Tag Archives: travel

The Long Journey Home

My flip-flops and my backpack… 22 months later.

As I sit here on the floor of Abu Dhabi International Airport already a bit jet-lagged but with 18 of my 35-hour total flight time to go, I can’t help but reflect on the last two years I’ve spent living outside of the United States of America.

The first of dozens of international flights since 2010.

I would be lying if I said that I had planned this all from the beginning.  When I left the U.S. in 2010, I assumed I had sold my traithlon bike and my surfboard to buy a ticket to visit my South African boyfriend, not travel around the globe.  But life has a funny way of showing you that not everything can be planned.

Exhibit A: Our puppy, Major. Totally unplanned.

And then I extended my 90-day visa for an additional 90 days purely to stay a little longer in South Africa, not to move to Thailand.  But again, life has a funny way of working.

Motorbiking it around Phuket, Thailand.

Thailand had begun as an idea, a solution for Morgan and I to be able to work/live in the same country while still seeing a bit of the world outside of the United States or South Africa.  What it became was an experience neither of us would trade for the world.  We were English teachers, backpackers, muay thai fighters, hot yoga groupies, scooter-riders, chili-eaters, mountain climbers and the list goes on.

Did I mention how much I loved the little monkeys that were my K1 Watermelon kindergarten class?

And then a decision had to be made: stay in Thailand for at least another year… or go?

Morgan and I both loved our year in Thailand for any number of reasons: friendly people, good jobs, great friends, AMAZING food, awesome hobbies and ridiculously cool experiences.  But for some reason, we both came to the conclusion that we weren’t ready for our lives to be that simple yet, that sorted.  (Idiotic logic, right?)

But I still believe that we made the right decision and away we went, back to Africa.  By this time, however, I had already been hired to start work for African Impact in Mozambique.

Escolinha de Boa Esperanca: the African Impact preschool in Vilanculos, Mozambique.

I had always dreamed of doing community development work in Africa and after three months of online job hunting while still living in Phuket, there it was: my dream job in the small beach town of Vilanculos, Mozambique.  On several occasions, I remember thinking that I was seeing ‘Africa’ for the first time.

Children’s Day at Bernard’s Orphanage in Vilanculos.

And then every community development workers’ nightmare came true: the Office of Immigration in Vilanculos decided to continuously reinterpret their understanding of what volunteer tourism is and what African Impact does as a company, hence my transfer to African Impact projects in St. Lucia, South Africa.

Building a tire course playground at a creche in Khula Township, just outside of St. Lucia.

I missed the project in Mozambique terribly, but I think I even surprised myself by landing on my own two feet in a new country and in a new position, especially when considering this had all come about with 12-hours notice.  I think this was my turning point – when I realized that maybe everything does happen for a reason.  Life is often sink or swim and I was determined to swim no matter what.  And I swam like hell.

How many people can you fit in a 16-passenger van? As a passenger who has counted, I can confidently say 29 people.

As I’ve sat here in my final moments abroad, I’ve struggled to find the right words to sum it all up – to possibly explain to someone how the past two years have not only changed my life, but changed the kind of person I was then to the person I am now.  And what I think of to say is this:

It doesn’t matter where you go or how much money you have or where you’re from – it matters how open you are to embracing the full experience.  The smells, the sounds, the people, the culture, the philosophy, the heart of what it means to be a global citizen.

And as I’ve stated in the ‘About Me’ section of my blog since my very first days blogging about this 22-month long adventure:  I’m far from being the most experienced traveler, but I’ve found that flip-flops and a backpack can take you just about anywhere.

Thank you to anyone reading this who I’ve met over the last two years, whether in Thailand, Bali, Mozambique or South Africa.  You’ve taught me what it means to be family even when you’re far from the family you’ve always known.  And a very special thanks to Lulu and Tex, my South African parents.



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August: The Last Month Abroad

An afternoon of collecting rubbish in Khula township with African Impact volunteers and local Zulu ladies.

I can’t believe it… after 22 months living outside of the U.S., this will be my last month abroad.

My original plan was to return to the U.S. in December, but issues with the Department of Immigration in Mozambique weren’t able to be resolved and the African Impact project in Vilanculos has yet to be reopened.  As my time working in St. Lucia, South Africa draws to a close, a decision had to be made: potentially transfer projects again or head home four months early.

And then I remembered that everything happens for a reason.

Beach day with Eswenelisha Afterschool Club kids. The little ones were waiting for the waves to touch their toes.

So for the first time in 22 months, I’m going home.  But not before I savor the last 12 days of my last month abroad.

Elephant Interaction with Carla at Thanda Private Game Reserve, South Africa

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Four Years with a Ninja Paleontologist

The ninja paleontologist covering one of the FIFA 2010 World Cup games in Durban, South Africa.

He looks more like a handsome journalist, right?

When I met Morgan in 2008, he had been a professional journalist for over three years: one year in radio and at the time, two years in television.  But one afternoon shortly after meeting him, he showed me a magazine article written about him in which he confessed that his childhood dream was actually to be a ninja paleontologist.

From my understanding, this is a martial arts expert who also enjoys discovering fossils.

Four years later, I am still completely in love with the grown-up version of the South African kid that once aspired to be a ninja paleontologist.  (*To read the awkward story of how we met at a Zimbabwean refugee camp, see An African Boy and an American Girl.)

Morgan and Kassie in South Africa December 2008

As detailed in the blog post linked above, it’s not the easiest thing  in the world to date cross-continentally.  Visits are few and emails and Skype are the ‘meat and potatoes’of your relationship.

Morgan and Kassie in Times Square NYC: December 2009

But over the past four years, Morgan and I have shared the most amazing experiences together.

Morgan and Kassie at uShaka Marine World in Durban: December 2010

We’ve dived with sharks on the South Coast on KwaZulu Natal.  We’ve roadtripped the entire east coast of the U.S., seeing all of the sights of New York City on a day-pass and finishing with dinner in Chinatown at 3 a.m.  We’ve border-hopped into Malaysia, rode a motorbike around most of southwest Thailand and climbed a volcano in Bali, Indonesia.

Morgan and Kassie riding our motorbike around Phuket, Thailand: July 2011

We island-hopped in Mozambique and my ninja paleontologist prepared lunch in a straw hut over fire for 80 preschool children in Vilanculos.  Most recently, he’s ‘hippo-hunted’ with me in St. Lucia after we went on a game drive through a UNESCO World Heritage site to the Indian Ocean.

Morgan and Kassie trying to spot a hippo in St. Lucia, South Africa: July 2012

Basically, I’ve gotten to travel around the world with my best friend.

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Bali, Indonesia: A Cultural Wonderland

Daily offerings given to family shrines each morning in Bali.

Picture it: Warm air, good surf, romantic thatched-roofed bungalows and lush, green rice fields that go on forever.  Let’s be honest: isn’t it every girl’s dream to one day go to Bali?

So here is my account of a dream-come-true.  Due to work constraints, we only had three days to travel around the island, but I was determined to use every minute of each day.  With nothing more than Morgan’s need to leave and re-enter Thailand in order to get another 30-day visa stamp and a borrowed Lonely Planet guide in my backpack, we hopped on a flight to Bali.

Day #1

We rented a motorbike, got a map of Ubud and embarked on a self-guided tour.

Cruising around the farming communities in Ubud.

As you do everywhere in Asia, we checked out the local market. This was the first outdoor market I'd been to that was two stories tall!

Bali is famous for is its traditional dancing, so Morgan and I went to see a Kecak dance group. Through their dance, they performed the famous Hindu story of Rama and Sita.

Day #2

Up bright and early on the second day to see farmers working in their rice fields. Probably one of the ultimate treats as a tourist in Bali.

The grand entrance to one of Bali's royal temples.

Next on our day's agenda? Trying Balinese coffee! We went to a coffee plantation and sampled Balinese black coffee, ginseng coffee, pure cacao and the world-famous kopi luwak. Morgan is holding a clump of post-digestion coffee beans.

Temple on the lake.

Fed monkeys in the mountain region of Munduk.

We finished off the day with a visit to hot springs just outside the coastal town of Lovina. Rejuvenation!

Day #3

Our last full day in Bali started at 2:30 am when we woke to trek up Mount Batur, one of several volcanoes in Bali. Morgan and our tour guide were all smiles as they trekked over the bits of volcanic rock that constituted the path upward.

Taken at about 5:30 am from the top of Mt. Batur.

THE CRATER. It was an adrenalin rush, but also freezing!

The final few meters of our trek.

And what day in Bali would be complete without a coffee break? Tasting the organic, locally grown vanilla in the vanilla coffee redefined 'vanilla' for me.

Amazing Bali…

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So You Want to Teach in Thailand?

The Land of Smiles

On my last day of work as a teacher in Phuket, I’m taking the time to reflect back on the past year: the good, the bad, the funny, the kids, the islands, the adventure.  It really has been an amazing 12 months.

But I would be lying if I told you that 12 months ago I knew everything would turn out this well.

When first contemplating the idea of coming to teach English in Thailand, I was nervous.  I’m not a teacher and I’ve never been to Asia before.  Would I adapt to the culture?  Where would I live?  Would I actually  find a job?  Within weeks of being in Thailand, all of these questions answered themselves.  Naturally, however,  I’ve seen these same worries expressed in the emails and facebook messages of friends contemplating the experience of teaching here.  For these friends and others, this post is dedicated to guiding you onto the plane, past the TEFL scams and safely into a teaching position in the Land of Smiles.

Ko Samui Airport, Thailand

First things first: make the decision to come to Thailand.  It sounds like it’s the easiest part, but for many, it can be the hardest.  Many of the people that come to teach (like myself) aren’t career teachers and the thought of breaking from your career path, even for a few months, can be scary.  Others that come have never been away from friends or family for more than a few days.  Whatever it might be that is holding you back, you have to make a decision.  An old-fashioned ‘Pros vs. Cons’ list can never be overrated.

My alma mater.

Great!  You’ve decided to come.  Now, you need to review your qualifications.  In order to obtain a work permit to teach English in Thailand, you must have a bachelor’s degree.  It doesn’t matter what you studied in college, but it does matter that you be able to provide a copy of your degree and college transcript.  While you’re at it, make sure you have an up-to-date resume to hand potential employers upon arriving.  Copies of relevant certificates and a police clearance form from your local police station stating that you have a clean record are also big pluses!

Another big plus is having a degree and/or certificate in teaching OR having a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate.  While it’s not necessary to have a TEFL certificate in addition to your bachelor’s, it is looked favorably upon, particularly for those with no prior teaching experience.    You can complete a TEFL course online, but as with most things, you gain more from a TEFL course conducted in a traditional classroom setting.  A TEFL course can be completed in your home country or once you arrive in Thailand.  If you’re looking to do your TEFL course in here in Thailand, I’d recommend Island TEFL, based in Ko Samui.  It’s a trust-worthy organization based on a beautiful island and they usually offer several promotions to make enrolling more cost-effective.

If you do choose to enroll in a TEFL course, beware of courses or companies that guarantee you job placement.  From my own experience and those of friends currently teaching with me, this is one of the biggest scams out there with regards to teaching in Thailand.  As I stated previously that a TEFL certificate is only a plus, you don’t need a company to set you up with a job.  In fact, schools here only hire foreign staff by way of an interview with one of their in-house staff members – not a contracted company.  Beware.

Motorbike it.

So what’s left to do?  Get up and go!  While I have heard of people being hired as teachers in Thailand prior to their arrival, many schools refrain from doing this out of fear that the teachers might never show.  Your best bet is to get here first and start the job hunt.  A great first step in your search for a teaching position in Thailand is to create a profile on ajarn.com.  You can upload a picture, your resume and any other qualifications you might have.  Include your email and phone number in Thailand and – speaking from experience – you will have schools from all over the country contacting you in a matter of hours!

Once schools start contacting you, you’ll have to decide where in Thailand you would like to call home.  During our job hunt, Morgan and I knew that we wanted to teach in Phuket.  Unfortunately, we didn’t receive any responses from schools in Phuket based on our ajarn.com profiles.  So what did we do?  We got on a bus, arrived in Phuket, rented a motorbike and took the job hunt into our own hands.  Dressed in business casual attire and with copies of our resumes in hand, we drove all over the island… for about a week until we both secured jobs.  (*See earlier post, Motorcycle Diaries from Phuket to read about our first days looking for work.)

Scooter fun with Kassie and Morgan.

More useful information when considering teaching in Thailand:

  • The Thai school year starts in May and ends in March, so the best time to come is March/April.  There is also a mid-year break in October, so this is another great time to come looking for work as many foreign teachers leave after the first semester.
  • An average English teacher salary in Thailand is 30,000 baht per month, which is equivalent to $1,000.  Schools in rural areas might pay a bit less while schools in areas popular with foreigners (such as Bangkok or Phuket) generally pay a bit more.  While this doesn’t seem like much compared to salaries back home, the cost of living in Thailand is also much lower than in other countries.  In how many other countries can you pay $1 for an entire meal?
  • If you’re looking for work in Phuket, try Satree Phuket School or Kajonkietsuksa School.  Both schools have large English-teacher staffs (Satree has about 30 English teachers; Kajonkietsuksa has over 100 English teachers) and are almost always in need of new teachers.
  • The work week for English teachers is generally 7:45 am – 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.

My kindergarten class in Phuket, Thailand.

The best piece of advice I can give is to try to be the best teacher you can be because to your kids, you are the most qualified teacher they know.  Life in Thailand is different, but adapt!  Take time to get to know the kids in your class, travel and eat lots of Thai food.  I can guarantee you that you won’t regret a minute of it.

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