Tag Archives: Travel

La Mitad del Mundo- Spanish Immersion in Ecuador

I recently got back from an awesome 2 weeks in Quito, Ecuador. Amazingly, the Foreign Service Institute sponsored my trip and I didn’t have to take leave! Two weeks of individual classes, field trips to cathedrals and museums in the historical center, and living with a host family. 

It was great to get away from the normal routine of studying Spanish at FSI. I already miss the opportunities to use my Spanish 24/7, even when I didn’t always want to. But this immersion just made me much more excited for moving to Mexico in 2 months!

Here are a few of my favorite moments from the trip:

View from la basilica in Quito, after climbing up several scary staircases 

Me in La Ronda, fun street for eating, drinking, and dancing

Ceviche Peruvian style 

Street art in Quito’s historical center

Plaza de la Independencia in the historical center

View from atop the teferico (cable car)

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On Teaching and Trains

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while now. Having been here for a month, I feel a lot more settled in the Land of Smiles. Reading the blogs of fellow teachers in Thailand has made me super interested in how other teachers go about their daily routines. Here’s a snapshot of mine:

7:00 (approximately..) wake up to alarm, surf Facebook/email/Foreign Service forums for 5 minutes. Heat up some instant coffee and eat a very sugary breakfast plus maybe some yogurt if I’m feeling healthier that day

7:45 head out the door of my on-campus apartment, remembering to turn off the air conditioning or “they’ll never come and fix it!” (quote from school coordinators)

8:00 daily school assembly begins, aka 30 minutes of the Thai national anthem, school song, and long speeches in Thai that I understand none of.

11-12:40 pick an hour for a lunch break, the cafeteria food is ridiculously good and a mix of very authentic Thai/attempted Western food. 4/5 days this is followed by a trip to the best coffee shop in town right next to the school. Thais love their coffee strong and very sweet, so I’m in heaven!

8:30-4:30 are our official school working hours. I teach 20 classes of 50 minutes a week, though they are often way shorter due to “Thai time” and students arriving 10-15 minutes late. Each day I have 4 classes of English ranging from very beginner rowdy 9th graders to some intermediate-mid 12th graders who I love. This means I have in total over 900 students, who I see only once a week. (!!) They are much better at remembering my name “Teacher Becky!” and treating me like a celebrity whenever I walk on campus. We have several breaks throughout the day, during which I obsess over anything related to the Foreign Service and 2016 A-100 orientation classes.

4:30 wander back to my apartment, usually take a nap! Finding dinner is challenging as we are the only people who walk anywhere in our town, and there aren’t really nearby restaurants. Night markets are an option, but a scary walk across multiple streets without traffic lights. I bought a microwave which has been a great investment so far!

Things I love so far about Thailand: trains! Anyone who knows me gets that I’m a huge fan of public transport. Which we have very little of in Texas. The trains in Thailand are awesome and I have already taken them most weekends here. This weekend I’m visiting a beach (about time!!) only 2hrs away by train. Stations are clearly marked and visible, someone will speak English, people walk down the aisles to sell you cheap and plentiful food or drinks- none of this is available in a minivan or bus. Trains are definitely my preferred mode of transportation here. Check it out for yourself!

Things I don’t love: the language barrier and lack of time to really dedicate myself to learning more than survival Thai, being placed far from my friends at orientation, the very low English level of most of my students. Considering these alongside the positives of living here though, I don’t have much to complain about. Other teachers might have better locations in Thailand (mountains!), or higher level students, but no one’s placement seems perfect. Teaching overall has been incredibly meaningful for the students who do care. I am starting to really enjoy life in Thailand and the holidays are coming up, which should give me more of a chance to explore some of its most scenic sights!

 

 

 

Sawatdee from Thailand!

I have officially been living in Thailand for almost 2 weeks! Writing this in the middle of an afternoon thunderstorm, it’s clear that I still have tons to adjust to in my new home. After our orientation in Bangkok the first week, we have now moved to our placements throughout Thailand. I still wake up occasionally and forget where I am- even after flying 20 hours from Texas here, it’s all very new to me right now. Well, except maybe the heat and humidity I know so well from Texas 🙂 Also, my school hasn’t even started yet so that adventure is yet to come!

Here are some favorite moments of my time in the “Land of Smiles” so far. I’ve been able to explore Bangkok and my new province and city, Nakhon Pathom. So many exciting things have happened since arriving here, which makes me really look forward to the rest of this semester. Of course, there have been challenges as well such as getting “traveler’s tummy” on the first day of week #2 (I’m about 95% recovered, thankfully!). And the Thai language- Passaa Thai yaak! Thai is difficult! But also sanuk, fun. Today I bought a water bottle from a street vendor with my basic Thai and got a smile of understanding from her in the end. Moments like that make my time here absolutely worth it.

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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ayutthaya has some of the most beautiful ruins I’ve ever been to. Plus we went here on the second day of orientation! Thanks CIEE and OEG, our Teach in Thailand program coordinators! Walking around this ancient Thai capital was amazing. Also, it’s just about an hour from Bangkok so very useful for a day trip.

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Exploring Bangkok via River Taxi

Coolest experience ever. It’s way faster and a lot more fun to get around parts of Bangkok in a boat taxi, we took one to visit the Royal Grand Palace during orientation. For a round trip from our hotel to the downtown area, it cost only about 14 baht. (current exchange rate: 33 baht=1 USD!)

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Grand Palace

A must see in Bangkok. So many golden pagodas and elaborately decorated halls. Many Thais make a pilgrimage here to see the Emerald Buddha- a smaller than you’d expect Buddha carved from emerald, definitely worth visiting in person. Glad we saw this during orientation as well!

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Getting settled in to live in Nakhon Pathom- local cats and more palaces!

These two cats are always around outside my school. They also happen to look a lot like my cats from home! One thing I definitely like a lot about this placement is having on-campus housing. Hooray for sleeping later! Today I adventured to a local palace nearby, which surprisingly was not listed in any Lonely Planet guide to my province, Nakhon Pathom. I highly recommend visiting, it’s called Sanam Chandra Palace.

Backpacking Adventures in Europe

For about a week and a half now, I have been wandering around Central and Eastern Europe via train. This monthlong trip has kind of been my college graduation present to myself and a time to return to Europe on vacation before “real life” begins in the fall.

I thought I’d share a few of my favorite trip moments so far through snapshots:

1. Exploring the historic old town in Warsaw

Warsaw was my first stop- I was lucky to have a great hostel where I met a friend right away and we enjoyed a free walking tour through the UNESCO world heritage site that is Warsaw’s old town.

  2. Visiting Oskar Schindler’s former factory in Krakow

The most major bucket list item on my list by far! Words can’t really encapsulate how cool it was to actually visit the place I had read about and studied so much. I give a lot of credit to Schindler’s story and learning about the Holocaust in Europe to my later interest in international relations.

 3. Touring the Wieliczka salt mines

I randomly made a friend during another tour who accompanied me to the salt mines! 3 hours of licking salt off the walls and viewing entire cathedrals of salt.

   4. Relaxing in the thermal baths of Budapest

Budapest is such a cool place that many more moments could be included here. I was only there for 2.5 days and really could have used a whole week! By far my favorite though was getting to try out the five different thermal baths at the Gellert Bathhouse in Budapest- so calming! Some of the baths were nice and warm, others pretty chilly and one we got kicked out of for not wearing bath caps..

 5. Climbing up the staircase to Graz’s Schlossberg and the city views afterwards

I stumbled upon this part of Graz on my first day there and boy was it gorgeous up there. A good workout to climb up and walk around! Traditional Styrian food and wine followed 🙂

Snapshots of Doha: Reflections from an amazing trip

Like all proper overseas spring break excursions, our trip to Doha had us busy and moving the entire day. It was nice to take a real break from being on the internet all day- but I thought I’d post again after coming back to Houston to reflect on the whole experience and how much I learned about public diplomacy in the Gulf. These are just a few of my favorite pictures from the trip and I’ll explain the story behind each one!

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Camel riding in the desert outside Doha

Since I’d never been sand duning or camel riding in the States or anywhere before this trip, I was super excited for this day. Before our group dove into the academic side of the program, we went outside of the city for adventures in the desert. The personal highlight for me was definitely sand duning- the Qatari drivers we had were ridiculously fearless. Qatar has the highest per capita income in the world, so most Qataris just work in whatever field they find the most intriguing. Our driver was even nicknamed “Qatari wolf” so you can imagine how intense it was to drive straight down the dunes!

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The Colloquium begins

Qatar Faculty for Islamic Studies (QFIS) at Hamad bin Khalifa University hosted us for the entire student conference. Every day from Sunday-Friday, we met in this beautiful building pictured above for our research presentations. On the second day there, we got a tour of the building where the architect explained how the building was meant to be half mosque and half academic study of Islam, which I found to be a breathtakingly beautiful design combination. The conference was organized into 4 days of student presentations focused on themes of education, energy/infrastructure, gender equality, and health. I presented on women’s political engagement in Qatar, with the chance to receive feedback from other students and scholars at HBK University. It’s definitely one thing to research gender in Qatar from the US, and quite another to hear from Qatari women leaders themselves about their experiences!

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Sustainable farm visit

Visiting a farm outside of Doha was probably the single most surreal moment of the trip. Everything was incredibly green, flowered, and about the opposite of what you’d expect for the desert. I have doubts on just exactly how sustainable the farm itself was, given the constant AC and irrigation everywhere. It was also quite an experience finding it, as there are not real addresses in Qatar, more just postal codes and landmarks. As a result it took almost 5 hours worth of driving around Doha to find a guy who knew another guy who knew how to get to the farm! Honestly, some of the best memories for me will be singing karaoke with fellow students on the bus out of boredom.

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Relaxation in Doha

Parts of the trip felt like pure vacation, which I badly needed! One morning six of us decided to get up extra early (I would usually never do this, but thanks jet lag!!) and go running along the Corniche. We met at 6 and had the incredible view of Doha’s skyline, green spaces, and flower-lined streets during our jog. That will be one of my favorite moments from this experience by far. Another highlight was on Friday where we had free time in the morning- so a few of us met in the hotel pool to swim. Swimming in the desert heat, followed by a spa shower= perfect spring break.

We also had the chance to visit the US Embassy, which of course was amazing for me but not really possible for pictures due to obvious security reasons. It was cool to see that not only the Cultural Attache, but also the Public Affairs Officer and the Ambassador were all women! Most of the diplomats we met were second tour officers, which makes me really want to bid on Doha as a post in the near future. I think I’d really love living in Qatar for a few years as a diplomat.

Our group left early in the morning (Doha time) on March 7th for a 16 hour flight back to Houston. Part of my body is still convinced we’re in Qatar, which is disconcerting for classes tomorrow. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to visit Doha on this trip and gain more experience for my future career in public diplomacy!