Parsing Pathways

(Photo) Essays by a Third-culture Twenty Something on Travel, Food, Languages & the Millenial Lifestyle.

Month: January, 2015

Where you are

I feel so behind. I feel that no matter what I do, how I write, who I am – I’m just not good enough to get to where I need to be. And it’s all well and good to say “you are where you need to be” because although that may be true, it is what you have to tell yourself to feel better. I get overly anxious and that usually doesn’t help me. So telling myself that I am where I need to be, allows me to be more productive and more positive compared to paralysed and pessimistic.

I’m 23 years old and I want to work with Internally Displaced Communities, specifically working on policy writing to provide access to education and mental healthcare to children who are in these situations. I’ve got my elevator speech down. I know how I want to spend the rest of my life, whether it’s alone or with a partner. I know how I can use my skills and talents and I know I can be ballerific – if I were just given the chance.

I see peers of mine finishing up with grad school or getting their work and internship opportunities that will lead them to where they want to be. I feel like my parents were right and that I never really took the opportunities and sought out how to do college right. Sometimes I wonder that if I had a specific major, like pre-med, if I would have been able to check the boxes and get to that final goal. I personally know friends who ticked all the boxes and now, they’re in Public Health or they’re working to be physician’s assistants instead of being MDs. I also know people who had the internship their sophomore summer, their junior year and by senior year, they knew exactly what they were going to be doing and where they were going to be for the two years after they graduated.
I had absolutely no idea where exactly I would be. At one point I thought I would be in law school. Two years later, after 2 months in DC, a year at my alma mater, I’m in Spain. And in a few months I’ll be in DC, starting my masters. Do I regret the last two years? Nope. I was at my healthiest (mentally), my most productive, and most content with my life. Somehow though, I feel like I became complacent and now I’m just totally off track. I apply for internships and I don’t get them. I apply for competitive opportunities, and I don’t get them. I used to be so good at being competitive. And now I wonder, maybe if I had been more precise and exact during college, I would have not lost my competitiveness and maybe my grades would be better, because we all know it’s a numbers game out there.

The good thing is I no longer associate these opportunities I didn’t get to my self-worth. I know I’m a highly capable individual and I have so much to offer. I just also feel that it is so difficult for me to get the things that I want the most. I try and I read and I even luck out and meet some of the right people who support me, and I still feel like I’m getting nowhere.

I feel that to get access to those opportunities, I’m just going to have to know the right person and have him/her recommend me highly. Or I’ll have to pay to get myself those opportunities. I’m going to go into debt for grad school, like everybody, and I have this fear that even with my professional degree it’s not going to be easy. To comfort myself, I tell myself that I have my whole life ahead of me to do what means the most to me and hopefully do more and help more people as I get to that point. I justify that my path is not one that follows a linear list of steps and it doesn’t have a carved out timeline because how many people out there are currently doing what I want to do? How many people know exactly what they want to do at this point in their lives? (for those who do and for those who knew a while ago, maybe I’m/we’re just lucky to have been around the same circumstances to get to know people like this – maybe we’re in a different pool of people who got to get to that part of their life sooner because they worked their butts off and they had a lot of support).

I just get scared that I may not get to do what I want to do. It’s silly for me to think that way because here I am, in Spain, doing what I want to do and what I absolutely love. And I’m only 23.
How do you know if you’re working hard and smart and your best or if you’re just being complacent? Do the results, getting what you applied for, matter? To me they do. I want to apply for fellowships and programs and jobs and internships, and I want to know, with security, that I will get the opportunity. Or am I just trying for things that, at some level, I know I cannot get? Or maybe I just don’t fit in when I’m in the US. The opportunities I seek seem closed off to a people who have a stellar gpa, the right standardized scores, the right opportunities on their resume/CV, or the right connections on their Linkedin profiles.

Or maybe rejection is just the way of life. Or maybe I need to re-evaluate what kinds of opportunities I seek out. Ok, I go back. I don’t want to have to re-evaluate the opportunities I seek out, because I seek them out for a reason. I seek them out because I know I can shine in them and I can perform them really well. Or maybe there are people who are just more qualified than I am.
I don’t know how this stuff works. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like this. I just wish I knew how to live through this and keep working towards what I want. I also wish there were some sort of affirmation from the universe that I’m slowly getting there. Or maybe I’m asking for too much.
Or maybe, I’m where I need to be: confused, anxious, happy, traveling, worried, complacent, despondent, optimistic, here.

 

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Country Hopping: Travel Tips

I am only 23 years old and dread builds up in me when I think “country hopping”. I think country hopping is not for the weak. I don’t know how delegates and diplomats and politicians and celebrities and business executives do this on a weekly basis. It probably helps to have fancy planes with plush interiors, some bubbly while you’re going over your work and your own travel team. Disclaimer: I am stereotyping all of this from movies and TV shows like Scandal.

For the rest of us, plebes, who try to budget travel and see the wonderful sights of the world, country hopping requires meticulous planning, mental preparation, dedicated time for physical rest and a lot of communication if you’re traveling with other people (especially people you may have never traveled with before). Here are some tips and observations from my country hopping trip with my dear old dad.

Types of Country Hopping

a. Country hopping while in transit

  • If your itinerary includes a stop over longer than 8 hours, I think it’s a good idea to go see the city around you. It can get boring, really quickly in an airport unless you’re reading the best book ever or you prefer naps.
  • Make sure you plan out enough time to get back to the airport to catch your connecting flight.
  • With advance preparation, you can get currency for the country you’ll be in, that way you don’t have to worry about high conversion rates, especially if you’re stuck in the airport.

b. Country hopping on purpose (for the real/seasoned/not weak travelers/clueless first-timers *like yours truly*)

  • Once you get to your destination, make sure you determine the best way to/from the airport. European countries have really reliable bus/metro/public transit systems that make it easy to get to/from. You probably want to research the schedules, the price, if you can pay by card, etc. If you’re traveling with company, you may want to split a taxi since a lot of taxis have fixed rates to/from the airport (at least that’s my experience in European countries)
  • You’re lucky if you know someone living in the city you’re traveling to! Since Copenhagen was my sister’s home for a month, we had our own tour guide receive us at the airport and take us around. Definitely reach out to people, even friends of friends, because it’s one less thing to stress about, especially if you’re traveling around a new country.
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Warm welcome to Copenhagen!

  • If you’re traveling with people (this deserves its own post), it’s a great idea for each of you to get a map of the city and go over important travel topics like what to do in emergencies.

In general:

  • It can feel like you’re running through a city, just to get to see all the touristy things. It can feel like a blur, especially if you’re in the country for less than a day. I don’t think there’s a way to remedy that especially if it’s the first time you’re traveling to the city.
  • Having sketched out a plan before you arrive to your cities can help you feel more organized and less chaotic. It is still a different experience living the plan for the trip, especially if you can’t speak the local language or are trying to figure out the public transportation system.
  • Look at the dates of your travel – is it during national holidays? what are the hours of museums/parks/etc? what’s the weather like? If you’re final destination is sunny southern Spain but you’re going to Iceland/the Alps first, you need to pack accordingly.
  • Always ask the people at your hotel/hostel for ideas for activities. They can help you plan a great trip for a short amount of time.
  • If your traveler personality is “go-go-go”, definitely do research before you get to your city. Early mornings and late nights will be a thing, but if that’s what floats your boat, then go for it.
  • If your traveler personality is “explorer”, do some light research and figure out what are the main spots you want to make sure you see. Try to get to those first and on the way, explore the city as you go.
  • If your traveler personality is “follow the leader”, still do some research, in case you find something cool you want to do and you can share with your travel companions. Or do the city tour, hop on-hop off buses. You get a lot of information and see most of the city.
  • Have a first aid ziploc with bandaids, ibuprofen, anti-histamine meds, alcohol swabs, etc.
  • Expect the unexpected. If this is your maiden voyage – you will feel rushed to get to the airport, but you’ll make it in time. Or you’ll lose a flight. If this is the umpteenth time you’re doing this, your flight can get delayed/pre-poned and then you miss the next flight. The airline could go on strike.

1. Review that Itinerary with a fine toothed comb, re-dot the i’s and memorize it. 

Building the itinerary usually depends on airline companies, your budget and the end goal of country hopping. Typically country hopping usually means spending an hour to fourteen at an airport while you’re in transit to your final destination. Or the other scenario is when you intentionally plan to travel around to different countries, like my father and I did. My sister was studying in Copenhagen, Denmark and I was moving to Spain for a year. My father, dear darlin’ dad, proposed we go see my sister (to curb any homesickness since it was her first time outside the country without family) and see another country. Since it fit well in our budget and timing, we planned the trip. This was our itinerary:

US — SPAIN (direct 9 hour flight to Barcelona) *connecting flight* — GERMANY — DENMARK (this was all in a span of 2 days)

DENMARK — SWEDEN — SPAIN (my final destination)

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Breakfast/Tea time in Munich Airport

  • Have printed copies of the itinerary. Have digital copies of it too.
  • Have your ticket info always ready.
  • Double check, especially when you’re in the booking process, how much time you have in each city/country. Sometimes airlines change their flights: delay/move ahead. Make sure you have a way to stay updated with that information so you can enjoy your trip. Some booking companies send you text messages. It could be worth it to have data while you’re traveling. Some airports have wi-fi for a short time and you could probably check/confirm your flight info.
  • If you’re traveling with people, make sure as a group, you are all aware of the itinerary. It makes everyone feel good and can help reduce tension while traveling.
  • Sometimes, you may travel through different means. For example: you fly in, but you have to take a train to your next destination. Know how to get to the train station from the airport or your hotel/hostel. Make sure you plan enough time for traveling to the next point to your connecting trip.
  • Scan your itinerary for plane to train to bus, so you can be prepared when you have to keep going with your trip.
  • Important: plan for rest in your itinerary. Don’t plan for a 2 hour nap during the plane/train/bus ride. Plan for rest in a warm/cool hostel/hotel room, in a yummy bed and for 5-7 hours. The worst thing to happen for short trips, that usually characterize country hopping, is falling sick because of exhaustion. You have to adjust to the time of the country and let your body also adjust. If you arrive to a country during the day time, when you’re usually asleep, walk around the center for a while and take a nap in the afternoon. A nap. If you reach at night time and you’re wide awake, drink some chamomile tea, slip on pajamas and read a book/journal till you sleep.
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On our final leg of the Journey – to Santiago de Compostela.

2. Finances.

  • Call your credit card company and let them know the countries you will be in, whether or not you use your card. It’s a good idea because credit card companies will not read your activity as suspicious and having a card is great for emergencies/just-in-case moments.
  • If you can, go to your bank and get some cash in the currency of your destinations. Airports charge a large fee and the conversion rates can be really high.
  • I don’t think people use traveler’s checks anymore, however, you could get some of those.

3. Get all your documentation – and copies (hard and digital). 

  • Passport/ IDs (on a USB, online drive, hard copies, etc.)
  • Itinerary (this is really important)
  • Accommodation confirmations for hostels/hotels/etc.

Since you may not have access to a data plan in another country, it’s good to have these back ups on hand. It’s just an overall smart traveler tip.

4. Luggage.

a. Pack lightly. Just do yourself a favor and pack the essentials, like this is what you would need to survive an apocalypse within the TSA guidelines. You will feel proud when you accomplish this feat (especially if you’re a girl). You will have this revelation that you can do anything, ever. You will feel invincible. I’ll link the “invincible jet setter” packing list to this post.

b. If you are traveling with checked in bags, especially if you’re travelling internationally, you can store your luggage at airports. It is a good idea to call these airports and confirm they have a luggage locker place/room, so when you travel you can deposit your huge bags and jet set off with your convenient carry on. Plus, if you had any reorganization of items to manage the weight of the bags, you can readjust for your mini-trips. My father and I left our checked luggage at the BCN airport and traveled with our carry-ons. I think most international airports should have this facility for a small daily fee. If you’ll be in the same city and for a few hours, I think you can also rent a locker on an hourly basis.

5. Electronics.

If you’re country/continent hopping make sure you have the converters and adapters for each place you will be visiting. Spanish electrical sockets are different from French ones and those are different from Indian ones. This should be an easy issue to tackle since many converter/adapter sets come with one for each world region. They do tend to be bulky but it’s totally worth it. It’s also a good idea to have extras, in case you forget one because you realize it’s the last call to board your plane.

6. Traveling with people: Communicate

  • It is very important you communicate with the people you are traveling. These short trips tend to be on the tenser side, especially if you’re trying to hit 5 countries in 2 weeks. (is that even possible?)
  • Talk about activities you’d like to do.
  • Talk about your travel nature (go-go-go/explorer/follow the leader).
  • Talk about the overlooked things, ie: diet restrictions, sleeping habits, etc.
  • Go over the itinerary. Better yet, if you can, plan it together. When people plan they tend to remember information better.
  • Make sure everyone knows what the entire trip’s trajectory looks like. (Memorize the itinerary) This way, if the natural leader gets tired and cranky, someone else can take over. Maybe you could assign people portions of the trip. Who knows?
  • If you’re traveling together for the first time, talk about why you like traveling. What do you want to get out of the trip? What are the things you know about traveling?

So if you are planning your country hopping trip, let me know if any of this helps. Or if you’re a seasoned hopper and gleaned some insight that wasn’t included here, please share! I’m getting ready for my next country hop with my lovely mom and need all the help I can get!

Happy Hopping!

Flying through Scandinavian skies.

Flying through Scandinavian skies.

Observations II: 2015 vol 1.

1. I am terrified of writing. I think I love writing so much that it terrifies me. It’s been a while and I haven’t updated the blog with my drafts of things I did since arriving in Spain. I had really good reasons before: my computer broke down; the Spanish keyboard makes the flow of words too staccato; I didn’t want to leave the comfort of my flat to walk to the school and write. But I also overcame that when I made my iPhone 5 (RIP) my best friend and used it to write posts. I remember everything pretty well but something about sitting down and really giving myself into the blogging experience, scares me. I woke up this morning and decided to research how to delete this blog because there was no point in continuing since I was already so backlogged that I didn’t measure up to any of the things I set up before I left the US. I do this a lot. I get super excited about stuff and then I conveniently find things to just push it to the next day until I just don’t follow through. So, I’m terrified about writing and I’m still doing it. It took a lot of thinking to understand why I wanted to delete the blog. I’m not even sure if I’ll publish this post. But my goal is to do one thing everyday that scares me.

2. I think you need to be extremely disciplined to blog consistently. You have work on your craft and your thoughts and edit and proofread it and finalize it before you publish. And you have to want to do this every day. I think that is what overwhelms me. I see so many different parts about my writing that I want to improve that I get scared – even though it’s something I think about every day. So I spend the rest of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 reading and researching how to build your blogging process. It was supposed to make me feel better – that at least I was thinking about blogging, so it was just a matter of time till I blogged. I imagine this ideal scenario where I have a routine and like clockwork I write a blog post and I have to edit/proofread it once and then whamo! It’s published and it’s a great piece of writing. I actually need to write for me to get anywhere close to that.

3. With every year that passes, I realize that nothing ever turns out exactly how you planned it. That’s a terrifying thought, especially when you work hard to get to a specific outcome. It took a lot of time and retraining pathways in my brain to understand I can still achieve the same outcome while being flexible and spontaneous. This brings me to managing expectations. It’s great to have expectations and work towards your standards but it’s also necessary to manage them. Checking in on your progress and your expectations gives you a good idea of how far you’ve come and how you can adjust your sails for the future. Maybe there’s a more effective/efficient/fun way to get to your goals. So this is my check-in for the blogging. I am not as disciplined as I hoped I would be but I still want to write and so I’m going to figure out how to make that more possible this year. I only have 5 months left in this beautiful town, in this mesmerizing country.

4. When there isn’t that much sunlight in a day, the days seem to fly by or mesh into one. It makes it more difficult to tell time or how much of it has passed. I thought I experienced that in college – but it’s definitely faster once you graduate and you’re doing the life thing. I want to sleep for 4 hours at a time and call that a siesta. Then I want to wake up and eat food while watching tv. I can’t tell how fast time is going by but I can see it happening when I learn how to say new months in Arabic. There’s this pressure to fit everything in and make sure I’ve made the most of this experience because I don’t know when I’ll get to do this again. That feeling is quickly swept under by the ease with which I live my real life in another country accomplishing the things I don’t even remember planning. I also miss waking up to the sun shining through my window.

5. The tingly sensation you get when your feet are soaked in rain water reminds me of Standard 4 in my first primary school in Kenya. I would slowly feel my toes become numb, as they tried to grab onto the wet socks in the hopes they’d get some of the remaining warmth. It was a futile exercise because my feet would eventually feel like lead blocks that I had to muster effort to lift and move to take a step. I think I’m finally experiencing the Santiago that I read about before I got here. It rains, it’s cold and windy, and it’s overcast.

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