CollegeCulture & TravelExploreStudy Abroad

Yes, there’s nightlife and accents and atmosphere in London. There’s food and fair weather and incredible tourism in Rome. There’s beer and history and astounding diversity in Berlin. But there’s no fantastic games of charades that must be played in order to communicate with those around you, and there’s no air pollution to make city sunsets burst with auburn red. In Western Europe, the biggest challenge you’ll likely face as a foreigner is adding up your pocket change to buy a pretzel from that street vendor.

There’s a whole world of places where obtaining enough or adequate food is a challenge. Not only for the global poor because they can’t afford it, but also for tourists and foreign students who do not lack the financial means to acquire a wholesome meal but do lack the requisite Malagasy, Khmer, Lao, or Hindi words in their vocabulary.

To put things in perspective, this is by no means an accurate representation of all regions where the global poor live and certainly no reason to avoid studying abroad in these places. While studying abroad in Europe could result in some of the most cathartic and formative experiences in your life, studying abroad somewhere else offers greater challenges and potentially greater payoffs. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to just avoid Western Europe altogether and seek the unorthodox elsewhere. Here are just five of them.

You’re exposed to ways of life (significantly) different from your own.

Studying, living, or simply being abroad somewhere in post-industrial Europe is, frankly, quite similar to studying, living, or simply being anywhere else in the post-industrial Western world. So you switch the language on signs from English to another and convert to the metric system. Good one. That must’ve been challenging with your smartphone’s built-in translation and conversion features.

Traveling to someplace other than this select group of nations is a crash course in dealing with discomfort. You won’t always be uncomfortable physically, but you will certainly be an outsider – this is a good thing. Being the outsider is a lesson in understanding the life ways of “the other.” Not everyone looks, acts, talks, eats, drinks, loves, and lives the way you do, and that’s alright.

You’re humbled.

When you study abroad anywhere other than Western Europe, you’re humbled because the people you never encountered until now are the most incredible humans you’ve ever met. You’re humbled not because you’re self-centered and pretentious, but because the hard work that others do on a daily basis is inspiring.

You’re humbled by the truth that life can be hard, and, while your problems are difficult (don’t doubt that #firstworldproblems are real problems), others’ problems are difficult too. Your cab driver from ashen, polluted, industrial Hubei Province crossed half of China to build a life for herself and her family. She is proof that, collectively, humans struggle, and, in our struggle, we empathetically understand one another.

You recognize your own privilege.

In comparison, life back home is relatively easy. There are fewer immediate concerns about your physical well being, potable water comes out the tap, and supermarket shelves are stocked. For at least some things in your life, you’ve got choices. That might not mean you’re rich, but in some respects you’ve been given a lot more than others.

These things are privilege. Though you might not share in the material wealth of your country, the fact that you come from a country with choices is privilege. The ability to study abroad or study at all is privilege. You might feel guilty or ashamed to benefit so arbitrarily, but with these feelings comes a blurry but powerful recognition of injustice and inequality.

You have the potential to become more passionate, interesting, and any other adjective you’d like to be described as.

When you’ve exposed yourself to new ways of life, let yourself be vulnerable, humbled, and privileged, you will start to develop the traits you wish you had. Living outside of the hyper-commercialized post-industrial world will, in a broad sense, expose your weaknesses, which you can subsequently address and repair, and your strengths, which you can enjoy and fortify. In many ways, you will find what you seek.

You begin to understand beauty.

Mountain scenes and rainforests are just part of what is beautiful in this world. Unexpected things like a bamboo steamer full of pork dumplings wrapped in paper-thin rice flour dough is beautiful. Rusted old structures in the middle of grassy fields and getting slightly lost (anywhere, in general) are both beautiful in their own ways. Making friends is beautiful. Traveling alone is beautiful. Many things are beautiful for many different reasons.

When you seek the unorthodox, you will start to perceive and understand the beautiful value in the world around you.

Image by Joshua Earle

Travel

No matter where you live, we’ve all seen them… those people wielding cameras with maps tucked into their fanny packs, possibly wearing destination paraphernalia. Okay, hopefully not the last part few parts, but you never know. Tourists – the near curse word to travelers and locals alike. For some reason, people love to hate tourists’ naivety and childlike excitement, even though they should be applauded for their adventurous spirits. But still, I admittedly never want to appear like one because it’s sometimes embarrassing, it could mark you as an easy target for theft or crime, and is simply not cool. So from my wandering heart to yours, here are my four top tips I use while traveling to minimize being that tourist.

1. “When in Rome” everywhere. I like to think of this as the biggest display of respect to another culture because it shows your willingness to try and understand something new. For example, if you are in Australia and someone proudly offers you their restaurants kangaroo dish, eat it like it’s your favorite food even if it’s not (yes, this really happened to me and turns out, it was actually delicious). If you are somewhere that has many social customs unfamiliar to you, say in an Asian country, don’t be embarrassed to try bowing when it is appropriate. I have noticed people are more receptive to you as a traveler when they can see you are putting forth effort to cross cultural differences.

2. In unfamiliar situations, wear your poker face. It is bound to happen – you make a wrong turn to find yourself lost, get yelled at in a foreign language, or are caught in a weird situation and just don’t know how to react. No matter how frazzled you are, try to remain calm and collected for your safety.

3. Speak the language. Of course you won’t always be able to do this fluently, but it is possible to learn a few useful greetings and phrases in the country’s language. You might have noticed Americans do not have the best traveling reputation. Time and time again my foreign friends have told me that we tend to speak English before even attempting a simple greeting in the local language and this is offensive. Even if you butcher a few words in another language, people will likely just giggle and appreciate your attempt.

4. Finally, pay attention to how people dress. Unless you are actually hiking in the jungle or going on an Archeological dig, your favorite hiking hat might not be necessary for this trip. But, little jokes aside, I have found clothing to be important in some cases. For example, if you want to go to a religious service, make sure you ask a local or research how you are expected to dress. The last thing you want to do is accidentally disrespect anyone or anything.

Hopefully you can try out some of these tips and see how your next journey unfolds. If you have any other tips you use, I would love to hear them. Happy travels!

Image: Gratisography

ExploreFinanceSkillsTravel

Most of us want to travel the world, yet so few of us actually do it. We plan to save up, but somehow we just can’t stretch our dollars; we spend them on stuff before we can spend them on trips.

Having traveled through much of Southeast Asia (and a few other countries) on a very limited budget, I have met travel experts with lots of advice, and developed my own money saving tricks. Next week I will share my budget travel tips, but this article is about traveling with almost no money and either cutting out certain expenses (accommodations, food and transportation), or earning money while traveling.

I read a very accurate quote that went something like, “if you want to travel, you either have to spend time or money.” If you’re willing to sacrifice a little time so you can soak in unfamiliar cultures, see the world, meet new people and grow, these options could be for you.

1. Hostel Work Exchange

These jobs often offer free housing (and sometimes meals) in exchange for work, or they will simply pay you hourly. Hostel jobs are fairly competitive, so if possible, it is suggested to arrive in a location a bit before peak seasons for less stress. (i.e. before May or June in New York)

This site offers forums for job seekers and hostel employers to post opportunities. Hostel Management is another good hostel job search site.

2. Teach English Abroad

Teaching is quite a commitment, so this option is not for those who are iffy about that.

Most salaried positions last at least a year. Many schools will pay for housing among other amenities, and some (primarily in Asia) will even cover the flights to and from the host country. Some locations pay better than others. I have friends who have paid off student loans and traveled Asia with the salaries they made in South Korea.

Getting a certification to teach English (TEFL) is not always required but will both prepare you and bump up your salary. The following sites can get you certified and/or placed:

Oxford Seminars: Awesome. Pricey TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) certification, but it includes classroom instruction, a practicum, a massively extensive database of schools in hundreds of countries and three textbooks to help you along the way. Plus, awesome like-minded classmates that can become travel buddies. As a former Oxford Seminars student, I recommend this wholeheartedly.

CIEE: I haven’t used this, but it’s a very reputable and reliable program that many friends have used to both teach and study abroad. They provide training and an optional TEFL certification.

People Recruit: This sends people directly to South Korea. A friend’s brother used this and had a great experience with it. It does not include a TEFL certification as Korea doesn’t require it.

3. WWOOFing

WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It pairs travelers with hosts and allows them to work on a farm, co-op, garden, or related space in exchange for food and accommodation.

WWOOF website for more information.

4. Odd jobs

These include working as a server/bartender, laborer, au pair, tour guide, and more. When you arrive in a location, look for “hiring” signs. Hop into restaurants and offices, bring your resume and be prepared to spend a little time unemployed and searching. Business cards help, too, but be sure they’re simple and universally useable. Additionally, highlight language and professional skills, and ensure you’re easily reachable within your host country (local phone number, provide email, etc.). This option requires more spontaneity, but it’s very doable and will offer some pay to live off of and travel with.

5. Working Holiday Scheme

Several countries offer working holiday visas and the opportunity to take on low-wage, seasonal jobs. The visas are available for people under 35 and typically last up to a year.

6. Skill-based jobs

You can do more than wait tables or answer phones if you want. It may take more digging, but will pay better and utilize your skills and any education you’ve received.

Alliance Abroad offers work placements before departure and provides accommodations. I’ve never used it but have heard it recommended before. They provide placements for business, event planning, food preparation and other skilled positions, as well as internships and general service positions.

7. Couch Surf

Couchsurfing allows you to link up with hosts in any country in the world and stay with them for free. Be sure to check up on the local culture’s etiquette so you know whether to bring a gift, buy meals, etc. Couchsurfers and hosts are generally open-minded travel-lovers who enjoy making new friends and helping others enjoy their cities. The database offers extensive reviews on hosts and ways to connect with other surfers.

8. Home Exchange

Swap apartments or houses for a trip. This allows you to stay, rent-free, in someone else’s home in your travel destination. HomeExchange is a good option for this.

9. Yacht or Cruise Ship Jobs

These are paid positions that include free room and board, meals and other expenses. These opportunities often go overlooked. While not a piece of cake, it is easier than one would think to find a safe, reputable job on a yacht or cruise ship.

Some good sites for finding service jobs on yachts or cruise ships include Crew 4 Crew, Jobs on Yachts and Cruise Ship Jobs.

Traveling with little money requires the traveler to let go of hard plans and remain open to sudden changes. It means time spent. It also often means no frills: hostels, street food, homestays, and sometimes a lack of western amenities. Challenges are part of it, though, and the memories and growth that travel create are incredible!

Plus, who knows? You may find your passion is teaching, farming, boating, or something you never dreamed of!

(Aside from friends and personal experience, Nomadic Matt had some great tips that helped with this article. He’s a fantastic budget travel blogger.)

What are your tips and resources for traveling paid or without significant expenses?

Image: Garry Knight, Flickr

CultureHealth

“Beauty comes at a price.” There’s a sentence we have all heard, without doubt. Physical beauty, especially, comes at such a price. Waxing, bleaching, plucking, shaving, and threading…things all us ladies (and some men) have spent countless hours at the salon doing.  But as Americans, what’s our take on beauty? What’s physically attractive, and what’s not physically attractive? Who decides these rules? How do American standards of pulchritude compare to those of the Eastern world?

I am currently in India, and I had the chance to interview several people about what they believe is beautiful in a woman.  Here are a few perspectives from the East:

“When I marry the girl of my dreams, I want her to be as fair as the moon…lips as red as cherries, and very black hair. I think a girl like that would be very attractive.”

“Milky white skin. Like Kareena Kapoor and Tammanah Bhatia, the Bollywood actresses. Intellect would be a great addition to those looks, though.”

“As a girl, I’ve always been told to use fairness products. They’re supposed to elicit the true beauty out of me or something. I don’t know though, they don’t really work. But that’s what everyone wants: whiteness.”

I interviewed 12 people, but I had to stop because everyone said the same thing: fairness, whiteness, and lightness. Everybody seemed to be in love with the concept of being light-skinned. In fact, what I like to call the “Fairness Industry,” is booming not only in India, but in Asia as well. Take a look at these creams and their purpose:

beauty cream

Phrases like “healthy white” and “fair and lovely” capsize the mind at first glance. It almost seems as though being white and fair is associated with being “healthy” and “lovely.” Is this a social stigma? Do young Asian girls have to be fair-skinned to be beautiful? Skin bleaching products such as creams and gels certainly do exist in the USA, but they are nowhere near as popular there as they are in Asia as a whole. Where does the idea of equating attractiveness to fairness stem from?

Back in the day, those who toiled in the fields and struggled in blistering heat possessed a darker skin tone than those who remained indoors, living in luxury and royalty. Having darker pigmentation became easily associated with being poor or part of the working class. Skin color became associated with wealth, and those who were more affluent were also seen as more desirable.

Let’s zoom forward to present-day Bollywood. Recently, the Hindi film “Gori Tere Pyaar Mein” came out. The title literally translates to “In your love, fair-skinned girl.” Why not make a film called “Kali Tere Pyaar Mein,” or “In your love, dark-skinned girl?” Once again, movies in India emphasize the glowing fairness of girl as beautiful, leaving no room for the majority of the olive to tan to dark-complexioned people. With subliminal messages like this, those of us who are not fair are almost forced to believe that we are not as attractive to our white counterparts. I can provide a personal example of this, as one of my North Indian friends (who is quite fair in complexion) teased me for being a dark-toned South Indian (we inhabit areas closer to the equator, so what do you expect?) once. Since when is being more pigmented a sin? Why are fair people automatically deemed beautiful, while darker skinned girls struggle to earn that title?

What about America? What do American girls believe will make them look beautiful? The answer is essentially the opposite of Asia’s: America wants tan girls. The tanning industry prospers in America: fake tans, tanning beds, and other “tan-in-a-can” products are quite the profitable investment. When summer comes around, millions of girls rush to the beach to bronze themselves. I’ve seen girls from my high school spend their paychecks on tanning beds in the winter…yes, in the winter, when there’s barely any sun and being slightly pale is a commonplace occurrence. It’s ludicrous to see what our young girls do their skin…whether they want to bleach it or bronze it. I had several Caucasian friends tell me “Wow, I wish I was tan like you. Your tan lasts year-round.” It feels weird to be castigated by one community for being tan, and complimented by another for the same thing. Why can’t we all just be proud of our original skin color?

However, there is one characteristic of beauty that seemed to be popular in India and America: skinniness. Perhaps the struggle to be slim is a global epidemic, as well. Dieting pills, weight-loss programs, V-shapers…they’re everywhere. Magazines, movies, retweets made by several of my guy friends that I follow on Twitter all depict skinny actresses and models. As girls, we are constantly surrounded by sources that tell us that skinny is right and that people need to see our collarbones…or else we are just not beautiful.

And once we gain that skinny body through hours at gym and spent dieting, we need to show it off, don’t we? Let’s take a detour and play the skin game. The more skin you reveal, the sexier you are. That sentence should’ve made most of us feel somewhat uncomfortable. We live in a society where the female body is such a weird object: people want to see girls naked, but once they do, certain girls who exposed their bodies are slut-shamed. Girls are heavily imposed with a double standard in this sense. What do you want her to do? Take her clothes off? Will you still respect her after? These are the relevant questions that you should ask yourself if you’re interested in a particular girl. Find those answers and don’t dive into a cesspool of hypocrisy.

So girls, what makes you beautiful? Your complexion? Your weight? The amount of clothes you wear? Truly, there is no right answer. Society tries to oppress you with what it believes to be beautiful. Certain people assume that there is only one ideal look for beauty, whereas in reality, that’s just not that case. We need to celebrate our diversity. We can do so by not succumbing to a certain weight and pigmentation. If you want to wear a religious veil and cover your body, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to keep your original skin color, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to eat that juicy sandwich from McDonald’s, you should be allowed to do so. If you want to embrace your originality and the looks you were born with, you should be allowed to do so.

Your youth shouldn’t be spent on altering yourself physically to gain acceptance from society. It should be more about educating yourself and being happy. Society will always say one thing or the other, but it’s up to us to choose what we want to listen to.

Image: The Resurgence

CultureTravel

Recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech about India launching a very cost-effective piece of space technology. Last November, India was the first Asian country to launch a spacecraft to Mars, putting itself in first place in the red race. If that mission is successful, India will be a part of a small group of countries to have successfully reached and explored Mars.

Modi proudly says, “Our scientists have shown the world a new paradigm of frugal engineering and the power of imagination.” This spacecraft and the mission all come at an extremely cheap price: 4.5 billion rupees, or $75 million. Modi even claims that this project costs less than the budget of the Hollywood movie Gravity.

The new Indian Prime Minister wants to also hold a meeting with neighboring South Asian countries that are a part of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to discuss how the freshly launched satellite is “a gift from India,” as Modi claims it to be with quite the zeal. He hopes for the amelioration among the nations of South Asia, as he wants them to also be an integral part in the world’s limelight.

Along with many accolades, the Indian government has faced some rebuke. India is a country that is filled with problems: poverty, disease, lack of sanitation, etc. India also dangles on one of the longest economic slowdowns it has ever faced. Should the government really be focusing on improving its space program over trying to combat the domestic and social issues ostensibly present?

Despite the criticism, Modi claims that space technology can offer quite a few uses and can become “an integral part of our daily life today.” India celebrates its leap in space science and hopes for a bright future in the field. But what do you think about advances in space technology? Would you consider joining this innovative field? How do you feel about the exploration of Mars? We want to know what the youth’s view of space exploration and technology is, as this is a blossoming field with vast job opportunities.

Image: NASA