Opportunity Cost

“If it be now,’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all.” – William Shakespeare




This will be my last post on this blog as a final send off, the closing of this chapter. I hope if nothing else my family enjoyed reading it and that it gives future volunteer teachers a glimpse of what to expect.

For those of you who took high school economics you’ll know that opportunity cost is the precise terminology for the concept “you can’t have it all.”

Choosing one thing means you can’t have another and the cost of that choice is the opportunity you lose.

Choice didn’t use to seem hard to me. I’ve never been the type to linger in a store instead grabbing the first thing that catches my eye. No doubt.

I never make pro/ con lists. I chose my university without hesitation. I chose where I lived without seeing other places. If I meet someone I like they become an instant friend, no vetting. I’ve always been ready to go with my gut and choose without regret. And now for the first time in my life I’ve had a hard time deciding. What do you want your life to look like now?

I once made a life plan for myself before starting 8th grade. I drew up a chart of every step I was going to take until I could reach my final goal, which was always traveling and living abroad. Well, after two years that chapter is closed. I did it. 13 year old me would be proud. I ticked off each box for deeply ingrained choices made long ago.

I knew I didn’t have to follow it but it was so easy and comforting to know each next step. Now, I don’t know what to do. I’m making choices and regretting them and realizing that no matter what I choose I’ll still feel regret. Opportunity cost caught up with me after years of free passes.

I keep telling myself that this is normal and how it’s supposed to be. I have to take a risk. I have to uproot myself again and figure things out. I feel sad a lot of the time. I miss China and my friends there even though I know that I’m ready to be home. I’ve missed out on a lot of major milestones for friends and family, things I can’t get back. I’m sad about that too.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t give up the things I’ve experienced for anything. I felt a unique kind of bliss reading on the plains in Taipei, walking through the bamboo forest in Arashiyama, sailing across Loch Ness, dancing with Brit on the beach in Koh Tao.



Reading in Taipei; night market in Keelung above

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I have this idea in my mind, an amalgam of all of the women I most admire and what they would do. What would they choose?

In my mind, they would choose to be an explorer. They would choose to weave themselves into places all over the world, to work hard, succeed and keep learning. I want to be this woman.

What I’d never really considered is how lonely this choice is. Always moving means always saying goodbye.

I will be going to Washington D.C. in a week looking for work. I’m nervous but excited to be starting my career. I want to work hard and learn about international non-profit management and policy. D.C. is definitely the place for that. But there were more options on the table, choices that would mean being close to the ones I love. Still months and months after deliberation, I feel the weight of turning those options down heavily. It aches all the time coupled with the thrill of the new.


Living 8,000 miles away for 2 years will change a lot of things about your life. It might change the directions you were going. I hope if you’re a reader trying to decide that you go anyway. Be bold. And I hope if you’re a friend or family member that you know how much and how often I thought of you, wishing you could be with me.


There will always be opportunity cost with these big next steps but keep walking. My dad has a childhood story he’s told me more than once that I always loved. When I was almost 5 years old he and my mom took me to a renaissance fair. I was eager to see everything and squirming so my dad put me down. Not a second later I went racing off to explore, never looking back or checking that it was safe. He told me he always thinks of this story because as an adult I’ve been doing the same thing, set on the ground ready to zoom off in a new direction.


Those two years gave me a lot of things, not the least of which is the courage to keep going. I might be making a big mistake, but life’s greatest highs are in the gamble.


I’ll end this blog by saying indecision can be crippling but you’ve got to face the cost eventually and walk sure footed despite the fear. Nothing is certain, and what’s lost can come back to us if maybe not in the ways we plan.


All my love to you China and to everyone who followed along with me, it’s time to go somewhere new.




Voyage à Vietnam

“That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you.” – T.H. White


After a last sushi dinner and long goodbyes to my friends, I struggled to put on my heavy pack and head out to the airport.

I walked through the streets in Osaka, taking note of every last detail. The saddest part of a trip is its end and never knowing when you’re coming back.

Getting to the airport was a bit more stressful than I had anticipated. When I got off the metro at the stop I needed I realized I’d need to walk a good 15 minutes or so to find the rapid train that would take me to the airport. The two stations were not connected.

Eventually I did figure it out but only after looking bewildered and asking numerous strangers where it was just to make sure I was going the right way.

Once I’d gotten on my flight (Air Asia) I let out a sigh of relief. I’m not usually a nervous flier. I’m always more worried about getting lost or missing a flight than I am of actually being on a plane, but knowing what happened only a year ago on an Air Asia flight and one leaving from Kuala Lumphor (my layover) I felt a little jittery.

But seeing as how I’m in Changsha writing this one can surmise everything went fine.

The biggest mistake I made was booking this flight on the eve of Tet (the spring festival of Vietnam.) The airports were insane. I landed in Ho Chi Minh also called Saigon (depending on if you’re talking to a foreigner or Vietnamese person) at about 10:30 am. After waiting around to get my Vietnamese visa put in my passport and get cleared by customs it was about 12pm.

It felt very good to be back in SE Asia again. The air was warm and breezy; the sky was blue and that evening I knew I’d be meeting up with Brit and the other WorldTeach 2nd years, one of whom was living in Hanoi after her year in China.

But my mistake like I said was in coming in on the biggest holiday of the year. The airport was packed and my flight to Nha Trang (where I was meeting them) had been pushed back from its original 3pm to 7pm. Ouch.


Everyone waiting after a 3rd delay

My regret is that I didn’t leave the airport to go explore the city, even just to go see the tunnels and war museum and come back. But I was too nervous to trek out on my own too far and I was really tired from my overnight flight plus I had on my huge backpack. So I ended up drinking Vietnamese tea and reading while I waited.

After another delay (don’t even get me started) I finally got on my plane, landed and made it to the hostel all by 10pm. My friends greeted me at the taxi and helped me get all of my things situated.

Then we got ready to go out! What was I going to do waste my evening catching up on sleep? Not a chance! We went down to the beach, a short 5-minute walk from the hostel and watched the fireworks. Ringing in the 2nd new year of 2016 with some of my favorite people in the world.


– – – – – – – –


“Nha Trang Dance Party for 3”


Like I mentioned before it was the eve of Tet when I arrived, meaning of course that the whole next day was the holiday. You could feel it in the air. The streets were decorated with lights and people we’re bustling about. I was happy I got to be there for it. The Chinese New Year is very similar to Tet and I keep missing it because it always falls in the middle of vacation time. So it was nice to feel like I was getting a taste of the tradition.

That night Brittany, Poornima, and I decided to go to a nice bar to enjoy concluding our 1st day together. We sat at tables nestled in the sand and near a stage that had been set up. We saw that there were some events listed for the night, but the place was pretty empty so we did not expect the caliber of the performance we saw that night.


Pooks and Brit

We had accidentally landed ourselves some premo seats to the show. There was fire dancing, there were acrobats and a traditional lion dance, fire works and loud cheers of “chuc mung nam moi!” (Happy New Year!)

And then things settled. A vibrant, loud affair was over in 30 minutes. A DJ came out and was playing music trying to get people pumped. Only one bold Vietnamese woman walked into the sand dancing by herself. We admired her moxie and went over to join her – Pooks choosing to sit and watch our flailing from a distance.
It was really fun and the lone dancer was super cool! We talked to her for a bit and danced together until more people made their way onto the sandy patch cleared as a dance floor, the sand still warm from the fire show portion of the night.

A few drinks, lots of dancing and two late night bahn mi sandwiches later and we were back at the hostel sleeping soundly.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


“Bike from Hoi An to Ahn Bang”


Despite all the fun I was having it is important to note that during the holiday crime goes up. Brit was robbed by another tourist in her hostel in Ho Chi Minh. He or she had literally taken her money out of her wallet from her purse she was sleeping on. Yeesh! So Brit in an effort to save money/ spend more time with Poornima decided to skip the Hoi An part of the trip and go straight to Hanoi. Lynsey and I, however still wanted to go and so we did.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in the small historic town. In fact, Hoi An was one of the only places in Vietnam to make it through the war unscathed. In that the architecture remained standing. So it does have the distinct appearance of France’s colonization mixed with the native Vietnamese culture. Think Élysée Palace only custard yellow and framed by palm trees.



On our last day we rented bicycles and made the twenty-minute ride out to Ahn Bang beach. It was a beautiful day, sunny, clear and cloudless. On our ride we passed through rice fields and bathing oxen rolling in the mud to coat and protect themselves from the sun. We stopped for a bit to watch them and enjoy the sunshine.

It was a peaceful day. I liked that this beach was not over crowded and for the most part did not have loads of restaurants and knick-knacks, which made it calmer.

I read my book, listened to music, took a nap and went swimming in the South China Sea for the last time of the trip.

We biked back to our hostel late in the afternoon with the sea salt still on our skin, sand in our shoes and smiles on our faces.


Lynsey in the water

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– – – – – – – – – – – –


“Not all goes well”


In the Old Quarter, Hanoi 

My last little story is about our time in Hanoi. After Hoi An, lynsey and I got back on a sleeper bus and made our way up to Hanoi, where Pooks lives. We stayed in a hotel this time. After the weeks of travel we both wanted to stay somewhere more comfortable.

It did not start well. The day before we left I got a call from Brittany. She had been robbed again for the second time on this trip. She had been shopping with Pooks in the Old Quarter. Wedged in between a series of stalls and commotion she realized her bag, which she’d been firmly holding, felt lighter. She reached her hand inside to feel for her wallet and what she found was a giant hole. Someone had sliced up the side of her purse, reached in, and taken her wallet which contained not only all of her cards and money but her various I.D.’s and our train tickets home.

The luckiest part of it all was that she had left her passport at Pook’s house. Even though it could have been worse, it still certainly put a massive damper on things. I loaned her money for the rest of the trip (about 4 days) but what a drag for her.
The worst part of it was that it was such a freak thing. She wasn’t being careless or making mistakes, she was just unlucky. She managed to get all her cards cancelled and now, at this point in the year, everything is very much back to normal.

Other than the obvious terrible feeling of being robbed the rest of our time in Hanoi was great. Pooks showed us around to all of her favorite places to eat.

We got egg coffee and egg chocolate from a hole in the wall place that is frequented by Pooks and her crew. It was so good we went back multiple times. They were these creamy sweet drinks with crushed up ice.


In a various order of events, I also died my hair blue, had some Phở, saw the prison where Senator McCain was held, and before him Vietnamese soldiers opposed to colonization.

We also all went to a great English bookstore where I bought some Roald Dahl books for my favorite kid Qi as well as a book on the history of the war for myself. I’d have hated to leave feeling ill informed.


Finally, exhausted we were ready to make our way back home to Changsha. We got on a bus and crossed the Vietnamese Chinese border on foot. We were so happy to be on our way home. We excitedly thrust our passports forward and waved to every employee, which was probably confusing as long lines and immigration rarely equate to a fun time but we couldn’t help it. It is always a good feeling to be in transit to China once more.


Some more pictures from the trip:
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Navigating Nippon

“You’ve gotta get a Japan Rail Pass.”

“Stay in Asakusa it’s cheaper.”

“You should buy pocket wifi.”

“Try the okonomiyaki in Hiroshima – it’s the best.”

“No one speaks English – have a dictionary.”


This trip started as all my trips have, with a lot of advice from others. Some of which I agreed with and some I did not. In a lot of ways advice comes from our own expectations. For instance, so many people told me it was going to be hard for me to get around Japan because no one spoke English and no signs would be in English.
That wasn’t true for me. I thought I was able to get around fine. Most everyone knew enough words to be able to help me if I asked abashedly.
But I am also quite used to being in places where I know nothing and expect nothing from locals. So, it’s always a pleasant surprise to me when someone communicates with me in my native language.


Not to digress too long other than to caution taking with all things a grain of salt.

I think writing this post will be just as difficult as recounting my travels from last spring festival. So much experience in a day that even after a mere two weeks there is still too much to cover in one post.

So I will go with vignettes as before.


– – – – – – – –
“Trekking to Tokyo”

I was in Shanghai at the beginning of my trip (a whole other story in and of itself.) And was preparing to fly overnight to Japan alone. But I wasn’t worried, I’ve gotten used to doing things on my own.

It’s always interesting to see how much you can grow in just a few short years. I was so panicked on my first solo trip within Hunan province and now I was going to be late night country hopping all alone and felt completely calm.

I arrived pretty late, at around 1am but had already contacted my hostel in Asakusa in advance. I got in late, crashed and formally checked-in in the morning.
There’s nothing like that 1st morning in a new place.

I’m addicted to the feeling.

Stepping outside and walking slowly and methodically to take in that first snapshot fully. My hostel was right next to the river and across the street from the Asahi beer building – a good landmark.



The Asahi Beer Building

I think one of the more challenging parts about travel is when you get hungry. It’s always a little stressful trying to find food and figuring out what’s expensive or not and eating customs etc. For instance, I had learned before coming that it is considered rude in Japan to eat and walk at the same time. I didn’t see anyone doing it so I figured that was once piece of information I’d read right.
Along with the ‘no eating on the go’ rule came an accompanying lack of rubbish bins. The first day I stopped in a 7 eleven to grab tea (pre-heated) and some Onigiri (a triangle shaped sea-weed wrapped snack.) I walked out with it before realizing I had nowhere to eat it. I later found a bench and finished my snacks which then led to the painstaking search for a rubbish bin. I carried my bag of trash around the pristine streets until I finally found one – in a metro station.


I had arrived in Tokyo a full day and ½ before my former roommate Emily was slated to join me, (and 2 days after her my pal Erica) so I took an embarrassingly long time figuring out the route I wanted to take to Ueno so that I could go to the Japanese art museum in the park.


When Emily arrived!

There is such a different vibe when you’re traveling alone. Everything is so quiet and you stay in your head so much. It was only for a short time, unlike last spring festival but the feeling was familiar. It’s part of the reason I chose a museum for my first excursion, it’s the perfect place to be silent. The 2nd reason is that I love art museums and have a penchant for staying in them several hours longer than most of my traveling companions ever want to.


After a quiet and peaceful first day in the city I went walking around the night market in Asakusa where I was staying and found a great little sushi bar that I loved so much I went back to every night I stayed in Tokyo. The sushi chefs were kind to me and by the end of my stay knew my order when I walked in. I love feeling like I’ve made small connections with fellow humans. Sometimes all it takes is a simple “arigato” and a smile.


– – – – – – – –

“ A day in Nara, A night in Kyoto”

Eventually Erica and Emily both arrived in Tokyo and soon enough we found ourselves on the way to Kyoto.

I think I can speak for all 3 of us in saying we loved Kyoto the most.

It was just as it had been written about in my travel books and spoken about by my old high school friend who is half Japanese.

There are temples everywhere. It’s quiet; it’s a city but small and easy to navigate. There is art everywhere. So much of “iconic” Japan is to be found here, like the golden pavilion, the fushimi inari taisha shrine, the ryoanji rock garden etc.

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But this story is not about Kyoto and instead about the day trip we took to nearby city Nara, famous for it’s wild roaming deer.

It didn’t take us long to find the park we were looking for. We sat on the bus, a little steamy as it was sprinkling rain. Soon from the windows we saw them, wild deer everywhere walking on the sidewalks, in the parks, sleeping by trees. It was unreal.

We got off the bus and gleefully walked among all the deer, happy but still being cautious – these are wild animals after all.

At one point Erica and I decide we are going to try to feed them with the approved deer food, which look like thin cookies. We know they can get a little aggressive so we waited until there were only a few, which it turns out didn’t matter at all.

These deer were belligerent. Not a second after the crackers were in my hand the deer swarmed, as did others who had been surreptitiously napping behind some trees nearby and out of sight. I was trying to be chill but it’s hard when deer, which seem so docile and sweet, are surrounding you chasing you and biting your butt. Yes that happened and more than once. I continued to walk away from them but it didn’t matter so I wimped out and threw all the crackers away from me. Once the food was gone the deer instantly went back to being calm and disinterested. And Erica and I were left with bruises aka lessons to not attempt to feed the deer again.

Other than the aggressive feeding frenzy the rest of our time in Nara was amazing. We would walk up temples covered with deer, peeking out from behind mossy stone lanterns. It’s Japan as I had imagined it historically.


Later that night we checked out of our hostel and decided to stay one night in a Ryokan. Ours was over 100 years old, which for Americans will always be an impressive number. The doors were sliding, the floors were tatami mats, and we had a table where we spent the night laughing and drinking sake we’d bought in Nara that afternoon. Then we rolled out our beds and assembled them on the floor. This night was up there with one of my favorite memories from Japan. Sitting at the table, clinking cups with my friends, telling jokes, and laying on the floor next to one another I could feel I was living in a moment that would only last the night and trying my hardest to be fully in it. The feeling was one of luck and of love.


– – – – – – – – – –

“ Traveling within historical context ”


A dome

This next story is about the day we spent in Hiroshima as well as the island Miyajima. This day is a tough one to recount because my emotions were all over the place and rightly so.

We all wanted to make it to Hiroshima for obvious reasons. We are Americans. We wanted to be well-informed travelers. We know the history we’ve been taught of this place, and knew that there would absolutely be more to learn. This is always the case with war and destruction. There’s danger to a single story.

On the way there we met a fellow traveler Anton, who was Swedish but currently living in London. He was also going to the A-dome and museum and asked to tag along, to which we readily agreed. It’s hard traveling alone and we like meeting new people.

There’s no way for me to write about what I experienced at the museum and the site without sounding preachy and over wrought. So I’ll leave it at this, we cried. We touched pieces of roofing that had bubbled and melted from the extreme heat, and saw charred personal affects forever without their owners. We didn’t take pictures in the museum. Doing so would have felt supremely disrespectful.

Leaving the museum was a strange feeling. We’d just met our new friend and for a long time we walked through the park unspeaking. What do you say?
Finally, we broke the silence and talked about nukes, about war, history and how it felt for all of us westerners to be standing there.

Even stranger, was knowing that after lunch that afternoon we were going to beautiful Miyajima island. I don’t think any of us wanted to feel like we’d just been to this important, sad place and were then just checking it off a tourist list and moving on. At the same time, we were on a tight schedule and if we hadn’t gone that afternoon we would not have been able to make it to the island.

So we decided to go and to have fun but to not make light of what we’d just learned that morning.


On the island with our new friend

Miyajima was a tranquil and beautiful place – a calm after the storm. We had a lot of fun spending time with our new friend and talking US politics. Every single person I met on my whole trip from another country wanted to ask me about it. Specifically our joke of a candidate Donald Trump, whose mere presence in the race was scaring people I met from Sweden, the U.K., Malaysia, Indonesia, Canada, etc. After seeing what a nuclear bomb can do, I understand the fear.

There were a million other wonderful things I did and places I saw but if I wrote them all down it would just be a wild mess of a blog post so I’ll leave it at this.

I saw wild monkeys.
I stepped in castles a thousand years old.

I learned a lot of history.

I got to see pieces of art I’d studied in school in person.

I went to an Onsen twice and loved it. (Public bathhouse)

I reconnected with old friends.

I ate fresh sushi and mochi.

I went to the Tsjudiki fish market.


I went to Japan.

How much does all of this actually cost?

How much does all of this actually cost?

There is nothing I love more than travelling. I loved it before I’d even really been able to do it. Of course there are tons of great reasons to do it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an expensive hobby.

And despite all the inspirational memes and talks of how to do it cheap – it’s just not possible for everyone.

This is something I often try to remind myself when writing and talking about traveling.


Stuff like this. Well intentioned? Probably. Oblivious to the realities of many? 4sure.


When I was in University all I wanted more than anything was to be able to study abroad. I would follow the pictures and stories of my friends who had done it online and just burn up with longing to do the same. So, I applied for a summer in France, to bring my French fluency up to snuff.

That didn’t end up happening.

I was approved but the costs were astronomical, even for just 2 months it was in the $10,000 range.
I applied for scholarships but even had I gotten them (I didn’t) they wouldn’t have covered it.

I’d have programs say things like the program cost is only $2,000, totally doable right? Only barely, but that doesn’t include food, housing, airline tickets, visas, and money to keep travelling once abroad. It was misleading.

I don’t harbor regrets though. I was able to go to France for a week visit the following summer, which my parents helped me do and which was far more affordable.

The reason I share this story is because it was my inspiration. It was when I realized if I wanted to do this ex-pat thing and live abroad, I’d have to do it another way- a more affordable way.

I’m sure there are many out there in the same boat as me and so I wanted to share what so many programs and people won’t tell you because it’s awkward – and that’s the price tag.

I knew I wanted to come to China for a whole host of reasons but for the sake of brevity I’ll just say for adventure, service and to try something new.

I chose to go with WorldTeach because it was a service organization and I was heavily involved in a service organization at my University. I knew there were other options out there that could have placed me in Shanghai or Beijing, but I didn’t want to be earning more in a big city that’s loaded with western comforts – nothing wrong with that, it just wasn’t my preference.

I was okay earning less and I really wanted to be living in a small town where I could really feel immersed in Chinese culture and the language. I ended up in Changsha, for orientation, which is a huge city, but was then placed in the burbs at Qingzhuhu, which was the perfect place for me. I loved it so much.
WorldTeach’s program fee was $500. Crazy cheap! I paid for this using scholarship money I received at the beginning of my senior year at UF.

A lot of WT’s other programs have heftier program fees, which is because they are not subsidized by the government, the China program is.
Of course there was more to it than just the fee. If you didn’t have a passport you’d need to get one for about $60.

WorldTeach handled getting my Chinese work visa so I didn’t have to pay for that.
I paid for my medical check-ups stateside and for inoculations that we’re suggested not required. I just figured $100 to not get Hep A sounds aight.

As for the flight I looked for deals but ended up landing on an $850 ticket one way to Changsha from Tampa. My parents paid for this. I realize that not everyone’s can, so this could be an obstacle to making this happen. However, WorldTeach does offer a scholarship and has a page on their website focused on fundraising ideas and other scholarships for teaching abroad.

Other than that though, that’s really all I spent getting over here. And of course I brought $200 with me in RMB to live off of during orientation, only ½ of which I used. China is pretty cheap.
My monthly stipend (it is a volunteer program after all) was 3,000 RMB, which is 500 USD. I was very lucky that my school gave me a great Hong Bao (money present) for Spring Festival of 2,000 RMB, not every school can afford this. I also tutored throughout the year to earn side money to eat and have fun with so that I could let my stipend collect in my bank account.


I barely touched my stipend the whole first term, cutting corners by eating in the cafeteria, which was free for lunch and not making any big purchases.
I got ready to leave for Spring Festival with 10,000 RMB in my bank account, which is about 1,500 USD. This was the money I used to buy my plane ticket to Bangkok, Thailand, which roundtrip cost around 250 USD.
I chose South East Asia because I thought it would be a beautiful, fun place to go, but also because it is far less expensive than China.
I stayed in Thailand for almost 3 weeks – 4 of those days were spent in Cambodia (even cheaper than Thailand.) I wasn’t miserly while staying there, I went out, visited sights, ate excellent food and by the time I was flying back to China I still had about 1,500 RMB in my account. I then went to Beijing for a few days and Harbin as well. I took multiple flights, trains, and buses, went to the Great wall and the ice festival and spent almost all the rest of my money.
I came back to China with maybe 300 RMB, which is about 60 dollars. Luckily though, my February stipend came in right as I made it back to my site.
So, I can proudly say that I was able to travel for a full month using only my stipend and no money from my parents. So, if you’re family isn’t a Rockefeller either it is possible to do!

Of course you’d have to work for months in a foreign place first and miss out on the holidays, but them be the breaks kids.

For the 2nd half of the year I did the same routine saying up my entire stipend, living on tutoring money.

Again I had a little over 10,000 RMB at the close of the year. I wanted to travel with my sister before heading back to America to see my family. She’d never been out of the country. We decided to go to Europe. I’d been before but briefly and was eager to see more of the world.
I bought my flight to Prague from China for $650 USD. Ouch. Sorry credit card. Once there, we stayed exclusively in hostels and ate grocery store lunches and fun dinners, sometimes those were reversed.

Europe is expensive.

There’s no way around that. We were lucky though too that for part of the trip we stayed with family in Germany as well as with an old friend in Scotland, which cut down on costs big time.

London was the real kicker, pricey as hell but we were only there a few days. Again I only used my China stipend to pay for things as well as the 300 USD my parents generously threw my way while travelling. Seriously, I’m so grateful to them.

I also had bought my own ticket home from Scotland, which was again about $800. My credit card was real sad.
But then I was home! . . . with only about $200. I literally blew it all over the summer. Irresponsible? Perhaps, but I knew I had my 2nd year in China lined up and that I was going to be employed again soon.

Because I had spent almost all my savings my parents kindly offered to help me buy my flight back to China – similar cost to the 1st year $850. I am really lucky to have had them helping me make these traveling dreams a reality. They like I, know how rare these chances are.

Once back in China I needed to seriously scrimp and save before I got my 1st paycheck in September. Once that came in, it was smooth sailing.

My job this year is independently contracted with the school so I am making double what I made last year aka about 1,000 USD a month.

I’ve been able to save a lot more, and like last year I still tutor on the side, partly because I love the kids I tutor and also to live off the money, though staying in the city is way more expensive.

This year I will have saved 20,000 RMB before the school year is out.
Which means I could travel places a lil’ pricier. I am going to Shanghai for a week, Japan for two weeks and Vietnam for close to two weeks as well.

I’ve already bought all my flights and my visas needed.

There were some great deals because school let’s out before spring festival so no one is really travelling yet.
I often use Skyscanner.com to look for flights, which I recommend as on the whole I’ve been able to get them relatively cheap.

My flight to Shanghai was $90.

My flight to Tokyo was $150.

My flight to Ho Chi Minh from Osaka was the most expensive at $180 (I am taking Air Asia that’s why it’s not even more) and then from Ho Chi Minh to Nha Thrang was $90.

My Vietnamese visa was $20.

I will absolutely be able to stay, eat and travel comfortably on the salary I’ve saved. However, I plan on coming back pretty skint.

Why not do it big right? When will I have these opportunities again?

All in all the point of this post was to drop some hard cold numbers so that any bright eyed youngster out there who wants to travel but isn’t sure how to do it affordably may see this post and realize it’s possible.

I of course understand that these prices are still too hefty for some and that sucks and I’m sorry it’s so.

Nothing used to bug me more than when someone would talk about their travels and then says something along the lines of “Oh everyone should travel it’s so amazing, and transformative. All you need is to be brave, plan carefully and make it work! Don’t worry about money, it’s worth it.”

Seriously, it’s so annoying and oblivious.

Which is why I suggest working abroad, which does make it a lot easier and affordable. Though again I realize this isn’t an option for everyone, with monetary troubles or family obligations.

If you do want to try your hand at working abroad in China consider WorldTeach. I can’t talk it up enough. I saw people struggle here without any sort of support from their program and come over completely alone. So, be careful with what you choose.
If you’re looking for a different region check the website GoOverseas.com they have lots of opportunities there as well.

And if you ever want tips or advice don’t hesitate to contact me here. I’d love to help make travel possible for others as well!




The Halloween That Didn’t End

“Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
― Evelyn Waugh

I love Halloween. It’s definitely my favorite holiday. However, once we hit November 1st I’m pretty ready to move forward. Well not this time!

Due to a myriad of scheduling conflicts my Halloween activities and lessons continued well into November. In fact one of my classes is 3 weeks behind and didn’t get their Halloween lesson until this past Thursday (November 19th).


And because of student exams and rescheduling, the English Corner Halloween party wasn’t until November 13th. Didn’t stop it from being a blast. Did feel a little out of season though.

And my high school students know what day Halloween is, so it’s weird for them too.

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(Pictures from English Corner)

Despite it’s longevity this past Halloween was pretty spectacular.

I did some fun lessons with my classes. Teaching the 5th and 6th graders monster sounds. The witch says “hehehe” the werewolf says “awwwooooo.” They were rowdy no doubt, but that’s to be expected when your teacher comes in dressed as a witch with a huge bag of candy. I don’t blame them for getting excessively pumped. I like getting massive amounts of candy too.

For the high school students I also dressed up and taught them a lesson on how to read scary stories, aka make your voice quiver, whisper, and speak dramatically. They loved it! And I loved watching the looks of realization of their faces when I read them the scary stories.

One of my person favorites was “your mom is calling you into the kitchen. You go downstairs to meet her, but on the way down you hear a whisper from the closet ‘don’t go in their honey, I hear it too.’”

Chills I tell you! They’d sit there a little confused and then I’d hear someone yell “AH! 2 moms?” Which is the ghost mom? Up to you to decide kiddos.

Then came the day of actual Halloween. I went dressed up as Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. A pretty east costume to throw together, plus I had the bangs to do it.

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My friends and I all work at the same school so before going out we dressed up and attended a Halloween party that the international students were hosting at school. It was very cute to see the students all dressed up and how they decorated their classrooms.


Except this student – seen from the window studying. Poor thing. No holidays for you.


The students also made a haunted house in a classroom rearranging the chairs to make them a maze. If I understood correctly I believe the theme was voodoo. It was actually pretty scary. At one point they were chasing us through chairs. It certainly felt like Halloween.

After that the crew and I went to Mega, which is one of our most frequented ex-pat bars. It’s spacious and has a good vibe, and I like the owner Lawrence aka Lozman who is one of the teachers at the international department here at Yi Zhong.

We got there and it was bumpin’ as most ex-pat places are when it’s a big holiday. We hung around for a couple of hours making the rounds chatting it up with other foreigners and then hopped in a cab and made our way home.

I also did some fun Halloween activities with the perfect human child aka Qiyi the little boy I tutor, as well as my neighbors aged 4 & 5.
A big part of the fun of Halloween is sharing it with kids. So getting to carve Qiyi’s first pumpkin with him and bake cookies was not only really fun but really heartwarming. Sometimes, it can be lonely living in a foreign place, but then you see how many relationships you’ve made with new people and it helps take away the sting  from the friends and family back at home.

Of course I miss my family and friends but look at those faces? I mean come on! I get to see these cuties all the time!

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L->R Xiao Yu, Qiyi, and Chen Shen in front.


The final product!

It’s always a bummer when a holiday has ended, but one of the reasons Halloween is the best is it kicks off the season of fun.

This coming Thursday (2 days from now) is Thanksgiving. As I did last year I’ll be headed to the Sheraton Hotel, which throws a huge buffet filled with, all one’s thanksgiving desires. As an added bonus my roommate from UF Erica is coming in from ShenZhen to spend the weekend and holiday with me.

A couple weekends back I went to visit her in sunny beautiful Shenzhen. She will probably be a little shocked when she first gets off the train into freezing, foggy Changsha. Despite the weather though, Changsha has a lot to offer and I’m pumped to take her around/ get into some holiday decorating.

Year 2 is coming up spades.

No Sleep Till …

“What hath night to do with sleep?”
― John Milton

October is upon us! And I’m feeling fine. As I mentioned in my post from last year October is my favorite month. And I kicked it off this year with a bang.

The first week of this month was the national holiday for China, which afforded me 7 days off to go travelling. There was a lot of debating about where to go. There are still a million and one places on my bucket list and a limited time frame.


I know that this will be my last year here. I would love to stay. It would be amazing to keep working at my school, but I’m nothing if not eager for something new and it would be great to be home for Christmas again at some point.


So, there are no doubts. I have to take in as much China as I can this year. One of the big provinces on my list was Yunnan and I finally made it out there and it’s where after all this prologue my post will begin.


My co-teacher and good friend Brittany and I decided to travel together and agreed after pouring over our Lonely planet travel guide that with our funds and time limit that we would only go to 2 cities within Yunnan. We landed on Kunming (the gateway city into the rest of Yunnan) and LiJiang (which was one of the closest to Tiger Leaping Gorge.)


Because Yunnan is still being developed there is no fast train that goes there, which left Brit and I with the options of slow train or flying. Because it was our 1st month back teaching and we were pretty skint, we agreed that flying was not an option so, slow train it was.


My Chinese has been getting better and for our 1st attempt at buying our tickets I felt pretty confident I could handle it. Well turns out I was super wrong and I can’t because as I should have predicted national week being a big travel week meant that what we originally wanted was unavailable.

Our 2nd attempt to buy tickets was with our ever-cool calm and collected liaison Sunny. She was the one who had to tell us the bad news that the only seats available to us were at 2am and that they were hard seats. All this really means is that for 20 hours we were gunna be surrounded by people and probably sleepy. We bought them anyway. (Plus we knew we’d have sleepers on the way back.)


Fast forward to the night we left. I, in my travel mode am always paranoid about missing things (missing a flight, missing a train, etc.) So, I asked that Brit and I leave my apartment at around 1:30am to catch our 3:28am train. I know that the train station is only a 5-minute cab away but at such an odd hour in the morning. I was worried there would be no cabs out. I was super wrong. As we walked down tiny Qingshuitang jie, our street, probably 6 or 7 cabs zoomed by. We got in one and bounced.


By the time we boarded the train at around 3:30 am we were very tired. We couldn’t wait to just settle in and sleep. It’s not the most comfortable arrangement though. There were three seats smooshed together directly across from 3 more seats, feet bumping with only a tiny table in between us. We attempted sleep. After about 3 hours I think I got maybe 5 minutes of actual sleep in.


To pass the time on our daylong train trip we took a picture each hour to amuse ourselves, I’ll share the results below.

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Train ride finally over, legs thankfully un-atrophied we hoped in a cab and made it to our beautiful hostel. It was called Upland Youth Hostel and it was charming as fuh. I felt like we we’re staying in a living room/ greenhouse. 10 out of 10 would recommend.

We fell asleep immediately ready to take on the day.


Shots from the hostel  12065679_10205825452569896_3228994960776902153_n

Our day in Kunming was very chill, as we wanted it. We walked around green lake park, enjoying the sun and the fresh Yunnan air. It was a perfect day. The weather, the company, the accessibility of snacks; it’s all I could ask for.



A day in Kunming

Originally our plan had been to take a night bus to LiJiang that evening, but when we went to buy tickets, surprise surprise they were sold out. Uh oh. So the new task was find a bed for the night.  Luckily we were eventually able to rebook with our hostel and bought tickets for the morning instead. We then looked forward to a relaxed evening in Kunming.


Searching for available hostels for the night

That morning the absolute rudest hostel mates I’ve ever had, woke us up 2 hours before we needed to, by crinkling thousands of plastic bags, talking to one another loudly and leaving the door to our room open as they back and forth lugged things in and out of the room. We were displeased. But got our stuff together, quietly I might add and headed out to LiJiang.


Seats 23 and 24 and yet . . .

Our bus ride was an easy 6 hours with beautiful views and we arrived in LiJiang in the mid afternoon. We went to our hostel, dropped our stuff off and chilled for a bit in our room. We met an Australian girl named Virginia and 2 French girls who were hella cool. The 5 of us went to get dinner and delicious mapo doufu 麻婆豆腐! The only way to eat tofu is Sichuan style. Seriously, I wish I could eat this everyday. Then Brit and I stayed out and explored the old town for a little bit – touristing it up by buying lollipops and paper lotuses for the canal.



Hostel friends!

The next morning we woke up early yet again, (at the this point we were getting really good at giving up on the idea of being rested) and went to the hostel lobby to enjoy an amazing Gergich family style breakfast – eggs, bacon and toast.

We then got on yet another bus, this one for 3 hours out to the famed and beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge.

It was worth it.

I would do the whole trip over again hard sleepers there and back to see that gorge. (That is saying something.)


Unlike most places during national week, the gorge was almost empty. There were very few other tourists, which made enjoying being outside in the mountains even more enjoyable. Brittany and I started at the top of the middle of the gorge and hiked down to the river and back up. All in all we hiked for around 5 and a half hours. We would have stayed for the full hike, which requires an overnight stay, but we only had so much time and so we couldn’t. Either way, it was still crazy beautiful and fun.

If you ever plan to hike the gorge you should know people charge you left and right. There will be signs everywhere saying something along the lines of the government took this land from us but we maintain it/ built this ladder/ rope bridge/ fruit stand etc. so pay us 15 yuan. It’s just the breaks of the gorge. You’ll probably end up paying about 3 separate people before you’re out of there again.

My favorite thing we paid for was this long suspension bridge that went to a rock in the middle of the river. The water was roaring and crashing up the sides of the rock in white spray. It was pretty momentous. We got there before the rock spot popped off and stayed for about 20 minutes just sitting and enjoying the day and feeling fortunate to be where we were.

After that we began the trek back up to the top of the gorge, one option was to take a 4 story ladder straight up, we gave that a resounding “no” even though many a Chinese hiker gave us an encouraging “jia you!”


Finally at the top we stopped at a restaurant, I drank mint tea and everything was scenic and peaceful. Brittany also looked peaceful even after tripping on the way up and falling in horse poop. I like to think she handled it with the same grace Beyoncé would.


Winding bus ride through the gorge







She probably fell in this horse’s poop.

That night the two of us got hot pot for dinner and just chilled. We were very ready to do a little relaxing.


Our last day in LiJiang was a half-day. We were catching the night bus that night back to Kunming, because we’d need to leave from that train station to get back to Changsha. We went to a cool park called Dragon Black Pool and it was awesome. It was another clear cool and sunny day and we didn’t have to pay, which made it all the sweeter. Two girls in our Kunming hostel gave us their LiJiang passes so we wouldn’t need to pay for attractions. It was super nice of them, and we of course paid it forward by giving those same passes to new British tourists in our hostel.




Bye to our LiJiang hostel!

Late afternoon rolled around and we boarded our night bus, which was supposed to arrive in Kunming at 2:30 am. Our plan had been to try to sleep in a McDonalds upon arrival and then do 1 more hike before going home. That did not happen.

I don’t know if it will be possible to describe the bus ride from hell but the phrase we chose to use was “hot, tired, and full of urine.”

Our bus took off normally at around 7:30pm and everything was going fine until we hit midnight and loads of traffic. We thought perhaps there had been an accident or maybe someone had forgotten to put gas in his or her car. We’ll never be sure because my Chinese isn’t perfect and I’m pretty sure as they were explaining they weren’t speaking Putonghua (Mandarin.)

It just got worse from there. We were stopped for so long that lights were turned off and people were getting out of their cars, Brit and I stayed on the bus despite the heat, exhaustion, and the ever-growing pressure on our bladders.


We began moving again after about 40 minutes. “Oh thank goodness that’s over,” we foolishly thought. 3 similar experiences later and Brit was close to tears she had to pee so badly. Traffic was backed up like crazy and our bus had pulled up maybe 5 or 6 other bus lengths ahead of a rest stop. We knew it was our only hope. We waited a bit still very worried about the thought of being left. That feeling didn’t last long though and we had to get off. We had no other choice. I used the Chinese I know and told the driver “please, we need bathroom” he responded something and I wasn’t sure what so I re-iterated the statement with a “please 20 minutes!” He said something again asked if anyone spoke English, and after a lack of reply gestured us to go down towards the rest stop. We ran down the side of the highway over empty instant noodle boxes and past men peeing until we reached the shining beacon of hope that was the rest stop bathrooms.


After the sweet freedom of release, we ran back to our bus still very much concerned that it might drive off without us – at this point it was around 3am. Exhausted and out of breath we made it back to the bus. Our fellow passengers looked at us confused which led me to believe that we may have had more time than we thought. Fast forward to 4 am.

The bus was still parked.

We ran for nothing.


We hung out in front of the bus outside because the air was cool, our bus was dank and we could see Orion’s belt.

At 4:20am we got back on the bus. Our driver walked by out seats relieved we were there and that he hadn’t lost the waiguo rens. 5am we started moving again. 5:01 Brittany lets me have the window seat so I can sleep. 5:02 I’ve never loved anyone more, because I finally fall asleep and it’s amazing.


7:45 am we arrive back in Kunming. It feels pretty unbelievable. What was supposed to take 6 hours took 12.

Here is footage from those moments:

After this, we have a cab take us to starbucks. Brittany gets a coffee the size of her head, and I load up on muffins. Then we sit, unable to move until noon. We buy sandwiches at the starbucks and remain sitting. We had wanted to hike but at this point we just can’t. There is nothing left in us. We meander around town for a bit around 2pm and then realize we’d really rather be sitting again. We find a restaurant and just drink tea and hang until we’re ready to go to the train station.


On our train on the way back we have the bottom sleepers and we are in love with the sight of a bed. We fall asleep at 8pm. We both slept for approximately 12-13 hours. We came to thoroughly understand the importance of sleeper seats.



Finally home we took a cab back to cute little Qingshuitang jie and to our apartments.

There may not have been a lot of sleeping, but there were more than enough good memories to make up for it.


This national week was one for the books.

What Happens to a Dream Accomplished?

“Farewells can be shattering, but returns are surely worse. Solid flesh can never live up to the bright shadow cast by its absence. Time and distance blur the edges; then suddenly the beloved has arrived, and it’s noon with its merciless light, and every spot and pore and wrinkle and bristle stands clear.”
― Margaret AtwoodThe Blind Assassin



Well hello there reader. I’m sure you thought this blog had died. For a minute there I thought it had too, but not quite yet as I’m back in China and in the full swing of it once more.


Though no longer a WorldTeacher, I am still a teacher and living in Changsha again. Only this time I am at Yi Zhong Number One Middle School, and living a city life. Last year as you may recall I was at Qingzhuhu, which though technically in Changsha was a good hour and a half bus ride north and without the perk of a nearby Carrefour.


I want to focus this post on all the different types of adjusting I’ve experienced as I make my way into a second year in China. The first kind was of course, reverse culture shock. I didn’t feel it as strongly or painfully as some of my fellow volunteers, but I think that’s because I knew I would be coming back which made the ache of missing China not all that apparent. You don’t miss what you know will come back again.


It was really great finally being home. I remember very distinctly sitting on the last domestic flight back into Tampa from JFK. There was a cute old woman next to me who was asking me about China and how it felt being so close to coming to a place I’d been away from for a full year. I wasn’t sure what to tell her, because how can you describe the most fulfilling year of your life in a brief conversation or the ache and thrill of seeing the sunset over Tampa bay again.

As my plane pulled onto the runway basked in the delicious orange glow that is one of Florida’s greatest attributes, I felt many things but mostly accomplished.


What happens to a dream accomplished? I had been dreaming of living abroad and doing volunteer work since I was a kid in middle school. It was this magical exotic dream life I thought I might one day have and now here I was back, having had it. So now what?


That’s where the reverse shock comes in. I’d spent a year perfecting adaptability and language skills and being used to being looked at and eager to start conversations with strangers and these weren’t things I really needed once back in the states. In fact, I began wondering if I weren’t going back then when I would get the chance to work these newfound skills at all – frightening I know. I think this is what was distressing to so many of my friends who made the return for good.

I know many people were sad to have said goodbye. Goodbye to people, goodbye to places, and goodbye to the potential of exploring more places. Because for many of us being back for good meant going into the grind and facing the grim thought of never being this untethered and full of opportunity again.


I did not feel this way.

I had an incredible summer. I got to see old friends, spend time with family, and take a glimpse into the kind of life I might have when I get back for good, and it didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would. That said I’ve just returned to China though, so whose to say how I’ll feel a year from now?


Another adjustment was surprise surprise, leaving again. It was crazy déjà vu. I took almost the exact same flight route as I did leaving the first time. My first flight left at 6:30 am again meaning me and my parents were up and at it at about 4 in the morning . . . again. My layover was in LAX again and I even left from the same gate. It was so strange boarding that international flight again. I felt I could see the ghost of year ago Katie as she nervously checked to make sure she still had her passport.


It was reallllllllllly hard to say goodbye this time.


I was so so ready to go the first time around that I was daydreaming about China all the time and laying awake too excited to sleep.

The second time didn’t feel like that. Of course I was happy to be going back but I’d only seen my parents for about a month this time and it felt teasingly short. I was missing them even as were driving to the airport together.


A plus of course to coming back was that I was not nervous at all about going through all these airports. I’d done this so many times that coming into the Changsha airport felt like I’d never left. And unlike my first foray into the unknown, this time I was alone and capable enough to grab a cab and tell him where I needed to go, unphased.


Then there was being back again, what a strange sensation. Though I logically knew that coming back to China meant that I would get to do many of the things I loved, I also knew my life would not be the same as it was last year. And a couple weeks in I really missed my old country life. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy to be in the city, but it’s more distracting and more expensive. And there are days where I long for my old escape of leaving the city on weekends to pop back into the quiet comfort of country life.


Its taken getting used to for sure but there are great benefits to my new everyday.

Many of my old WorldTeach friends live in the area, 3 of which even teach at my school! Brittney lives a 2 minute walk from my apartment and it’s nice knowing I can go see her if I ever feel lonely and vice versa.

Drew and Jon also work at Yi Zhong this year though in the international department so I don’t see them on campus super often, but it makes meeting up for dinner after work nice and easy.
Yaoyao is back at her old site as well, so though I don’t see her everyday like I do my co-workers, I do get to see her most weekends, which is really nice.

I mean I could go on and on here, Lynsey, Ryan, Jess, Joel, lots of WorldTeachers decided to stay from my year. I like to think it’s because we were all pretty close to one another.


I am also working a totally different teaching schedule. Last year I worked solely with junior 1 students (11-12 year old). This year I am working as a high school teacher, teaching Senior 1 students (15-16), as well as with a primary school about a 15-minute walk from my apartment where I teach grade 5 and grade 6. This means I’m doing a lot more lesson planning than last year, as well as dealing with a larger volume of students – having 14 classes total a week, 60 students a piece.

Not to mention I also am continuing the tradition of having an English Play done with the Yi Zhong students, being a faculty advisor for English Club and running English corner. It’s a lot to keep track of.


It’s not un-doable though, and with last year’s experience under my belt I feel pretty confident in the classroom at this point. And now I can say I’ve taught every school type in China.


Not too shabby.


Adjusting and workload aside, I’m really glad I chose to come back to China again. My life here didn’t feel over quite yet, and honestly at this point, even if I come back, I’m not sure it ever will.


Here are some pictures of my new apartment and some shots from around the school!




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Photo on 9-23-15 at 4.22 PM

In the office!



The beautiful Yi Zhong Campus

Not Another Goodbye

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)


Please, not another goodbye. I can’t take it.

It’s been a very goodbye-y couple of years.

The last several weeks in my college town I was crying every other day saying bye to everyone, sometimes, I’m ashamed to say even avoiding them.

And here I am again saying goodbye everyday as I wrap up the last of my classes.

I’m pretty in tune with my emotions and when I feel that wave of nostalgia or sadness I jump into it.

This leads to wet eyes and a heavy heart.

I am dreading saying goodbye to my co-workers and my school. I love working in the office, I love Helen, Amber, Grace and Mr. Wu, Z and Jaelyn and Andy and He Xin Yi. The list goes on.

Recently scrolling down facebook I saw a post from WorldTeach’s official page. Someone in the Namibia program wrote that the hardest part of leaving was the dread of not knowing when you’ll ever come back or see those faces again.

Luckily, I know when I’m coming back and it is within a few short months.

But I will be coming back to a completely different place in many ways. I won’t be a WorldTeacher, so many of my fellow volunteers have moved on, and begun their next step in the states and my students are a 2 hour bus trip away. It’s not the same.


The weekend before last was End of Service, which is the last conference WorldTeach holds to help volunteers come to terms with their end of service as well as how to acclimate back to life in America.

I got their bright and early and got to spend my Saturday in a room with my friends and peers, discussing everything from the everyday minutia of tax forms to advice for next years volunteers, to broader topics such as reverse culture shock.


The conference went by very smoothly, without a hitch and without me crying.

The real goodbye-ing happened after the conference. We all went out to dinner together at “the Mao” our dinner hot spot. We laughed and ate a ton of really good Hunan food. That’s where the goodbyes started, Suzanne had to leave early, Andres had a morning train back, and Jamie had to go, so I hugged them and watched them walk out the front door. These were people with whom I’d shared this adventure and I was unsure of when or if I’d ever see them again and feeling powerless against all of the change. There they walked and there I stood and there was nothing to be done.


The whole crew. Photo credit: Julie Pan


Julie and I. She’s also my Chinese tutor and friend.

But soon we were back in motion. My tutor and our WT Chinese teacher Julie scooped a few others and me up in her car and we all went to Mega together. It was very sweet of her to drive us. Weirdly enough when we got to Mega (a favorite sports bar of ours) there was already a big event going on. A huge group of Chinese people were there celebrating, as we later found out the group was there because someone was going to propose. So we all sat on the fringes watching a new beginning for some as we were in the midst of our last hurrah. I chose to see it as poetic.


The night went into full swing. Soon it was just WorldTeachers left in the bar and Lawrence (the owner our friend) let us choose the music, so we were all dancing and singing and reminiscing and for a few of us going through random bursts of crying and fear about the next unknown.

I myself fell victim to some intense emotions about leaving as we all walked out the door to go our separate ways. I was just standing outside of this place we loved watching different groups of my friends talking to one another, laughing, sharing jokes and I was deeply moved and upset at the thought of leaving them, which resulted in lots of tears. Tears then prompted hugs, which then made other people cry. It was a mess, though not an unwelcome one.


The bus ride back after that weekend was one of the strangest for me. I couldn’t process how I was feeling. I was very sad to say goodbye, happy to have completed my requirements, feeling closure and yet going back for another week of teaching and packing, excited to travel to Europe this summer and see my family, really sad that coming back to China won’t mean coming back to this same group of friends. All in one bus ride people, plus I was listening to the Temper Trap. Didn’t exactly help.


And now I’m sitting downstairs in the room with the internet, because my site mate Frank has already left and packed up his router. I left the office today knowing that I wouldn’t be back as a Junior 1 teacher again. I’ve become so accustomed to the office, it’s sounds, and now it’s over. I’m sad but I am also ready to move on to the next step, as gut wrenching as it can be. As distressed as it makes me, I love change and the constant move. Tomorrow morning I will close the front door to Qingzhuhu and walk out into the yard. I will see my bamboo plant still growing tall, hear the cluck of chickens and possibly firecrackers and I will have to walk away and leave it behind, to remain in my heart if no longer in my life.

I’m dreading the last of the goodbyes, yet still grateful to have had the chance to make them at all.

Goodbye Qingzhuhu. Wo ai ni.



Mr. Wu, Grace and Helen. My lunch crew minus Amber who is sick 😦

Pictures with my students on the last day of class:
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A Brief Stint as an Immigrant

“How you look at it is pretty much how you’ll see it”
Rasheed Ogunlaru


I am living in two worlds.

I wake up and I am in America. I am in my bedroom listening to English songs, eating my cereal purchased from the imported goods section of Carrefour and catching up on American news.


I walk out the door and I am in China. I say “ni hao” to the neighbors and walk from my house to my office building at school avoiding fast moving scooters along the way. Here I work on lesson plans and help students with their homework all to the backdrop of Chinese conversation and children’s excited voices.

I like living this way. I like feeling like I can work seamlessly within two cultures and appreciate the values inherent in both. Recently, I have been thinking about what its like to be an immigrant. Its something I hadn’t really considered myself, seeing as how I’ve chosen to stay in China for only a few short years, but for the time being and for the sake of this post, I consider myself a short-term immigrant.
I have always tried to be an empathetic person and put myself in others shoes but there is nothing like living an experience to really solidify that understanding. Back in my home country there are lots of debates about immigration and while I value everyone’s right to their opinion, arguments can easily turn into aggression and hatefulness and those at the root of the issue are stuck in the cross fire.

If I am an immigrant I am lucky. When I walk down the street I am so clearly not a native Chinese person. Sometimes its exhilarating. I feel unique and exceptional. Its also stressful and I am too keenly aware of how out of place I am and wish I could just blend in. On any given day I am the only American person in the immediate vicinity. I think this is something that many of my fellow foreigners here feel, and very possibly how foreigners in America and elsewhere feel as well.

Luckily 95% percent of the Chinese people I have met have been very welcoming of foreigners. I have had people smile, say “hello” showing me compassion by using my language. I have had children giggle and want to practice their English with me and in stores and restaurants most people go out of their way to help me understand.


I can’t imagine how different my time here would have been if people had been vehemently against my coming into their country even though I had and continue to have the best of intentions. If people had scowled at me as I crossed the street. If people had told me I was taking away positions from Chinese natives even though I am qualified to teach and love my work and my students. If I walked into a store struggling to communicate in my broken Chinese and had people yell the equivalent of “SPEAK CHINESE.” You’re in China now. Learn Chinese. As if a language with all of it’s intricacies and cultural ties can be picked up instantaneously simply by willing yourself to do so.

Nothing is more stressful or terrifying than desperately trying to understand what is going on and falling up short, even while currently learning the language.


I’ve also found that oftentimes I feel like a representative of my country. There are so few foreigners living in Changsha that when I am the only one around everything I do and say is perceived as “that’s what Americans do or say.” I am always very aware of my actions and I do my best to be polite and to keep my frustration in check. Especially when I’m having a bad day or on an extremely crowded bus or dealing with the more irritating cultural differences – like touching, please don’t touch me. Because I know that unlike any of the Chinese people around me, if I lash out and snap at someone, it won’t be “she’s having a bad day” it will be “Americans are mean.” Being aware of this I think it will be even more important for me to remember that when I am back home, no one person represents a whole group of people, unless you’re like the president and in that case you signed on for that – so deal.



With my student Alice

If I’m an immigrant I am lucky and I am beloved. That is a wonderful feeling. I have been able to form friendships and share experiences and ideas with my friends from all nationalities and it’s an incredible feeling. How sad it would be if bigotry got in the way and barred me from making these connections. How much less colorful my life would be.



Class field trip with my co-workers

I’m writing this now because my first year in China is winding down and I am reflecting on all the things I have gained from this year. Joining WorldTeach has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. WT opened the door to the rest of the world to me and I feel like I could keep learning and traveling forever and plan to.


Starting with next year.

I will be coming back to Changsha to work under and independent contract for Yi Zhong, one of the top schools in Changsha and the sister school to Qinzhuhu where I work now.

It’s so close that I will still be able to visit with my liaison, my co-workers, as well as my students whose antics bring me endless joy.

Brace yourself China, this immigrant isn’t done quite yet.

Teacher Katie and The Tale of the Rude Awakening

“Well-preserved indeed! Why, I feel all thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that has been scraped over too much bread. That can’t be right. I need a change, or something.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Lord of the Rings


It has been a month since my Spring Festival travels ended and as many a former World Teacher cautioned, it is hard to be back. During that last week of class in January I remember thinking how happy I was I had another semester with my students. I knew I had so much more I wanted to teach them, and many more activities to try out, my video pen-pal program foremost. However actually being back has been more of an uphill battle than I originally anticipated.

When I had finally made it back to my site at Qingzhuhu after travelling I had 3 days before school started. I cleaned all of my clothes and prepped lessons. Went to the teachers meeting (little of which I understood) and got myself ready for the new semester with my class order completely switched up.

The first week was rough. I was trying to re-orient myself and make sure my students became refreshed on all the rules. I was implementing a new program in the classroom and have been working out the kinks of that (though it does seem to be running smoothly now).
I hate to admit it even to myself but now four weeks in I’m still having a hard time re-adjusting. So many of us were riding on the high of being in a foreign country and all the excitement that comes with that. Then we had the holiday seasons and travelling to look forward to. Coming back has crash-landed me firmly in reality. No more travelling for a while just the daily grind. Not to mention the weather has been all over the place. It was still freezing when I returned early March and now today April 1st I’m sitting in the office sweating and wishing that China had AC. I had forgotten how rough the heat had been those first few months and now it has made its return.
The students have lost focus in class. They all just want to be out in the sun playing after such a long winter. I feel their growing lack of enthusiasm in English class and it makes it harder for me to stay motivated too.


Peach Blossoms on Campus


At this point I have now been away from home for 8 months. I love change and was eager to be here and now I find myself increasingly homesick. I Skype my family every weekend and dream of laying on my comfy couch back home watching 80’s movies with my mom, stargazing with dad, watching stupid videos on YouTube with my sister, going back to Gainesville, reuniting with my friends, pizza, chipotle, buffalo sauce, asiago bagels . . . the list goes on and on in a mobius strip in my mind. It’s very distracting.

I think it’s because I know how close it is. Two and a half months away. That’s so little time and because it is so little it culminates in this anxiety of feeling like I don’t have enough time as well as too much time. Not enough time to teach my students everything I want them to learn but far too much time left to be away from home. On top of it all the heat is making me lethargic and the teachers around me are worrying about the final exams. Everyone is a little irritable.

It’s like that feeling when you’re a little kid and you get to spend a weekend at your friends house. You’re so excited up until that point that it is smooth sailing and when you come back to your own house, it’s really depressing because you know that you’re back in the routine and you’re time for fun has been spent.

I acknowledge even as I’m writing this that these are idol complaints. I have been very fortunate and I should be grateful to be here, but I’m getting restless and tired. I’m hoping things start to pick up again soon this month. I think the students, myself, and the other teachers here have needed time to let go of Spring Festival fun and get back to work.


The teachers are out proctoring the exams


I love my students very much despite their newfound apathy. I’m hoping that after today’s midterms that they get back in gear and are ready for my classes again. I have big plans for them so they need to stay on the ball! I really feel like a teacher now this term. For the last 7 months it all felt like this bizarre vacation I was on and now it is my home. It is my daily life. As much as I’m being grumpy today behind that feeling I kind-of love knowing that this place has become my home so much that I am able to feel this way at all. Is that strange?
On top of all of this now is also the time for decision making and figuring out the plan for next year. I’m currently making some moves in that department. No updates until everything is official though. You know counting chickens and all that. Here’s hoping I have a more optimistic blog post in the near future.


Until then, as always, thanks for reading kids.