Travel Tale: Hello from Fiji

Solo travel is something I've been wanting to do for a while. I am naturally quite shy around new people and I really like to keep pushing myself to open up in new situations; this is a big reason for my desire to do the solo trip. I decided on Fiji as it easily linked with my trip to New Zealand and I have heard a lot of amazing things about the people of Fiji. I went through waves of anxiety, excitement, doubt and hopefulness about this leg of my trip. The constant advertisement of Fiji being the perfect honeymoon destination wasn't helping to alleviate my fears of leaving my fiancé at home to be totally alone and lonely in paradise...
My 11 days in Fiji started out with a 7 day island hopping trip in the Yasawa Islands. These islands are beautiful! And it turned out to be a really great place to meet other backpackers too! I made friends on every island hopping portion and it was amazing to hear other people's travel stories... My list has got a lot longer! The best advice I picked up was from a woman who told me that the best way to answer the "Have you been to <insert country>?" question is always with a "Not yet!"

  

The last part of my Fiji trip was a 4 day homestay with a family on the main island Viti Levu in the town of Nadi. When I was in the back of the car heading to the homestay I started to get really nervous - what if it wasn't a family that wanted to interact? What if I ended up in the middle of nowhere with no transportation? I spent the better portion of the ride attempting to calm my anxious brain. But guess what? Within seconds of arriving I felt welcomed by this amazing family and I got invited to go to a family event in the capital city with them for the weekend. I really got the local Fiji experience and it was more than I ever could have hoped for!
The best parts of traveling solo? Meeting new people for sure! When you are on your own you just have to put yourself into new situations with new people and even simple conversations at the boat dock were very interesting and exciting for me. I also love just being able to do what I want without having to compromise. Spend an hour reading? No one is waiting!
The hardest part? When things go wrong and you have no one to lean on for support. The great bug bite incident (I won't get into details but I have some residual fears about bug bites from a really awful bed bug incident a few years back) was one where I had to really talk myself down from the panic I was feeling at 3 am when I was so hot and itchy and all alone. I would have given anything to have someone there to just distract me from the moment. Another hard part - well more just boring I suppose, is the actual travel. There are only so many laps you can walk of an airport before you feel like you've seen it all...
All in all I'm feeling pretty proud of myself for facing some fears and having an amazing time doing it! Now it's off to pick up our camper van for a New Zealand road trip... I know, it's a tough life I'm living!

Meaghan


Travel Tales: Indonesia Highlights

I'm back! Well I got back on Monday but this week has been... um... slightly crazy?! Besides just the jet lag it has been a rollercoaster in BC Education (for those of you from elsewhere we won't even get into it on here, if you are curious there are plenty of blog posts and news articles out there).

Ryan (my boyfriend) and I went on a three week trip to Indonesia at the end of August; we went to Sumatra, Bali and the Gili Islands. So the question of the week has been, "How was your trip?!" And then my brain quickly racks through the three weeks of amazing memories and tries to find a word to sum it all up, failing that it searches for a phrase, and then failing that I tend to sputter off about how it was "amazing and beautiful and challenging and I am happy I'm home but want to go back." Or some other nonsensical string of words...

I've decided to sum up my trip with a few photos and ten memories that I will hold onto forever.

1. Orangutans

IMG_3181This was our main reason for going to Sumatra and it was incredible! We did a two day, overnight jungle trek from Bukit Lawang into the Sumatran Jungle and saw these unbelievable creatures swinging from the trees, feeding their babies, and just hanging out. I will never forget our experiences there and the first time I got a glimpse of that red furry body in the tall green trees... There really are no words.

2. Jungle Trek

IMG_3180I went into the Jungle Trek thinking that it would be kind of cool to hike around, pretty awesome to see the orangutans, a little surreal to stay over in the jungle, and then we would leave with some good pictures and that would be it. The entire Jungle Trek experience was the highlight of our whole trip! We hiked with two other travelers from Holland and Korea, and our two guides, Joni and Dylan. Our guides did a fabulous job of finding the orangutans for us to see - WITHOUT disturbing the natural environment! They were also funny, relatable, and interesting! Camping overnight by the river was the very best part - we stayed up singing songs and playing games from all of our different cultures. My heart was so incredibly full from all of the cultural sharing and laughter. The next day when we were tubing down the river as the sun came out, surrounded by the almost untouched jungle, singing songs with our new friends from around the world - it was an absolutely perfect moment for me.

3. Our Little Angel

This is such a brief and simple story from our trip but it is a story that neither of us will forget and it is a perfect example of why we came to love the Indonesian people so much!

When we got back from the jungle, Ryan notice a weird bite on his arm but couldn't remember being bit. By the time we had showered and cleaned up the bite was very red and swollen, and there was a red streak making it's way up his arm. By this point we were both pretty scared, being three days into our trip, in the middle of a jungle, five hours away from the nearest hospital, and having very little knowledge of the spiders, ants, and insects that we had been seeing around. We walked down to town to take a "Tuk Tuk" down to the village doctor, at this point both of us had been running through worst case scenario's in our heads, although not sharing them aloud.

IMG_3049.JPGWhen we were about to go in the Tuk Tuk the drivers daughter jumped on the front and refused to get off, so he laughed and started driving. This little girl had the brightest smile and kept dancing and laughing with us to keep us entertained the whole way, she even came into the doctor's office with us. It turned out Ryan was just having an allergic reaction and would be okay with some allergy pills and a cream to reduce the swelling. I honestly believe I would have fell apart on the way to the doctor if it hadn't been for the little girl. All we have is a blurry picture of her (she was constantly moving) and the memory of the smile and laugh, but this little girl will stay in our hearts forever!

4. Yoga

We did yoga at the Yoga Barn in Ubud everyday that we stayed there. It looks like this, enough said.

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5. Friends

While we were on a long, and quite unpleasant, drive in Sumatra we became friends with a couple from Holland. We ended up crossing paths with them throughout our time in Sumatra and Bali and shared some great laughs over delicious food, bad car rides, and beautiful places. Meeting people is hands down my favourite part of traveling and meeting them became one of the best parts of the trip!

6. Gili Air

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A father and daughter looking through tide pools

So the Gili Islands are small islands with no motorized vehicles - no cars or busses, scooters or tuk-tuks. We decided on Gili Air because it has the greatest population of Indonesian people who live there (re: less touristy!) On the first night we wandered around the main tourist strip and then rented bikes and took off through the middle of the island, winding our way to the other side through more residential areas. On the other side of the island there is a beautiful beach, a few restaurants, lots of local people roaming the beach and the tide pools, and one of the most unbelievable sunsets you will ever see! This was one of our favourite stops and we both agreed we could go back to Gili Air and live happily for quite a while...

7. Food

Another one of the best parts of traveling is the food and we were not disappointed! We ate so well pretty much everywhere we went. Some of the favourites being the food on the Jungle Trek (they bring in a local cook for the camping part), and the fresh fruit every morning for breakfast. Ryan loved the seafood on Bali and Gili Air (I'm vegetarian and don't eat seafood but it did look pretty tempting!) One of our favourite meals was at this little local spot around the corner from one of our guesthouses in a residential area of Bali - we were served by the sweetest, middle school aged girl who seemed delighted to practice her English and the food was delicious! We also went to a restaurant that is overlooking the Ayung River Valley and is one of the most amazing views I have ever seen - the food was delicious, the view incredible, and we felt so lucky to be there!

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8. Lena

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Lena and I in the waves at Ulu Watu, Bali

My friend Lena recently got a job in Indonesia and was able to come meet us for one of the weekends we were in Bali. We had so much fun and it was great to be able to catch up and hear about all of her adventures! She is the friend that I visited in France (read about it here) and although I would love for her to live closer, at least she keeps choosing awesome places so I get to visit her around the world!

9. Sunsets, Sunsets, Sunsets

Bali and the Gili Islands have the most incredible sunsets! There are beaches where you can watch the sun dip below mountains creating cool effects. There are spots where the horizon seems endless and you watch the sunset over the ocean. I couldn't get enough of the sunsets and wanted to watch every night - our poor eyes were probably hurt from constantly staring directly at the sun though!

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10. Traveling with Ryan

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This was our first big trip together (besides local holidays and family vacations). We had a blast and it was so much fun to explore a new culture together! In many ways we are great travel companions and balance each other well, especially when it comes to meeting new people. In some ways we are not - we both get overly anxious about certain things. But we got through all the good and the bad together, and there was way more good then bad. All in all, I couldn't really ask for a better partner in travel or in life...

Meaghan


Travel Tale: Katimavik

You know how there are often experiences and people in our lives that we look back upon and realize how much our lives changed in those moments? This is Katimavik for me.

In case you don't know Katimavik was a volunteer program here in Canada that brought youth together from across the country to do meaningful volunteer work, learn a second language, experience what it means to be Canadian, and to become a family. I emphasized was because recently the funding for Katimavik was cut - devastating after having seen the positive impact it had on so many people's lives.

I was 18 years old when I left and looking back I realize how profound the experience was from the moment I left my family at the airport security. As I went to board my plane I was unsuccessfully trying to choke back tears when the woman ahead of me noticed, turned around and came down the stairs to give me a hug. She is the reason I knew things would be okay in that moment and I don't even remember her name.

In the Katimavik program we spent 3 months in 3 different provinces for a total of 9 months away from home. We lived with 10 other youth in a house or apartment and traveled with the same group. Each house had a project leader who lead the group through all of our necessary weekly tasks. We had no tv, limited Internet, and not a lot of personal space. But we had creativity, energy and a whole lot of love.

There is no way I could condense my nine months of life changing experience into one post here so instead I will give you the important lessons I've learned from this experience.

1. The scariest risks we take can have the most inexplicably amazing rewards.

My Katima-Group in our first rotation.
My Katima-Group in our first rotation.

2. Ping pong tables work great as dinner tables.

The perfect size for 12 person dinners.
The perfect size for 12 person dinners.

3. Friends from different backgrounds have so much more to offer.

Our map of where we come from.
Our map of where we come from marked with a special symbol.

4. Small living spaces allow for the most love to grow.

Our first place was a 3 bedroom apartment for 12 people... and it was perfect!
Our first place was a 3 bedroom apartment for 12 people... and it was perfect!

5. Life is better when you let loose! If this means dancing in the streets to Rasputin or painting your face or just laughing until you cry - don't hold back!

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One of our (almost) weekly dress up nights!

6. Respect is the most important part of living with people and  relationships in general... sometimes a hard lesson to learn when you are 18 years old.

A team building night.
A team building night.

7. Cooking for a big group is a privilege and sitting down to eat with that kind of family is priceless.

Our dinner table every single night!
Our dinner table every single night!

8. You may find home in the most unlikely of places if you are open, willing and with the right people.

Outside our third house.
Teary-eyed goodbyes outside our third home.

9. There are people who will make such a difference in your life that it will physically ache when you can not be with them at times... Even after years of being apart.

Just the best people right there!
Just the best people right there!

10. Never forget the ones you care about and never forget to let them know for life is too short.

A mini-reunion with some Montreal bagels... November 2012
A mini-reunion with some Montreal bagels... November 2012

For you, Julien-Pier. You continue to inspire me to be a better person every day.

Meaghan


Travel Tale: Teaching in Thailand

Teaching in Thailand - September 2007.

My husband, Joel, and I traveled to and through South East Asia for four months in 2007.  We knew we wanted to travel, but we weren't sure where exactly we wanted to go, so while planning our trip we let our passion for community service determine where we would end up.  We found an eco-friendly volunteer based program out of Singburi, Thailand and opted to spend our first month of our trip there.  Part of our month at the eco-house in Singburi involved teaching English at a local school.  Somehow we managed to miss the meeting we needed to attend in order to be placed at a school, so the program placed us at a very impoverished school 30 minutes drive out of Singburi in a neighbouring town called Inburi.  We didn't know this experience would change our lives for ever...

The entire school and preschool population, including teachers.
The entire school and preschool population, including teachers.

The principal of the school (kind, sweet lady) would pick us up every morning and drive us to her school in her own car.  At the end of the day she would drive us back to the eco-house where we were staying.  This woman loved her school and her students.  The school fed us an amazing lunch every single day! We could never eat all the food that was prepared especially for us, but we were okay with that because we knew whatever we did not eat would go home with the kids in the late afternoon.

One of our incredible lunches, served to us in the library.
One of our incredible lunches, served to us in the library.

There were approximately 26 students in the tiny school we worked at.  The grade 1s, 2s and 3s were in one classroom and the grade 4s, 5s and 6s were in the other classroom. Joel and I always taught together, so we would alternate classrooms every other day.

The intermediate students learning how to make snowflakes out of paper.
The intermediate students learning how to make snowflakes out of paper.
The primary students, keen as ever to learn new English vocabulary.
The primary students, keen as ever to learn new English vocabulary.

Our students knew their English ABCs and most could count to 10.  We spent most of our days playing word games and trying to teach new vocabulary to these adorable children.

Joel giving this adorable little girl a lift while she matches an English word to a picture.
Joel giving this adorable little girl a lift while she matches an English word to a picture.
The kids really enjoyed having their work "checked" by the teacher...we spent a lot of time handing out stickers and marking their work :)
The kids really enjoyed having their work "checked" by the teacher...we spent a lot of time handing out stickers and marking their work :)

Part way through our time at this tiny school we got the impression that these students had likely never had volunteers come work with them before.  The kids absolutely loved to play with us, so after we ate lunch we'd play soccer with them, or skip, or play with bubbles.  We brought a big duffel bag full of fun outdoor game supplies (ie. bubbles) and teaching supplies with us from home.

The older kids and the younger kids all played together at lunch time.  There was a true sense of community in this small village.
The older kids and the younger kids all played together at lunch time. There was a true sense of community in this small village.
These little ones just wanted to hold my hand for the majority of our breaks.  I was totally okay with that :)
These little ones just wanted to hold my hand for the majority of our breaks. I was totally okay with that :)
This is one of my favourite photos from our entire trip.  These kids just LOVED him!
This is one of my favourite photos from our entire trip. These kids just LOVED him!

All week we had practiced teaching them a new song, "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes".  The crowning moment of our time with these students was on our last day together - the students performed their new English song for their principal (the lady who drove us to and from the school every day).  Needless to say, she was elated!  Check out the video of their short presentation!

I wonder about these kids now.  I wonder where they are, what they're up to, what they've become.  I wonder if they remember us? Every few days I think of these kids and how their vivacious love for life and education, despite their circumstances, changed me.  We tried to stay in touch with the school.  We sent pictures and a letter via snail mail, but we never heard anything back.  Email isn't an option either because they had really poor internet connection there (and only one clunky desktop computer).  Wherever these precious souls are, whatever they're doing now, let this post be an offer of my love for them.

Karley


Living Language Learning

As you may have read here I recently got back from 3 weeks in Iceland, Italy and France. I went with a couple of friends from university and we met up with our friend who is teaching English in France this year. The trip was amazing for many reasons but in particular this was my first time traveling since becoming a "real teacher" and I felt like I was constantly on the lookout for teaching inspiration.

Reykjavik, St. Emilion, Florence, Monaco
Reykjavik, Saint-Émilion, Florence, Monaco

I could probably write a book about the many ways travel has informed my teaching but in this post I'll stick to my transforming views on language learning this trip.

When I started teaching French this year I really wanted to get across how French has helped me in my life so far. I shared a couple of stories of learning French in Quebec with the Katimavik program and a travel story or two from backpacking through Europe (the favourite being when a taxi tried to drop us off in an alley way in residential Paris around midnight after a flight got in - probably the most happy I've been to communicate effectively in another language).

After I shared those stories there seemed to be a bit of understanding of the usefulness of knowing French (besides job opportunities in Canada) and I went on teaching FSL the way I have always done - lots of games and illustrated writing along with verb conjugation and oral practice... relatively fun but very basic.

And then came Italy...

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old...
Finally getting to visit Pompeii...

I have been to Italy once before but never learned a lot of the language and I'd forgotten most of what I had picked up. So when we arrived in Rome I started again and tried to practice some simple phrases here and there. It wasn't until we got to Naples that I really started picking up more Italian though.

One night we went to a bunch of little markets to get ingredients for dinner. By using a lot of hand gestures we were able to gather most of what we needed and practice the Italian names for the ingredients.

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Our dinner made from local Italian ingredients

We had a blast chatting with the locals and practicing our Italian. I had such a great time trying to communicate and count out change in Italian that it really got me thinking on the walk home... That is how you learn a language! Through immersion mixed with necessity and fun! How can we create these "living" language experiences in the classroom?

When I returned, I was on a mission to create authentic language learning in my classroom. Two month long French projects later and I've discovered that yes it's possible to start to create these experiences but WOW is it going to take a lot of planning! My goal is to start incorporating drama and art into the FSL classroom to try to create some living language learning experiences.

It's a work in progress but I'll keep you updated on how it is going... And, as always, I would love to hear your comments and advice on this topic:

How do you think we can create more authentic experiences in the classroom?

What are your "go-to" plans for teaching foreign languages?

Where have you travelled and what are your favourite travel memories?

Meaghan