

Living here, it becomes so difficult to not get caught up in all of the scary statistics, exaggerated stories, and  political issues, and days like this serve as an important reminder that things are getting better and that we are on the right track towards a positive and integrated future :)